December 14, 2011 —
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD) has been providing consulting services to Sullivan County for the past year, but the cost of the contract for 2012, about $45,000, was not included in the tentative budget produced by county manager David Fanslau.
At a meeting at the government center on December 8, lawmaker Ron Hiatt asked why it was left out of the budget. Fanslau answered that the service provided was one that could be picked up by county staff, or that it is possible that the contract with SASD could be funded through grants. He said there was an existing grant that would pay for the contract through April 2012. He added, however, that he was not opposed to adding funding for SASD.
Lawmaker Jodi Goodman said she thought the services provided by SASD could be provided by the college. But she and the other lawmakers agreed to follow the will of the newly elected legislators who will be taking over in January. Four of them, Cindy Geiger, Cora Edwards, Ira Steingart and Kitty Vetter, indicated they wanted funding for SASD in the budget. Lawmaker Alan Sorensen suggested that the county include $25,000 for the contract, which was accepted by the other lawmakers.
Roadmap for climate plan
At a meeting later in the day, SASD, which has brought hundreds of thousands of grant dollars into the county for solar installations and other renewable energy projects, made a presentation regarding a “Roadmap to a County Action Plan.”
According to the SASD website, the plan calls for the documentation of county government and community greenhouse gas emissions and then the preparation of “climate action projects, which will save energy, cut costs and reduce county greenhouse gas emissions.” The plan also calls for focusing on work on each of the four sectors in the county: buildings, transportation, waste management/recycling and land/water use.
The program is possible now where it would not have been in the past because the county has purchased a license for a computer program developed by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which makes it relatively easy to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of various facilities.
Stephen Stuart, an SASD technical advisor, said the group did not get “buy in” from the legislators, six of whom are leaving at the end of the month. He added that there were not enough of the newly elected legislators on hand to determine if they would vote to adopt the plan, but it will be presented to the new legislature in January 2012.
The budget hearing
In a separate meeting, a hearing was held for the tentative 2012 budget, which calls for about $6 million in spending in reserve funds, which is considered to be unsustainable by many. One of two people to speak at the hearing was county treasurer Ira Cohen, who said that the budget process as now practiced by the county needed to be changed.
He called for more public discussion about what was included in the budget, for instance, “how revenues figures are arrived at and so on; there isn’t enough time spent discussing what’s in the budget itself.” He noted that all budgets going back to 2009 have been difficult. And he said, “This 2012 budget is going to have such a negative impact on this county and on this new group of legislators—it’s not even fair to impose this on a new legislative body.”
Earlier, Fanslau had said that direction from the legislature about the preparation of the 2012 budget was not to go beyond the 2% property tax increase imposed by Albany, not to reduce services and not to lay off any employees.
With those parameters, Cohen said, Fanslau’s only option was to dip in heavily to reserves. Cohen noted that the legislators did not discuss making changes to programs that are not mandated by the state, such as mental health services, which lawmakers have the authority to cut should they choose to do so.