Good evening! Welcome everyone to CiTi and Mexico, the mother of towns. Thank you for coming here tonight! For those who may be wondering about my decision to have the State of the County here, consider this.
Over the past few years as a legislator I’ve learned a lot about the great work that the county, our municipalities and our schools actually do. I have also learned through projects like the anti-poverty task force, shared services panel, economic development efforts and school collaborations, that we all do even greater work when we all do it together, instead of struggling to make a difference in our individual silos.
Having the State of the County here, in a Town, in a school, in the middle of the County, is symbolic; more and more, every day, the County is moving out of its silo. We invite all of you to do the same. We invite you to focus together on the singular goal of changing the status quo for the better. We invite you on behalf of everyone, living, and working in Oswego County.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I have been honored to have the opportunity over these last six years to serve the residents of Oswego County as the Legislator from the 17th District and even more so now, as the Chairman of the Legislature. I hope you know how pleased, and grateful, I am that you have taken time out of your evening to learn more about where we stand and where we hope to be.
I would like to begin by thanking Chris Todd and the staff here at CiTi for hosting us tonight and their invaluable support for our mission throughout the year. I would also like to recognize and welcome our guests from outside of Oswego County who are here with us tonight, as well as my colleagues from the legislature who support me, and you, day-in and day-out as we take on the challenges of efficiently and effectively meeting the expectations of our citizens. I would also like to acknowledge our municipal, business, and education partners from throughout Oswego County who are here. Without communication between, and cooperation among all these various leaders across our county and region, our chances to progress and grow become significantly diminished.
We must also recognize our management staff and their respective teams, all of whom are key to our ability to implement our strategies and deliver the services you have all come to enjoy. And finally, a heartfelt thanks to those local, state and federal partners who couldn’t be here tonight, but without whom we could not take on the bigger challenges of the day as we strive to make Oswego County a better place to get an education, find a job, invest in a community, enjoy a vacation, grow a business and raise a family.
I would like to begin by providing a snapshot of where we are in Oswego County relative to our financial obligations, our resources, and what we do with those throughout the year to serve our residents and businesses.
While it varies slightly from year-to-year, our annual budget is about $200 million. Of that, roughly 80 percent or $162.4 million in the 2018 budget of $203 million pays for state and federal mandates. To help cover this cost, the State gives us $33 million and the Feds give us $26.5 million. That’s just $59.5 million or 37 percent of the $162.4 million in mandated costs. We pay for the rest, ($143.5 million mandated and non-mandated) through property tax, PILOTs, sales tax, fund balance and “other” miscellaneous revenues. The “other” category is important to understand because the amount of revenue generated there very closely matches the cost of all non-mandated programs combined.
It is also worth noting that some of the cost for non-mandated services come from our residents’ expressed desire to have certain amenities available to them. In those cases, we try to offset the cost of those programs with user fees so only those people who use that service are charged for it, not the public, or only property owners.
We also work to maximize the value of the work we do and where possible generate revenue from those activities. An example is from the Division of Solid Waste on the last line on this slide. In 2017 the Department landfilled over 90,000 tons of ash and waste, collected, sorted and sold 9,254 tons of recycled materials and helped 822 residents safely dispose of 22 tons of household hazardous waste.
In addition, through the sale of a combination of various recyclable materials, as well as electricity and steam produced at the Energy Recovery Facility, we generated nearly $1.3 million from our operations.
Efficiencies such as these are important as we try to contain the costs of serving more than 120,000 residents spread across almost 1,000 square miles. This slide breaks down our expenses into general categories by activity and includes both mandated and non-mandated programs and services.
This is the point where many of you are probably asking ‘why does the Chairman think I need or even want to know this?’ The answer is simple, my friends, and you want to know this for the same reasons that I do, because like you, I am also a resident, a property owner, a parent, a businessman and a taxpayer. I have discovered that it is essential that we all understand that as hard as we work to keep your County taxes as low as possible, we actually only have control over about 20 percent of our annual spending, a number that is coincidentally very similar to that part of our revenue stream that comes from local, County property taxes.
Currently, the generic County property tax rate is $7.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, about 20 percent lower than it was 15 years ago even though costs continue to rise. So far, through careful attention to detail, we have managed to keep it steady at that rate for the last three years. When you apply that rate to the median home value in the County, the average homeowner is only paying about $713 per year in County taxes.
