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Budget and COVID-19 update from Molinaro

DUTCHESS COUNTY — In addition to presenting highlights of his proposed 2021 Executive Budget, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro offered his constituents updated COVID-19 details and addressed their questions at a Virtual Town Hall Forum held on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

At the stroke of noon, county residents tuned into the forum as it was live streamed to the “Dutchess County Government” Facebook page. Participants submitted questions throughout.

Starting with a discussion on the budget, Molinaro reminded his constituents that he released the proposed 2021 Executive Budget on Wednesday, Oct. 28, which has since been presented not only to the Dutchess County Legislature for its consideration but also to county taxpayers. (For more on the proposed Executive Budget, go to www.tricornernews.com.) He announced that the Legislature has scheduled Thursday, Dec. 3, as the night it intends to adopt the budget, with or without amendments. Budget documents and videos can be viewed at www.dutchessny.gov/2021budget as can the interactive “Budget in Brief.” 

Molinaro said the 2021 budget will provide no tax or fee increase as “we did not feel that this was the year at all to push our woes, our challenges, onto the backs of property taxpayers.” There will be a slight decrease in the tax levy and a modest reduction in the county’s tax rate. Other highlights included a proposed reduction in the county’s workforce with no layoffs and a 3.6% spending cut, which was needed due to a significant loss in sales tax revenue.

Molinaro said the county is working hard to be innovative to provide for its residents, and to address several goals, including affordable housing and homelessness, public safety and community policing and services for young people. He added the county is very much concerned about state cuts and will continue to advocate for federal assistance, though the budget isn’t built on this expectation and is prepared for a potential reduction of state aid.

Moving on to the COVID-19 Data Dashboard, Molinaro spoke of the expectation of an uptick in COVID-19 cases during the transition to colder weather and flu season. To date, the county has conducted nearly 240,000 COVID-19 tests. Over the course of the last 10 months, there have been 5,839 confirmed COVID cases countywide; the county is tracking 317 active cases. As of his talk, there were 12 individuals hospitalized, a number Molinaro said has remained steady these last few weeks. 

As of the 10th, the regional positivity rate for COVID-19 was 2.7% while the positivity rate in Dutchess County was 1.9% on a seven-day rolling average. Molinaro said the county’s Department of Health (DOH) and various teams from all county agencies are actively identifying positive cases, conducting contact tracing and trying to limit transmission.

The first question inquired whether the county is in danger of going back to Phase 3 of reopening and what the threshold is. Molinaro said no one is suggesting the county “go backwards in time,” and spoke of the state’s work to identify COVID micro cluster hot spots. He said the county is restarting “a rapid response to growth” in certain areas to ensure the appropriate agencies are prepared for and can react to potential micro clusters.

One viewer spoke of the budget, claiming the Stabilization Center is being cut by 27% and will be entirely contracted out. Molinaro corrected that viewer — saying those statistics were wrong. 

“You can spread misinformation as you wish — this county is exceptionally focused on mental health services,” said Molinaro, who clarified that the Stabilization Center will not be entirely contracted out and that the county is already working to broaden its reach, maximizing relationships with other agencies to expand and mobilize its mental health services.

Molinaro responded to  questions ranging from when visitations at nursing homes will restart; his thoughts on mandated vaccines; county plans for celebrating holidays; plans for building a new jail; and the county’s commitment to mental health services. 

One question asked what citizens can do to help at this time. Calling it “a remarkably kind question that doesn’t get asked much these days,” Molinaro advised remaining calm, being logical and vigilant, following COVID-19 guidance and being aware of family and friends who might feel ill.

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