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2024 State of the County

Good evening. I am honored to be with all of you as we present our first State of the County Address.

Thank you to our hosts – the Red Hook Central School District and Red Hook High School – for welcoming us to their beautiful auditorium, and both Superintendent Warden and Principal Roddey for their kind words.

Just two months ago, I was honored to be joined by so many of our neighbors for the ceremonial Oath of Office at Dutchess Community College’s Aviation Education Center, where we spoke to the theme of investing in our future: our kids.

This evening, we are here at Red Hook High School to once again reaffirm our administration’s commitment to expanding opportunities for our youth and doing all that we can to make their future brighter, healthier, and safer, while setting them up for success for years to come.

When I think about our children and our grandchildren, my goal is to make Dutchess County a place where they want and can afford to live – not one they want to leave. It’s why I said no decision can be made without thinking about their future and how any decision we make can and will affect them.

Dutchess County truly is a great place to live and work, and it’s because of the people who call this community home. Our entire team here at Dutchess County Government continues to go above and beyond to enhance our quality of life. It’s because of the work they do each and every day that I am proud to say the state of Dutchess County is strong.

But there is always a way to do even more, to reach even more of our neighbors.

It’s why on Day 1, we created the County’s first Office of Community Engagement, so we can create a more responsive government, which is on the ground, listening to the concerns of our neighbors and creating active solutions to help solve them.

So often, we see government acting in a bubble – or as I said in Albany, in their “ivory tower” – so out of touch from what is actually going on in our communities.

Our administration is committed to meeting neighbors where they are – because when government is accessible, people are more eager to share their issues and keep you informed on the challenges they’re facing.

That’s why we’ll be bringing our mobile office hours back, moving around to different parts of our county to hear directly from you. We’ll also be hosting roundtable discussions and bringing stakeholders to the table to discuss how to tackle challenges.

There is a lot to talk about. There were many projects that began under the leadership of Marc Molinaro and Bill O’Neil, and there are so many ideas that I heard from many of you during my campaign that I want to explore.  We need to figure out which projects and initiatives to move forward, and which ones need to be further developed. And we need your input.     

Everything we do is always going to be centered around you, the taxpayer. As a former business owner, I knew if I didn’t have the money, I couldn’t spend it. I am bringing that same approach to County government.

Last year, I had the opportunity to work in Dutchess County’s Office for the Aging, and it was a real eye opener for me. I talked to so many seniors who are living on an income of less than $20,000 a year.

It’s those seniors, and so many other individuals struggling to make ends meet, who I’m thinking about every time I’m faced with a decision in the County. I remember what it was like as a single mom sitting at my kitchen table, debating which bills to pay now and which ones to pay later. It’s a feeling that I know too many families are dealing with right now; and when it feels like your government isn’t working for you, it makes it all the more frustrating.

It’s what got me into politics in the first place.

We’re focused on changing the face of government, which may seem like a simple task; but I can tell you, it is harder than it seems. But it starts with treating everyone with kindness and respect, and by being mindful of the obstacles our neighbors are facing and addressing them head-on with practical and common-sense solutions.

While serving in Albany, I learned how to work with everyone. From serving in the majority to serving in the minority, I learned that the best way to accomplish things was to work “bipartisanly,” because for most of the issues we worked on, it didn’t matter if you were an R or a D. I learned not to take ownership of my ideas, but rather to collaborate with whoever could help us get it across the finish line. Most importantly, I developed relationships with people and organizations who I look forward to working with again to accomplish things within County government.

I have learned a tremendous amount over the past few months, and I’ll be looking into how Dutchess County Government is impacting all aspects of our life. As we continue to map out our vision and apply our priorities, you can count on the fact that I will strive to make the decision that is best for all of our taxpayers.

In times of economic uncertainty, we’re not leaving any stone unturned when it comes to finding resources from the state and federal government. That’s why we’re hiring a grant writer who can help all of our departments in Dutchess County find funding opportunities that can help cover the costs of existing programs and services, and help us bring in additional new resources to help our neighbors. This is an investment that I am confident will see great success and allow for County government to find new ways to help offset the burden on our taxpayers.

