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The County Account

Home energy tax balances the county budget

There are times when I question why I’m in politics. I distress when the votes go contrary to my conception of common sense and justice. The Dec. 5, 2013, decision of the Dutchess County Legislature to repeal the tax exemption on home energy use including heating fuel is one of those times.

Revenue need dominates 2014 budget

The Dutchess County Legislature was recently engaged in review of the 2014 county budget, which was adopted by committee on Thursday, Nov. 21, and will be adopted by the full Legislature on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Thanksgiving dinner

Everyone, pretty much, is familiar with the origin of the main parts of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. There is the turkey, centerpiece around which all the ancillary foodstuffs will gather. It is well known that the custom of having turkey originated with the Pilgrims who, unable to catch much of anything, what with those big hats that gave them away in the woods and those big, clunky guns that took about 15 minutes to load, settled on the more easily procured turkey.

Expanding role of public defenders

For the third consecutive year — and amid widespread county layoffs — the Public Defender’s Office continues to swell with new hires. Recent years have seen: (1) the formation of a Family Court division in the Public Defender’s Office (now in phase two of staggered hires); (2) the creation of a shared-services attorney position for purposes of legal conflicts with neighboring Ulster County; and (3) October’s Legislative decision to hire arraignment attorneys.

The Public Defender’s Office is clearly defying the trend wherein other county departments are being asked to do with less.

Gears turning again at RRA facility

The waste-to-energy plant run by the public authority, Resource Recovery Agency (RRA), experienced a downfall this past June when its turbine went offline. The turbine produced income by generating electricity from the steam outputted by burning trash. The nearly three and a half months that the turbine was down resulted in loss of roughly $1 million in revenues. This caused trembles in Dutchess County government since by law RRA losses are met by taxpayer subsidies.

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County nearly 300 years old

Dutchess County is quickly approaching its 300th anniversary of limited self-governance. Late next month the county will observe the tercentennial of when Great Britain first permitted its colonists living in the county of Dutchess the right to vote. The county has been celebrating these democratic roots all year-long based on legislation which I authored. Activity has been intensifying as the anniversary approaches.

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Elections Board reform due

The recent grand jury indictments against the current county Democratic elections commissioner (46 felony and 48 misdemeanor charges) and the immediate past Republican elections commissioner (one felony and two misdemeanors) is devastating to the public’s trust for election integrity. The election commissioners’ chief responsibility is safeguarding the election process.

State of county finances reviewed

Legislators received an update on the county’s finances at our August meeting. As we move into the upcoming budget season for 2014 the situation looks grim.

Despite sales tax revenue exceeding budget projections by $1.4 million for a total of sales tax revenue of $134.5 million, Dutchess County ended last year $6.3 million in the hole. Loss of state and federal aid is partly to blame. The county received 13.5 million less in State Aid in 2013 from 2011 (but $1 million more than we received from the state in 2010), and $1.8 million less in federal aid than the previous year.

DCC tuition rises, other issues avoided

Uncomfortable is among the words to describe the atmosphere when representatives of Dutchess Community College (DCC) came before the Dutchess County Legislature in July to ask for acceptance of the college budget. The community college is almost universally praised for its academics and for the advancement opportunities it affords high-school graduates and adults, but in recent months eyebrows have risen.

Merger is questioned

June signals the start of County Executive Marcus Molinaro’s preparations for next year’s county budget, which the Legislature will scrutinize in November before eventual adoption in December. In his January State of the County Address, the county executive announced plans to merge the county departments of Mental Hygiene (DMH) with the Health Department. This concept was again revisited in June with the resignation of Health Department Commissioner Michael Caldwell after 19 years to make way for the impending department merger.