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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Letters

Care about the lone sheep too

To the editor:
Having been raised a Christian, I was dismayed by Ed Townsend's piece on Giants pitcher Sam Coonrod's decision to not participate in his team's protest against racism. Coonrod and Townsend are free to stand or kneel as they see fit, in respect to America and to God.
But they appear to believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow anti-Christian, and I don't see it that way. Whether or not some Black Lives Matter activists espouse Marxist ideals or have said “negative things about the nuclear family” (meaning opposing discrimination against LGBTQ Americans?), protesting racism by taking a knee or by stating that black lives matter is hardly anti-Christian.
I was raised to know that Jesus loves all people, and that he gave his life in service to everyone. He ministered to those in need and criticized those with means who did not help their neighbors. In the parable of the good shepherd in Matthew and Luke, Jesus told of the shepherd who left his flock to search for a single lost sheep. That lone sheep was in danger and needed attention. The shepherd cared for all his sheep yet momentarily turned specifically to the one sheep who needed help.
It is an appropriate response in a time of crisis, and it is the same with Black Lives Matter. “Black Lives Matter” is not a message of exclusion—no one is saying “only black lives matter,” no more than the shepherd should be seen as not caring for all his sheep equally. Rather, saying “Black Lives Matter” is a message of urgent and loving inclusion: all lives are precious, and black lives are in danger and need attention.
Or as Jesus said, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” To my mind, kneeling is a signal that we care about that lone sheep too.


Alexander Gardner
Callicoon

Taxpayers first

To the editor:
Bruce Ferguson's “Bum's Rush” letter in the August 4 edition of the Democrat offers a string of assumptions that are simply not based in fact.
I keep being told that “pretty much everyone” (as Bruce puts it) doesn't like the path we're exploring to sell the Care Center at Sunset Lake. I just don't see it. We've had a handful of people come out to our public hearings, almost exclusively representing staff, patients and the union (the “overflow” Bruce references is pretty easy to hit when our Hearing Room can only accommodate 50 people due to COVID-19 regulations).
The average taxpayer who has no other stake in the facility - except that they fund it - is not showing up at these hearings, protests and other gatherings, nor are they inundating us with letters and phone calls. A petition was signed by 600, true, but that's out of a County of 75,000+ (and in the summer, when the petition was circulated, we have 200,000-300,000 people here).
“Everyone” is not the proper moniker, and there very much appears to be a silent majority that agrees with us that the Care Center can have a successful future outside County control.
Several of the comments we've received, in fact, show this to be a union-fueled battle. And those comments - about employees “losing” their retirement benefits - don't stand up when you realize those same employees have the skills and experience to find jobs throughout New York which offer benefits that do include the State pension system.
I'm not “against” our Care Center employees - they've done fine work amidst extremely difficult circumstances. I'm particularly sorry this Legislature's ongoing discussion and indecision on the facility's future has added to their stress. But frankly, this is not about them. It's about what we can afford, which is why we've already enacted a number of layoffs elsewhere in County government.
In any situation where it's the taxpayer vs. “something else,” I will always come down on the side of the taxpayer. I know my fellow newly elected legislators feel the same way.
As for those we serve at the Care Center, I wouldn't for a minute consider this avenue if I thought it would harm our residents or degrade the care they receive. In fact, I have good reason to believe that a private operator will improve care. (For example, a private operator can turn the Care Center into a skilled-care facility, where we no longer have to subject our frail and elderly to stressful trips to other locations that can do more specialized procedures.) I will certainly not be in favor of any operator who has a record of “below average” care.
The usual complaints about the IDA and the Airport only benefiting the rich don't hold water, either. I wish the IDA did not have to be so generous, but the tax realities leave them little option if any economic development is to be realized. And let's not forget that high taxes squash needed economic development. Wouldn't it be great if our low taxes attracted both new residents and new businesses?
The Airport has been a far smaller drain on County finances than the Care Center, and it's a foolish daydream to think some company or individual would be willing to pay back the $30 million in federal grants we'd have to return (immediately) if the Airport was sold to a private operator.
I've yet to come across anyone in Sullivan County who thinks the taxes here are fair and justified. To a person, they strongly feel overtaxed. In the quest to relieve that burden - which I take as one of our highest priorities - we are looking at all options, including with the Care Center. We may have little option with mandated offerings, but in this very real and very serious economic crisis, I am not about to start playing the favorites game with non-mandated services. Sacrifices have been and must continue to be made, and taxpayers are right to expect that we carry out the mandate they've given us.
I just joined the Legislature and have already had enough time to see the cracks in our financial foundation. The most irresponsible thing I could do would be to ignore the taxpayer, who will pay for any deficit this County incurs. And I will always put the taxpayer first.