Our young people have always been a priority for all of us here in Dutchess County. Many people came together for the idea of the Youth Opportunity Union building, but along with that comes with a hefty price tag of over $70 million. In the meantime, we are not waiting.

Our kids need programming now, which is why I love the idea of the “YOU without Walls” program, where we are seeing out-of-the-box ideas come to fruition with community partners coming to the table to collaborate – like “Swim with a Friend,” hosted by L’Quette Taylor and Community Matters 2, who offered a swimming, water safety and CPR program to 26 children and six adults. They did it by partnering with organizations who each offer something unique.

It’s ideas like this that we need to support and expand on, which is why as the YOU fundraising committee continues to find funding streams that could bring this visionary building to reality, we are making an investment into programming and building on the infrastructure we already have. Together, we can create a network that is by the community and for the community, and I look forward to working with all of you to accomplish that.

Our school districts are taking the lead to create unique and out-of-the-box programs for students to take advantage of. Here in Red Hook, they are truly doing extraordinary things – from their Red Hook Robotics Team to the FFA teaching young people about agriculture, they are showing students different avenues for success.

As many of you know, I didn’t take the traditional path, which is why I think it is so important to show students there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to determining your future. Our local community is home to some unique opportunities, including careers in the trades. Showcasing these opportunities is so important, which is why I’ll be partnering with the Wappingers Central School District to host a “Career in the Skilled Trades” Fair on Thursday, April 18th, open to all students and adults across Dutchess County.

I always say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I remember talking with youth from Nubian Directors about careers like plumbing and welding and seeing their eyes light up about the possibilities and opportunities that could come with a career like that. By having local business owners and industry representatives on-hand, students can learn more about the various avenues available to them and start looking into different careers that they might not have even known about.

Dutchess Community College (DCC) is leading the way through its Mechatronics Lab that has become a cornerstone of the Council of Industry’s Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program that is providing job opportunities and a skilled workforce for our small businesses. We are currently working with DCC to develop the third pipeline to jobs project in HVAC and a fourth in Automotive Maintenance Technician Program.

We will also create new opportunities within County government by launching a county-government wide internship program for local high school and college students to show the role local government has in our communities. While increased programs are great tools to set our children up for success, we also need to focus on issues outside of the classroom; and at the most basic level, our children need to be free from hunger to help be successful.

There are a record number of individuals seeking resources from the over 65 food pantries in Dutchess County – a number that’s only increased after the pandemic. This affects people of all walks of life and is a result of the affordability crisis that is truly affecting every aspect of our lives.

Thanks to the leadership of Renee Fillette-Miccio, Dutchess Outreach, and the United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region, we are launching the “Dutchess County Food Security Council” this year. By bringing the right people to the table to provide guidance to policy makers on how to best address hunger, we can strive to improve access to healthy, locally grown food for all County residents. Families shouldn’t have to decide between paying their bills or putting food on the table, which is why we are going to work on a collaborative level to help meet this basic need.

On that similar note, available, affordable, quality childcare is essential to the well-being of our children, families, and the economy; but far too often, we hear from families struggling to find care. I get it: When my son was young, I opened my own childcare center in my home, so I could take care of him during the day, while going to work to wait tables in the evening. We’re hearing more and more of those similar stories: parents or grandparents having to quit their jobs in order to stay home to take care of their children, because there is either no childcare available, or the cost is too high for them to be able to afford it.

This spring, we’ll meet with local childcare owners and industry leaders to identify the areas in most need and the best ways for Dutchess County to be a supportive partner. We’ll bring employers to the conversation to find ways to empower our workforce and find creative avenues to better support parents struggling to fill this need – and even explore pilot programs to find what works.

Dutchess County also needs to remain committed to our climate because our children deserve a future with clean air and clean water. We are going to continue our recycling education in schools so we can help show students the importance of managing waste from a young age. This summer, we’ll be applying for silver-certification as a Climate Smart Community; if granted, we will join only 10 other communities state-wide at this level.

Without safe communities, all of this other work won’t go as far. Together with our great Sheriff Kirk Imperati and District Attorney Anthony Parisi, we can continue to invest in resources that will better assist our dedicated law enforcement officers and create safer communities.

