Blog

03 Jan
0

Looking ahead to a new year in the Chemung County Legislature

Image: WENY

2019 was an interesting year for Chemung County government.

With new people serving in scores of critical roles – including County Executive, Deputy County Executive, County Treasurer, County Attorney, Legislative Attorney, Sheriff, Industrial Development Agency Director, IT Director, Aviation Director, Department of Social Services Director, Sewer District Director, Legislative Chairperson, Legislative Clerk as well as seven of fifteen new County Legislators – it is no surprise that a steep and swift learning curve was necessary to keep things moving forward at a time when there is reason to believe our community is headed in a positive direction.

The good news is that despite some very public bumps along the way, the new administrative team was able to identify and begin the process of rectifying some very important problems within its first year, setting up what looks to be an even more interesting set of issues for 2020.

The list below highlights seven areas to watch over the next twelve months. As I have stated many times, the purpose of the Chemung County Matters blog is to help provide information to the community so that every person has the opportunity to be an informed participant in local government.

Elected officials are no more important than any other community members, and our opinions carry no greater weight than those of anyone else. Moreover, the primary role of a person holding an elected legislative office is to act as a conduit, transporting information from government to the public, and bringing the public’s opinion about the information back to government.

As always, please share your thoughts on these and other issues with people serving in Chemung County government so we can represent your interests in the best way possible.

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08 Dec
1

Proposed Local Law to prohibit private discussions of public business

Three members of the Chemung County Legislators – Bill McCarthy, Bob Briggs, and I – submitted a law to the legislative chairperson that would prohibit the private discussion of public business when a quorum (majority) of the Chemung County Legislature is present. We would like this measure to be placed on the Legislature’s Agenda, most likely through the Personnel Committee, this month.

This is the text of the proposed Local Law:

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03 Dec
4

Transparency in the Chemung County Legislature? We can do much better.

Image: Star Gazette

If Webster’s Dictionary had identified a “Word of the Year” for Chemung County in 2018, it undoubtedly would have been “transparency.” With contested races for county executive and nearly all legislative seats, many candidates sought to distinguish themselves by talking about how “transparent” they would be if elected.

Live-streaming of meetings? All for it, they said.

Increased public participation on county matters? Absolutely!

Open, fair dialogue between county government and the public? We wouldn’t want it any other way.

Throughout the first ten months after getting elected, I felt these campaign themes were being honored, albeit imperfectly. I have provided live-streaming of all of our meetings with limited push back from elected officials, and there has been some movement toward greater inclusion of members of the public in both activities and discussions.

However, my perspective has changed markedly over the past month.

The Chemung County Legislature’s Republican Caucus, comprised of 12 out of 15 sitting Legislators, has held six “political caucuses”, each lasting approximately one hour and held before and/or after meetings of the Legislature. During these gatherings numerous topics – including the 2020 Chemung County Budget, Elmira’s First Arena, and Chemung County’s relationship with the Library District – have been discussed at length. To the best of my knowledge the “caucuses” were held before the meetings on November 12th, November 13th, November 18th, before and after the meeting on November 25th, and after the meeting on December 2nd.

In other words, 12 of 15 Legislators have spent no less than six hours over the past month addressing public business behind closed doors where even elected members of the Legislature, including me, are unable to attend or even know what is being discussed.

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25 Nov
2

Update on the budget process

Image: Arizona Capital Times

We are in the middle of the budget process in Chemung County. County Executive Moss provided his proposed budget to the Legislature on November 12th. A copy of the budget is embedded below and can be found here.

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The Legislature held four budget workshops during November. Chemung County Budget Director Steve Hoover led three discussions where he allowed for a very candid exchange in a question-and-answer format among himself and legislators as we attempted to learn more about what impacts the proposed budget would have on various sectors of our community as well as local government itself. The fourth workshop was an open discussion among legislators.

The first three workshops were live-streamed to the Chemung County Matters Facebook page, found here, where the videos remain embedded. I had to miss the final workshop due to a family obligation.

The Legislature’s Response

The Chemung County Charter requires the Legislature to provide a report back to the County Executive by November 25th with any recommended changes or amendments.

The document below constitutes the legislature’s report.

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Of note, Exhibit “A” of the report, beginning at page 19, sets forth the Legislature’s budget recommendations.

John Burin, Vice Chairperson of the Legislature, did an outstanding job analyzing the budget and helping us brainstorm ways to possibly improve it. Drawing on his experience as the City of Elmira Manager at a time when Elmira faced extreme fiscal stress, Burin developed a proposal that calls for limited spending from reserves ($84,246) while accounting for additional mandates handed down from Albany this year.

