The Ulster County Legislature on December 5 approved a $381,342,516 budget that, through numerous amendments, added nearly $3 million to the $378,573,416 spending plan proposed by Acting County Executive Johanna Contreras.
The budget passed 20-2, with Democrat Joseph Maloney (Saugerties) and Republican Kevin Roberts (Plattekill) voting against. Republican Legislator Herb Litts III (Lloyd, Plattekill) was absent.
The adopted budget maintained a three percent reduction in the amount of taxes to be raised, as proposed by Contreras, but represents an eight percent increase over the $352,966,745 spending plan for 2022. In order to help achieve the acting county executive’s tax break, the amount taken from the county’s fund balance in the adopted 2023 budget rose by nearly $2 million over Contreras’ proposal to $5,577,697.
Both Contreras and County Executive-Elect Jen Metzger released statements praising the budget, with the former saying the spending plan “will allow Ulster County to hire critically-needed additional front-line staff to meet increasing demands on our emergency management, social services, environmental health, mental health, aging and public safety services.”
In a press release announcing the budget vote, Legislature Chair Tracey Bartels (Gardiner, Shawangunk) said the spending plan was the result of collaborative work between the Legislature, the county executive’s office, county departments, and the public.
“I am proud of the bipartisan work of the Legislature in delivering a commonsense spending plan that will improve lives without raising taxes,” said Bartels
In the same press release, Democratic Majority Leader Jonathan Heppner (Woodstock, Hurley) said the amendments reflected the will of the people. “Following our three public hearings across the county, the Legislature collaborated to modify the executive’s proposal to best suit the needs of our community,” Heppner said. “We look forward to seeing the budget implemented at the start of next year,”
But not everyone praised the spending plan.
“I can’t be a yes on this budget, on this giant budget that I really don’t think we did our due diligence on,” said Maloney prior to the vote at the special legislative session held on December 5.
Republican Minority Leader Ken Ronk said that while he recognized the budget was imperfect, the good far outweighed the bad. He also took umbrage with Maloney’s contention that due diligence was not performed.
“I think that we have some misplaced priorities in this budget,” said Ronk. “But I do think that we did our due diligence, which we did in not only the budget, but the amendments to the budget, in a greater fashion than I can ever remember.”
Included in the budget following legislative amendments was a $663,351 line item for the creation of an emergency services division within the Emergency Services Department which will allow for the hiring of part-time paramedics stationed at Sheriff’s Office outposts who will be able to answer emergency calls if ambulances are not immediately available.
Also added by the Legislature were the creation of numerous new positions on top of the 42 in the executive’s proposal. These include a second investigator for the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, which will primarily be used in the new office space in the Citizen’s Bank Building planned for use by some staff of the assistant district attorney’s office. Other staffing amendments approved by legislators included the creation of a quality analyst position in the comptroller’s office, a technical support role in the legislative clerk’s office, a position to administer the agriculture crisis relief program, and the creation of four new caseworker positions in the county’s Office For the Aging.
The amendments also included an additional $171,345 in anticipated pay raises for all elected county officials, with the exception of the district attorney, who’s salary is determined by the state. The new salaries will be under review during a public hearing at the next regular legislative session on Monday, December 19.
While many of the amendments added to the acting county executive’s proposed budget total, there were also cuts, including the elimination of the constituent service navigator division created in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the increase in calls for information and services. The Legislature also withdrew increased funding for the spay and neuter program of the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The creation of a centralized arraignment program was also stopped in its tracks, with Ronk saying he opposed any centralization plans as they usually did so at the expense of communities in the county that were furthest away from Kingston.
Contreras will have had five days upon receipt of the adopted budget to give her approval, during which time she could veto amendments made by the Legislature.