It isn’t often that presentation of a county budget takes a back seat to the pillorying of a political opponent, but it happened last week. In a roomful of handpicked invitees, with media, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein focused not on the incredibly amazing “first budget reduction in county history” he was offering for 2014 but on his worst political enemy, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill.
I use the word “incredible” because the last thing anybody could have expected after months of doom and gloom from Hein warning of the draconian measures he might have to take due to the “Cahill sales-tax crisis” that he would produce a budget that held the line on taxes, funded the Safety Net, kept everybody working (for the first time in five executive budgets), and cut spending by some $23 million. From such, some might conclude that all that hand-wringing and finger-pointing over the dire consequences of Cahill blocking sales-tax extension last June was just so much bluster and bluff. This government is awash in cash.
How had he performed this fiscal wizardry? It comes down to two words: Golden Hill. In the master stroke of his almost five years as executive, Hein sold the cash-draining infirmary on Golden Hill for $11.5 million, avoiding as much in future repairs, and off-loaded more than 200 county employees.
But that’s not the point. Hein, who had first dibs and therefore the opportunity to reset the conversation to something approaching an exchange between mature adults, instead chose to launch another attack on Cahill. Cahill, in turn, fired back the next day with some refried hash of his own.
Given the gridlock in Washington, how refreshing it would have been for Hein to open his budget presentation with something like, “Well, folks, we’ve been through a rough few months, but as this budget demonstrates, I think we’re going to be OK. I‘d like to take this opportunity to extend the hand of cooperation to our assemblyman in the hope and expectation that we can put our differences aside and work together for the benefit of the people we both serve.”
Cahill, too, could have taken the high road, even after being repeatedly slapped across the chops by the executive the day before. He did manage to “forgive” Hein for what he called past misstatements of facts, scare tactics and the like, but his message only came across as sarcastic.
Didn’t happen. Clearly, neither one of these antagonists seeks peace. In a perverse way, they need each other as whipping boys, because really, who else is there? Cahill, despite the public-relations drubbing he took from Hein — I can find nobody, not even “Cahill Democrats,” who don’t think their boy was playing some kind of political Russian roulette by forcing this issue last spring — is still seen as invulnerable at the polls. And the rubberstamp, toothless legislature is no threat to Hein.
About 100 days from now, in mid-January, these two antagonists or their representatives will be sitting down in Albany to try to work out a sales-tax extension. Perhaps a three-month cooling-off period will help matters.
Hear that whistle blow
A number of county legislators picked up on the fact the Ulster County executive did not include in the 2014 budget some $4.6 million in revenue he had been anticipating from the sale of the county-owned railroad tracks west of Mount Tremper to the county line. Could this be a sign of softening on the county’s part after Hein’s battling and belittling railroad volunteers for most of the spring and early summer?
Tell it to the judge. When railroaders took the county to state Supreme Court in July, a judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing the county from canceling its lease with Catskill Mountain Railroad (it expires in 2016), taking over the railroad, and ripping up the tracks. Both sides have submitted legal briefs.
In the meantime, railroadman Harry Jameson says all that publicity has had a positive effect. “We’re having a great season,” he said. “Business is up almost 50 percent from last year.” Railroad volunteers are also repairing tracks beyond Mount Tremper in order to reconnect with the Empire Railroad Museum in Phoenicia.
It would appear that tempers have cooled. Jameson, for one, said railroaders are still committed to working with the county on a rail-and-trail set-up. At last word, the county was holding firm to its trail-only strategy.
Stay tuned, or as they say in railroad talk, toot toot.
Kingston’s recreation department has unveiled a 70-page consultant’s report on upgrading the city’s numerous, chronically neglected parks. As Billy Joel once warbled, “All it takes is looks and a whole lot of money.”
A 35-year-old report on the city sewer systems placed a $50 million price tag on upgrades and repairs. Only a small percentage of those repairs have been carried out, usually on an emergency basis.
Here’s a thought. Establish a linear park on Washington Avenue and call it Walkway Over the Sinkhole. Benches could be set up around the hole, giving taxpayers front-row seats as their money goes down the drain. The sinkhole has sucked in $6 million so far, with no end in sight.
I felt sorry for our easily offended mayor when no developers showed up for his highly-advertised walk-through at the site of the old uptown parking garage off Schwenk Drive last week. City officials called this public embarrassment part of the process, which apparently starts from zilch.
Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay, a constant thorn in the lion’s paw, raised an important question on this would-be development: How does the city replace the 140 vital parking spaces should an edifice rise on that site?
Hoffay will retire after the end of the year. His voice of reason, too often a voice in the wilderness, will be missed.
I found firefighter union officials labeling the mayor a bully and a one-term loser a bit harsh, but then, one of Shayne Gallo’s first acts upon taking office some 21 months ago was to remove not one but two fire chiefs over time and wage issues and to force strict accountability on the department. While ham-handed in his approach, Gallo no doubt scored with taxpayers.
Here and there
Congressional candidate Sean Eldridge might have misfired a bit in his first official assault on Republican incumbent Chris Gibson, last week, but he undoubtedly made hay with his Democratic base.
“Congressman Gibson and his Republican colleagues are poised to bring us one step closer to a governmental shutdown [over Obamacare] that would have devastating consequences for families in our region,” the millionaire candidate declared in a press release last Saturday.
Actually, Gibson was one two House Republicans who voted the other way — once, and he quickly rejoined the GOP for the final bill, the rejection of which finally led to the shutdown — but who cares? It’s those damned Republicans again shutting down the government.
He probably doesn’t need the money, but John Quigley, Republican candidate for county legislature in Kingston, has come up with a new fund-raising wrinkle. Quigley, son of Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley, advises would-be contributors to pay what they choose or nothing at all if they make reservations before next Wednesday for his Oct. 16 fundraiser at Frank Guido’s Little Italy. After that, it’s a sawbuck ($20) at the door. Beware, Johnny Q. Hordes of freeloaders may prove all too eager to gobble up Guido’s scrumptious meatballs for nothing.
Quigley fils faces nine-term incumbent Democrat Dave Donaldson, who if it gets close in their heavily Democratic district may play the class card. Quigley père, after financing his own campaigns for county comptroller (in 2008) and town supervisor, may throw a few quid at his boy. Information on Quigley’s fundraiser is available by writing VoteQ4U@gmail.com.