By: Oswego County Legislature Chairman, Fred Beardsly
I want to begin by thanking you, the members of the Legislature, for allowing me this opportunity to serve as your Chairman this year. It is a transition for me – a transition from being a Majority Leader who must lead debates on the behalf of a political caucus, to a Chairman who must preside fairly over the discussions on this floor, and who treats all elected representatives equitably, listening to your concerns and ideas, and fostering cooperation to reach goals that are in the best interest of our residents, taxpayers, and businesses. I pledge to you that is the type of Chairman I will be.
For the past decade, legislators and managers have worked together to restore the financial condition of the County, and establish sound budgeting practices. The results are self-evident:
2012 marks the eighth year in a row that the generic tax rate for Oswego County has been lowered or remained the same. In fact, in 2005, our generic tax rate was $9.20 per $1,000 of assessed value. This year, in 2012, our generic tax rate is $6.95 per $1,000 of assessed value. That is a decrease of 25 percent.
This is a Legislature that has demonstrated it can come together and make complex and difficult decisions. The property tax cap is an idea we support. Yet, when it became evident that the State’s current tax cap formula was unworkable for us because of the uncertain tax status of a nuclear plant, this Legislature set aside political differences and adopted an override unanimously.
We adopted a budget that complied with the limitations of the tax cap. But, by overriding the law, we protected our taxpayers from an uncertain State audit process that could have resulted in an unfair and unnecessary penalty of up to $5.5 million.
Over the past several years this Legislature has completed some significant projects while remaining steadfast in our commitment to be careful stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.
Some that are notable include:
Highway: The County Highway Department safely maintains 501.69 miles of county roads, including 600 intersections, 120 bridges, more than 4,000 culverts, and 35 miles of guide rail. Last year more than 67,700 tons of asphalt were applied to repair 34 miles of highway, and nearly 8 million linear feet of pavement were marked with striping. The department replaced the County Route 54 bridge over Fish Creek in Schroeppel, rehabilitated the bridge over Bells Creek on the county recreation trail in Volney, and managed the replacement of the Pineville bridge over the Salmon River on County Route 48 in Albion.
Recycling and Solid Waste: Over the past few years, the quantities of recyclables managed by the department have dramatically increased. Due to flow control of residential recyclables, the county improved its market position and was able to obtain strong pricing for the larger quantity of materials offered to processors.
In April of 2009 a ferrous recovery system was constructed at the Energy Recovery Facility. Since then almost 5,000 tons of steel have been recovered for recycling rather than landfilling. If markets hold for the ferrous material, the capital investment for the system will be recovered this year.
Recently the DSW started testing an innovative treatment system to reduce ammonia in landfill leachate. A research and demonstration permit was granted by DEC. The next few months will tell us if the system is successful. If this treatment method can be used, considerable savings will be realized when compared to conventional treatment methods.
This year all lighting fixtures in all solid waste facilities will be replaced with high-efficiency units which will reduce the use of electricity by 540,000 kWh, save $60,000 per year in electricity costs, and help avoid the production of nearly 300 tons of greenhouse gases each year.
Promotion & Tourism: Efforts by the department to better understand our customers and focus our messages using a multi-media approach have led to repeated increases in our bed and sales tax collections. In fact, based on a study sponsored by the New York State Department of Economic Development, tourism activity in Oswego County resulted in about $276 in avoided state and local taxes for the average household in 2010. To put that in other terms, our 2009 investment of $8.60 per household in tourism promotion avoided $276 per household in taxes.
Nearly 31,000 visitors from outside of New York State bought their fishing licenses in Oswego County last year, some from as far away as Alaska and Colorado. This number doesn’t include people who bought licenses on-line from the DEC Web site, or in neighboring counties.
The tourism Web site had 96,552 visits in 2011, with 48,830 unique visitors. The most popular page continues to be the fishing report, with 68,840 hits. There were 1,655 Facebook fans and 17,483 blog views last year. The staff distributed 32,000 visitor guides at consumer and trade shows, special events, information centers, businesses, and in response to requests for information from our advertising campaigns.
E-911 Emergency Communications: The E-911 center responded to 91,356 calls last year. More than 88 percent of them were answered in the first ten seconds. There were 92,979 dispatches involving law enforcement incidents, 19,591 fire responses, and 16,525 EMS responses.
I am pleased to say the radio system infrastructure is complete with all new and older existing sites installed, interconnected and tested. The older sites were upgraded to meet new construction specifications and a new building and generator was placed at each site for the new system.
We are currently awaiting connectivity of the various components that will allow, for the first time, direct communications with other counties. When we complete the testing and tuning process, we’ll begin the task of installing and distributing radios throughout the county. The county is ordering approximately 1,700 radio units. Agencies throughout the county will be trained to use them, and we anticipate the project will be completed in September of this year.
Drug Task Force: Last year this Legislature committed itself to driving drug crime out of our communities. The first step was to re-establish our undercover Drug Task Force.
