Warren County leaders made a variety of decisions at their recent monthly meeting, held at the county municipal center in Queensbury.
Concerned that Warren County taxpayers may be supporting some local residents’ addictions, county supervisors voted Friday July 20 to ask the state Legislature to enact a law requiring drug and alcohol testing for welfare recipients.
The local resolution prompted debate at Friday’s county Board of Supervisors meeting, and four county supervisors – Dennis Dickinson of Lake George, Ron Vanselow of Johnsburg, Peter McDevitt of Glens Falls and Bill Mason of Queensbury voted against it.
According to the county leaders’ request, all the state’s citizens relying on public assistance would be subject to random drug testing, and those testing positive would be denied benefits.
Ralph Bentley of Horicon contended that taxpayer money paid to some welfare recipients freed up their personal funds to be spent on drugs -- so in effect the county was supporting drug habits. Mandatory testing, he said, would be effective in preventing such expenditures.
“All our highway employees have to go for random drug and alcohol testing, and if the test is positive, they’re fired and lose their license,” Bentley said. “Why shouldn’t freeloaders be subject to the same rules as people who work?”
Glens Falls Ward 2 Supervisor Peter McDevitt, however, warned that if indeed enacted, the resolution could backfire and cost the taxpayers more than the savings reaped by discontinuing benefits to drug abusers.
“We shouldn’t be supporting programs that run the risk of setting up costly state mandates,” he said.
Vanselow said any such law needed Constitutional safeguards. He also said that revoking benefits, particularly food stamps, would not just effect the adult recipients, but it would also cut off aid to their children, who faced true need.
But Glens Falls Ward 5 supervisor Bill Kenny countered that other states had successfully enacted such mandatory testing.
“If you can afford alcohol or illegal drugs, you don’t need public assistance,” Kenny said.
Addressing a related issue, Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec noted that 11 or 12 percent of the county residents depended on food stamps, and the local expense of administering the program was costly. He said the county would be asking U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson to work toward developing a less expensive manner of operating the federal program.
Also, the board voted to apply for a $700,000 grant to buy land and easements east of the county airport’s secondary runway to meet Federal Aviation Administration mandates. Queensbury supervisor-at-Large Mark Westcott contended that such a sum shouldn’t be spent on accommodating a backup runway.
“I’m supportive of keeping county airport in business, but I have serious reservations about the money,” he said. “The airport has operated successfully for decades without the purchase of land.”
But county Public Works Superintendent Jeff Tennyson countered that for years, the county had been on notice from the FAA that it needed to eliminate hazards – mainly trees – near the runway. Tennyson said that if the county did not make progress in meeting the FAA mandates, they could force the county to shorten the runway. The measure passed with all supervisors but Westcott voting for it.
In other business, the county leaders:
- Tabled a resolution urging Congress to repeal an existing public subsidy of free cell phone service to low-income citizens -- a cost now shouldered by wireless customers. They set it aside so the request could be reviewed by Gibson.
- Authorized Lake George Village to seek out quotes for printing a brochure to market the Charles Wood Environmental Park’s festival space.
- Approved drafting a contract with Edward Zibro to lease the Warren County Fairgrounds in 2013 for the Warrensburg Bike Rally, with an option to return for five years, subject to annual endorsement by the county and town of Warrensburg. Queensbury at-large supervisor David Strainer called for the contract to include specific dates for the rally rather than vague terms, so the agreement wouldn’t deter others from reserving the facilities.
"The fairgrounds are a great asset, and they are totally underutilized,” he said.
- Authorized an agreement with Washington County to provide backup emergency dispatch services in case of an outage. The Warren County supervisors decided to pursue the agreement after Verizon recently demanded $249,000 from the county for software and hardware upgrades for their in-house backup 911 system that Verizon engineered but said they’d no longer support without the upgrades.
- Approved requesting an opinion from the state Attorney General on the status of lands in Chester and Horicon involved in the relocation of the Middleton Bridge. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has reportedly asked for a significant offset in state Forest Preserve land due to the pending bridge relocation.
- Approved modification to an agreement with Lake George Village over sharing the revenue earned from the county-owned Beach Road parking lot – which until recently the village reaped all revenue and village leaders assumed they owned it. The revised agreement calls for the village to operate and collect the parking meter receipts from the lot and pay to the county 25 percent of the proceeds – after paying credit card fees. Beginning in 2013, the village additionally is to share 25 percent of the revenue from gleaned through special events, either in lease payments or other receipts.