Bud­get re­duces spending, tax levy

But Hein warns of steep hike in health in­sur­ance costs

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­line.com pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

Ul­ster County Ex­ec­u­tive Michael Hein un­veiled a $325 mil­lion bud­get for 2017 on Fri­day that would re­duce the prop­erty tax levy for the fifth con­sec­u­tive year and con­tinue the county on a path of re­form that he said had been a hall­mark of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Spending un­der the plan is down $5 mil­lion from the $330 mil­lion 2016 bud­get, and the amount to be gen­er­ated by prop­erty by taxes will drop 0.25 per­cent, to $76.9 mil­lion. The bud­get also calls for ad­di­tional fund­ing for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, soar­ing health care costs and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing the in­stal­la­tion of

six new car-charging sta­tions coun­ty­wide.

An un­spec­i­fied num­ber of county em­ploy­ees would be of­fered early re­tire­ment in­cen­tives un­der the spending plan, and the amount of money al­lo­cated to con­tract agen­cies funded through leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives would be re­duced by $50,000 — a rec­om­men­da­tion, Hein said, that came from leg­isla­tive lead­er­ship.

Hein un­veiled his 2017 bud­get be­fore more than 150 peo­ple at the Busi­ness Re­source Cen­ter on Ul­ster Av­enue in the town of Ul­ster, the pro­posed fu­ture lo­ca­tion of the county’s Fam­ily Court.

He said the plan ad­dress the chal­lenges the county faces while still pro­vid­ing the “crit­i­cal ser­vices” county res­i­dents rely on.

Ul­ster County Leg­is­la­ture Chair­man Ken Ronk said that, at first blush, Hein’s plan “looks like some­thing I can sup­port.”

“We’re cut­ting taxes and still in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture, and that’s fan­tas­tic,” said Ronk, RWal­lkill. He said that while the Leg­is­la­ture will spend the next sev­eral weeks go­ing through the de­tails of Hein’s plan, “I don’t see any rea­son why it shouldn’t pass.”

Hein’s pro­posal calls for us­ing $16.5 mil­lion from the county fund bal­ance to off­set spending as well as a “tar­geted early re­tire­ment in­cen­tive pro­gram” that will re­sult in the elim­i­na­tion of an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of “gen­eral gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees.”

Fol­low­ing the bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion, Deputy County Ex­ec­u­tive Ken Cran­nell said pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees will not be el­i­gi­ble for the early re­tire­ment in­cen­tive pro­gram.

The Hein plan also calls for roughly $111 mil­lion in sales tax rev­enues in 2017, a 1.55 per­cent in­crease over what was bud­geted in 2016. But, he warned, that es­ti­mate is con­tin­gent upon the state Leg­is­la­ture al­low­ing the county to con­tinue charging an ad­di­tional 1 per­cent sales tax on top of the 3 per­cent the county levies by right.

And he said, to pro­tect the county against any loss in rev­enue should the 1 per­cent tax not be reau­tho­rized, he will pay the county’s “con­tract agen­cies” quar­terly in 2017, with the fourth-quar­ter pay­ment con­tin­gent on state ap­proval of the added tax.

“We fully rec­og­nize ex­actly how im­por­tant all these valu­able agen­cies are, and I pray that this sce­nario is never forced upon us, but, sim­ply put, we can­not spend money that we do not have or ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity un­der­mine the very foun­da­tion of pub­lic health and safety by ig­nor­ing this pos­si­bil­ity,” Hein said.

The state must reau­tho­rize the ad­di­tional county sales tax ev­ery two years. In 2013, state Assem­bly­man Kevin Cahill blocked a bill that would have al­lowed the county to ex­tend its sales tax amid a fight with the county over wel­fare costs. Hein’s bud­get al­lo­cates $15 mil­lion for in­fra­struc­ture, con­tin­u­ing an im­prove­ment plan he launched in 2015, and adds 11 new hy­brid ve­hi­cles to the county fleet. It also calls for a $250,000 “trans­parency ini­tia­tive” that will de­tail the county’s en­ergy con­ser­va­tion sav­ings, and the in­stal­la­tion of six elec­tric ve­hi­cle charging sta­tions, which he said will be funded through a grant.

Hein said health care costs are ex­pected to soar by 20 per­cent, or $4.5 mil­lion — the re­sult, he said, of a “per­fect storm” of ris­ing health care costs na­tion­ally and a dis­pute be­tween HealthAl­liance of the Hud­son Val­ley, the county’s ma­jor lo­cal health­care provider, and in­surer Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which has left county em­ploy­ees on that plan “out of net­work.” He said any agree­ment to end the dis­pute prob­a­bly will re­sult in the county ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sharp hikes in its health in­sur­ance costs.

The Leg­is­la­ture’s Ways and Means Com­mit­tee is to be­gin its re­view of the pro­posed spending plan in the next sev­eral weeks and adopt a fi­nal 2017 bud­get in De­cem­ber.

Hein

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