Robert A. Doherty, Chairman
Monticello

Prevent the worst damage of climate change

To the editor:
My stepson's family was without power for six days after Tropical Storm Isaias struck our region. It was the earliest storm starting with the letter I on record, beating Hurricane Irene by more than a week.
Most years, we've only gotten up to names starting with D or E at this point in the summer; the ninth named storm usually doesn't happen until October.
A warming planet has already committed us to increasingly frequent and intense storms that burden our communities and the country as a whole. But the extent of that warming is still up to us. To prevent its worst effects, we need to address climate change - now.
Economists say the most effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions would be to put a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon. If that sounds expensive, it's actually far cheaper than the costs of unmitigated climate change would be.
One specific proposal is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which would prompt businesses and consumers to shift to alternative fuel sources, stimulating job growth in clean-energy sectors. Funds collected would be distributed to all Americans each month.
Just as the New Deal put people back to work during the Depression, so too could measures to address climate change help working people today.
Polls show that a majority of Americans support action on climate change. But until lawmakers are convinced of that, nothing meaningful will actually get done.
If you want our nation to address climate change, please contact your legislators and ask them to support a fee on carbon. Do it not just once, but monthly.


Rebekah Creshkoff
Callicoon

Slogans are not effective

To the editor:
In the early 1960's, I seem to remember New York City embarking on a program to improve the NYC subway system. The improvements essentially amounted to a new logo on new signs and little else in terms of actual tangible improvements.
I was reminded of this recently when I saw the inept Mayor Bill de Blasio participating in painting the slogan, “Black Lives Matter”, on a city street. Again, a logo, or in this case, a slogan, will be the extent of, and substitute for, any actual improvements to the day to day lives of the inner city's population.
The ineffectual inner city school system will continue to fail its mostly minority students while the desire of many minority parents for alternatives will continue to be ignored. The demonizing and defunding of the police will ignore the desire of inner city residents for a stronger police presence as crime, violence and victimization of those residents increases.
If slogans were effective, “Black Students Matter” should be painted on inner city school buildings and “Black Lives Matter” should be painted on the streets where innocent children and citizens have been caught in the crossfire, not, in an infantile gesture, on the street across from Trump Tower.
But, of course, slogans aren't effective. In this instance, they only serve to mask the inability and indifference of the politicians to provide real solutions.


Harv Smith
Monticello

Refreshing change

To the editor:
What a refreshing change to read the column by the Democrat's newest writer, Hudson Cooper. It was interesting, informative and funny, unlike the “My Turn” column that was always full of ranting and raving, mostly about President Trump. No matter what the subject, it had to blame Trump for something. Got very tiring and it was definitely time to stop. Good luck to him.
Kathy Werner, in her column, stated the she got some precious advice from her former editor… “not to become a Johnny One Note”. That indeed was great advice!
Garden Guru James Boxberger Jr. is a MUST read. He keeps us gardeners informed of the latest information we need to know. Any time I have had a garden or koi pond question for James, he has the right answer. Definitely a garden guru!
I also want to mention writer James Loney. That is a column many of us in Smallwood and the surrounding area look forward to. His writing is heartfelt, so easy to relate to and almost poetic as the words flow.
With all the crazy and negative things going on now, it's so good to spend some time reading pleasant, hopeful, funny, sweet words from good writers!


