Before a packed crowd at the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s boat barn, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan unveiled his first budget proposal last week. The spending plan includes new allocations on initiatives in line with Ryan’s progressive vision for county government while holding the line on taxes. Overall, Ryan’s proposed budget totals $342.28 million, an increase of a little more than $13 million over the current county spending plan.
The tax levy, however, will decline from $76.51 million last year to $76.31 under Ryan’s proposal. In the Ryan budget, the amount taken from the county’s reserve fund to offset the tax levy will rise from $8.78 million this year to $12.58 million in 2020.
The budget also reflects an increase in revenue from sales and hotel occupancy taxes driven by the tourism sector. “We have had economic success and growth in the county, that has really driven up revenue significantly,” said Ryan.
Much of the new spending in Ryan’s proposed budget is directed towards the five areas of issues he campaigned upon: a local version of the Green New Deal, growing and diversifying the county’s economy, fighting the opioid epidemic, creating a restorative justice system focusing on rehabilitation, and greater governmental openness. It aims to ensure that county residents at all socioeconomic levels share in economic growth.
Ryan said that many of the new initiatives were informed by a series of town halls held across the county in the weeks after his inauguration.
“This budget is grounded in and driven by what people are concerned about and looking for all across the county,” said the former Army officer and tech executive. “It’s putting the voice of citizens front and center.”
Ryan wants to end county government’s reliance on fossil fuels by 2030 while training residents to work in the expanding green-energy sector. The budget includes funding for a Green Careers Academy in partnership with SUNY Ulster. The program will offer free or reduced tuition to volunteer firefighters, veterans, the long-term unemployed and others to prepare them for jobs at green technology companies.
More public defenders
In line with Ryan’s campaign promise to ensure “equal justice” for all county residents, the 2020 budget proposal includes seven new federally funded positions at the county public defender’s office. The new hires will include attorneys, support staff and investigators. The added staff would reduce caseloads and improve the quality of representation for indigent defendants. The budget will also create a new position of diversity officer to help with outreach to increase minority representation in the county’s workforce.
Shortly after taking office, Ryan announced a goal of reducing opioid-related deaths in Ulster County by 50 percent over the next two years. To that end, the budget includes $3 million in grant funding to fund new initiatives at the sheriff’s office and health department.
Economic growth initiatives include the rollout of the “Ulster 2040 working group,” which will work on ensuring that the county’s economic and workforce development efforts are aligned with targeted economic sectors. The budget also includes $590,000 in federal grant funding to help moderate-income families achieve home ownership and increases funding for economic development by 25 percent.
The county legislature will review, potentially alter and vote to adopt the final document.