Last Updated: 3/20/2023
Tioga County Legislative Chairwoman, Martha C. Sauerbrey, delivers the 2022 State of the County Address at the Third Regular Legislature Meeting on March 14, 2023.
County government touches the lives of every citizen. From the newborn to the aged, from the impoverished to the wealthy and from a model citizen to those that color outside of the lines. Every day is a new challenge. It is not glamorous in any stretch of the imagination. It is an enormous responsibility to run a local government with limited resources yet a huge requirement to provide services, 90 percent of them mandated by the State.
2022 was a year of staff shortages brought about by retirements and employees leaving for more money and better jobs. Or perhaps they couldn’t take the stress after Covid. The competition for employees is being experienced across all levels of government. If anything, Covid taught us that things change, people change, and the demands of employees have changed. Our Social Services Department has been experiencing a significant loss in staff putting a strain on Foster Care and Child Protective Services. Hiring of Corrections Officers is a challenge as counties around us are searching for the same positions, competition for workers is real. Our Personnel Department is the busiest it has been in years with a constant flow of people leaving and being hired.
Workers have more job opportunities to select from and to attract more job seekers we had to adjust our sails. We completed the first phase of a salary study that compared us against other liked sized counties and we began the process of upgrading salaries for 2023. We will continue to address future salary levels for our employees which will take time and consideration. We are providing better tools for them to do their work, more instruction on how to use tools including upgrading our software system to Microsoft 365. This was a significant project which increased collaborative and communication functionality throughout the County. Remote work is more and more desirable by employees and the Legislature is implementing the second phase for a pilot program of remote work. The success of this program depends on the effectiveness of the worker and the supervisor. This is a time when personal responsibility will define the future of the program.
Speaking of people coming and going, three new Legislators joined us last year, W. Jake Brown District #4, Ron Ciotoli District #1, and Barb Roberts District #3. Keith Flesher, District #7 came on board in February representing the Newark Valley area that Legislator Eddie J. Hollenbeck served on prior to his passing. Last year we also lost former Legislator Bud Waite a long serving Legislator.
Security of people and buildings came into focus with the changing society and mental health issues that have increased in our society. We have seen a significant increase in requests for mental health services from the community. We continue to have the ability to provide tele-health to residents, which increases access to care. We are seeing behaviors that we have not seen in the past.
The Ronald E. Dougherty County Office building at 56 Main Street is receiving a major overhaul of security measures that will be experienced as the year progresses along with other county spaces. The ITCS Department spearheaded the installation of 35 security cameras both inside and outside of the building. These cameras provide additional tracking, reporting and notification functionality which did not currently reside in the existing system. The county has installed upgraded camera system at 56 Main Street and other buildings in the county for the protection of people and equipment. Fobs are now used for entering buildings and offices. Security staff will eventually be on site to ensure the safety of citizens and employees.
ITCS Security is being upgraded with a robust and thorough review of the Comprehensive Information Security Policy. A major finding in an Information Security Risk Assessment was mitigated after the County’s Storage Area Networks (SANs) were upgraded with NetApp SAN. This upgrade, while increasing in our disaster recovery posture, most importantly mitigated a significant information security concern enabling data-at-rest encryption for the County’s electronically stored information.
Last year was a very complicated election year which involved two rounds of redistricting, a delayed congressional primary and special election which provided much confusion and misunderstanding for voters. However, we met the challenge and hope that more practical thought will be presented the next time.
Our final payment of American Recovery Funds arrived in 2022 totaling $9.4 Million. Projects that were funded are as follows: Veterans Suicide Prevention, Tioga ASAP Community Organization, Tioga County Suicide Prevention, Tourism, Travel & Hospitality Sectors, Land Bank - Affordable Housing, Transitional Housing through Catholic Charities, Men’s Transitional Housing, A New Hope Center, Broadband Project in Nichols, EMO - Communication Towers for Radio Project, DPW - Truck Wash Facility, several Information Technology projects including: Cyber Security, EMO - Ambulance Study, Neighborhood Depot and badly needed County Facility Security Upgrades.
As mentioned, the Interoperable Radio Project was the recipient of $4 Million in American Recovery Funds but this multi million project will cost much more. We were recently pleased to receive a $6 Million Grant from New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services that will help with the expenses of this badly needed project. The radio project has been in the works since 2019 and continues to move forward. Over the years equipment has failed and repairs became more difficult for the existing system. The 911 Center has been upgraded with new equipment, and the next step is towers and radios that will help connect areas in the county where there is no radio signal. A new Spillman Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) System was purchased and installed as part of the communications upgrade. Training was provided to all police agencies in the county. The new CAD provides increased efficiency for dispatchers and patrol units as well as improved officer safety. Fire and Emergency Medical Services will soon be added to the system as the communications upgrade continues. Combining American Recovery Funds, State Grant and our reserve funds, we can move forward upgrading and purchasing new equipment which is a critical need for the safety of all Tioga County citizens.