As the Chairman of the Legislature it is imperative that I know how these funds are being spent. As a fellow taxpayer, I think it is helpful to understand what I am getting for my money so that I can act as a more informed and responsible member of the community. So, let’s take a look at what the average taxpayer gets for just over $700/year.
Last year, our Highway Department paved 60 miles of County roads, 15 miles of Town roads and two of the County’s biggest parking lots. They completed seven bridges at various locations, replaced 35 laterals, and cut or trimmed over 500 roadside trees. A division of the Highway Department, the County Airport replaced taxiways and updated runway lighting, began a rebranding project that includes a new website and logo, and worked with partners to remove obstructions both on and off the airport property, effectively lengthening the runways and allowing for use by larger aircraft.
The newly formed Department of Facilities and Technology, a combination of the Department of Buildings and Grounds and the Department of Central Services, had a tremendously busy year with the introduction of new purchasing software, financial-management software, general office software upgrades and a transition to a new email service provider. On the facilities side they also managed to improve accessibility with renovations to the Office of the Aging. They also removed and replaced roofs at three of our larger buildings, the Fulton Office Building, the Public Safety Center and the Nick Sterio Health Complex, and arranged for the installation of new energy-efficient windows at the East Bridge Street Legislative Office Building.
The Office of the Clerk of the Legislature began the long overdue process of digitally archiving the records of the legislature and modernizing the legislative processes and procedures. They also processed 173 requests for public information. And, in our role of protecting consumers, the office of Weights and Measures completed 448 inspections, tested 1,779 devices and responded to various complaints from concerned consumers in the County.
Meanwhile, the County Clerk’s Office, a significant contributor to the “other” revenue category we discussed earlier, issued 867 business certificates, recorded 3,951 mortgages, 5,291 deeds, completed 10,693 pistol permit transactions and 167,725 motor vehicle transactions.
Also located in the Bridge Street office building, our Real Property office, with a very small staff, generated 58,325 tax bills, processed 3,845 sales, generated nearly $6,000 from the sale of tax maps and digital files, and raised over $1.3 million from the sale of 92 properties in their annual auction.
A somewhat larger office but equally as busy, our Human Resources staff, which also provides service to our School Districts, Towns, Villages and Special Districts, handled nearly 18,000 employee transactions of various forms while also transitioning to an entirely new payroll system.
Rounding out the departments in the Legislative Office Building, the department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning was busy spreading the news about all that happens here. In 2017, staff and volunteers participated in a dozen trade shows throughout New York, Canada and surrounding states, hosted over 20 press visits and tours for travel and other writers, wrote and distributed nearly 300 press releases, ran 122 print ads in various local, state and national publications, bolstered those with a dozen radio campaigns on specific local events, and distributed just under 100,000 brochures promoting all that there is to see and do here in Oswego County. They also helped provide safe and affordable housing for almost 500 individuals and families, while also assisting our municipalities and departments within them with land use, development and emergency planning initiatives.
The County Board of Elections is the only department not located in a county owned building but this in no way diminishes the important role they play in the organization. With a very small staff they are responsible for ensuring fair and legal elections throughout the County, including all nine school board elections. They are charged with maintaining the registration records for almost 70,000 voters in 110 election districts and having available over 400 fully-trained poll workers and machine inspectors.
The Nick Sterio Health Complex located on the street now known as Jack Proud Drive, is home to a few departments including the County Office of the Aging. While one of our smaller departments, the staff there manages to deliver extraordinary service to thousands of our senior residents throughout the year. Celebrating their 40th year of service in 2017, the department interacted with over 5,400 people providing services like financial, insurance and legal counseling, Life Saver and Personal Emergency Response devices, home repairs and accessibility improvements. They distributed 875 Farmer’s Market coupon books resulting in seniors purchasing $17,500 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables from local vendors, provided 8,630 one-way transportation trips, served 16,105 meals at congregate sites and delivered 230,560 meals to seniors at their homes. This office serves a special group of people, a group that fought and worked hard to grow our country and preserve the rights we all enjoy as Americans. Let’s take a minute to recognize our senior citizens and the County staff that looks out for them.
As you have likely guessed from the name, this facility is also home to our Health Department, and as you might expect, the department is made up of several divisions. Together, they help ensure that our residents are protected from a variety of bacterial, biological, ecological and environmental hazards. Last year the office of Environmental Health collected nearly 3,000 samples of various types. About 25 percent of those were mosquito-related which resulted in just under 24,000 mosquitoes being submitted for testing. The environmental staff also managed to inspect over 1,300 regulated facilities, investigate more than 1,000 rabies and other health nuisance complaints, respond to over 6,000 public inquiries, immunize more than 2,300 animals for rabies, and submit 135 animals for rabies testing.
