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Owego, NY 13827
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Last Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Below is text of the remarks given by the Chair of the Tioga County Legislature, Martha C. Sauerbrey, on March 13th, 2018 covering the efforts made in 2017 and laying out the County's goals for 2018.
If you read the newspaper, or listen to the news you begin to wonder what this world is coming to. I am concerned with what is happening to our Country, and I think about how we can change the direction we are going in.
Mother Teresa said,” If you want to make the world better - go home and love your family. “
My immediate family is my husband, children and grandchildren. My family is also each and every citizen of this county. As a leader, I ask myself what I can do to make this county better. I believe we have the tools to be better and to succeed with our dedicated and talented workforce and we need to continue to be open to new ideas and look for better ways of doing things.
We’ve made progress…Tioga County has streamlined their process and became the third County in the State to implement a mobile management system for Child Welfare Workers. Through an IPad based system, casework staff can more efficiently administer their responsibilities and increase the amount of time devoted to true casework versus mandated paperwork requirements.
This year, the District Attorney’s Office started a new Traffic Safety Diversion Program. The program allows qualified motorists to take a six hour driving class in lieu of their traffic ticket being prosecuted and is expected to improve traffic safety.
Economic Development and Planning continues to bring jobs and opportunity to our communities. It often takes years to develop a project, however last year we saw the completion of several with the opening of Crown Cork and Seal, Owego Gardens Housing and the new Fed Ex operation. Tioga Downs opened their new hotel and began operating as a Tioga Downs Casino Resort and Events Center. Ongoing projects include the Owego Gateway, Waverly Main Street Development and the Owego Parkview Anchor grant with other projects in early stages of development.
A recent Housing & Economic Impact Study was completed through a collaboration of Tioga County Economic Development and Planning, the Tioga County IDA and Tioga Opportunities. This information will help us create an overall housing strategy that identifies housing needs and help us to develop strategies for future implementation.
The Tioga County Property Development Corporation (Land Bank) was recently established to foster economic and community development by acquiring, holding, managing, developing and marketing distressed, vacant, abandoned, tax foreclosed and underutilized residential and commercial properties.
As part of our Regional Economic Development Council award, Tioga County received $300,000 to purchase a new mobile dental vehicle. Since 2003, our Mobile Dental Program has served 10,000 Tioga County children and adults throughout the county at schools and community centers. After 14 years in upstate New York weather, our current dental trailer is rusty and identified as in need of replacement. We expect the arrival of our new Dental Vehicle in early 2019.
Our Veterans Services Department had an exceptional year offering a focused outreach throughout the county to increase awareness of the services they provide. In January, our part time Veterans Services Officer became a full time employee, which allows for extended hours and programs. These gentlemen have done an amazing job of reaching out to our veterans, bringing in new resources and providing needed support for our veterans. They have successfully collaborated with other county departments and outside agencies to bring services not offered in the past.
The bulk of Tioga County’s 347 full-time employees are represented by three labor unions and last year all three union contracts were negotiated and completed. Personnel and the negotiation teams put in a significant amount of time and thoughtfulness to the collective bargaining process.
It’s a sad day when a long time employee retires. Last year we honored County Attorney Judy Quigley as she retired with over 30 years of service in government. We hired Peter DeWind as our new County Attorney and when he arrived he hit the ground running. Peter has his hands full since he arrived with new challenges and including advisor to our Shared Services Initiative.
Last year the Governor instituted the Shared Services Initiative wherein he required the Chief Executive Official of each county, excluding NYC, to establish a Shared Services Panel that would include the mayor of each city or village and the supervisor of each town. The objective was to develop a Property Tax Savings Plan through shared, coordinated and more efficient services between local governments within the county. We had four meetings last year with 100% participation at our first meeting followed by three public hearings, as required. Despite the cooperation we have not yet identified a plan that shows savings. What we did learn was that our towns and villages have been cooperating with each other and sharing services for many years. We are required to continue this year and we will do so in an effort to find a shared service that saves taxpayer dollars.
