County Departments Convey Core Concerns to State Legislators
GOSHEN—County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus brought his department heads before a panel of state legislators on March 24 to highlight funding requests that could be included within the 2016-17 state budget.
Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, and representatives of Senator Bill Larkin, Senator John Bonacic, Assemblyman James Skoufis, Assemblyman Frank Skartados, and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther asked for clarification or explained where an initiative was in the budget process.
The panel from Albany listened as the sheriff’s office, office of the district attorney, and department commissioners stated their position on bills before the state legislature, requested funding for key projects, and suggested how to modify state legislation that would benefit public policy in Orange County.
Neuhaus made initial comments to the panel on the county’s opposition to the governor’s minimum wage law and the importance of restoring funding for Safe Homes and the rape crisis center.
Sheriff Carl Dubois was first on deck to ask that 16 and 17-year-olds not be detained in the county jail, reimbursement for monitoring navigation on the county’s expanse of the Hudson River, and for his opposition to a regional, multi-county jail instead of each county having its own jail.
He said detainees should maintain contact with their family and community. A regional facility makes it harder for people in jail to maintain contact with their families. “To create greater distances to see a person that’s in jail, who is definitely going to come back out, will increase the recidivism rate and disconnect prisoners from their families in a time when they need them the most,” Dubois said.
Dubois said that jails are an inappropriate place for mentally ill individuals, most of whom are there for minor offenses. Jail staff cannot forcibly medicate when needed or control people without medication. “The correct atmosphere for them to be in is one that is therapeutic in nature, not a controlled facility like jails,” he said.
General Services Commissioner James Burpoe proposed an increase in the aggregate amount for sealed bids be raised from $20,000 to $75,000 for commodities and for public works contracts from $35,000 to $125,000.
A formal quote could then be kept local and benefit businesses in the county. “That’s really where it comes in. Now you are not dealing with someone out of state submitting a ridiculously low bid and taking the business away from New York or the county,” Burpoe said.
Burpoe noted that the county was first in the state to do a Best Value bid with tremendous response. “New York City wanted to know how we did it. It allowed us to buy local.”
Christian Farrell, who heads the Veterans Service Agency, asked for a full-time staff on SUNY campuses to help vets receive all the education benefits they deserved.
He said in the legislative program brochure that the position would be an “advocate to improve campus culture for those who have served their country.” While SUNY Orange has about 300 veterans enrolled, Farrell said there is only one part-time veteran representative.
Social Services absorbs a big part of the county budget and both Darcie Miller and Neuhaus do not want to see vital services shortchanged, especially agencies combating sexual and domestic violence, particularly Safe Homes and the rape crisis center.
Miller said in her report that the state split social services funding into one component that gave priority to the smallest counties in the state and the second evenly to all counties.
“It is critically important for the state to recognize the need to continue to fund ongoing projects as they start to mature and grow. Safe Homes is the only domestic violence service provider in the county and lost $35,000 with the change in funding priorities,” her report stated.
Regarding rape crisis programs Miller said they have operated in a deficit for years. “Our nonprofits have been doing the same amount of work for the same amount of money for a number of years.”
Neuhaus said a cut in state funding almost caused centers to close on weekends, when domestic violence can often happen. “It hit a nerve with us,” he said.
Director of the Office for the Aging Annmarie Maglione noted the growing senior population in the county which is already at 19 percent of the population. She urged legislators to support programs that keep the elderly in their own homes in their community.
“It’s a proven fact. People want to remain in their homes. They have a better quality of life; they are involved in the community. We want to keep them there, plus, they want to be there,” she said.
Maglione made a pitch for more caregiver support. “That touches every aspect of our society.” Caregiving can allow elders to stay at home longer, saving money for their care in nursing homes. “Somebody can come in and help them take a shower or help them get dressed.”
Public Works advocated funding for upgrades to bridge infrastructures in the county that need repair. The county is asking for long-term funding for roads from the Pave NY initiative and for bridges from Bridge NY initiative. The state allocated $1 billion for state and local projects over a five-year period.
The bridges specifically needing immediate renovation are Grahamline Bridge in Mt. Hope, Denton Bridge in Minisink, Stony Ford Bridge in Wallkill, and the Otisville Viaduct which requires $2.8 million in repairs.
Director of Operations Harry Porr thanked the panel for listening. “We are the nuts and bolts of local government. We are a subdivision of the state and we need to be working together so we can have the tools we need to do the job well,” he said.
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