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Carolyn Morris Clerk, Dutchess County Legislature 845.486.2100
Clerk, Dutchess County Legislature
Please join me in recognizing Legislator Barbara Jeter Jackson, who tonight begins her 7th term as a member of this body, serving during the last six years as the minority leader. Thank you Barbara for agreeing to serve as the temporary chair this evening. Your pragmatism, wisdom and calm demeanor have served as a source of inspiration for all of us here. We appreciate your leadership and look forward to continuing to work with you in the coming year.
Likewise, please join me in recognizing another member of the leadership team who is stepping down from her leadership role this year. Legislator Angela Flesland has dedicated herself to Dutchess County over the past eight years, serving four years as Assistant Majority Leader as well as the last two as the Majority Leader. Angela, your passion for Dutchess County, your commitment to this legislature and your ability to understand and articulate the needs of our constituents are talents that each of us admire. Thank you for all of your leadership, and we greatly look forward to continuing to work with you as well.
I would also like to take a moment to thank Family Court Judge Joe Egitto for officiating our swearing-in ceremony this evening. I have had the privilege of working with Judge Egitto for several years in the Town of LaGrange, and I know him to be a public servant of the highest caliber in this community. I appreciate the honor of having you here with us tonight.
I would also like to take a moment to thank the dedicated members of the legislative staff for the great work that they do for each of us. In working with them over the years, I have found that Carolyn, Leigh, Diana and Carrie exhibit a level of professionalism, efficiency and attention to detail that is second to none. We would not be able to do what we do if it was not for them. Please join me in recognizing their commitment to each of us and our constituents.
And finally, it is important to remember that none of us have gotten here on our own. Whether it was a parent or a child, a spouse or a sibling, a grandparent or a friend, or just someone in your community that showed you love and encouragement, our families are the reason that we have achieved our success. It has been said that our families loan each of us to Dutchess County while we serve in elected office, and in my years in public service, I have found this to be profoundly true. Our families are the ones that sacrifice to allow us to serve and work towards the betterment of our community.
And while each of us has someone special to thank, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mom who traveled here tonight from Western New York, as well as my wife, Beth, and my children, Tommy and Kathy, all of whom have always given me the support and encouragement that has allowed me the honor of serving in public office.
Members of the Dutchess County Legislature, I am honored and humbled that you have bestowed upon me the responsibility of leading this group during the coming year.
To those of you that supported me; I thank you for your confidence and pray that working together, we may achieve the expectations that come with your support. To those of you that did not support me, I look forward to working to earn your support. I am eager to hear your views and opinions that will undoubtedly enliven our debates and help us to forge policy that addresses the needs of all our constituents.
Where we come from
This is a moment of transition, a time of opportunity. While we must look to the future, it is important to take the time to remember where we came from. Over the past several years, under the leadership of former Chairman Rob Rolison and with the partnership of County Executive Marcus Molinaro, this legislature has:
i. Stabilized annual spending and replenished our fund balance
ii. Improved our bond rating to AA+
iii. Cut spending and lowered the tax levy by nearly $1 million
iv. We have made the tough decisions, including:
1. Reducing the county workforce
2. Merging departments in order to streamline services and cut costs
v. We have ended the need for a taxpayer subsidy of the Resource Recovery Agency
vi. We have ended the annual supplement at the Dutchess County Airport and we have;
vii. Halted the endless cycle of expenses associated with a county jail that is too small to accommodate the needs of a county this size.
These are accomplishments that each of us who has served here can be proud of, and I would like to take this time to thank Rob Rolison and Marc Molinaro for their leadership in making sure the legislative and executive branch work together in the best interests of Dutchess County. I look forward to continuing this relationship between our respective branches of government.
Who we are
Today represents a new beginning for this body. Of the 25 seats in the legislature, 9 are filled by new members this year. Likewise, our 5person leadership team features 4 new members. This year's legislature is made up of a diverse group of individuals. Amongst our membership we count Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We have people from all walks of life, including college students, retirees, andrepresentatives from both the public and private sectors as well as members who work inside and outside of our shared community. The diverse group of people that make up this legislature is a reflection of the diversity in our communities.
Where we will go together
The fact that each of us comes from such different backgrounds ought to serve as our greatest strength going forward. We will work together to craft the best policies by making sure that everyone feels like they have a seat at the table. I pledge that in this legislature, each and every point of view will be heard and will be respected. I look forward to open debate, bi-partisan cooperation and a respectful and productive dialogue.
As the former chair of the Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee, I know the work that we do in crafting a budget, one that best addresses the priorities and needs of our residents, is one of our most important duties. I will commit this legislature to continuing its work as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. We will continue to keep spending under control, while maintaining important programs and repairing and replacing our aging infrastructure.
I also look forward to continuing to strengthen the three components of our economy that we can affect through our actions. We must commit to the development of infrastructure that will help to attract and retain businesses in our community; we must support industries such as tourism and agriculture which are among the largest economic engines in our county; and we must work to maintain low property taxes to ensure that residents can continue to afford staying in their homes.
I also recognize that a vital component to our prosperity is the success of our county seat, the City of Poughkeepsie. The city is our anchor, and it has the capability of becoming an anchor around which the rest of the County and the Hudson Valley can grow and prosper. I am looking forward to working with Mayor Rob Rolison to determine the role that the County can play in revitalizing the Queen City of the Hudson. The County and the City must be partners throughout the coming years and I look forward to achieving that goal.
Finally, touching on an issue that we have spent many years working to address, it has come time, and it is now our responsibility, to make a change at 150 North Hamilton Street. How this body chooses to address this issue is yet to be seen, however, in the coming months we will be tasked with making the critical policy decisions that will determine whether we succeed or fail in this regard. The time has passed for us to simply do nothing. It is on us to either merely expand a jail facility to accommodate the people who swell our court systems,or begin in earnest the process of creating a Complete System of Justice; one that protects victims and holds those who break the law accountable; one that assists those living with addiction and mental health issues; and one that sets in motion a system that can change the lives of the most desperate members of our community. Addressing this issue will certainly be one of our most important and challenging tasks as we move forward and it is my hope that each and every one of us will work together towards the goal of establishing a Complete System of Justice in Dutchess County.
When I face times of challenge or change, I often look to Scripture for inspiration. While preparing for this new role, I was drawn towards a line from Scripture describing a conversation between God and Joshua when Joshua assumed leadership of the Israelites after the death of Moses. God said to Joshua, "Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Without a doubt, the year ahead of us will be a challenging one.But by having courage, faith and trust in our ability to work effectively together, I know that we will have success.
This is a time of change, a time of great challenges, but also a time of great opportunity. As President Harry S. Truman once said, "It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit." Let our work honor those who served before us and inspire those who will come after us. I look forward to our partnership and to our continued commitment to one another, our communities and our county. I thank you for your time this evening and for the great honor that you have granted me to lead this legislature. May God Bless our great County. Thank you.