This task force of County, State, and local narcotics officers is already conducting joint operations and making significant arrests. We secured grant funding for the DTF for the next three years. Today on your agenda, you have an opportunity to strengthen these efforts by asking for a special designation that will lead to federal funding for the DTF.
This County also took the lead last year in urging the State and Federal governments to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of dangerous natural and synthetic drugs that are destroying the lives of many of our young people.
I’m pleased to report to you that you’ve made an impact: our resolution has now been approved by the entire State Association of Counties as part of their official platform, and several bills have been introduced in the State Legislature, including one by our own Assemblyman Will Barclay.
County Airport: The County Airport sold $388,823 worth of jet and aviation fuel last year. The staff completed a total rehabilitation of the airport tie-down apron and maintained 9,200 feet of runway, taxiways, and hangars.
We have been successful in securing several million dollars from the state and federal governments to take on several projects that when completed will increase the airport’s ability to serve our growing list of corporate and recreational users. We made nearly $5 million of improvements over the last few years to the runways, taxiways and tie-down areas while investing only about $125,000 of our own.
Our Airport Advisory Committee was re-activated and works closely with the Highway Superintendent and Airport Manager to continue such efforts.
The county received a grant of $990,000 to remove obstructions on and around the airport. Our share of this project, which should be completed this year, is just over $24,000.
The new instrument landing system, which allows planes to land precisely during inclement weather, will allow for larger planes and increased traffic at the airport.
We are also waiting to hear on three other significant grants that, if approved, will allow us to continue to modernize the airport with very little investment on our part.
As I prepared this address I looked at our endeavors in 2011 and the challenges we face in 2012. I have confidence in every member of this Legislature.
Yet I feel I must caution us all, regardless of party, regardless of whether your district is geographically large or small, regardless of whether it’s a city or a town, that we must not slip into a government driven by politics or personalities.
We must not expend time, money, personnel or any public resources for political or personal attacks. I am confident in the capabilities of my fellow legislators and I invite you to join me in a positive and progressive approach to the taxpayers business. As your Chairman I will, and I hope all will join me, expend all my time and energy to focus on running the people’s government in Oswego County to the best of our ability.
So what lies ahead for us this year?
Oswego County, along with all the counties of New York, will devote significant efforts toward convincing State leaders to relieve county taxpayers of the unfair tax burden of State mandates.
Why? State mandates represent $161 million of our $193 million budget! That’s 83 percent!
For providing this $161 million in State programs, the State only gives Oswego County $28 million. The costs of these State mandates increase every year, and with the annual tax cap in place, it is easy to see that the status quo of the mandate system is simply unsustainable. Counties can no longer afford to subsidize the State!
The biggest mandate is, of course, Medicaid. We’ll collect $42.6 million in property taxes this year, and $25 million of it is for Medicaid. Oswego County taxpayers send a half million dollars to Albany every week to pay for the State’s Medicaid program.
Last year, this County Legislature, Republicans and Democrats alike, unanimously endorsed bipartisan State legislation that requires the State to take over all Medicaid costs over eight years, and once and for all removes the burden of Medicaid taxes on county property owners.
In response to that legislation, in his budget the Governor has proposed a State takeover only of the growth in Medicaid costs three years from now. That means Oswego County taxpayers will still see an increase of nearly $1.5 million before that cap is enacted. Although it’s encouraging that the Governor is talking about the Medicaid mandate, it’s not enough.
At the annual NYSAC conference two weeks ago, all the leaders of the State Legislature from both parties addressed the 1,000 county officials there and agreed the Governor’s Medicaid proposal is not enough. I urge this Legislature to support their efforts to impose a hard cap on Medicaid cost now… THIS year… not three years down the road.
The public can help us in this effort to reduce State mandates and save local services.
Oswego County’s home page has two new links: one to a grass-roots organization fighting mandates; and one to an online petition.
I urge everyone who hears this message to go to those Web sites, learn about mandates and sign the petition to tell Albany that when it comes to mandates and high taxes, enough is enough!
With regard to revenue, in 2012 the fair taxation of nuclear power plants will again be the focus of significant effort. At the end of last year, after two years of negotiation, the County, Town of Scriba, and Oswego School District approved a tax agreement with the Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 nuclear plants that our energy expert tells us is of historic magnitude.
Two down, one to go.
We are continuing negotiations with Entergy for the FitzPatrick plant. The goal is the same: to have the stability of a tax agreement that is fair to all taxpayers.
Internally, this Legislature has always made sure our departments have sufficient modern technology to improve efficiency and deliver high-quality services to our residents. The trouble is, we didn’t keep ourselves updated the same way.
For the first time, all legislators, regardless of where they live, have e-mail and Internet access. We’ll take advantage of that this year by establishing electronic communications and a web page that will keep you better informed … and informed much faster.
Meeting notices and full packets, once sent by mail over a couple of days, will be delivered to you electronically in a few seconds. A web site will contain all the minutes, agendas, resolutions, policies, forms, meeting schedules, updates and news releases, all in one spot for you, at the click of a button.
And by the way, this will save County taxpayers thousands every year in postage and printing!