An informal poll of the legislators has revealed unanimous support for the recommended changes. I embedded the recommended changes alone to make them easier to access.

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12 Nov
0

Proposed Chemung County Budget released

This morning Chemung County Executive Chris Moss released a copy of his proposed budget for 2020.

The Chemung County Legislature will hold its first budget workshop tonight (November 12th) immediately following the Legislature’s November meeting.

A copy of the proposed budget is embedded at the end of this post. If you have any questions or concerns you would like me to attempt to answer or raise in our workshops, please leave a comment to this post or on Facebook, or send an email to csonsire@chemungcountyny.gov.

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09 Nov
0

Drag Queen Story Time: a brief update

Image: Brooke Dawson

In a blog post published in this forum on November 6th, I shared the Library District’s 2019 budget. It is embedded again below for your review.

Today Chemung County Executive Moss sent information to the Legislature that shows the county provides a small amount of in-kind services to the Library District, something it has done since the Library District was created in 2005.

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08 Nov
1

2020 Budget Process Underway

This morning County Executive Chris Moss gave a presentation to local government officials, business leaders and the media highlighting certain aspects of his proposed 2020 budget. Moss’ presentation kicked off the budget season in Chemung County, an important undertaking that is particularly critical this year as Moss and almost half of the legislators are in their initial year of service and will be going through this process for the first time.

Overview of the Budget Process

Under Chemung County’s charter, the county executive is required to furnish the legislature with a copy of the proposed budget each year by November 10th. The charter requires the legislature to send a report back to the county executive with its findings, questions and/or recommendations no later than November 25th. Throughout that time the legislature typically holds several budget workshops in order to work through the document. With a budget of estimated to be around $200 million dollars this year, the legislature needs as much time as possible to do its due diligence to both county government and the community at large.

Over the past few decades a tradition developed whereby legislators were provided copies of the proposed budget on the Thursday after Election Day, even if that date was well before November 10th, in order to give legislators time to analyze and understand the budget before the workshops begin.

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06 Nov
10

Drag Queen Story Time – Why the Issue Matters so Much

Image: Brooke Dawson

At the conclusion of the Chemung County Legislature’s Budget Committee meeting on Monday, Legislator Joe Brennan raised concern over programming at the Steele Memorial Library in Elmira. Specifically, Brennan urged the Legislature to take action against the Chemung County Library District because it periodically hosts “Drag Queen Story Time.”

The video below is from Monday’s meeting, and the image is from the of Legislator Joe Brennan’s official Facebook page:

As evidenced by my expression and comments at the meeting, I was shocked for several reasons.

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16 Oct
0

Legislature passes important measures to help veterans & municipalities, promote safety and provide additional fiscal oversight.

Image: World Atlas

The Chemung County Legislature passed four important resolutions when it met on October 16, 2019. Notably, all four of these resolutions were initiated by the Legislature, a healthy step toward making this branch a more proactive partner in local government.

Cold War Veterans Exemption

New York State allows veterans of the Cold War to receive certain property tax exemptions if the county in which the veteran lives passes a local law allowing him or her to take advantage of it.

Chemung County adopted a Local Law in 2001 to provide certain property tax exemptions to veterans who served in “wartime” defined as World War I, World War II, the Korean War (1950-1955), the Vietnam War (1961-1975) and the Gulf War (1990-present). However, this law did not provide the exemptions to veterans who served during the Cold War (1945-1991) but whose service fell outside these designated “wartimes”.

The local law unanimously passed by the Legislature last night seeks to rectify this inequity. It allows veterans living in Chemung County who served during the Cold War to receive certain property exemptions regardless of when their military service took place so long as it was entirely outside of a “wartime” described above.

Legislative Vice Chairperson John Burin wrote a memorandum explaining the background of the Cold War Exemption along with a detailed fiscal analysis found here and embedded below:

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01 Oct
3

Judge dismisses both lawsuits filed by Chemung County Executive Moss against Legislature

Late in the day on Monday, September 30, 2019, Judge Eugene Faughnan, a 6th Judicial District Supreme Court Judge from Binghamton, issued a 19 page decision in which he dismissed both lawsuits filed by County Executive Moss and County Attorney Hyder Hussain against the Chemung County Legislature, the Legislators individually, and Legislative Attorney Bryan Maggs.

A full copy of the decision can be accessed here and is also embedded below:

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Here are four key takeaways from the decisions:

The Court agreed with all of the fundamental arguments about the legislative attorney position.

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