Some budget presentations, briefly

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 11/25/20

MONTICELLO, NY — The world-changing year of 2020 has slashed budgets. 

Aid is cut. Grants are gone. All counties have been dealing with the fallout. 

In Sullivan County, …

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Some budget presentations, briefly

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — The world-changing year of 2020 has slashed budgets. 

Aid is cut. Grants are gone. All counties have been dealing with the fallout. 

In Sullivan County, departments have worked hard to bring down costs, as they reported at the November budget hearings. Everyone understood the need, but also that county taxpayers can only endure so much. But the hearings also showed that, sometimes, money needed to be spent. Legislators wrestled with how to make that happen. It’s complicated because, sometimes, the state requires a level of service. But what happens when the state money to help a county pull that off is reduced or not provided at all? 

Ugly choices loom.

Cars, people needed at the Sheriff’s Department

At the November 5 budget meeting, undersheriff Eric Chaboty warned that the department needs to budget for two vehicles. He said that doing without “will have a ripple effect down the road.” 

That would add $30,000 per car to the budget.

The cars were actually needed in 2020, he said. It was emphasized that sheriff department cars have been heavily used, proved by the high mileage; there’s also the inevitable safety costs that will come if and when a car breaks down and a deputy can’t get to an emergency. 

Vacant positions and poor-quality cars, the department argued, might be fiscally responsible, but these factors risk the safety of the public safety and of the deputies.

Sullivan County homeless at all-time low

Right now, the homeless population of Sullivan County is at “a historic low,” said family services director John Liddle.

There are 47 “housed homeless” he reported at the November 12 budget hearing. That’s down from 113 last winter. 

Why so low? Probably the eviction-protection laws passed because of COVID-19. 

Liddle is concerned that when the moratorium expires—as early as January 1, unless it’s extended—the number of homeless would spike. 

Numbers of pending eviction cases were not available. Courts were closed much of the year due to the pandemic so, eventually, there will be a backlog to work through. 

Liddle said that Orange County has 1,000 eviction cases pending as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

The county houses its homeless in motels and with a few landlords. It costs about $30 to $40 per night to house people here.

Childhood residential treatment costs

When there’s a child in Sullivan County who is in trouble, sometimes residential treatment is the answer. 

There are 13 kids in care right now. But at $18,000 a month (the total cost of all the kids’ treatment), the budget impact on the department can’t be ignored either. “That’s pretty significant,” Liddle said at the November 12 budget hearing.

School districts will put kids in educational placement “and that comes back on social services to pay for.” 

The department is working with school districts “to make sure we’re stepping kids down out of residential placement and... back into their home districts as quickly as we can,” he said.

Those treatment centers are mostly outside the county, Liddle said. “These agencies certainly serve the best interests of the kid... but they also have their own financial incentives.” There are also a couple of group homes in the county. A foster home placement (different from a group home) costs $30 per month. There are 37 foster homes.

Family services is focused on getting the kids back from residential treatment and into their home districts if that will give them better care, Liddle said. 

And no matter what, the roads need fixing

Zero dollars were recommended for paving, and budgets were slashed for general road maintenance. 

Granted, that’s just the tentative budget. But “taxpayers see roads, buildings, maintenance, improvements and cleanliness,” as high priorities, said Joe Perrello, head of the public works committee, at the November 19 budget hearing. 

The management and budget committee struggled with how to pay for needed expenses when so many expenses were needed. 

Nick Salomone suggested bonding. 

Public works director Ed McAndrew said that 170 miles needed paving, and 25 miles of that would be a great start in 2021. 

If tackled now, that work would cost $200,000 to $250,000 per mile, he said. Within two to three years, as the roads deteriorate further, it rises exponentially from there: to $300,000, then to $500,000 then to $600,000. 

Short-term, there are things that can be done. But “we’ll have to make a decision,” legislator Mike Brooks said.

Watch for yourself

The county will hold budget hearings on Tuesday, December 1 at 6 p.m., and Thursday, December 3 at 12:30 p.m. in the legislative chambers. You can watch the hearings at the county’s meeting portal, www.bit.ly/scmeeting, and view the tentative budget at www.bit.ly/sc2020budget

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