We’re seeing the incredible work our Dutchess County Drug Task Force is doing every day to take dangerous drug dealers off our streets. We have been able to identify additional funding to support much-needed vehicles to support their undercover work.

There’s a commercial on TV that has stuck with me involving two parents sharing their story about their daughter who died from a drug overdose. Thinking she was taking a Percocet for pain, the drug was actually fentanyl; and now because of one pill, one time, her parents will suffer for a lifetime. It’s stories like this that make it all the more important to collaborate with Sheriff Imperati and DA Parisi to provide key resources to allow the task force to tackle the opioid epidemic.

We also have to help change the dynamic and conversations that individuals have with law enforcement. Launched by Dutchess County in the City of Poughkeepsie in 2022, the Youth and Police Initiative is doing just that: working with our youth by building relationships and creating trust. This has been one of my favorite programs; and having attended many graduation ceremonies, I know it’s a program that works. Over 70 students have completed the week-long session, and their voices are being represented all over the State and nation, bringing their own personal experiences to the table so we can grow and expand this program.

We’re not just doing it in the City of Poughkeepsie: In May, the Dover Union Free School District and Dover Library are partnering to expand this initiative into eastern Dutchess. We are currently in the early stages of planning a session in the fall with the Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department.

We also know how critical it is for individuals to have a safe and stable roof over their heads, and how a door with a lock and key can make all the difference, which is why we are dedicating more resources than ever to homeless outreach and lifting people out of homelessness. Together with Hudson River Housing, People USA’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program and others, we are bringing all of our resources together to collaborate, rather than duplicate each other’s efforts.

LEAD’s intensive, street-based case management program supports individuals with unmanaged behavioral health needs and is currently serving 27 participants. It’s a program that’s seeing results with clients maintaining permanent housing, being connected to temporary housing, and entering treatment. I am thrilled to say that this year we will be expanding the reach of the program even more through collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Task Force.

This spring, together with Hudson River Housing, we will celebrate the opening of a youth transitional housing facility in the City of Poughkeepsie that will house up to 12 individuals, ages 18 through 25, who may be at risk for homelessness. Named after an employee at Hudson River Housing, ‘Pat’s Place’ is another investment that we know will make a difference in giving our youth the tools they need to find success.

It’s not just our young people in need of a place to stay; it’s everyone – seniors, adults, families.

Our Department of Community and Family Services provided more temporary housing to individuals and families than in the previous year, showing us the need is only getting worse. In the past six months alone, we have found permanent housing for almost 40 individuals.

But it’s not enough.

We know our community is facing an affordability crisis, and the lack of affordable housing in our area is making things that much harder. There are individuals living in our current emergency shelter who work full-time, yet they still can’t find an affordable place to live. It’s why we need to think outside of the box to tackle homelessness; that includes moving out of the PODS and exploring new transitional and affordable housing opportunities.

The truth is, this is not an issue one person alone can solve. We are bringing local stakeholders to the table so we can find an effective solution that will truly help bring neighbors out of homelessness. I recently had a productive meeting with Governor Hochul to discuss new ways we can accomplish this shared goal.

Our community is full of employment opportunities – positions that we desperately need to fill – but we don’t have the housing at a price that employees can afford. The County’s Housing Trust Fund is an incredible investment from Dutchess County that shows its commitment to growing these housing opportunities right here in our community. It’s something I am excited to continue supporting in the future. By dedicating the revenue from the hotel tax generated from short-term rentals, Dutchess County will be able to further support housing initiatives and projects for years to come.

Whether it’s for seniors looking for a place to retire in the community they helped build, or a young person or family searching for a place they can plant their roots, I remain committed to creating affordable and accessible housing options for them. While we continue to support promising projects, the biggest issue getting in the way is the lack of available sewer and water infrastructure. It’s not always the sexy thing to talk about, but without it our communities can’t expand and meet the needs of our growing area.

In 2016, I was able to fight to include over $100 million in the State Budget that would help municipalities invest in infrastructure, and I was able to deliver $2 million to the Town of Hyde Park to help jump-start its sewer project along Route 9. Here in Red Hook, I thank Village Mayor Karen Smythe for her investment in the sewer district and for recognizing how critical that is to helping our local communities grow.