We will continue working on some successful endeavors started over the past few years:
Green Team: An effort initiated by Chairman Leemann following his 2008 State of the County Address, the Green Team is a committee made up of department heads, representatives of the CNY Regional Planning and Development Board, SUNY Oswego, our Environmental Management Council and other interested parties.
Their charge is to find ways to make our county government function in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment while ensuring that any efforts can also be economically justified. To date they have completed nearly $290,000 in projects of which we have provided about 50 percent of the funding. The savings from those projects is expected to recoup our investment in less than a year and a half.
As we speak, we are beginning the installation of a 28-Kilowatt solar project at our Bunner Street health complex. When completed, the project is expected to shave nearly $4,000 per year off the electric bill for that facility.
Also as part of today’s agenda, we will be proposing to undertake a renovation of the HVAC system at the health complex that has the potential to reduce heating and cooling costs there by over $30,000 a year. When all of our scheduled projects are complete, we should be reducing our annual energy costs by almost $20,000 a year and helping to avoid the production of over 1,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year.
Camp Hollis: The youth bureau continues to work on goals identified by the Camp Hollis Task Force. Last year a maintenance position was restored to the Camp Hollis staff for the full season, resulting in better overall care of the facility. Our buildings and grounds department upgraded the bathroom facilities in the cabins.
The department implemented a new fee schedule for groups that use the facility, to help offset maintenance costs and to be more in line with similar facilities in New York State.
One of the major projects for 2012 will be to examine our options for stabilizing the bluff along the lake shore. We will issue a request for proposals to gather information and make an informed decision about how to control erosion of the bluff.
Workforce development: We are fortunate to have many strong local resources to focus on workforce development and industrial development here in Oswego County. County government will continue its partnerships with these agencies to provide opportunities for businesses and industries to grow and to advance job readiness skills for county residents. A few examples are the IDA financing for Champlain Valley specialty apple processing plant in the town of Oswego, the small business training classes sponsored by Operation Oswego County and the e-commerce business incubator project at SUNY Oswego.
Cayuga Community College’s decision to build a new permanent campus facility in Fulton is evidence of the high demand for services among county residents. The college’s investment in our community will have a noticeable impact on our quality of life and will help thousands of people, young and old alike, pursue their education in this difficult national economy. Enrollment is projected to double over the next decade. In addition, the broad and innovative enhancements to the SUNY Oswego campus will certainly lead to positive effects, both for our community and for the environment.
Regional economic development projects: The Central New York Regional Economic Task Force, and our own local representatives on the council, worked tirelessly over the past several months to bring State dollars into Oswego County.
In fact, of the ten economic development regions created by New York State, our own Central New York region presented one the best development plans in the state and as a result our region was awarded more funding than any other region.
Work has already begun on the east terminal connector project at the Oswego Port Authority. The state has committed $1.75 million for this project, which will greatly enhance and expand storage and handling capacity at the port. Funding will also help pay for expanded product lines and retain jobs at Fulton Thermal and Huhtamaki facilities.
With growing demands for energy production, we will also address the need for adequate transmission lines for our family of energy producers in Oswego County.
Fraud Investigations: This year you will see a renewed effort to prevent fraudulent use of taxpayer dollars.
The Department of Social Services Fraud Investigative Unit will continue its work with the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and our housing assistance office to identify people who are collecting benefits fraudulently.
Last year, 11 people were arrested and charged with defrauding DSS. Another 13 were identified and removed from housing program assistance. Combined, their unlawful actions totaled more than $56,000. The DA’s Office has hired additional staff to assist with this initiative, and this effort will continue in 2012.
Our message to those who think that they can use these programs to steal from our taxpayers is simple, We Are Watching — If you are stealing, we will catch you and you will pay.
DSS: The Department of Social Services continues its efforts to renew confidence in the child protective system. The Child Protection Advisory Council held a series of community workshops last year to increase public awareness about the signs of child abuse and to discuss the community’s role in protecting children and families.
Over the next few months DSS will launch a new Family Assessment Response program that focuses on keeping children safe and helping the family function effectively.
Every report received from the Statewide Central Register is assessed for imminent danger, level of risk to the child, case characteristics, and number of previous reports. If it is deemed appropriate for the FAR program, an appointment will be scheduled with the family to discuss the services available to them.
2012 will very likely see many more special committees than we have been accustomed to. It is my intent to task these committees, along with the Legislature’s standing committees, with specific agendas in an effort to find more efficient ways to utilize the taxpayers’ dollars.
I am open and will remain open to suggestions from legislators regarding any issue they feel should be addressed. Again, all I ask is that the objective has a positive benefit to the taxpayer.
I would like to thank our county employees and department heads for a job well done. I assure you, we know how hard you work and appreciate your dedication to your job and the people of this county. I would like to thank you on behalf of the Legislature for your efforts and cooperation during these difficult economic times.
In closing, I would like to re-emphasize that I am confident in the ability of this Legislature, the county’s employees, and department heads. I am confident that together we can accomplish our task of providing the people of Oswego County with an efficient, friendly and effective government.
I thank you all and look forward to a positive and productive 2012.