ADDRESS TO THE DUTCHESS COUNTY LEGISLATURE
Overcoming Dutchess County’s challenges together
Chairman Robert G. Rolison
January 3, 2012
My colleagues and fellow legislators… good evening.
Thank you for the opportunity to – for the third time – address you as Chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature. I am honored and humbled to have been chosen by you – my esteemed peers – to again lead this diverse, dedicated and hard working group of legislators as we – together – seek ways to enhance the quality of life for all those who call Dutchess County home.
The last two years have not been easy as fiscal conditions remain stagnant. While our Federal and State governments struggle to find solutions that will put our economy back on track, Dutchess County has had to deal with the profound impact of a national economic recession. Unemployment in Dutchess County continues to hover above 7% and the demand on our social services’ programs continues to rise. As with any economic downturn, the increase on public services is made more difficult by the decrease in property values and unpredictable sales tax revenue vital to the continued operation of school, local and county services.
Despite these hardships, we have not cowered from our duty nor shrank from our responsibility. Instead, for the last two years, we have confronted many challenges and I, for one, am proud of what we have accomplished together.
Together, we have crafted two budgets despite the recession that maintained vital County services while lowering the property tax levy for the 2011 budget and staying under the property tax cap for the 2012 budget. Together, we shrunk the size of County Government by consolidating nine departments into four. Together, we sought greater public participation in the legislative process by using social media and hosting forums throughout the County. Together, we created fact finding committees in search of innovative, new ways to dispose of garbage, provide legal defense for the indigent and incarcerate inmates. Together, we sought new policies, State and local, related to domestic violence in our efforts to protect victims and prosecute offenders. Together, we attempted to refocus our debates on the issues important to County residents and businesses so that our time, energy and skills are used in optimal ways.
Together we accomplished much, but it goes without saying that we have a lot still to do.
The major problems of 2012 and 2013 are not new nor are they unique to Dutchess County. They are issues that will require partnerships and innovative thinking to resolve.
In 2010 I created a Resource Recovery Reform Committee that was designed to investigate ways to improve our recycling rate and reduce the County subsidy from our waste-to-energy facility. Under the leadership of Legislator Jim Miccio this committee has researched and debated how best to fulfill its mission. Their conversations with waste haulers, solid waste managers, consultants, community leaders, State agencies and regional partners have resulted in a better informed Legislature and public regarding the issues of resource recovery.
It is the belief of this Committee that the waste-to-energy facility does provide a vital service to the people of Dutchess County – a more environmentally friendly method to dispose of 100,000 tons of solid waste annually than burying it in a landfill. Thus it should not be shuttered, but perhaps sold.
Placed into the hands of private operators the facility might become self-sufficient with an opportunity to expand via private investment. 2012 will bring the opening of Hudson Baylor Recycling Facility to Beacon and single stream recycling to Dutchess County. With a concerted effort to remove recyclable products from the waste stream by the County and our partners in the waste business, we can allow the market to dictate how best and at what cost our garbage will be disposed of. If the public sector is incapable of doing something smarter and cheaper the private sector should have the chance to take the reins.
The Dutchess County Jail continues to exceed capacity on a daily basis. A jail designed for 292 inmates with a population often in excess of 400 has resulted in the dangerous and costly policy of boarding out inmates in other jail facilities around the State. It is sad that on any given day Dutchess County, which has the responsibility to incarcerate its own inmates, must send them to other County correctional facilities as far away as Erie County because of a lack of cell space.
In the very near future the Jail Study Advisory Committee, chaired by Legislator Ken Roman, will release its report for feedback and in it they move Dutchess County one step closer to hiring the necessary consultants to develop plans to expand and modernize our current jail facility. If the current jail’s footprint is not suitable then a new location must be found to house our inmates. Whether it is a retro-fit of an existing structure or a brand new one, the bottom line is that a bricks and mortar solution is needed to address the issue of overcrowding at the Jail.