Other offices within the department were equally as busy, including the preventive health staff, who held more than 200 clinics around the county, administered almost 2,000 vaccinations, completed just under 900 maternal, child health and personal care visits and kept a close watch on our children at Camp Hollis. The Public Health Education and Healthy Families offices were also very active, each with their own respective outreach, training and education initiatives and the small staff that manages programs for children with special needs delivered services to over 1,300 children through three separate programs.
Rounding out our health staff are the employees on our Hospice team; you have to love those folks, that job takes a very special person, someone with a heart likely much bigger than many of ours here tonight. In 2017 our team experienced a double-digit increase in total care days, pushing that number to over 5,600, which included almost 2,300 nursing and health aid visits and 300 bereavement visits. If you have ever needed their help, you know these people are special. Can we thank them for what they do?
Moving over to our Social Services facility in Mexico, we have a staff of employees dedicated to the mission of strengthening families, promoting self-sufficiency and improving the quality of life in our communities. They also believe that anyone who can work, should work. Our society has recognized that people who work should be able to earn sufficient income to provide for their families’ basic needs. Those who are unable to work, or who work but do not earn enough to provide for their families, should be assisted by policies and programs to meet their basic needs.
Most households that receive financial assistance are working, although we do assist elderly and disabled residents as well. Here is a snapshot of what we do to help a very diverse group of residents:
Distribute – over $4 million to eligible households for home energy assistance, nearly $27 million in supplemental nutrition assistance to low income households and $1.7 million in child care payments so eligible parents can continue to work, attend school or participate in an approved training program.
Found - safe shelter for over 500 homeless households.
Avoided - $1.1 million in potential benefit costs by detecting fraud in the application process and before funds had been disbursed.
Filed - more than 2,100 court petitions to assure financial support for eligible children.
Collected - just under $14 million in child support from absent parents affecting almost 7,700 households and returning over $1 million to the County as reimbursement for previous expenditures, and
Increased - communication with and participation from our school districts relative to the Child Protection Advisory Council.
Our employment and training division hosted 117 employer recruitment sessions and saw almost 3,000 job seekers utilize services at the One-Stop Center. Over 200 individuals participated in training programs. Almost 2,000 found employment and more than 430 attained self-sufficiency from public benefits by entering employment.
Staff in the office of Adult Protective Services investigated 830 reports of abuse of frail elderly and physically or mentally disabled adults. They assisted nearly 100 individuals in their efforts to remain in their homes instead of going to a nursing home. They provided financial services to more than 400 individuals who are unable to manage their money or who were being financially exploited, and they provided suicide prevention training to more than 40 individuals.
The Child Protective Services unit is equally busy trying to protect those that they are charged to serve. Nearly four in every 100 children are at risk of abuse. In 2017 our staff received over 3,200 reports to investigate. Working with our various partners and law enforcement, these resulted in 38 arrests. More than half of the families who are brought to the attention of our CPS investigators are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, severely impoverished, and/or challenged by mental illness or other disabling conditions. This makes addressing this issue an expensive and multi-disciplinary effort but one that demands our foremost attention! The men and women who are on the front line protecting our children are also deserving of our thanks and recognition.
Understanding that this list of DSS services and beneficiaries does not cover everything that they do, it is important to also speak briefly about the finances behind it all.
While nearly all of the various services we provide are mandated by either the state or federal government, more than 40 percent of these costs fall on us. Under the current social, economic and educational conditions, there is not much we can do except continue to pay those mandated costs.
However, after spending the last couple of years trying to identify how and why those various conditions exist, we are determined that proactive, innovative and collaborative efforts can lead us away from many of these various social needs or at the very least, reduce the need to a more manageable and financially viable level. More on that later.
First, let’s finish the discussion about what it is that we do for around $713 a year by talking about our first responders and our employees in the various law enforcement offices.
Perhaps the smallest of that group is the County Fire Coordinator’s office. Smaller, but no less important than the others, their staff and facilities are recognized as one of the premier training sites by organizations throughout Central New York and beyond. In 2017 they provided training to over 1,100 career, industrial and volunteer firefighters, in between responding to 289 incidents throughout the County. They are also actively engaged in developing a recruitment and retention program to help bolster the ranks of our volunteer departments.