Infrastructure doesn’t just help us build more housing. It helps bring new businesses and projects – and new jobs – to the local area, while adding to the commercial tax base and easing the burden on our neighbors. These include Stellantis – an automotive conglomerate that includes brands like Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Maserati – which is in the process of building out approximately half-a-million square feet of space for a new logistic center in East Fishkill; Onsemi, which is in the application process for CHIPS Act funding for a significant investment and expansion in East Fishkill; and Advanced Micro Devices, an American multinational corporation and semiconductor company based in California, which has established a research and design center in Fishkill.

I thank Supervisors D’Alessandro and Albra for their dedication to economic development and recognizing the important role these businesses play.

As many of you know, mental health is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and a top priority of our administration. Having lost my brother to suicide over 10 years ago, it’s a loss that I still feel each and every day. I have always been open and honest with the struggles my brother faced, in hopes that it would encourage others to engage in conversations about mental health and break the stigma that surrounds it.

I have heard from neighbors of all ages – from our youth to our seniors – about their own mental health challenges they are facing, challenges that were especially present these past few years. Now more than ever, we need to recommit ourselves to increasing and expanding services to meet this growing need.

That is why one of the first steps our administration took this year was to start the planning process for a reorganization of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health (DBCH). We’re giving both mental health and public health their own seat at the table, so they can each take advantage of the growing resources that may be available to them.

With our DBCH commissioner, Dr. Livia Santiago-Rosado, the Department of Health will be able to continue to focus on critical public health issues, like health equality, Lyme and tick-borne diseases, and cancer screening messaging, and offer community events like our annual Health Fair.

Ever since my days on the Hyde Park Town Board, I’ve made it a priority to raise awareness and talk about Lyme and tick-borne diseases. I knew my message was getting out there when kids started saying “Hey, it’s the tick lady!” While in Albany, I partnered with Assemblymember Didi Barrett to pass legislation instructing the New York State Department of Health to create a kid-friendly workbook on how to stay vigilante against ticks and distribute them to 3rd grade classrooms across our state. We’re going to continue that conversation by working with our local schools and local Department of Health to get resources in the hands of kids and families and use unique programming ideas to engage in a fun and dynamic way, like through our free “Tackling Ticks on the Big Screen” event.

I always say our personal stories propel us forward, and in 2020, right after the COVID-19 pandemic started, I received a breast cancer diagnosis. Like probably so many other women here, I kept putting off my annual mammogram because life always seemed to get in the way. When I finally did, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors told me I caught in just in time, and after surgery and radiation, I have thankfully been in remission ever since.

We created the “Make the Appointment” campaign as a way to remind men and women to put your health first – whether it’s a cancer screening or your yearly physical, make the commitment to yourself and your health. I hope you’ll join us in taking the pledge today.

Good physical health is propelled by strong mental health, and our state and federal leaders are recognizing the importance of mental health, with record amounts of funding opportunities. Our plan to make an independent Department of Mental Health, with Jean-Marie Niebuhr at the helm, will help us further access any new opportunities to ensure everyone in our community has access to high quality, affordable mental health care.

It’s not just one area of our county where people are struggling – it’s everywhere, which is why starting this year, we’ll be moving our annual health forums around the County, making these events more accessible for neighbors to learn more about what we’re currently offering, and to voice their feedback on where we can be doing better.

On that same topic, I am so proud to announce that our Dutchess County Stabilization Center, a partnership with People USA, has become the first licensed Supportive Stabilization Center in New York State. Recognizing the significance that this center would have on our community, I was proud to have played a part in securing funding for this project to come to fruition; now, it has become a model for all of New York. I want to give a huge thank you to Steve Miccio for his leadership and vision for this Center.

Thanks to the advocacy of Legislature Chairman Will Truitt, Assistant Minority Leader Barrington Atkins, and the entire Legislature, we will also be adding additional support to the recovery coach teams at the empowerment center that will be primarily serving young adults ages 18 to 25.

