Calling the Ulster in 2018 “strong, and getting stronger every single day,” County Executive Mike Hein on Monday evening outlined his agenda for the coming year.
Hein, before an appreciative crowd of well over 200 at Ulster BOCES’ New Paltz facility which delivered a standing ovation on both the executive’s arrival and departure, said he would this year push for the county to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21. He also wants his previously proposed campaign finance reform proposal to be passed by the county legislature and hopes the legislature and the Kingston Common Council to sign off on the plan to combine the county’s UCAT bus and Kingston’s Citibus operations.
Other initiatives announced were a project to widen New Paltz’s South Putt Corners Road in the vicinity of New Paltz High School and a new county hotline and website — www.ulsterhelps.org — to assist those victimized by sexual harassment learn about their rights and the resources available to them. Hein said a pilot program to teach bar and restaurant staff how to recognize potential sexual assault situations will expand from New Paltz to Kingston and Saugerties.
For Kingston, the county executive unveiled an $11.3 million ($9.3 million of which will be covered by grants) initiative to attack the problem of “generational poverty.” SUNY Ulster’s Kingston campus, which opened back in 2015, is one part of the plan; the in-the-works linear park to be constructed on a former rail line which, Hein said will make it easier for Midtowners to get to the city’s only supermarket, is another. The third is the new county “Restorative Justice and Empowerment Center” — where programs aimed to give youthful offenders a second chance will be offered.
Hein also promised in 2018 the completion of a multi-location fire training center with an exterior training complex at SUNY Ulster, a “state of the art” lecture facility at SUNY Ulster and burning and extrication training in both the town of Ulster and Walker Valley. Hein said the lecture hall will be named after Mount Marion firefighter Capt. Jack Rose, who died battling a blaze in 2015.
Hein said work on the new Family Court facility in the town of Ulster will continue in 2018. Hein highlighted the July visit of the Vietnam Travelling Memorial Wall, a miniature replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C., to the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex in Saugerties. The completion of the county’s utility-scale solar project at the former Town of Ulster landfill with 6,320 solar panels, which will generate 20 percent of county government’s electric.
Hein, who in his speech of just over 40 minutes spent some time highlighting the progress Ulster’s made in the national health rankings and the reputation for being one of the most environmentally friendly counties in the nation it’s built for itself, noted that 2018’s county property taxes are lower now than they were in 2009. “[We’ve accomplished] what many people just assume is impossible — greater access to better services with lower taxes for everyone,” said Hein.
The county executive described the years-long dispute over what to do with the Ulster & Delaware rail line — expand tourist rail versus make it into a rail trail along the Ashokan Reservoir — as having culminated in a successful compromise between the two approaches where tourist rail was given a little bit more room, two miles, to grow and a coming-soon world-class rail trail will be both an economic and recreational boon to Ulster.
He also said 2018 will see an effort to push the state legislature to extend film tax credits so the boom in film and TV production the county has seen of late will continue. Unite to require the New York State Legislature to reauthorize and extend the Film Tax Credit for Ulster County. “If we are to continue to grow this industry and reach our full potential as a community, we must unite in our support to extend the film tax credit, just as we did to secure it in the first place, said Hein.
Ken Ronk of Wallkill, the Republican chairman of the legislature, was seated in the first row. He said after the speech that he liked a lot of it, but was opposed to using taxpayer money to fund public elections. “I don’t think the taxpayers should pay to fund the campaigns of politicians,” Ronk said, though he did say he would be in favor of putting a box on the tax forms so taxpayers could give to a fund for candidates. “Then it’s the personal decision of the taxpayers.”
“I liked the general aura of working together,” Ronk also said, noting that he and Hein have “a good working relationship” and have brought “functional government” to Ulster. “I’m eager to get to work.”
Legislator Lynn Eckert, Democrat of Kingston, liked the speech. “I thought it was great. Ulster County is moving forward and I’m looking forward to being a part of that this year.” She said she liked the plan to merge the city and county bus systems. “I think there’s opportunities there. I’m looking forward to seeing all the particulars.”
Legislator Kathy Nolan, Democrat of Shandaken, also liked the speech, saying Hein “put forward a very exciting vision for the county. … I’m excited as a new legislator to work with him on some of these projects.” She said she supported the campaign finance rules and raising the tobacco purchase age, and was appreciative of Hein’s support for the rail trail.