Bonding a legislative issue before summer

The County Account

Summer begins for those of us in the Dutchess County Legislature with multiple proposals to consider bonding money to finance infrastructure and capital improvements on county property. Certainly the county has responsibilities to take care of its assets, replace those that outlive their usefulness, maintain safety and make prudent decisions to keep county government functioning.

With limitations on tax revenue and many competing and noble interests vying for budgetary tax proceeds, governments rely on bonding to finance those large projects and purchases for which no cash is on hand. Investors provide county government with money upfront and bonds are issued with promises to repay over time.

In 2011, the $400 million county budget contains $13 million in debt service for outstanding bonds. Our total indebtedness on issued bonds is $110,736,000.

At the Legislature’s June meeting we heard presentations on bonding requests totaling $6.3 million in additional bonds. These bond requests include $1.5 million for bridge and highway work, $2.2 million for park upgrades at Wilcox, Bowdoin and Quiet Cove parks, $1.4 million for equipment (trucks, snowplows and a paver), $400,000 in energy improvements and $691,000 for vehicles and capital improvements including replacement of a fuel dispensing pump in Amenia.

The Legislature is now mulling over these requests and scheduling site visits to evaluate for ourselves the merits of these projects and then we will vote in July on which bonds to approve. One of these bonds — including the parks bond — is up for a second review after being voted down in a previous Legislature.

Beyond these, there are two large-scale bond projects that resurface every now and again to meet real needs, but which have not yet received a vote.

The first of these is to build a medical examiner’s office. The county executive submitted a $5.5 million bond proposal in September 2010 to purchase a building in Poughkeepsie that the county presently rents, and then build an addition to house the medical examiner.

Currently the medical examiner’s office is housed in the Health Department offices, with autopsies being performed in cramped conditions at Vassar Brothers Hospital that best resembles a closet. There are a myriad of issues (some health-related, some security-related, some safety related) that attest to why the county needs to take action, but at this juncture the county Legislature and the executive branch remain at odds over this project.

The second bond is for a $75 million jail expansion that the county executive submitted in October 2010 to address jail overcrowding that presently has us housing out between 150 and 200 inmates per month, but for which the Legislature has not yet considered.

Our role as legislators is to monitor the purse and determine which projects and policies are worth indebting future generations. At our July meeting we will debate and then decide on the $6.3 million bond requests. The jail and medical examiner’s office await further action, following further discussions and deliberation.

Michael Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.