Denise Connolly
Smallwood

Grave concerns about the failure of the state to provide a plan for financing student transportation

To the editor:
Dear Governor Cuomo,
The New York School Bus Contractors Association (“NYSBCA”) represents approximately 200 private school bus companies who employ over 45,000 school bus drivers, matrons, mechanics, and support staff throughout New York State.
Over 63% of New York's school districts contract out their student transportation to private school bus contractors. Indeed, our industry is proud to safely transport over 1.4 million students who ride a yellow school bus to and from school each day in New York.
However, we are writing to express our grave concerns about financing the opening of school for our districts. After the statewide school shutdown on March 13th, 2020, many school districts took the position that they could no longer pay our members for their services absent assurances from NYSED that transportation expenses would continue to be reimbursed.
While school districts have agreed to continue to pay their pupil transportation contracts so long as the State Education Department maintains state aid to the districts, this aid continues to be very much in doubt and is jeopardizing school startup statewide.
As student transportation is an integral part of any school reopening plan, our members are unreasonably being asked, without any guarantee of payment, to engage in extensive planning discussions as well as implement additional safety precautions in a very short amount of time. However, without having some guarantee that we will be funded, our members categorically cannot commit to any reopening plan because the failure to fund us WILL lead to the failure of the contracted school bus industry in no uncertain terms.
School bus contracts are bid for 1-5 years, based on a school calendar of 180 days. Although some of our cost is clearly labor related, a piece of this labor cost is directly connected to keeping our operations ready, willing and able to conduct business (vehicle maintenance, training and other administrative costs).
The balance of the cost to operate is in the form of cost of equipment and other fixed costs, such as rent and other overhead items. If our members will not be paid for 180 days, then the unit price must change or these operations run the risk of financial failure.
Our employees cannot be expected to potentially put themselves at risk, many of them being older and therefore in the COVID-19 high-risk category, while having no guarantee whatsoever that they will even be entitled to keep their medical insurance during the greatest health care challenge in the past 100 years.
This is why our neighboring state Connecticut adopted executive order 7R, requiring school districts to negotiate amendments to contracts with student transportation providers with the goal of “sustaining continuity of service … to make payments to transportation providers so that they may compensate their active employees and provide them health insurance.”
Even while not providing daily transportation services, our professional drivers, matrons and mechanics remain at the ready and on call as needed. Year after year, our members safely transport children to and from school every day. Now is the time to secure the experienced workforce by keeping them employed, paying their wages and continuing their medical benefits. Student transportation remains the backbone of the educational system, and this important industry must be protected. Instead, we are asking our already high-risk work force to jeopardize their health while not being able to guarantee that they will be able to enjoy their health benefits. Who would do this?
We have been in constant communication with our members and it appears that most districts found a way to support at least some of the cost (at least 50%) to run these contracts out until June with the understanding SED is reimbursing the district for state aid.
Much litigation was initiated and some litigation remains unresolved. We are taking the children of this state to school. Fighting with our customer over the uncertainty of payment is expensive and disruptive and does not allow us to focus on the safety issues at hand.
We are respectfully requesting that you provide guidance on payment on school bus contracts, and the aid connected to these contracts, before the school year begins so that we can avoid any confusion and be able to commit to a schools' re-opening plans.
Our districts need this guidance in order to submit their re-opening plans in good faith due July 31, 2020, and our employees deserve to know if they'll be paid and their benefits continued. Therefore, since continuity of transportation funding (180 days) is material to each of our school district's transportation re-opening plans, unless these plans are rejected by NYSED, we will need to assume that we are getting paid pursuant to our renegotiated contracts with our school districts.
The alternatives of canceling contracts and rebidding midyear are just not reasonable.


