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Chairman's Address 2010

Published: 1/5/2010

January 5, 2010

to the Dutchess County Legislature

Today is a day of new beginnings.

I’m grateful and honored to serve this distinguished legislative body as its new Chairman and I hope that you too recognize that today is a fresh, new start for all of us.

We, as Legislators, come from different perspectives, points of views, and geographic regions. In order for us to be successful public servants we must end political infighting and partisan bickering while we engage in civil debates, respectful consideration of our differences, and remember the importance of governing through consensus.

I challenge my colleagues, regardless of party affiliation, to put the work of serving the people above serving a political party so that together we can restore confidence in this government. By putting aside our differences and reaching out into the vast landscape of this county, we will tackle the many challenges facing county government and the individuals, families and businesses we are entrusted to serve. Those elected to lead will indeed need to listen to the people, make the difficult choices, and be part of the solutions – never part of the problems.

As the legislative branch of our county’s government, we adopt a budget and establish policy. Of course, we cannot do this alone or in a vacuum. We must work with others selected by residents to serve this county as a whole: County Executive Bill Steinhaus, Sheriff Butch Anderson, District Attorney Bill Grady, County Clerk Brad Kendall and our new Comptroller Jim Coughlan. We will seek partnership, advice and counsel from county department heads, our municipal leaders, the Dutchess County Supervisors and Mayors Association, community and business leaders, and most importantly, the people of Dutchess County

Now, more than ever, is the time for citizens to get involved and we must do more to give them every opportunity to do so. Let us open up county government by building upon initiatives to web cast legislative meetings, expand television and live feed coverage, hold more public hearings and ultimately make the process of crafting legislation as transparent as possible.

Recognizing the importance of technology, we will ensure the Legislature’s website is more user-friendly, allowing for easier communication with elected representatives and the people we serve. Networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter should be utilized to help us communicate with our constituents. Our legislative Clerk Patty Hohmann, my assistant, Mike Ellison, and the great staff we have assembled will surely help us utilize technology so we can better keep our finger on the pulse of our diverse county.

I firmly believe public involvement leads to better policy.

While we listen to the concerns and ideas of the people, we must recognize that jump-starting a struggling economy - burdened by high taxes and unemployment - is our number one priority. To ensure our county finances are solvent we must stress fiscal responsibly with every decision.

We need to ask ourselves two basic questions every time we vote on a program or regulation… Is this something residents need? Is this something they can afford? If the answer is no, the vote should be no. 

Tough decisions certainly await us; one of the toughest will be how to improve the Resource Recovery Agency. The RRA’s mission seems simple enough; take our garbage and turn it into usable, affordable energy. It’s a great effort, but now the agency is in desperate need of reform.

We begin this path to reform by working with our new County Comptroller Jim Coughlan in auditing the agency and considering his recommendations on how best to make the RRA more cost-efficient. We will hold a series of public hearings on funding the RRA so that this body can vet ideas and act in a prudent manner. If a new revenue stream is needed, we must bring the idea directly to the people, municipal leaders, and those in the waste industry. We must revisit flow control and facility upgrades that will help protect our environment and the taxpayers of Dutchess County.

In order for us to better grapple with all our fiduciary responsibilities, I respectfully suggest that, for us, the 2011 budget process begin now!

Understanding that difficult choices lie ahead, we must initiate dialogue with our County Executive, department heads, elected officials, and contract agencies as we examine the role of county government moving forward.

I have asked Legislator Dale Borchert to Chair our Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee. With his leadership, and your involvement, we should begin meeting with the necessary parties so that together we can craft new policy and confront specific budget concerns well in advance of the our deadline.

We should return to the intense budget review and development model that worked so successfully under my predecessors, Brad Kendall and Gary Cooper, and their respective Budget Committee Chairmen, now state Assemblyman, Marcus Molinaro and, now Pawling Town Supervisor, David Kelly. Hearings will begin in earnest immediately upon receipt of the executive’s proposal, time will be managed efficiently, and the public will be provided our intent as we consider amendments. We must evaluate every expenditure and consider every program in terms of how they fit into the core mission of this county government.

Dale will have his work cut out for him, but I know he will do this job well with a constant effort to maintain an open line of communication with the administration and his fellow legislators. Yet again, for the sake of all Dutchess County taxpayers the communication, the dialogue that will eventually produce 2011’s budget must begin now.

