Tonight Scott Samuelson will be delivering his first State of the County address as chairman of our legislature. It will be interesting to hear his take on the problems we are facing and his approach to turning things around in Sullivan County.
Our new legislators have been hard at work since taking office in January. They clearly have been learning a lot about county government in a very short period of time.
Although the new legislature is not moving as quickly as many of us had hoped they would have, nonetheless they are making some major strides over our previous administration.
While the atmosphere at the government center is less tense, and County Manager David Fanslau appears to be more diligent, our problems are not easing. A major property tax hike appears to be looming on our doorsteps.
Proper planning and vision is vital if we are going to succeed as a county government. And, legislator Gene Benson, head of the strategic planning sub-committee knows that.
Benson and his committee have the hard task of setting targets and goals of all county departments through the year 2014, with the objective of formulating an accurate accountable budget.
“We are asking all of the commissioners, department heads and elected officials to describe their programs, services and functions. Along with this, we are asking them to prioritize all of their services,” Benson told me.
Every department is operating at the core. It will be the job of all department heads, the county manager, and the legislature to figure a way to run our county government more effectively and efficiently. Perhaps a realigning of departments is necessary.
Without a doubt State and Federal mandates will play an important role in our strategic planning. Mandates are crushing Sullivan County because we are filled with so much poverty and so many people are utilizing social services.
The State of New York is one of only two states in the nation that requires counties to send locally generated tax dollars to the State for the Medicaid programs. Sullivan County sends approximately $20 million to Albany just for the Medicaid program alone, and then there are other mandates.
Legislator Kitty Vetter is asking all residents to write letters to elected state officials asking them to put an end to unfair mandates. Sample letters can be found on the Sullivan County website.
Benson said an important aspect of his committee will be to investigate actual mandated services including the actual levels of services required by the county and staffing needed to cover mandates. “We are going to look into which programs can be streamlined and in the process make them more cost effective.”
Benson added, “I would like to think that once we hear the recommendations made by commissioners and department heads, we will be able to formulate a solid plan to get Sullivan County functioning in a positive way for all the citizens who depend on us to provide vital services to them.”
According to Benson the process will be a learning experience for all involved. ‘It is of the utmost importance that the legislature understands what direction we must go in to better run the business of our county.”
Time will tell if they take us in the right direction.