MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature had its first round of March committee meetings on Thursday, March 3. Up for discussion: the county’s crime rates, the financing of a …
MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature had its first round of March committee meetings on Thursday, March 3. Up for discussion: the county’s crime rates, the financing of a community college education and the O&W rail trail project.
Legislators heard updates on the county’s 2021 public safety statistics—and a few statistics from the early months of 2022—during the day’s first committee meeting.
Public safety commissioner Tom Farney told the legislature that the number of 911 calls made in the county went up by a substantial amount in 2021.
In 2020, there were roughly 5,450 calls for fire services, over 13,000 calls for emergency medical services, and roughly 16,500 calls for the police. Those numbers went up to over 6,400, almost 15,000 and almost 18,000 respectively in 2021.
“Total calls for the year through 911—in 2020, [the number was] 35,269, and it was just shy of 40,000 last year,” said Farney. “So we had an increase of 4,011 calls.”
The sheriff’s department reported a busy start to 2022. With the expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium, said undersheriff Eric Chaboty, the sheriff’s department had begun to execute orders of eviction and was busy with that work so far. “As we go to these locations to do these evictions, we’re running into some very interesting challenges,” said Chaboty. “Some of them involve mental health, some of them involve medical issues, but we’re navigating through them.
Chaboty reported as well that there were 16 homicide suspects in Sullivan County’s jail, a number he said was without precedent in the county.
A representative from the coroner’s office provided an update on the county’s overdose deaths for the start of the year.
Typically, 10 to 20 percent of all deaths in the county were related to opiates, he said. There were five overdose deaths from opiates in January and four in February, representing 25 percent and 12 percent of each month’s deaths respectively.
There had been 342 overdoses in total throughout 2021.
“It just does not stop,” he said.
The committee meeting concluded with legislators going into executive session with the sheriff and the undersheriff, “to discuss information related to a criminal investigation which would compromise law enforcement.”
SUNY Sullivan was in a good place at present, president Jay Quaintance told legislators during the government services committee meeting. The lifting of the state’s mask mandate for schools had left 80 percent of students elated, 10 percent grumpy, and 10 percent indifferent, he said, counting himself among the majority. Enrollment was up around 80 students compared to the previous spring, and the college’s capital project was moving forward.
But the fortunes of colleges across the state had not quite recovered to their pre-COVID-19 levels, in ways that impacted the amount of funding they received.
Colleges have three primary sources of funding, said Quaintance: student tuition, local share and state aid.
The local share was paid by county governments across the state to support county students who chose to go to college; in Sullivan County, the local share came out to around $4.3 million. Apart from issues with chargebacks (when a student chooses a college out-of-county and the county’s money for that student goes to supporting a college elsewhere), that system was in order.
“It helps us balance tuition, it helps us keep the doors open and it’s really, really critical,” said Quaintance.
State funding was equally critical. At present, however, that funding is lacking, in large part due to the formula the state is using.
The state’s level of funding is tied to enrollment numbers, said Quaintance, and while enrollment dropped, the college’s expenses continued to rise.
Sullivan County’s local share has a maintenance-of-effort clause, allocating a set amount of funding to maintain the college’s efforts independent of enrollment numbers. The state’s aid does not.
Quaintance said that colleges are advocating for a maintenance-of-effort clause for state aid, setting a funding floor based on 2019 levels of support.
In the day’s final committee meeting, Alan Kesten appeared before the board as the first vice-chair of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, updating the committee on the chamber’s activities.
The chamber had held a number of strategic planning meetings over the previous few months, said Kesten, aimed at reinvigorating the organization and coming up with a new strategic vision and mission statement.
“While we are keeping our focus on helping businesses to collectively do what they could not do individually, our new vision is to be the united force for business in Sullivan County, and our mission is uniting a culture of commerce throughout Sullivan County,” said Kesten.
Planning commissioner Freda Eisenberg appeared before the committee to discuss progress on the O&W Rail Trail project.
The group working on the rail trail has formed the O&W Rail Trail Alliance, said Eisenberg, an entity that unites all the different communities along the trail. Current members include six towns and four villages, and it partners with organizations such as Sullivan Renaissance and Sullivan 180.
The alliance intends to incorporate as a nonprofit entity, and will accept donations, coordinate the build-out of the trail and handle marketing, outreach and events.
Build-out efforts on the trail are currently focusing on the Neversink crossing in the Town of Fallsburg, said Eisenberg, which would connect two pre-existing segments of trail and form a 13-mile segment going from Woodridge to Ferndale. Following that project, the group intends to focus on a section of trail from Parksville to Livingston Manor, one that already has a clear right-of-way.
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