Jennifer Hickey Bruce, CMP

Bravo Franklin Trapp and FBP

To the editor:
Last night, Saturday, we had the pleasure of attending a live cabaret presentation at The Forestburgh Playhouse. They are doing it so right! In this time of extreme anxiety and uncertainty, entertainment options are few and far between, especially live performance.
The Playhouse is offering performances of some of the top names in Broadway, variety and local talent in a completely safe and yet not in the least bit annoying way. Safe distance ordering, service, seating, parking, viewing and even presentation make for a most safe, comfortable and very entertaining evening of cabaret performance.
We purchased tickets to see the sublime Kate Baldwin, whom we have loved since seeing her wonderful performance in “Big Fish” on Broadway. She was fresh off of her Tony Award nominated performance on Broadway in the Bette Midler/Bernadette Peters production of Hello Dolly. She did not disappoint. Her exquisite soprano was in full throttle and her sensitive and completely honest and connected interpretations were truly inspired. Absolutely lovely in every way.
The welcome surprise for us was the appearance of Louis Cleale. We have heard his name over the years but have never had the pleasure of seeing him in performance. He was fantastic. A true Broadway, handsome leading man with a gorgeous baritone voice. Great energy, both as a solo and especially when singing with Ms. Baldwin. What amazing connection and chemistry between the two. It was obvious their love and respect for each other.
It was also nice to hear of the connection between both artists and FBP empresario Franklin Trapp. We are so lucky to have someone so talented and so committed to the art of live performance right here in Sullivan County. There was one more connection of note and that was when Mr. Cleale spoke of his fond memory of working with local resident and audience member, Ken Parks!
We have purchased tickets for two upcoming performances and are so looking forward to them. As these presentations are happening in anticipation of the 75th Anniversary of the playhouse in 2021, it is a way to support live performance of excellence here in Sullivan County and get yourself out of the house and thoroughly entertained in a very special way! fbplayhouse.org
It was also a pleasure to see so many friends and acquaintances in attendance. We wish Frank and his staff a successful and satisfying season! Kudos to all!


Scott Samuelson and Edward Dudek
White Lake

Value this moment

To the editor:
Someone recently wrote a letter saying “Everyone born in this country is equal, no matter what the skin color.” In order to avoid conflict and wanting to be liked, many people choose to be silent when things like this are said. Though I want to be liked, I have long ago decided that I could have no peace in my heart if I didn't address these kinds of beliefs. John Lewis, my long time Hero since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, is ever present in my mind, allowing me no time to be complacent in the midst of the chaos of today.
The front page of this paper on July 17 proclaims that the “…the parents & alumni rally for racial equality” in a local school district. The article describes the awful things that were said and done to children right here in Sullivan County. I would call these actions racist. Some may believe that racism and inequality ended in 1865 with the end of slavery, but we all know that The Voting Rights Act of 1965 needed to be written to ensure everyone's right to vote. In 2013 this Act was gutted and is presently sitting on Sen. McConnell's desk waiting for changes that would end the voter suppression of people of color that is happening again, right now. Freedom to vote is fundamental to our country.
In a recent book “White Fragility”, the author Robin Diangelo notes that if a white person is told that they have done something problematic around race, they often respond with anger and denial. Instead of using the moment to appreciate the valuable teaching, that racism is unavoidable and is impossible to escape unless you acknowledge it, they continue to express “problematic racial assumptions and behaviors.” Let's hope that the person who wrote the letter and all the people who cheer her words, will take this moment to value this teaching by “…engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice.”