Speaking of grants - Economic Development submitted numerous grants and provided guidance for local not-for-profits and municipalities, totaling $236K in new funds. Additionally, NYS Grant funds were awarded to Fuddy Duddy’s in Owego for $1.8 M awarded and $3.2 M awarded to Best Bev in Waverly. Congratulations to the Village of Waverly who recently received a NY Forward Award for $4.5 Million. A$100K grant from the Floyd Hooker Foundation was awarded to the County to support an Education Workforce Coordinator. This position created an education workforce strategy, working with the county’s 6 public school districts and 3 BOCES partners to improve the workforce talent pipeline.
Soon, Owego Gardens Associates II LLC, will open and 93 rental units will be available for mixed income households. Off route 434 and located at 140 Belva Lockwood Lane, Owego NY these units will provide badly needed housing. Tioga County IDA was instrumental in supporting the developer throughout this process.
Last year I along with a dozen other New York State Association of County leaders, had the opportunity to have a closed meeting with the Governor. It was an open and frank meeting regarding our concerns for lack of funding for our local Veterans Services Agencies.
I am pleased to report that the Governor did in fact hear our concerns and in last years’ budget provided funding to localities for the vital work counties do to aid veterans, military, and their families in our communities. For Tioga County that meant $15,000 more per year in direct state-aid to localities for our Agency; it also meant an additional $100,000 in state-aid to expand outreach efforts to veterans, military, and their families. Our Veteran’s Office has been able to add new programs and training for our staff to better equip the needs for our veteran community.
At the end of 2022, we also saw a change to the laws governing the age range of a Juvenile Delinquent. Known as Raise the Lower Age, the change raised the lower age at which a young person could be charged with a Juvenile Delinquency offense from the age of seven to 12 years of age. This change took effect on December 29, 2022. Parents and guardians of those seven to 11-year-olds who previously could be considered Juvenile Delinquents can now seek services from the Tioga County Department of Social Services.
A new County Court Judge assumed the bench on January 1, 2023. The Honorable Adam R. Schumacher is now the Tioga County Court Judge as well as sitting as Tioga County Family Court and Supreme Court Judge. In addition to a new Judge, Probation will look to expand the Pre-Trial Services it provides to the various Justice Courts throughout Tioga County. Probation Officers will be physically present during arraignment days and provide a validated risk assessment to the Justices if they request it on bail eligible offenses.
For Public Health the year started out much the same as it began. COVID-19 cases still lingered, and cases had to be investigated however slowly but surely, Covid began to wane. Now they can go back to supporting the citizens of the County through Environmental Health, Dental Health, Disease Control, Nursing Services, Children's Services, and Health Education programs. Let’s not forget the Rabies Clinics that are extremely popular.
Over the years of serving in County Government, I have learned that the State gives, and the State takes away. The State has decided that even though their fund balance is significant, they want to take our eFMAP funding identified by the Federal Government as “County money” and keep it for themselves. Those funds are identified by the Federal Government as County Medicaid pass through Funding. The elimination of the Affordable Care Act eFMAP federal funds will require counties outside of NY City to spend at least $280 million more in 2024 State Fiscal Year. This will be an added mid-year budget year cost to Tioga County of over a $1 Million. This goes against 20 years of state precedent in sharing these federal savings as well against Congress’s intent for use of the eFMAP funds. The state is proposing to permanently intercept all these federal savings and use them to cover overspending on the Medicaid program. Due to the failure of the state to contain out of control Medicaid costs, is turned to shift billions of dollars in new costs to local taxpayers.
In 2022 Tioga County experienced an unusual and unexpected revenue in sales tax income. Sales tax collections were up 11.5% or 3 million dollars over 2021. According to local and state economists, this growth is not expected to continue in future, and the county will consider this increase cautiously. The County shares 25% of these collections with Towns and Villages. Tioga Downs casino state aid came in at $1,710,812 which is the highest amount of income. Conversely in 2022, the County paid 2.9 million dollars in Community College tuition bills. This state mandated education service represented 12% of our county tax levy last year. One thousand five hundred and forty-one residences benefited by this program.
The Tioga County Buildings and Grounds Division continues to maintain Tioga County buildings and properties, and DPW the Roads and Bridges. Changes continue, upgrades are required which includes renovations for three department locations, not to mention the care attention needed to protect and preserve our historic Tioga County Court House and Court Annex. American Recovery Funds were used to purchase a property to establish a Truck Wash facility for county trucks and equipment which was badly needed and required by the DEC.
There was a significant amount of activity and accomplishments achieved by county departments that cannot be presented in this presentation. Much of the work addresses the needs of the public when it comes to Health Care, Mental Health, Support Services, Taxes, Roads and Bridges, Motor Vehicle, Emergency Management, Public Safety, Voting Information, Real Property, Economic Development, History of communities, and Laws. I encourage the public to go to our County Website and check out the Annual Reports of all County Departments for the detail and description of activity as it is significant.
We have great people working for Tioga County. They are your neighbors, family members, people you’ve never met but they are working in your best interest.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the 2022 State of the County. I’m proud to serve along with my fellow Legislators to work on behalf of the citizens of the county.