Legislators poised to proceed with radio upgrade
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO February 12, 2013 It appears legislators may move forward with a $10.8 million plan to upgrade the county’s emergency communications system.
Around 30 police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers watched the Public Safety Committee on Thursday discuss the project, which would overhaul existing towers, build new ones and ultimately switch over all emergency responders’ radios from low-band to high-band.
Fallsburg Police Chief Simmie Williams told legislators the upgrade is needed.
“When we get out of our cars and are just using our portables, nobody can hear us,” he said. “... With this new system, all the police officers will be able to speak with the firemen, and that’s a major plus.”
Especially since in the wake of an upstate shooting all emergency responses to addresses where domestic violence has been noted are now backed up with police escorts.
But the new system is going to cost a lot of money for a cash-strapped county more money than originally intended, in fact.
A resolution expected to be voted on by legislators on Thursday, February 21 notes that due to delays out of the county’s control, the $4 million Motorola is asking for the high-band frequencies will be increased by $33,000 to cover the cost of “later-model equipment.”
E-911 Director Alex Rau told legislators that Blue Wing the county’s consultant on this project considers it an “industry-standard” request, with nothing to be gained by fighting it.
“We’ve tried our best to negotiate that down,” Rau explained. “They’re holding pretty solid with that.”
Two other related resolutions are up for a vote, too. One will declare no significant environmental impact at six already identified tower sites around the county, plus three yet-to-be-sited tower locations near Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Pond Eddy (though the location of all three has been narrowed down to one square mile apiece).
The other resolution will undertake bonding of $9,498,960 for the entire project.
The county is already using a $1.2 million grant to undertake part of the tower project. An additional $400,000 in grant monies, plus Verizon’s purchase of county microwave frequencies for about $500,000, will also reduce the county’s costs.
Rau said he’s waiting to hear about an $800,000 grant request, too.
“I’m confident there will be some other opportunities not to bond the entire $9.5 million,” he told legislators.
It also won’t impact county taxes, said Public Safety Committee Chair Cora Edwards so long as funds freed from expiring debt are used to pay for the new debt, added Budget Commissioner Josh Potosek.
Still, it’s one more obligation the county is undertaking in tough fiscal times.
“You know the economic situation you’re in,” noted Treasurer Ira Cohen. “... I think it’s fiscally sound that way, but it does mean financing of [other] future projects will be curtailed.”
“We’ve already invested so much time and money into it, it would be foolish to stop it now,” replied Legislator Gene Benson.
“There’s no private company that will do this,” added Edwards. “It’s what the government’s job is.”
Saving on drugs
Also on Thursday, legislators discussed creating a pharmaceutical purchase policy for the drugs the county buys for clients that include those staying at the Adult Care Center in Liberty and at the Sullivan County Jail in Monticello.
“It was apparent that without the county overseeing pharmaceuticals better,” said Health and Family Services Committee Chair Cindy Gieger, “we were overpaying.”
Jail Administrator Hal Smith said bidding it out already resulted in a 30-35 percent drop in expenses.
“And I don’t think we’re still getting the best price we can,” he noted.
Gieger engaged Kauneonga Lake resident David Biren, a pharmacist himself, to give recommendations, resulting in a policy that if enacted by legislators will require monthly monitoring of the prices being paid for drugs and ensure those prices are equivalent to or less than the prices available under state bid.
If the county has overpaid, the policy states it will take “all steps necessary to recoup the overpayment.”
Assisting in that effort will be a software program called Medi-Span.
“Medi-Span is used by every vendor in the country,” said Biren, who also once sold pharmaceuticals as a wholesaler and promised the county that more savings are to be had.
Gieger also talked about hiring someone part-time to oversee the monitoring program (for which Biren said he’s not a candidate).
Dairy facility coming?
Legislators in the Ag and Sustainability Policy Committee tentatively agreed Thursday to execute a $201,500 lease agreement for dairy processing equipment for a future dairy processing facility.
Save for a $15,000 matching contribution from the county, those funds are coming from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and will be given to Sullivan County Dairy Products, LLC, which was recommended by an evaluation team.
“We’re optimistic this will be a great project to expand our dairy processing,” said Assistant Planning Commissioner Jill Weyer.
Farmers still get newsprint
Turns out about four local farmers retrieve newsprint (the paper newspapers are printed upon) from county recycling bins to use as bedding for their livestock, according to Legislator Cindy Gieger.
She also clarified that the county made only $20,000 on the recycling of newsprint last year, as opposed to the much-larger net economic output of the farmers.
Thus legislators in the Ag and Sustainability Committee agreed to continue providing a portion of that newsprint to the farmers for free.
Burglaries up dramatically
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Chief Blake Muthig told legislators on Thursday that residential burglaries in the county continue to climb, with 20 already logged this new year.
Burglaries of homes stood at 179 in 2009 but hit 274 in 2012.
“It’s a pretty dramatic increase,” affirmed Muthig. “They’re targeting unoccupied houses ... and our experience is most of them are drug-driven.”