Molinaro, Republicans beat back efforts to remedy jail understaffing crisis
At the full board meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature on December 6, 2018, the 25-member Dutchess County Legislature passed the $503 million 2019 budget by a margin of 19-5 after lively debate and a number of amendments intended to improve the lives of Dutchess County residents while reducing the county property tax rate.
- Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Town of Poughkeepsie) and Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park) successfully added $20,000 to the budget specifically to allow the Opioid Task Force and Stabilization Center to provide more educational services. Expanding public education is a critical piece for addressing the opioid crisis.
- The Democratic Caucus succeeded in restoring Senior Friendship Centers to 5 days a week and expanding the county’s Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) ($85,000), thanks in large part to the continued advocacy of Legislator Joel Tyner (D-Clinton), who frequently lobbied for both changes during board meetings and had proposed budget amendments to expand DART for the last six years.
“I’m excited that we can finally return to a five day week at the centers for our seniors. It is a great move forward for Dutchess County seniors,” said Tyner. “The DART expansion has been a priority of mine for years and I’m glad we’ve finally agreed to extend this program to more of the county.”
DART is a multidisciplinary response to domestic violence that includes a team of professionals who address specific cases in order to improve victim safety and offender accountability.
- The county’s Agency Partnership Grant Program (APG) was increased by $300,000 in total with $100K focused on agencies offering summer jobs and after-school programs for at-risk youth thanks to an amendment put forward by Legislators Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park) and Rebecca Edwards (D-Town of Poughkeepsie). Due to a lack of funding, the county turns away agencies with great programs to help at-risk youth with crucial summer work programs and workforce development, help the homeless and provide shelter for those in crisis. While an additional $300,000 will meet only a fraction of the demand, it is a good first step.
- The county will be adding a caseworker to Child Protective Services and an Assistant District Attorney position to reduce high caseloads reported by administrators in both departments following an amendment put forward by Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook).
- The county’s Municipal Innovation Grant program was increased by 10% ($100,000) to allow more funding to flow to local governments for worthy projects thanks to an amendment by Legislator Randy Johnson (D-City of Poughkeepsie).
- The county will study the possibility of expanding weekend ferry service between Dutchess and Orange County thanks to an amendment put forward by Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon) to boost tourism.
- Following constituent complaints about last year’s giveaway to private concert promoters at Bowdoin Park, a bipartisan group of legislators reduced concert funding from $50,000 to $10,000. Bowdoin Park had been closed to the public in 2018 on three summer weekends so private, for-profit concerts could be held with tickets sold at $35 each. The county did not receive any revenue from the ticket sales.“To close a public park to residents on multiple summer Saturdays so a private promoter could charge $35 a ticket for a concert, with taxpayers paying $50k for promotion and support, was unconscionable. It’s good news that a bipartisan group agreed to end that practice,” said Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Town of Poughkeepsie).
- A number of Democratic legislators expressed ongoing concerns about understaffing at the Dutchess County Jail where about 25% of the personnel budget has been spent on overtime ($5M overtime vs $15M standard time) for many years with no improvement.
In addition to more part-time staff, Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook) proposed an amendment to create 10 more full-time Corrections Officer (CO) positions which, if filled, would pay for themselves in the first year by reducing overtime costs and save taxpayer money in the long run, reduce workplace accidents and improve the quality of life for county employees.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R-Red Hook) spoke against providing the additional staff to the jail to reduce the problems with mandated overtime. Molinaro has been in office since 2012 and jail overtime has nearly doubled during his tenure from $2.8M in the 2012 budget to over $5.3M in 2018. There has been more OT worked in 2018 than 2017. Ulster County spends $1 on jail overtime for every $10 on salaries, Dutchess spends $1 on overtime for every $3.
“How many more years do we have to wait to try to solve this problem?”, said Munn. “The Dutchess County Jail remains understaffed creating a dangerous and stressful environment with excessive overtime leading to serious problems both inside the jail and in our community. Our Corrections Officers deserve better.”
The amendment was defeated with all Republicans in opposition.
The continued shortage of jail staff will also make it impossible to expand Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT) like suboxone or methadone to those behind bars who are seeking treatment for opioid addiction or were already in treatment before their arrest. With the opioid epidemic worsening and a record number of deaths in Dutchess County, MAT at the jail would be a welcome step.
- Republicans voted down a full-time Climate Smart Coordinator position that would have focused on obtaining environmental grants. The County is currently missing opportunities for funding that would cover much needed services and considerable State funding could be brought to bear on environmental issues including emissions control, green energy production, climate change preparedness, green job creation, green infrastructure and building practices, and responsible waste disposal.
“Among other flaws in the county’s approach, environmental progress, including a focus on green jobs and energy, can’t wait and is still being neglected. We can boost the county’s economy while protecting our future and we need to act with a sense of urgency,” said Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon).
- Republicans voted down an amendment that would have the County study how we can provide an in-house household hazardous waste facility along with expanding services for residents on disposing of household hazardous waste.
- Republicans blocked the creation of a pilot program intended to improve transportation for seniors that would use for-hire services to provide more flexible, responsive service, and reliable transportation services for our elderly.
The budget as adopted reduces the county property tax levy for the fifth consecutive year and lowers the property tax rate for a fourth year from $3.54 to $3.45 per $1,000 of true value assessments while maintaining the County’s fiscal stability and essential services.
The budget with the amendments will now be forwarded to County Executive Molinaro for review and signature.The final step in the 2019 Dutchess County Budget process – override consideration of any amendment vetoes by the County Executive and the adoption of the tax levy – will be on Monday, December 17th at the Dutchess County Legislature’s Board meeting.