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Sneaky business

By Tom Manza
June 1, 2016

I am writing about the state of the Sullivan County government. Eight years ago, and for a number of years afterward, I expressed my dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency and open government surrounding the jail project. At the time there was a lot of shiftiness with regards to the process. After I and others complained, which was reported in the newspapers, the government began giving better notice of meetings and improved in many respects.

But after going to the meeting at which the new jail was voted through the other day, I realized things have gone back to where they were. As before, I am less upset with the outcome than I am with the sneakiness of the government.

I maintain that this project is too costly and will cause more pain than advertised to the taxpayers, although I realize the corrections officers and the men and women of the sheriff’s department deserve the best. I just feel it should have been a more modest project.

The announced increase in property taxes of $55 per year per small house is not realistic. It’s based on only bonding half the money this year and putting part of the fund balance into the project. The dollar increase will unfortunately more than likely be much higher in the future, putting more pressure on an overtaxed homeowner base. By rights, there needs to be a tax reduction. Even the term “one-time tax increase” announced by the the county manager is very misleading, as this increase and future increases will accumulate and be on the tax bills indefinitely.

When the new legislature took office, I was told there would be a public hearing on the jail in advance of any vote to bond the project. This of course never happened. People were only allowed to speak at the monthly executive meeting after the resolution to bond the project was passed. The upcoming (after-the-fact) public meeting where they will override the state-mandated 2% tax cap comes after the decisions were made. It should have been held before it, to allow the public their input.

The recent executive meeting at which the new jail resolution passed was listed on the county website as being on April 21, when in fact it was a May meeting, and the vote to formally bond the jail wasn’t in the agenda for the monthly [May?] meeting even though the legislature knew well ahead they would be voting on it. It was added to the agenda as an addendum during the meeting itself.