Sullivan, briefly: What to know from Thursday, August 5 legislative meetings

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 8/10/21

MONTICELLO, NY — COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. Could several young attorneys please apply for jobs at the county attorney’s office? Will the energy tax be repealed? All in the …

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Sullivan, briefly: What to know from Thursday, August 5 legislative meetings

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MONTICELLO, NY — COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. Could several young attorneys please apply for jobs at the county attorney’s office? Will the energy tax be repealed? All in the Sullivan County committee meetings from August 5.

The pandemic isn’t gone

There were over 100 active cases as of August 7. Five people were hospitalized, two in the ICU.

“Welcome to the fourth wave of COVID,” said commenter Cat Scott.

Legislator Nadia Rajsz begged people to get vaccinated. Some who have been vaccinated have breakthrough infections, she said, but those are mild; vaccination prevents severe illness and death. “We are designated as a substantial transmission zone by the CDC.”

Scott suggested that American Rescue Plan funds could be designated for COVID-19 preparation. “Are there more ventilators?” she asked. “We have 30,000+ people unvaccinated right now.”

Help wanted at the county attorney’s office

It’s not just wait staff. It’s attorneys.

Nobody is applying for jobs in his office and that of the district attorney, said Michael McGuire, county attorney. “The last attorney we hired lasted three weeks.”

These are the folks who represent the county and its staff in court cases, who deal with property matters like foreclosures and tax exemption claims, do investigations, and more. Basically, they keep the legal end of the county going. (The district attorney is in charge of criminal cases and there are family court attorneys too.)

Back when he and Tom Cawley (now the assistant county attorney) were in the district attorney’s office, “it was not uncommon that ADAs [assistant district attorneys] stayed for 25 years. Those days are gone and it’s a tough market.”

In his current office, they “had jobs open a year, with no applicants... the young attorneys that used to fill these jobs are just not there anymore.”

The reason, McGuire said later in an email, is geography. “We just do not have a great deal of local folks looking to live back here after law school, as opposed to many other areas of the state and country.”

What that translates into is six lawyers in the county attorney’s office and they have to be experienced, so they can jump right into the work without extensive training. “We do not have the luxury of hiring a first-year lawyer and training them for a year or two before they try difficult cases. They must be able to do so from Day One,” McGuire said.  

New administrator at the care center

At the special meeting last Thursday, the legislature approved the hiring of Megan Holton as the new administrator at the Care Center at Sunset Lake. Burt Kohn, the previous administrator, was placed on administrative leave in July.

Energy tax repealed? Sort of

Since last year, county residents have been paying a four-percent tax on residential energy use. That’s electricity, fuel oil, propane. The amount brought in is part of the overall sales tax revenue.

The tax was scheduled to sunset in March of 2023, by which time, legislators hoped, the county balance sheet would be in better shape.

The repeal, as presented at the special meeting on August 5, would end the tax on heating oil and propane but keep the one on electricity.

“We aren’t stable yet, but another six [calendar] quarters should help,” said chairman Rob Doherty.

“We do overtax,” said legislator Nadia Rajsz. “Get rid of it.”

The advantage of the energy tax, as Doherty put it, is that unlike property taxes, it affected a broader swathe of people, essentially spreading the burden.

Legislator Mike Brooks brought up the fund balance, which needs an additional seven million or so for good health. [See discussion in the ARPA funds story]

Legislator Joe Perrello said there seem to have been conversations that he wasn’t a part of.

“I did not have a discussion,” said legislator Alan Sorensen. “We’re repealing two taxes early. I’m assuming...we need this revenue [from the electricity tax] and it’s going into reserves.” He asked how much the county was getting from the tax.

Since it’s part of sales tax numbers, that’s impossible to say right now, treasurer Nancy Buck replied.

The motion to repeal part of the energy tax passed, 5-4, with Rajsz, Perrello, Luis Alvarez and Ira Steingart dissenting. Those four, plus Sorensen, also asked to see a report on how much revenue the tax has brought in.

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