Citizen volunteers play critical role to town governments

The County Account

Author and columnist Erma Bombeck once compared volunteers to yachts, noting in admiration that “they could stay moored where it’s safe and still justify their being, but they choose to cut through the rough waters” for a nobler purpose.

Government benefits considerably from citizen volunteers. In recent months the county Legislature has made appointments to several important committees and boards, with good representation from our region.

The Environmental Management Council’s (EMC) reappointed members include Vicky Kelly of Millbrook and newcomer Nicole Burris from Wassaic. Formed in 1972, the 11-member EMC exists to advise the public and government on local environmental issues as well as update the county’s Natural Resource Inventory, which they did last year to many accolades.

Our county Mental Hygiene Board includes Stanford’s E. Mark Stern, who in May was reappointed for another four-year term. Serving as advisers to the commissioner of mental hygiene, this citizen’s advisory board is required by New York State Mental Hygiene Law. It vests board members with input and consultation on the county’s local services plan.

During the month of May, the Mental Hygiene Board annually hosts four public forums corresponding to the committee’s subcommittee’s adult services (this author serves as a subcommittee member), children and youth, chemical dependency and developmental disabilities.

Two of the seven Soil and Water Conservation Board members come from our towns, including those reappointed in April: David Coon from Amenia and Jesse Bonticou from Millbrook. Established in 1945 and authorized by state statute, the Soil and Water Board provides education and technical assistance on soil, water and natural resource assistance. In March the agency held its annual seedling sale, also taking a leadership role when the spring thaw causes stream banks to overflow.

Also at our April meeting we heard from Bill Augerson, M.D., from Millbrook, who is the current chairman of the County Board of Health. Augerson attended to make presentations to two public health groups deserving of recognition: Miles of Hope breast cancer foundation and Millerton-based Somos Llave del Futuro, which performs health-care outreach to the county’s growing rural Hispanic population.

Only one committee saw appointments in recent months without representation from our region, and for that reason I voted against it. That committee was the Traffic and Safety Advisory Board.

While I do not make residency a litmus test, this was a difficult item not to vote against. Not only was there not representation from our towns, but the entirety of the board resided in towns to the west of the Taconic State Parkway. Since traffic-related concerns constitute the most common issues for which constituents reach out to me for assistance, I hope in future years that we can achieve greater balance on this important board.

District members also serve on key committees, including the Veterans Advisory Board, Small Business Council, Tick Task Force and Resource Recovery Agency. We can be justly proud of our neighbors who volunteer their time, energy and expertise to advise and counsel the public and government leaders in furtherance of sound policy.

Michael Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.