First Ryan budget: Good year for sales tax allows four percent county spending increase

County exec Pat Ryan speaks about his budget in Kingston. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Ulster County executive Pat Ryan signed his first-ever budget on December 12 at Esopus’ town hall. The budget includes a quarter-of-one-percent tax-levy decrease, and totals $342.28 million, an increase of four percent over 2019’s $329.26-million budget.

The reduction, Ryan said, was made possible due to an increase in revenues from sales and occupancy taxes, “largely [due to] the continuation of growth in local tourism spending.”

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“The number-one thing I heard here was that ‘We’re worried about being able to stay here in Ulster County, we want you to hold the line on taxes,’” said Ryan before signing the budget.

The tax levy will decline to $73.31 million from the 2019 total of $73.51 million. The amount taken from the county reserve to offset the tax levy, however, will rise from 2019’s $8.78 million to $12 million. Ryan said that a “healthy” part of the discussion between himself and the county legislature was the amount that would be appropriated from the fund balance.

With this budget, Ryan and the county legislature will address Ryan’s “Big Five”: a green new deal for the county, a program for the county to operate entirely on renewable energy by 2030, increased initiatives to combat the opioid epidemic, more money for the county’s criminal-justice initiatives, more skills training programs to help residents find high-paying jobs, and improvements in the functions of county government.

The budget adds 34 positions to county government, 18 of which are paid for by taxpayers. The county’s new Department of Economic Development will be funded. So will be the county’s Office of the Aging, a human rights commissioner, a youth bureau director, plus seven state-funded jobs to the county’s public defender’s office, two new sheriff’s deputies for opioid response, and the addition of a chief diversity officer.

County legislators proposed over two dozen changes to Ryan’s budget, 14 of which were adopted, tapping into the county’s $700,000 contingency fund. Some of these changes helped non-profits such as $10,000 for the Mohonk Preserve Inc., $10,000 towards a new visitor center at D&H Canal Historical Society, $5500 to Arts Mid-Hudson, $4500 for the Family of Woodstock supervised visitation program, $12,000 for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and $10,000 for the People’s Place food insecurity programs.

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