The other group of first responders employed by the County includes, of course, the dedicated men and women in our Sheriff’s office. It’s no accident that the largest work group there is known as the “road patrol” and in a large rural county like ours, there is plenty to keep them busy. In 2017, in their efforts to keep us safe, these officers covered over 1.2 million miles answering all kinds of calls, in all kinds of weather, on all kinds of roads and somehow, they still managed to work in transporting over 1,400 inmates throughout the course of the year. But there is more to a deputy’s job than driving miles of country roads. Our law enforcement system is a network of local, state and federal partners working together to help ensure that the rest of us can experience the quality of life we have come to enjoy here, and our deputies are a key part of that coordinated effort.
One of those partner organizations, the Oswego County Drug Task Force, is itself a partnership in its truest form. Working under the District Attorney’s office, this band of seven is a combination of highly-trained investigators representing the DA, the Sheriff’s office, the Oswego City Police Department and the U.S. Border Patrol, all working day and night to rid our streets of poison and the people who push it. In 2017 these officers confiscated various illicit drugs with a total street value of over $1.8 million as well as nearly $300,000 in cash. Their efforts resulted in 69 defendants being charged with 58 felonies and 24 misdemeanors. But their work is not done. They need to continue these very successful collaborations and bring even more local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to the table. We need to put an end to the sale and distribution of these substances in our communities. I should recognize here that Monday afternoon, while I was actually reviewing these very comments, our team successfully took another dealer of death off our streets and confiscated another $1.2 million worth of these deadly substances. All of this work is a critical part of protecting our children, addressing some of our other social woes and in improving the overall quality of life for everyone.
In addition to the significant role that they play in the efforts of the Drug Task Force, the District Attorney’s office also had a busy year in 2017. The DA’s office prosecuted over 3,200 criminal cases; 745 of those were felonies. They also prosecuted 420 alcohol or drug-related driving cases; 75 sex offenses, of which 44 were felonies; and 171 drug offenses, including 76 felonies. In the process of dealing with all those cases, they made over 1,000 appearances in Village, Town, City, County or Superior Court. And if you don’t think that this kept their small staff busy, the DA is also designated as the County Coroner and under the title of that office they were called to 429 unattended deaths which required 121 autopsies. And finally, their office includes the STOP DWI program. In 2017 they reached over 9,000 residents through 80 educational programs.
Sharing space in our Public Safety Center, in addition to the sheriff’s office, the county jail, the DA, our courts, the judges, the Commissioner of Jurors, the 911 office and our IT folks -- it’s a pretty full facility -- you will find the Probation Department.
You rarely read about this hard-working team, but they are in fact, an integral part of our law enforcement process. Their responsibilities are many, as are the benefits that they provide through their good work. In 2017 the department supervised over 1,000 offenders and completed 1,051 pre-sentence investigations for the courts. Through their administration of over 1,600 open restitution cases they collected nearly $400,000 on behalf of victims, helping to ensure that offenders are held responsible for the financial hardships they have created. Relating their work to numbers we heard in previous comments about their law enforcement partners, more than 60 percent of offenders have drug and/or alcohol abuse issues. The department works hard to see that these individuals have access to services appropriate to dealing with these matters.
Doing their part in our law enforcement team’s mission to provide community safety, the department regularly executes dozens of arrest warrants for parole violators, carries out a few hundred residential searches, and in 2017 conducted over 700 drug and alcohol tests on their clients.
The department also administers the Alternatives to Incarceration programs. These include supervised pre-trial release, weekend work programs and electronic monitoring. The programs provide supervised alternatives to costly incarceration and allow defendants opportunities to seek help for their behaviors. In 2017, 355 inmates participated in these various programs in total, avoiding more than 33,000 jail days. Assuming the cost to taxpayers of $100 per day for each individual incarcerated in the County jail, these programs helped avoid in excess of $4.4 million last year alone.
There are a lot of pieces to our law enforcement team, some we didn’t even talk about. The important thing we need to know is that they are out there working together each and every day, some days putting their lives on the line so that you and I can experience the safe communities we have come to enjoy. Join me in thanking our first responders and the law enforcement team.