Pamela Zaitchick
Glen Wild

Bum's Rush

To the editor:
Pretty much everyone who's been paying attention is disgusted by the way legislative chair Rob Doherty has attempted to push through the sale of the Adult Care Center in Liberty with minimal public scrutiny. As he made plans to unload the Center, even some county legislators were kept in the dark.
If the county-owned facility is sold, the lives of hundreds of county residents could be upended. It has 146 beds and employs nearly two hundred people. Sale to a for-profit company would likely lead to a loss of jobs and a decline in the quality of care.
Right now, under county ownership, the Center has a four star rating from Medicare. One prospective buyer owns a string of nursing homes—almost half have a “below average” or “much below average” rating.
The Center cannot be sold unless the county residents are first given the opportunity to comment, so Doherty tried to dispense with this obligation by scheduling a single thirty-minute meeting for 8 o'clock on a Tuesday morning. Despite the unusually early hour, an overflow crowd showed up.
Nevertheless, when the scheduled time had elapsed Doherty tried to cut off public comment and proceed to a vote on a resolution that would transfer ownership of the Center to a tightly controlled corporation that would do his bidding.
Fortunately other legislators put on the brakes. Alan Sorenson insisted that everyone who came to speak must be heard, and Ira Steingart said that the Center should not be put up for sale until the legislature has done its due diligence.
It's true the Center is losing money, but there's been no real attempt to see if it can be put on a firmer financial footing. Last year Sullivan County gave businesses nine million dollars in tax breaks, and it continues to sink money into an underutilized airport that benefits only a handful of county residents.
If the county can afford to dole out tax breaks and perks for the wealthiest, can't it find a way to care for its most vulnerable?


Bruce Ferguson
Callicoon Center

Thanking those who work for others

To the editor:
The Sullivan County Office for the Aging (OFA) is a small department that provides a huge number of services to the public. Most people are familiar with homebound meals, medical transportation, and shopping bus, but OFA helps in many other ways, too, and has continued to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I want to mention the excellent work of the OFA Director, Lise-Anne Deoul, and the many talented and dedicated OFA workers, especially Jane Bozan, Nutrition Coordinator, and the two Sullivan NY Connects Assistants, Tana Price and Debbie Barnes.
I worked at the Office for the Aging for many years as Coordinator of Sullivan NY Connects and have just recently retired. The Sullivan NY Connects program offers information about long term services and supports (LTSS) to older adults and to people of all ages with disabilities.
The need for LTSS is great and everyday people and caregivers inquire about help for themselves, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor. Although I am now retired, I feel it is important to mention the many people who provide the services that people need.
Over the years I have worked with remarkable people who are dedicated and compassionate about LTSS. These people and many others have served on the Long Term Care Council (advisory board for Sullivan NY Connects) helping to analyze community needs, improve accessibility and coordination of services, and promote Sullivan NY Connects.
A number of agencies have been steady supporters: Caregiver Resource Center (Bonnie Lewis), Action Toward Independence (Steve McLaughlin and Debbie Worden), Independent Living, Inc. (Nora Shepard), Hudson Valley Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (Ellen Ott and Gloria Murray), Case Management at Catskill Regional Medical Center (Suzanne Lange Ahmed), and Hospice of Orange and Sullivan Counties (Dan Grady).
LTSS are available throughout the county. For caregivers, this means hours and hours of taking care of a family member, friend, or neighbor. For providers and professional advocates, this means not only the hands-on provision of care, but the unrelenting watchdog efforts to stay abreast of County, State, and Federal regulations. For consumers, this means finding appropriate services, applying for benefits, understanding health insurance coverage, and accessing new services as needs change.
I would also like to thank the local businesses that have helped with increasing awareness of Sullivan NY Connects: Sullivan County Democrat, The River Reporter, Times Herald-Record, Bold Gold Media, WJFF Radio Catskill, Spectrum, Best Ad-Vantage, and Lamar billboards.
Sullivan NY Connects is only one of many ways that the Office for the Aging helps Sullivan County residents. If you are reading this letter and thinking, “I had no idea,” then please call OFA (845-807-0241) and ask for a brochure.
My years at OFA were busy, to be sure, and I worked hard to meet the needs of Sullivan County residents. The work carries on.




Martha Scoppa
Liberty




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