Dutchess County is in the process of working with partners to reopen a center for up to 27 individuals struggling with substance abuse. These beds will provide critical housing to some who may be currently living in our emergency housing in the PODS, where their needs are not and cannot be properly managed.

Funded by Opioid Settlement Fund dollars, we just opened the first of three “Oxford Homes,” a sober-living home for individuals in recovery that operates on a sustainable framework. The individuals living there are peers who support and sustain one another; and that supportive environment is what makes it successful, because having someone in your corner can make all of the difference.

I’ve often shared stories of how my brother, Don, was bullied in school and how those experiences impacted him his entire life. It motivated and inspired me to be a friendly face for the new kid in school or take someone I could see was struggling under my wing. It’s those experiences that drove me to create the “Serino Superstar” Award as a way to recognize middle-school students who were going above and beyond to show kindness both inside and outside the classroom.

Since launching this initiative in the State Senate, I have been blown away by the acts of courage and leadership students in our community have shown. Later this month, we will be opening the nomination process so community members and educators can share the stories of students taking extraordinary actions to help make the world a little bit kinder.

Among the issues that remain a top priority, Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer. Until you need to call 911 for an emergency, you probably do not realize how much of a crisis we are in. The average person will call 911 four times in their lifetime, with an expectation that an ambulance will arrive to help them through their emergency; but the reality is, that’s not always the case, especially in our rural communities.

There’s an industry standard that 90 percent of Priority 1 calls must have a response time of under nine minutes; that means when you call with a life-threatening emergency, an ambulance needs to be at your door within 9 minutes. Here in Dutchess, almost 50 percent of Priority 1 calls took nine minutes or more, and 11 percent took longer than 15 minutes; in some cases, that’s the difference between life and death.

I don’t share these numbers to scare you, or lessen your trust in our current services, but to call attention to how desperately we need to come together to find a solution. Our volunteers go above and beyond to provide this service to our neighbors – and without them, we would be in even more of a critical position – but we have fewer volunteers than ever before, and many areas now depend on commercial ambulances, driving up costs and gaps in coverage remain.

Too often, our 911 emergency dispatchers are putting two, three, or even four calls out before there is an ambulance available to respond, coming from long distances across the county and leaving their home base uncovered. This cannot continue.

Our team has made it a top priority to create a plan to help solve this crisis, and we’ve developed a multi-prong approach to tackle this issue and are getting started on the first step now. We’re currently looking for interested agencies that can help fill the voids of service by offering supplemental coverage and will focus on the regions with the longest response time. In order to be successful, we will need buy-in from all of our local communities.

We recognize that while the challenges are similar across all communities, there are unique differences in the different areas of the county that warrant a regional approach. We will be meeting with the various regions next month to review data and build consensus regarding volunteer coverage, cost-sharing, and service level expectations, as part of a thoughtful discussion on how we can work together to protect our communities.

We also need to empower this shrinking workforce and think creatively to recruit and retain talent. Working with partners at Dutchess Community College through its EMT Certification Program, we will offer scholarships to young adults looking to start their career in this field, or older adults looking for a career change or a way to volunteer.

I can only imagine the stress and challenges that come with this job. We are working to bolster mental health support to avoid burnout with our newly created Deputy Coordinator for Health and Wellness, and we are offering resources including our Mental Health for First Responders training on Saturday, March 23rd.

We are re-establishing the critical incident response team to help our first responders cope following traumatic incidents and creating a peer-support network. We are advocating with our state and federal partners for critical legislation to help address EMS challenges, including supporting the New York State Association of Counties’ “Rescuing EMS” advocacy effort for the New York State Budget.

We are developing EMS public education, including when to call an ambulance. One in four 911 calls are Priority 4, and are often minor conditions like sunburns, toothaches, or chronic ailments that should not be tying up a vital ambulance. 

We will review the whole system to find efficiencies through dispatch, service provider coordination, and partnerships with local hospitals – all focused on our ultimate goal of delivering an EMS solution that is patient-centered, consistent, reliable, affordable, and sustainable.

Making connections and helping our local veterans and families get the resources they need and the benefits they deserve is the mission of our amazing team at Veterans Services.

