Ulster County executive Mike Hein’s proposed $330-million budget for 2016 continues a recent pattern of lowering spending and the tax levy while funding existing programs. It appropriates $22 million for safety-net expenses to the towns and city of Kingston and allocates another $15 million for infrastructure repair.
Hein delivered his seventh budget since taking office as the county’s first executive in January 2009. He authored three others as county administrator between 2007 and 2009.
After a $33-million reduction in spending between 2014 and this year, Hein’s 2016 budget called for a $3.3 million decrease in spending to $330 million next year. It is the lowest level in county spending in seven years.
Hein achieved some of those spending reductions by selling the county nursing home in 2013 and by privatizing mental health services. He also reduced the workforce in the county highway department. This year he embarked on a two-year $30-million program of infrastructure improvements, about a third if which will be bonded.
With lower spending, Hein proposes reducing the real-property tax levy by just under $860,000 to about $77.1 million next year. That saving averages about $15 per household, though county taxes vary widely due to different assessment levels in municipalities. The levy was reduced by about $787,000 in the 2015 budget. Overall, county taxes account for about 14 percent of the typical property tax bill, with school taxes at 66 percent. Combined town and city taxes are almost equal to the county tax levy.
To fund the budget, Hein anticipates collecting just under $110 million in sales taxes next year, about $2 million more than budgeted this year; $84.6 million in federal and state aid; $77.1 million from property taxes, and $41.1 million in “other revenues and sources,” which were not detailed, plus $16.1 million from the fund balance. The recommended fund-balance appropriation is down $3.4 million from 2015.
Hein reiterated his frequent claim that the county had been “on the brink of disaster” when he took office as executive.
‘More than numbers on a page…’
Three of 23 county legislators were in attendance at the budget presentation at the former Sophie Finn School — Lynn Archer of Accord, Carl Belfiglio of Port Ewen and Jeanette Provenzano of Kingston. Hein “personally commended” the legislature for its initiatives in addressing heroin addiction, and said his administration would follow suit. He also pledged to commit 100 percent of county tax revenues from medical marijuana operations in the county to the war on drugs.
Hein also cited the county’s emergency services and recommended a $1.9-million appropriation to build a county fire training center for use by the county’s 50 volunteer companies.
Hein’s 27-minute prepared presentation before an audience of about 125 county employees, invited guests, others and media was interrupted 20 times by applause. He called his budget “innovative and compassionate, more than just numbers on a page.”
The budget, which is posted on the county website, will be filed with the legislature, which will refer it to its Ways and Means Committee for review at its October 20 monthly meeting. Final passage is required by December 20.