Despite what he calls a “$6-million hole” in revenues due to the inaction of the state Assembly in renewing Ulster County’s “temporary” one percent sales-tax addition, Ulster County executive Michael Hein last Thursday unveiled a $336-million budget blueprint for 2014 that cuts spending by $23.7 million and does not raise property taxes.
The executive’s proposed budget includes no layoffs, thus affirming the continued presence of the sheriff’s road patrol; does not cut funding from SUNY Ulster; and does not propose funding cuts for contract agencies that depend on the county for a good portion of their revenues.
The document projects that Ulster County government will have more than 300 fewer “benefited” employees in 2014 than in the previous year, a 19.1 percent reduction. Hein claims a “benefited” workforce reduction of 32.1 percent over the last five years.
Hein’s proposal was delivered a week earlier than the statutory requirement, in order, he said, “to bring certainty to our towns and the City of Kingston in their time of need.” Ulster County’s 20 towns and Kingston will produce proposed budgets in the first weeks of October.
The executive’s budget proposal also calls for Ulster County to take over another third of the so-called Safety Net, benefits provided to citizens who have exhausted all alternatives to fiscal well-being. Heretofore, this program has been paid for by individual jurisdictions. County takeover will spread the expense over a wider tax base, removing the burden from the few municipalities where most of the client population lives.
The blame game
This provision has caused controversy in the county, as it became a point of contention between Hein and assemblyman Kevin Cahill, causing Cahill to oppose in the state legislature the renewal of the county’s temporary one percent sales tax. Though the tax has long since ceased to be “temporary,” having first been imposed more than 20 years ago, it requires reaffirmation every two years. Cahill was able to block its approval in the Assembly when he felt he could not get a commitment from Hein to live up to the executive’s commitment to complete the takeover of the Safety Net in the three-year period Hein first promised.
Hein, in his presentation, scolded media by predicting that the focus of stories would not be on his administration’s accomplishments in budgeting, but on the “budgetary impacts of the Cahill nonsense.” He attacked the assemblyman, referring to the “Cahill crisis” or some other rephrasing of it, more than a dozen times in a seven-page speech. “The truth is, this budget is really about overcoming obstacles and protecting citizens,” said Hein. “And unfortunately, it has also become about protecting the great citizens of Ulster County from Kevin Cahill and his multi-million-dollar Albany extortion .…”