In 2023, our team led by Adam Roche, provided over 19,000 contact services to local veterans and families from our new, convenient location at Mental Health America’s Veterans One Stop building in Pleasant Valley, where veterans can simply walk in and connect with multiple service providers all under one roof. The One Stop has been a game-changer and continues to expand with the VA Administration at Castle Point’s new satellite office opening this month. 

Seeing the way the Vet-to-Vet peer support has grown has been incredible. I was proud to secure the funding for this program back in 2015, and as I have always said, it’s a program that is truly worth every penny. Their work helps our heroes connect and support one another to overcome challenges only fellow veterans can truly understand.  

With MHA, we are making sure every veteran has a place to call home, maintaining “functional zero” veteran homelessness status, with more than 70 veterans being helped last year; and we are making sure veterans get to important medical appointments, with nearly 200 rides given through Hudson River Housing’s VetZero ride program, and we are excited to grow ride-sharing opportunities.

Support and camaraderie is so important for our veterans, and I look forward to continuing to host events like the Veterans Appreciation Pasta Dinners, “Red, White & You!” Picnic, and so much more. And September 18-22, we are honored to present a touching tribute to Vietnam Veterans at Bowdoin Park, showcasing a traveling memorial wall. This is yet another way for all of us to come together to remind our local heroes of the incredibly grateful community they have behind them.

As many of you know, I am so passionate about helping our seniors. My son used to joke that “senior” and “Serino” have the same letters in it, and would say “Mom, it’s your destiny to help them.”

Last year, I had the opportunity to actually work in our Office for the Aging, getting a unique look at the important work they do each and every day. The compassion their team shows is unmatched, and the impact they make through their various program is evident.

We launched our “Friendly Calls” program, creating a volunteer system to check-in with local seniors. As we saw during the pandemic, isolation is a serious issue for our seniors, especially those who are homebound. I saw, firsthand, the impact this program has made in the lives of both those receiving calls and those making calls; often, those on the receiving end take the volunteer training and start making calls to their own buddy.

Starting next month, I’ll be returning to Office for the Aging and at Senior Friendship Centers around Dutchess County to host our own mobile office hours; I’m so excited to continue to have the opportunity to hear directly from them. We’ll also be hosting the Golden Gathering event with Senator Rob Rolison this September at Arlington High School, as we hope to connect seniors with different services available to them here in our local community.

We’ll be launching a Facebook page, specifically for the Office for the Aging, to help spread the word about the extraordinary programs they host. So many caregivers and seniors are engaged with Facebook, and we are hopeful this new page will help us connect with more neighbors who might not know about OFA yet.

I have heard from countless seniors about how difficult it can be when they no longer drive, specifically when it comes to finding rides to medical appointments. Our Office for the Aging’s partnership with GoGo Technologies has been an invaluable resource by making it easier to schedule reliable rides to and from doctor’s appointments, and it ensures they are getting the care they need. Thanks to a new grant, we’ll be expanding access to this great service. We know finding accessible transportation is a challenge, especially in rural communities, so our administration is thinking outside of the box to find possible solutions so stay tuned.

While our Office for the Aging hosts a dynamic lineup of programs, there are some seniors still looking for more. Not ready to fully retire, they’re looking for a way to put their skills to good use, which is why we’ll be working with partners to find additional ways for seniors to enter the workforce again.

Again, you don’t know what you don’t know, and last year, after an engaging conversation with Taconic Resources, a concept emerged that we’re calling “Think Accessible.” We’ll be launching this under the ThinkDIFFERENTLY umbrella, with the goal of creating a public awareness campaign for those with physical disabilities and to increase outreach. I am grateful to our former County Executive, and now Congressman, Marc Molinaro for his incredible advocacy and providing a voice for those with disabilities.

We hope to partner with our business community to create an initiative that would help them make their businesses more accessible for all ages and abilities; and we’ll work to solidify partnerships with providers to help find job placement opportunities in both County government and local businesses.

Like I said in the beginning, the State of our County is strong, but I am even more hopeful for the future. I want to thank you for the trust you have placed in me to help lead our County forward and expand opportunities for all of us.

Our community is truly a great place to live and work. By working together, I know we can do so much more.

Thank you for joining me tonight.