Donaldson presses fight against moving Family Court
KINGSTON >> Still angry over the wording of a proposition asking voters if Ulster County’s Family Court should be moved out of the city, Legislator David Donaldson now wants to see the measure defeated, and he’s hoping to enlist other lawmakers.
Donaldson, D-Kingston, has developed Power Point presentation that he hopes will convince his fellow legislators that they were hoodwinked into voting to move the court from its current leased location on Lucas Avenue to the county-owned Business Resource Center in the town of Ulster.
Donaldson claims the administration of County Executive Michael Hein withheld information and misled lawmakers into believing the Lucas Avenue site would be too expensive to renovate and that the cost of renovating the Business Resource Center would be cheaper than it actually will be.
“I believe [moving to the Business Resource Center] was the plan all along, that’s why they moved the college out, and they did not want to stray from that plan,” Donaldson said. SUNY Ulster recently relocated its Kingston-area operation from the Busi-
ness Resource Center to the former Sophie Finn Elementary School in Midtown Kingston
County Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk dismissed Donaldson’s claims, saying the legislator is grasping at straws in an attempt to keep Family Court within Kingston’s boundaries.
The county has been under pressure since 2013 to provide adequate facilities for Family Court. In 2014, Deputy County Executive Sudlow told lawmakers the building’s owner had developed a $7 million renovation plan, though that number was changed to $6 million — including the purchase of the building — in 2015. In 2016, the idea of renovating the building was no longer being presented by the Hein administration as an option.
During a recent court action brought by Donaldson and Legislator John Parete, D-Boiceville, to force a change in the wording of the Nov. 8 ballot proposition, the owner’s
architect testified he created a $2.3 million renovation plan for the Lucas Avenue site. That information, Donaldson said, was never given to the Legislature.
Sudlow said that study, commissioned by the building’s owner, was never provided to the county. Scott Dutton, the architect who prepared the study for the building owner, testified that he worked with the state Office of Court Administration to develop the plan but said he did not provide a copy of the study to the county.
Sudlow also said the estimate failed to include the county’s costs of construction, including paying prevailing wages, and didn’t escalate the costs for the construction time frame.
Ronk called the Dutton proposal unrealistic and said it looked like somebody “telling his employer how to do something at the absolute lowest cost possible.”
Ronk, R-Wallkill, said keeping Family Court in its current location is “unrealistic” and that it makes no sense to purchase an old building that needs significant upgrades
when the county already has a facility that satisfies the state’s requirements and can be renovated easily.
The cost of renovations at the Ulster site also have been a moving target, with the first study suggesting $4.7 million, while a 2016 study pegged the cost, in 2018 dollars, at $10.4 million.
“I don’t think this was a bait-and-switch,” Ronk said. “I believe I had enough information to make an informed decision, and I think the Legislature voted overwhelming to move the Business Resource Center.
He said that in addition to providing the court with adequate space, and room to expand in the future, the proposed move provides the county with a number of other efficiencies and doesn’t take another city parcel off the tax rolls, which would happen if the county bought the Lucas Avenue building.
Because county courts are required to be located in the county seat, which in Ulster County is the city of Kingston, moving a courts to a different municipality requires voter approval.