Tioga County is financially sound thanks to the Legislature’s conservative approach on spending. We continued to stay under the tax cap in 2017 with a zero increase in county property taxes. Sales tax revenue increased by 7.5% and our fund balance is estimated to be $21 Million. We received $1.1 Million in casino revenue which was transferred to our Capital Reserve Account to be spent on future capital projects and will benefit all Tioga County taxpayers.
What is concerning is, for the past few years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of community members addicted to opiates. Drug and Alcohol abuse not only affects immediate families but our communities as well. This has impacted our finances by the increased need for county services. We have experienced a greater need for foster care homes along with mental health services. Jail costs have increased with an estimated 75% of people incarcerated due to drug or alcohol related crimes. The numbers of people on probation are increasing with some going to Drug Treatment Court. The District Attorney’s Office works with the Sheriff’s Office and area police departments to stop the flow of drugs to our communities. The Public Health Department provides Tioga County Emergency Services and Law Enforcement with trainings and opioid overdose prevention kits (Narcan). Almost all of our county departments are impacted in one way or another.
The Tioga Allies in Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) Coalition was organized over a year and a half ago and is made up of community members, government agencies, and professional organizations working for a healthy Tioga County free from the effects of substance abuse. Last year the TC ASAP hosted several projects; a Community Picnic to engage and educate the public about the dangers of drug abuse and the” Do 1 Thing Event” to encourage community and individual involvement.
2017 was the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote in New York State. With the help of our Tioga County Historian and many volunteers throughout the county, we honored those women who fought for the right to vote in Tioga County. Events were held throughout the county and a daylong event was held in August at the Tioga County Court House.
New regulations have come from the State regarding Raise the Age and Attorney at Arraignment and have required much time and attention by our departments to address the new requirements. We are a rural county and many of these programs address the needs of bigger counties and do not necessarily apply to smaller counties.
Succession Planning is important in any organization and for the last year and a half we have been taking a hard look at the future of our workforce. A Succession Planning Committee was formed to address the issue of our aging workforce and possible loss of historical knowledge. We found that of our 100 essential employees, nearly 40% were eligible for retirement.
We quickly went to work developing a plan. During the past year the committee did a great deal of work identifying key positions, and developed a yearlong five session training curriculum that contained key components for developing leaders in a preemptive attempt to retain younger employees with leadership potential. The Institute for Advancement kicked off its first meeting in January with a presentation on County Government 101. Nineteen of our county employees are participating in the program.
Last year the Legislature reorganized the Office of Emergency Management with the Bureau of Fire creating the Office of Emergency Services in an effort to improve efficiency and provide better services. Working together, we redesigned the department, enhanced with a full time employee dedicated to providing emergency services throughout the county. As we grow into this new way of doing things, each day provides better service.
Safety of our employees is a high priority and last year the Legislature enacted an Active Shooter Policy which is providing employees with valuable information how to survive an active shooter incident. We also installed an Active Shooter Alarm system, and held several drills in the Health and Human Services Building.
The Sheriff’s Office and the Office of Emergency Services are working with the community and the schools to raise awareness and develop preparedness plan in case of unwanted incidents.
This year we held our Fourth Annual Tioga County Job Fair on March 7th with 109 businesses registered. This effort is supported by the Tioga County Business Services Team, which was formed prior to the First Annual Job Fair and they continue to provide services to new and existing businesses. Over 450 people attended.
Challenges and difficulties will always be with us. It’s how we handle them that make the difference in the outcome. In New York State, counties deliver vital programs and services to the citizens in their communities. We are at the heart of our state, working directly with and for our residents. I’m confident that the leadership of this county will continue to make thoughtful decisions and together with our workforce we will continue to find better ways of providing services to the public.
Added note: Each year I ask each department to provide an Annual Report to the Legislature noting their accomplishments. These reports are very informative and contain a lot of data. I encourage you to review the attached annual reports that the departments have presented, which can be found below.