Essex County Government Center, Elizabethtown
ELIZABETHTOWN — The Essex County Board of Supervisors had a full slate at the first round of monthly committee meetings at the board of supervisors chambers on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
RISING UTILITY COSTS
Skyrocketing utility costs from National Grid elicited strong responses from several lawmakers:
“There has to be some control,” said Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (D-Moriah) on the rising utility costs resulting from this month’s polar vortex and cold snap.
“If we ever did that with taxes, we wouldn’t be around for very long.”
Scozzafava said that the rates, some of which have reportedly risen 50 percent from last month, were “devastating” for the elderly and those on fixed incomes.
“And there’s no explanation on the bill, nothing.”
He called for the State Public Service Commission to investigate and expressed a desire to cooperate with State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblyman Dan Stec’s (R-Queensbury) office.
Supervisor Dan Connell (D-Westport) said that he was “besieged” with complaints from constituents as he was leaving a town hall meeting on Monday night:
“I couldn’t get out the door,” he said.
Connell said residents told him that after extensively examining their bills, they found a rise in the cost per kilowatt hour was the reason for “most” of the increase — not their overall usage.
“We’re going to go at this from a number of different directions,” he said.
County health department official Jessica Darney-Buehler delivered a presentation on the agency’s pending plans to whip county residents into shape:
“We want to make sure that we’re using our limited resources to the best of our abilities,” she said.
An assessment plan determined that the leading priorities are to reduce obesity in children and adults and increase access to chronic disease preventive care and management.
The county has identified different approaches on how to handle each issue, she said. To combat obesity, officials hope to examine how community environments are designed and how they contribute to the sustained epidemic.
For obesity, that could mean looking at menu plans in schools and encouraging healthy changes, she said, which could be something as simple as swapping out vending machines for a healthier alternative.
For private employers, it may be assisting staff in developing organizational policies and practices to maintain healthy decisions.
To combat chronic disease, the county aims to increase screening for those 40 and up without insurance and look at self-management opportunities that exist and promote opportunities that already exist.
Buehler said that ideally, the town supervisors will convey this information to their constituents and work with the county to create environments that are supportive of maintaining a healthy population.
“There are a lot of policy ways that local officials can to do affect health,” she said. “Where we live and work have a tremendous impact on our health and behaviors.”
While this winter has been rough due to the lack of sustained snowfall, the county is in a better position in facilitating tourism than in past years, said Jim McKenna, head of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, the agency that handles the county’s tourism outreach efforts.
McKenna was confident the region would benefit from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal in last week’s State of the State Address to bring destination resorts to the region to encourage economic growth.
The North Country Regional Economic Development Council was awarded over $1 million for region wide marketing initiatives, McKenna said.
Some of the components that will affect the region include a direct campaign to the French-Canadian market, motorcycle touring promotion, a targeted boating campaign to drive cruiser traffic from the Hudson River and the Great Lakes into Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River and a familiarization tour for international bloggers.
Economic Development Committee Chair Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said that towns have seen an uptick of searches on their online properties: overall website visits to the Schroon Lake region are up 24 percent since this time last year; visits to Lake Placid’s official site were up 33 percent for the same period and topped one million pageviews for the first time ever.
“To stay competitive, we have to have a strong web presence,” said Politi. “It’s made a big difference in Essex County having a regional organization to facilitate tourism.”
McKenna was also optimistic about the Empire State Games, the largest wintersport event in the United States that will see over 1000 athletes travel to the region, including Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, beginning on Thursday, Feb. 6.
“We’re still waiting for the snow,” he said. “But it’s looking good.”
Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish told lawmakers that equipment will be installed for a new public safety answering point (PSAP) site in Lewis at the Public Safety Building by late spring with land mobile radio equipment installation starting now.
Jaquish addressed concerns from Politi about a brief shutdown of the county’s paging system during the recent ice storm earlier this month.
“How do we know that it won’t happen again?” Politi asked.
“It didn’t go down entirely,” said Jaquish. “The Palmer Hill transmitter site in Au Sable Forks was the only site that was affected and it just wasn’t operating at 100 percent.”
Board Chairman Randy Douglas (D-Jay) asked Jaquish if the county’s new communication system will communicate with Clinton County. Jaquish indicated that it would as part of the mutual aid planning, noting that an additional phase of the project is planned that will improve communication between county dispatch centers:
“If Clinton went down, for example, then Essex could take over the necessary operations,” he said.
The projects will be funded by state grants.
The human services committee unanimously approved a resolution of appreciation for outgoing Horace Nye Nursing Home administrator Deborah Gifford.
“We’d like to call Ms. Gifford up for the last time,” said committee chairman David Blades (R-Lewis). “Thank you for your service for the past eleven-plus years.”
“I trust we’ll be going forward,” said Douglas.
Horace Nye is reaching the end of a long process that will see the 100-bed facility become privatized. On Monday, Jan. 6, board members approved the use of $128,000 from fund balance to operate the currently county-owned facility for another month.
Also surfacing on lawmaker radars was the issue of preventing the spread of methamphetamine use in Essex County.
“A lot of people don’t think there’s meth here,” said District Attorney Kristy Sprague. “It’s here and we just have to know what to look for.”
Sprague offered to facilitate a two-hour training course for lawmakers to recognize the signs of meth operations in their communities, noting that “red flares” could be innocuous as large-scale battery purchases at local gas stations.
“We trying to be ahead of it,” she said. “We’re trying our best.”
About 40 people, mostly officials from the county’s department of social services, attended a similar workshop in Lewis on Monday, said Sprague.
Present at the meeting were three former town supervisors who were turned out by voters last fall: Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown), Sue Montgomery-Corey (D-Minerva) and Sharon Boisen (I-Essex).
The former leaders, sitting in the front row of the visitor’s gallery, spent the meeting taking notes and transmitting updates in real-time to Facebook.
“We have a lot of respect for the leadership,” said Bartley, who was defeated by Noel Merrihew III. “But sometimes it helps to have a woman’s perspective.”
Ticonderoga Supervisor Debra Malaney, a Republican who ran as an independent after losing the primary, was also defeated last year.
This marks the first time in 34 years that no women have served on the county board.