A clear mandate was delivered last November when I was elected to represent the people of Sullivan County. I recognize the frustration of the voters, and take seriously the challenge of turning that into a renewed sense of hope. I made a personal promise to demand accountability on behalf of our county taxpayers, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to afford to live in our beautiful county.
New York State imposes numerous unfunded mandates upon county governments. Nine state programs consume more than 93% of our county’s tax levy. This is no longer sustainable. Coupled with an increasing number of tax-exempt properties, many taxpayers are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, resulting in the loss of their homes or businesses.
As your county legislator, I confront the dilemma of trying to appropriate funds sufficient to maintain essential services without increasing taxes. County taxpayers are no longer capable of carrying the burden. With the median salary of Sullivan County taxpayers at approximately $30,000 and state and Federal mandates and entitlement programs escalating out of control, an increasing number of our taxpayers are now becoming eligible for social services themselves. There is something wrong with this picture.
I have dedicated my time in county government to researching every decision that comes before me while working toward the good of all our 70,000 Sullivan County residents. Asking the hard questions is imperative for accountability of our tax dollars spent. Equally important is working toward opening up government by encouraging a bipartisan effort to conduct more open meetings.
My efforts, in cooperation with the Sullivan County Farm Network, in conducting the successful Firehouse Forum on Rural Economic Development proved that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Sullivan County. Many of our residents desire to start up and expand local businesses, and this should be aggressively nurtured through small business grant programs. I continue to work to encourage small private sector business with initiatives that, for too long, have been overlooked, as efforts have focused on those businesses over $300,000. Economic development efforts need to be equally extended to the rural areas of our county.
Equally successful was a bipartisan effort, along with legislators Cora Edwards and Kitty Vetter, to conduct a local forum on Taxes and Mandate Reform, educating the public while listening to the peoples’ main concerns: the escalating granting of property tax exemptions and the overburden of county social service entitlements. It is time to address these issues.
Protecting the health and safety of Sullivan County residents from a repeat scenario of water contamination such as occurred 20 years ago in the county is also paramount. Any gas company transporting or disposing of toxic hazardous chemicals in Sullivan County should not be given a free ticket. My responsibility as a former public health nurse is to work toward making sure a public health impact assessment is carried out outlining the known risks. We the people deserve this.
Lastly, my efforts continue to unfold to increase the works of one of our top economic stimulators. By establishing the first Agricultural Advisory Committee in conjunction with our county commitment to agriculture by preserving our full-time agricultural planner, we are on our way to encourage agricultural growth. Our current legislature is equally committed to increasing works of renewable energy through our county sustainability department. As the Industrial Development Agency works to advance the red meat facility and increase efforts at reaching out to small business, the legislature looks forward to taking the lead in working toward including agriculture as a vital piece of economic development.
As I work along with my fellow legislators to advance these works and others, I welcome your input. Call me at 845/807-0435.
[Cindy Kurpil Gieger is the Sullivan County Legislator for District 5.]