Let the races and debates begin

Loujane Johns

Yates County Legislator Taylor Fitch told fellow legislators and a fairly large audience of county employees and members of the public that Yates County continues to get better in  receiving  grants funds and is working within long range plans.

 He also said he was happy to report that Yates County ranks extremely well in expenditure per person.  “As a recent report shows, Yates County ranked 43rd out of 50 as having the lowest cost per person or at the bottom of the scale.  In fact, this report even ranks Yates County at a lower cost per person for services than any of our neighboring counties.”

 Fitch also talked about the history of the county in its role of providing services to its citizens.

“So, practically speaking, every county in New York State is in a similar boat. But all these boats have a mother ship, New York State,”  he further explained that every department in the county is directed by NYS mandates. 

“For example, our jail is mandated right down to the number of officers by duty station for each 24 hour shift and even meals and preparation. New York State also mandates rules and regulations for Medicaid and social services,“ said Fitch.

Several parts of Fitch’s statement were disputed in the public comment period following the regular business meeting.

Describing himself as an “angry taxpayer,” Mark Morris, a candidate for Yates County Legislature who is supported by Yates Coalition for Responsible Government (YCRG), pointed out what he considered fallacies in the figures making Yates County’s  expenditures appear so low.

Morris said benchmarking costs were not correct because most other counties share their sales tax. “This takes a lot out of the expense side,” he said.

Morris said as a small county, Yates doesn’t provide all the services other counties maintain.

When he stated that 30 percent of the county residents don’t use county services, he received a lot of comments from the legislators.  Nancy Taylor asked if he was talking about fire and safety protection. Morris said, no, he was referring to the Mennonites.  “They don’t use or use very little county services,” he said.

Tim Dennis replied, “There is an aid to that community you are not seeing.  This population very quietly,  uses services provided for the handicapped. “

Administrator Sarah Purdy added that the Mennonite community uses public roads and health care services.  She also said emergency services respond to farm accidents and the county has been involved with farm safety courses.  “One needs to be careful in assuming they don’t need or use county services,” she said.

Robert Nielsen asked Morris to explain a statement in a paid advertisement  placed in area publications by the YCRG.

The ad lists statistics about the cost of Yates County law enforcement, and includes the question,  “Why? Do we really live in a county that has almost 50 percent more criminals than our neighbors?” 

Morris said he did not write that question, prompting Fitch to ask, “Are you not responsible for what is written?”

Nielsen said someone on the committee is writing about him and he would like to know who it is.

Chairman Robert Multer added that  the group wants transparency in government, but it isn’t transparent itself.  He said he would like them to publish who they are and how they are funded.

Douglas Paddock pointed out that Morris disputed Fitch’s numbers, but grants were not factored into the costs.

Morris said he had obtained his figures from Benchmark New York 2007 also part of Open Book NY, a website initiated by the NYS Comptroller to retrieve financial information of state and local levels of government.  He said there is not a breakdown to include grant funding.

Multer told Morris if he has specific recommendations on cost cutting, he would be happy to discuss them.

Other agenda items included:

• RESOLUTION: Members all approved a resolution opposing an amendment to the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law that would require every person who pleads “not guilty” on a traffic offense  to appear personally in court for an appearance date before a trial is set. 

 Legislator Donna Alexander, who introduced the motion, told members this will impose additional burden on the defendants and the District Attorneys Office as well as court and law enforcement personnel by requiring multiple appearances.

Legislators Deb Flood and Steve Webster were absent.

• RETIREMENT: Alexander commended Kristine LaRock for her 16 1/2 years service as Director of Probation.

 • GRANTS: Multer was authorized to sign an Aid to Prosecution grant from the Department of Criminal Justice for $35,300.

 The Yates County Sheriff’s Department has also received a Governor’s Traffic Safety Commission Grant in the amount of $3000. 

•APPOINTMENTS: John Socha of Himrod was among four area representatives appointed to the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board.

Amy Daines was approved for appointment as Republican  Commissioner of Elections.

• GAS DRILLING:  Members agreed to ask the DEC for an extension of time for public comment on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to 45 days.

• ITALY?WIND?FARM: Paddock stated that despite statements made in documents provided by Ecogen LLC, Yates County is not negotiating the sale or lease of county-owned property in relation to the construction of a wind farm in the town of Italy.

 •BIDS:  A bid for vegetation spraying for approximately 360 miles of roadside was awarded to DeAngelo Brothers for $10,831,30.

• RECOGNITION:  Alexander announced that Sheriff Ron Spike has been elected to the National Sheriff’s Organization.  She added that no tax dollars are used for this appointment.  The Sheriff’s Association pays the expenses.

The legislature recognized Yates County Deputy Brian Winslow, who was recently honored by the American Legion District Seven as the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.