OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Barry Leemann, chair of the Oswego County Legislature, began his 2010 State of the County Address on Thursday by thanking the voters of Oswego County and his fellow legislators.
The voters, he said, provided a legislature that “will work together in a bi-partisan manner for the good of all our Oswego County residents and businesses.”
“I am honored and humbled by your support,” he told the legislators in thanking them for unanimously appointing him to serve another term as chairman.
Mike Kunzwiler, the legislature’s minority leader, said he was encouraged by Leemann’s use of the word bi-partisan.
“I respect Barry for saying it. I hope that it holds true,” Kunzwiler said. “It has in some years and it hasn’t in some.”
The legislature has to work together in order to accomplish things, he said.
“One thing that I hang my hat on is their word to look at each item with fiscal responsibility. I heard that numerous times throughout and hope we live up to that expectation.”
This year will be a busy year, the chairman said, noting that many projects started last year will continue through 2010.
The chairman took a few moments to touch on some highlights from 2009.
“We set up a Green Team last year. It oversaw and conducted energy audits on seven of the county’s facilities, including lighting, heating and ventilating systems, energy management systems and options for wind and solar power generation at various sites in the county,” he said.
The county also received nearly $212,000 in state, federal and private sector grants to help pay for energy conservation and lighting system upgrades in six county facilities.
These improvements will generate estimated annual savings of more than 434,000 KWH or nearly 58,000 taxpayers’ dollars, he pointed out.
In January 2009, the county implemented single-stream recycling.
Since that date, county residents have increased the amount of material being recycled by 65 percent; saving costly landfill space, reducing the amount of materials taken to ERF, and generating more revenue ($200,000 in 2009).
The chairman cited the improvements at the Department of Social Services.
“We made a decision last year to make the Oswego County Child Protective system into the best child protective system in New York State,” he said. “The department developed a plan for strengthening our Child Protective Services unit.”
The plan was adopted by the entire legislature in July and the process began immediately with the hiring of additional staff to correct the shortage of child protective workers.
New York State recognized the problem and provided $500,000 for the county to hire this staff, he said.
This legislature is moving ahead with developing a community advisory board for DSS.
Tentatively, it will consist of 15 members and be made up of, but not limited to, law enforcement professionals, medical services officials, parents, service providers and educational professionals.
Leemann also highlighted the improvements at Camp Hollis, Camp Zerbe Nature Park and the county Fire School.
Among the major accomplishments last year, he said, was the completion of the system design and requirements for a new emergency communication system.
He also praised his fellow lawmakers, management personnel and other county employees for their hard work and dedication in helping create a budget with a zero percent tax increase.
In fact, the average county tax rate decreased slightly from last year, he added.
“This could not have been accomplished without this legislature’s conservative government practices and the cooperation of our employees and managers,” he said.
However, the 2011 budget is one that will have to be put together very carefully, he cautioned.
The county will have the new expense of paying debt on the radio system; but Leemann added the county may have new revenue from two of the three nuclear power plants.
“We’re sure planning on it,” he said.
“We are aware the economy and the state budget may impact us negatively Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but, by how much? We just don’t know!” he continued.
Oswego County is in good financial shape; but county officials know they can’t control many of the external factors that impact the region, he admitted.
“But, we can stay in good financial shape by making the right decisions. We need to scrutinize our spending, find efficiencies and cut lower-priority budget lines. This was done in the 2010 budget and we must continue this practice throughout this year,” Leemann said.
One thing that could have a positive impact on the county’s revenues is the negotiations under way with Entergy Nuclear and Constellation concerning their tax status.
“Our goal is to ensure that the nuclear generators pay their fair share of taxes. We are taking steps to protect our taxpayers by preserving our option, and it is an option, of returning these plants to the tax roll if a fair tax agreement isn’t reached,” he said.
At the meeting, legislators amended a local law regarding the plants’ tax exemptions.
The amendment will change the exemption status of the nuclear properties from 2016 to 2010, which will provide Oswego County with the opportunity to possibly place them back on the tax rolls.
A public hearing on the proposal will be held Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Legislative Chambers.