By a vote of 9-4 (Reps. Susanne Davis, Dooley Kiefer, Tim Joseph, Michael Lane voted no; Reps. Barbara Blanchard and Barbara Mink were absent), the Board agreed to send a non-binding "letter of interest" to the New York State Association of Counties regarding securitizing some or all of the County’s future tobacco payments (estimated at $55 million over the next 30 years, and continuing in perpetuity). Full securitization could net the County about $17 million up front, which it could take instead of installments of about $1.2 million to nearly $2 million per year. The main reason to securitize is to pay for capital projects. A portion of the payments could be securitized for a smaller lump sum, while retaining a portion of the annual payments for other uses. The letter states only that the County wants to know more about pooling its tobacco payments with other small counties to have more clout in the marketplace. It does not commit the County to a decision.
Budget Committee Chairman Tim Joseph presented an alternate plan for using tobacco settlement money to fund capital projects. He showed the Board figures that suggest the County could back its own "general obligation" bonds with tobacco payments, at a lower cost. The drawback is that the County would take the risk of paying off the bonds if the tobacco payments – which are based on American cigarette sales – dry up. With securitized bonds, the private investor takes the risk if the annual payments drop. Joseph’s example compared $10 million gained through securitization with $11 million that could be netted if the same amount of tobacco money were used to back an issue of general obligation bonds. No decision was made.
CITIZENS TELL BOARD: DIVERSIFY RECEIPT AND USES OF TOBACCO MONEY
Gordon Rowland, of the Public Information Advisory Board, presented to the Board the results of the Citizens’ Study Group on the tobacco settlement money, held Saturday, June 10. Rowland told the Board that the consensus of the 32 citizens who attended was that the County "should not put all its eggs in one basket." The group, which spent 6 hours learning about and discussing the topic, felt that diversifying both the way the tobacco money is received and the way it is spent is the wisest course. Many in the group recognized a need for the County to obtain cash to pay for capital projects and hold property taxes down, while also stating an unequivocal belief that some of the money should go to fund effective public health programs. Public Information Coordinator Wendy Skinner added that participants’ evaluations of the unique public-input event were very favorable, and that 29 of 30 respondents said the Study Group was a good use of their time and that they would do it again.
NEW POST REFLECTS TREND TOWARD ALTERNATIVES TO JAIL
The Board voted 12-1 (Frank Proto voted no; Barbara Blanchard and Barbara Mink were absent) to create and fund a position of Community Justice Planner, for at least 18 months. The role of the new County employee will be to explore Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs that could have the end result of diverting offenders from the overcrowded County jail. The concept of the position originated in the Public Safety Building Space Study Committee, as an alternative to building more cells at the jail. While the Space Study committee continues to explore construction options for a larger, or perhaps two-county facility, its scope has expanded to include all feasible means of solving the problem of too many inmates for too few cells. A leading proposal is a Day Reporting Center, where certain convicted offenders would be required to check in daily but could work, go to school, or participate in rehab programs while serving out their sentences. It is anticipated that the Community Justice Planner would help set up and become the Director of such a program or similar program.
BOARD RESPONDS TO DRUG COURT DEMANDS WITH NEW PROBATION OFFICERS
To meet the demands of increased Drug Court cases, the Board voted unanimously to create two new positions for Senior Probation Officer, to start in July. One of the keys to the apparent success of Drug Treatment Court’s innovative program is close supervision of offenders. Starting this month, the court will begin handling felony level and family offense cases. No new funding is needed for the two new County positions until next year.
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT WILL GET SNOWMOBILES FOR PATROLS, RESCUE
The Board unanimously approved a matching grant of $12,500 from the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation to the Sheriff’s Office for the purpose of buying two snowmobiles, a trailer, and a rescue sled. Sheriff Peter Meskill explained that, with increased use of snowmobiles, complaints are up in some of the rural areas. The new equipment will allow patrols of heavily used trails and also will make snowmobile rescues possible.
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