Wow! We have a lot going on. And when you think about the fact that we are mandated to provide 80 percent of the services that we do, and that only a portion of the costs for those mandated programs are reimbursed to us, the average taxpayer here gets quite a bit for just over $700 per year. To put that into perspective, it’s less than most people are paying for just four months of bundled cable service.
I think it would be appropriate at this point to recognize and thank our management team and our employees for their work in finding a way to make all of that happen.
If you would have asked me 10 or 20 years ago if I would be standing here tonight, or for that matter, even serving our community as an elected official, it is highly likely that I may have considered you as a potential candidate for psychiatric assistance. Somewhere in between then and now, after watching from the sidelines for a while, it seemed to me that perhaps, I could help make a difference.
So, here I am today, and I think, if you were to ask our internal team or our external partners, our goal at the end of the day is just that -- to make a difference. And while it is still early in our proactive approach of doing what it takes to move the needle, I think we are starting to see some results.
Specifically, after many years of waiting, we are about to develop a new county government services website. Its primary mission is to better inform, engage and serve our citizens, but its secondary benefits will be to help market Oswego County to the world. We already do a pretty good job of that to our tourism customers, now we will include a focus on potential business and general resident customers as well.
In addition, we are fully engaged with growth initiatives at and around our county airport. Earlier this year we were successful in securing a $1.1 million grant for the construction of a new terminal building; we have begun discussions on a public/private partnership that will facilitate the construction of a new hangar capable of handling our corporate clients’ needs and beyond. We believe that we are also now well-positioned to successfully apply for state and federal assistance that will help offset the cost of finally bringing public wastewater service to the airport and the adjacent industrial park. And, I am pleased to say publicly today for the first time, that we have had very promising discussions with the folks at the NUAIR Alliance regarding the inclusion of our airport as a partner in their programs to further develop and grow the world’s unmanned aerial systems technology. New York State is leading the nation in this field and we are excited to be part of it.
Many of you will recall that we recently completed a Strategic Economic Advancement Plan. Thank you again to all of you who helped us with its development! And, while we have already begun to move forward with some of the initiatives identified in the plan, there is much more to do. As such, you can look forward to my announcement later this month of the steering committee I’ve selected to help guide further implementation of those strategies and ideas.
There is no question that for years we have been plagued by undesirable results in many education, health, employment and other socio-economic categories. The data is there to prove it. But, I am here to tell you today that the data is also there to prove that in many of these areas, progress is underway.
School superintendents are working together, and they have health care providers, employers, service agencies and elected officials at the table. Together they’re exploring the causes behind some of these issues and strategizing on mutually beneficial solutions.
Elected officials are coming together across political and geographical boundaries to work together in their efforts to serve their residents in an era of ever-diminishing revenues.
We have bi-partisan support for new initiatives to reduce poverty, increase employment, investment and innovation throughout our communities. And we are committed to continuing our efforts to bring our region into the national spotlight by having Fort Ontario incorporated into the National Park System and designating our four-county area of Lake Ontario as a National Marine Sanctuary, preserving hundreds of years of commercial and military maritime history.
Internally, we continue to study our programs and how they are delivered. Looking for ways, not just to save money but more importantly, to find the most effective way to deliver the various services we provide, ensuring both physically and financially that the recipient and the taxpayers are treated as our utmost priorities.
Externally, we have taken a deep dive into the root causes of poverty, an extensive examination of our economic development system, our programs, our infrastructure, our neighborhoods, our workforce and our relationships with partners that can help bring about change. But change in today’s global environment doesn’t come easily, or for that matter even cheaply. It takes more, far more than a hand out lamenting our high poverty and unemployment rates. It takes more than waiting and hoping that we might happen to be in the right place at the right time. It takes work, lots of hard work and even some investment under appropriate circumstances.
We can’t be afraid to take on these physical and financial challenges if we really are committed to making Oswego County grow. We just need to commit to work together. Local, state and federal governments, educators from our pre-schools to our universities, philanthropists, bankers, builders, businesses big and small and most importantly, our citizens. We need to share a common vision, we need to believe in each other, we need to believe that good people, with a good plan and the guts to make hard decisions can in fact, drive change, can in fact, move the needle.
I believe it, and I am prepared to empower our employees to believe it. Join me, help me, help us help ourselves. I see it in your faces, I feel it in the room. Together we can make Oswego County a better place to live, work, go to school, start a business, vacation, raise a family.
I thank you for your patience, your attendance and your support! God bless you all. God bless Oswego County and God bless America!