New York leads the nation in what has been dubbed the “brain drain.”  Too many of our state’s young people are leaving to earn an education, secure a job, or grow a family elsewhere.  Dutchess County cannot afford to lose our best and brightest to other regions. 

By harnessing the energy of the young professional groups within the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Southern Dutchess Chamber of Commerce, and partnering with this county’s great community college we will seek new ideas to support job growth, open new educational opportunities, address housing needs and ensure that Dutchess County’s students and young people know this government is their government. I will ask Ben Traudt - who is among the youngest elected officials in the state, if not the nation - to work with those other young professionals and lead this charge.

We know that every level of government and every taxpayer is overburdened. One area where this county can continue to lead is by fostering shared services. Whether it’s the delivery of emergency response, providing for law enforcement or the cost of running elections we must make building partnership with local governments a priority. Just as we cannot tolerate Washington and Albany’s tired old approach of passing the cost to us, we too cannot sanction shifting the burden to others. 

But now is also not the time for county government to expand its core mission, nor can anyone expect it to take on new programs and new costs. If we are to weather this economic crisis, restraint and partnership will be needed. The sharing of services will allow us to assist each other while dealing with enormous budget challenges.

To identify areas where cooperation and partnership can save taxpayer dollars I will form a “shared services commission” where Legislators Angela Flesland, DJ Sadowski and Dan Kuffner will be called upon to spearhead this essential, bipartisan effort.

Having spent my professional life in law enforcement, and now responding to the emergency needs of our county with the American Red Cross, I must commend all those who courageously serve and protect.  Whether in local police or fire departments, the County Sheriff's Office or our state Police, these men and women deserve our utmost support, encouragement, and gratitude. 
I respect and support, and that this Legislature, as the policy making branch of county government, has twice rejected, any move to require local payment for the provision of County Sheriff road patrols. I also accept the challenge of addressing an issue that has challenged us for some time, the handling of inmates and the size of our county jail.

Both of these matters demand greater discussion and dialogue than I can offer in my remarks today, so I will ask the Public Safety Committee, under the direction of Legislator Kenny Roman, to initiate meetings with law enforcement personnel, local municipal leaders, state police as well as our Sheriff and County Executive so that these issues become its priority. 

Overall, the committee process will be strengthened. Every committee chair and their members will be asked to engage in the careful crafting of legislation with the best interest of Dutchess County residents in mind. As we progress I will ask veteran and freshman legislators, Republicans and Democrats, to lead our committees. No one’s talents will be overlooked, no one’s passion will be ignored, and no one’s willingness to work will be pushed aside.

The talent assembled in this room is immense. Congratulations to all those who return today in service, your experience will prove invaluable. And, to those who begin their service today, you have much to be proud of. You all represent the mindset of our mutual constituents that have demanded fresh, innovative ideas and we should not disappoint them.

We must work together, have constructive debates and dialogue, build consensuses so that we can find other areas to reduce spending, lower taxes and make Dutchess County a place where residents can afford to live, work and raise a family.

As I conclude, let me offer that good financial stewardship has been the hallmark of this county’s administration. I commend our County Executive, department heads, our countywide elected officials and hard-working county employees for their service and commitment to improving the quality of life for all our residents. They should know, as should our constituents, that this new county Legislature is ready, willing and able to embrace fresh ideas, engage in the debates, build necessary consensuses, and meet whatever challenges come our way.
I am humbled by the honor bestowed upon me today. Rest assured, I understand all too well that actions speak louder than words. As we begin anew today I know that we can restore the public’s confidence in us, not just by the words we speak, but also by the collective actions of this legislative body in the weeks and months ahead.  

In speaking on behalf of Majority Leader Gary Cooper, Assistant Majority Leader Angela Flesland - dare I suggest Minority Leader Sandy Goldberg and Assistant Minority Leader Dan Kuffner - and hopefully all my colleagues, I offer confidently that today, as we begin anew, we seek to promote the very best in us, so we may deliver the very best for the people who sent us here.

Let us bring about the solutions to the problems facing us at a price our constituents can afford.

Thank you!!

Chairman, Robert Rolison – District 8/Poughkeepsie