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County Legislature stays busy

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — April 20, 2010 — Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell had good and bad news for legislators during Thursday’s round of committee meetings.
The total number of cases in 2009 was down from 2008, Farrell remarked, from 3,550 in ‘08 to 3,516 in ‘09.
But before anyone could celebrate, he added that the 947 cases in the first quarter of 2010 have already well outpaced the 715 cases in the first quarter of 2009 – with a few involving murders and gang violence.
“That’s a 32.5 percent increase,” Farrell noted with alarm.
County asks for a break from state
Also at the Public Safety Committee meeting, legislators discussed the potential impact of a new state law about to be put into action – one they want delayed.
Called Leandra’s Law after a child who was killed in a drunk-driving wreck in New York City last year, the legislation requires every county in the state to create an ignition interlock program plan which would oversee the installation and use of such devices on DWI offenders’ cars.
The ignition interlock requires drivers to breathe into a device that measures their blood alcohol content, and if they have alcohol in their system, the car will not start. It also requires such breath tests at random points while driving.
The county’s Probation Department and an eight-member oversight committee will be responsible for the devices’ use, though those convicted of DWI will actually pay the estimated $50 monthly rental cost.
Still, county officials are worried that it will be expensive in terms of manhours, and having just gotten word of the need to have a plan ready by June 15, they’re pushing for an implementation delay.
“We’d have our hands full,” Probation Director Tom Fogarty told legislators on Thursday.
Legislator Leni Binder felt some issues remained vague, like the protocol when the DWI offender borrows a friend or relative’s car not installed with the interlock.
Those that can’t pay for the device’s rental might be allowed by the presiding judge to pay in installments or, in the case of total inability to pay, have the manufacturer eat the cost, but the county is getting no money from the state to fund this program – save for 10 percent back for indigents.
“This is really yet another unfunded state mandate,” lamented County Manager David Fanslau.
“It seems to be never ending,” agreed Legislator David Sager.
Still, Farrell and Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic felt it is a good law.
“I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor,” said Farrell.
“I think the problem is the mechanics of how this law is being implemented,” noted Martinkovic.
As other county governing bodies have done in New York, legislators unanimously agreed to ask the state to delay implementation until a plan for funding can be established.
Adult Care Center’s future not bleak
The Family Council and other Adult Care Center supporters attended Thursday’s Health and Family Services Committee meeting to remind legislators that it’s a critical part of county operations.
“We all should be very, very proud of the fact it’s OUR nursing home,” Family Councilmember Barbara Konvalin said, subtly referring to ongoing talks about privatizing the facility.
But, said Legislator Ron Hiatt, “I can tell you the thoughts about selling are receding.”
And just-retired Care Center Administrator Pam Hurley will stay on for up to three more months as an interim administrator while officials search for her replacement.
Mortgage tax extended
Legislators unanimously extended yet again the county’s mortgage tax – 25 cents assessed on every $100 financed.
The surcharge will remain in effect for the next three years.
Veteran decries user fee
Ken Morgan of the Mamakating VFW Post in Wurtsboro was one of several veterans at Thursday’s Veterans Committee meeting, and he denounced the recent denial of his post’s solid waste user fee appeal.
“[Charging us] $84.95 is four times our amount of usage,” he complained to legislators.
Legislator Frank Armstrong replied that the charge is based not on usage but on accessibility and the need to recoup expenses of the solid waste system.
But the charges won’t end for the post.
“Somebody dumped two pickup truckloads of garbage in front of our no-dumping sign,” Morgan frustratedly explained. “... And now we’re going to have to pay to get rid of this crap!”
Legislator Kathy LaBuda promised she’d resolve the issues with Morgan and the post after the meeting.
During the same meeting, legislators unanimously agreed to have a formal policy directing county officials to lower county flags to half-staff anytime a county resident or native is killed while on active U.S. military duty.
The policy formalizes something that had been done from time to time, though now it will occur for no less than five days in a row, usually up until the deceased’s interment.

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