Let me be clear, a larger and more updated jail structure is not to say our ATI programs have failed nor should we stop exploring new methods to get people and keep people out of jail. I do not need to remind you that due to the economic circumstances we face, far too many people are struggling to make ends meet and thus are turning to substance abuse and crime. Addressing issues of substance abuse – particularly by young people – is an issue that needs aggressive revamping by service providers in Dutchess County. We can help residents struggling with poverty and addiction to help themselves with effective, targeted programs and aggressive economic development.
We legislators must pledge to work with our new County Executive and help him create the government infrastructure needed to assist businesses, create jobs and revitalize our economy. We can assist our businesses, and families, by doing what we have done for the last two years – maintain core County services while holding the line on taxes.
Core County services are those that people have come to expect from County Government. Services such as Sheriff road patrols, indigent legal defense, criminal prosecution, medical examiners services, community health services, road maintenance, snow removal, veteran and aging programs, parks, and economic development including tourism to name a few. County Government does a lot, but it is handcuffed by the State’s inability to deliver unfunded mandate relief. While struggling to provide its own core services, County Government must also administer State required services without adequate funding from the State.
The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) points out that the nine “big” state mandates consume 90% of county property tax levies statewide. This means that counties only have true control over 10% of their levies and often these mandates result in the increase in taxes for local homeowners. This trend must stop and State lawmakers must deliver on their promise of mandate relief.
Continued cooperation and discussions with our state lawmakers will be essential to achieving mandate relief. I trust that our partnerships with state Senators Steve Saland and Greg Ball as well as with Assemblyman Joel Miller will prove valuable in making sure our voice is heard in Albany. This push for mandate relief is amplified here in Dutchess County as this year our residents will go to the polls in special elections to elect two new Assembly people in the 100th and 103rd districts. This surely will be a year filled with change and I am confident our democratic process will ensure the right person is elected.
Dutchess County’s electorate seems to find the right person; this year three of our countywide public servants were reelected – Sheriff Adrian “Butch” Anderson, District Attorney Bill Grady, and County Clerk Brad Kendall. These countywide elected officials – plus Comptroller Jim Coughlan – are invaluable public servants who dedicate themselves every day to ensure the delivery of core County services to the very residents who entrusted them to do so. These County officials, along with municipal leaders and County employees, understand that together we can do more for residents than alone. On behalf of the Legislature, we look forward to working with everyone in this new year and thank them all for their service.
Of course, we could not serve our respective constituents as well as all the residents and businesses of Dutchess County without our own dedicated staff. Just a few days ago we wished Patricia Hohmann well as she retired after 38 years of service. While we thank Patty for her guidance, advice and assistance, we also welcome our new Clerk, Carolyn Morris. Carolyn, with Leigh Wager serving as Deputy, will surely serve us and the people of this great County well. Please join me in congratulating all of them on their new positions.
A staple of Dutchess County Government also retired after more than three decades of service. County Executive Bill Steinhaus guided Dutchess County through the years making it a model in so many ways. I have no doubt that our new County Executive – Marc Molinaro – will strive to continue this tradition and build upon our County’s solid foundation. Please join me in congratulating, once again, our new County Executive, Marc Molinaro.
As I said a few days ago at your swearing-in ceremony Marc, this Legislature is “all in” with you and we look forward to the policy dialogues and debates as we strive together to make Dutchess County the best it can be. This Legislature that includes four new legislators – Peter Wilkinson, Sue Serino, Rich Perkins and Francena Amparo – stands ready, willing and able to confront whatever challenges 2012 and 2013 may bring. Please join me in welcoming these individuals into our legislative family.
Finally, Marc, we expect big things… but we do not expect you to do it all alone. Government is an organization that requires buy-in from stakeholders. It requires stakeholders to be courageous enough to try new things, admit when they fail, pat others on the back when they succeed, but above all else to never give up and continue to seek new ways to solve problems and build a better Dutchess County.
You, Marc, bring this approach to our Government and on behalf of Legislature leadership – Majority Leader Dale Borchert, Assistant Majority Leader Angela Flesland, Minority Leader Barbara Jeter-Jackson and Assistant Minority Leader Alison MacAvery – and their respective Caucus members we look forward to the new approach. We will not always agree, but together we can find ways to overcome the challenges and continue to make Dutchess County a model of success.
Thank you all for your time this evening, and may God bless our County and our Country.