The Ulster County Legislature approved a budget, flow control and a phased-in takeover of Safety Net costs from the towns by better than three-to-one margins at its meeting last Tuesday night, but not without some grumbling about how County Executive Mike Hein advanced his initiatives.
Votes for Hein’s proposed $359 million budget, which slightly reduces the tax levy for next year, and flow control passed by 16-5 votes with two legislators absent. Voting against were John, Robert and Richard Parete, Richard Gerentine and Terry Bernardo. Mary Beth Maio and Kevin Roberts were absent.
Several legislators felt they had been blindsided by Hein’s inclusion of the proposals in his 2013 budget, first announced in Rosendale in early October. Hein did not respond to a request for comment.
By initiating flow control next year, Hein hopes to relieve the county of an estimated $2.5 million in the “net services fees” the RRA estimated it would need to balance its $15 million budget next year. Flow control will force county garbage vendors to route all their waste through the Resource Recovery Agency. Critics charged tipping fees would be increased to make the budget numbers, calling that a hidden tax. But the projection is that by increasing its tonnage the agency will generate sufficient revenue to meet expenses.
Hein’s three-year phase-in of safety-net relief was part of his budget.
The executive’s proposal to rip up 15 miles of Catskill Mountain Railroad track between Phoenicia and Highmount and sell it for scrap to raise $642,000 for a rail-trail was also publicly advanced for the first time at his budget presentation. Earl Pardini, a long-time leader of the railroad group, told legislators the railroaders had “read about it for the first time in the papers.” The organization, which Pardini said has raised and invested more than $1.5 million in restoration of the tracks from Mount Tremper to Phoenicia, has a lease with the county through 2016. Budget officer J.J. Hanson confirmed that the railroaders were not told of the executive’s plans until it was announced, but did not say why.
Pardini also called for the restoration of the railroad advisory council, defunct since 2006, to communicate with county government. Legislature chairman Terry Bernardo said such a committee would be appointed in January.
In other action, the legislature appropriated some $235,000 for the sheriff to buy cars and equipment and restored one senior auditor to the comptroller’s office.
The legislature approved 18 amendments to Hein’s budget, but by increasing revenues to offset added expenses arrived at the same net figure as the executive had.
There was only passing mention of what Hein termed the “historic” sale of the county infirmary last week to a Southern-Tier nursing home company. The sale will have a profound impact on county finances going forward.
Under terms of the $11.25-million sale of Golden Hill announced on Friday, the county will be paid $2 million immediately and the balance when final contracts are approved, probably by the end of next year.
Hein, in lobbying the legislature to sell the nursing home last year, said he needed $8 million from the proceeds to balance his 2012 budget. Legislature Ways and Means Committee chair Gerentine said none of that money has been received to date and “they didn’t bond for it, either.”
Yet, he said, the 2012 budget was balanced. “How did he do that?” the finance chairman was asked by a reporter. “I don’t know. It must be magic,” Gerentine replied.
Hein has veto power over legislative changes to his budget. He did not exercise his veto on the previous three executive budgets.