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Tough budget choices for fiscal 2010

Reality is [that] the money does not exist to sustain government as it exists today. In 2010, county government will do less because we have less."

These words of County Executive Bill Steinhaus accompanied his proposed $398.9 million county budget for 2010 on which county legislators will vote Monday, Dec. 7.

For the past month and for the next few days, the 25 county legislators who serve countywide have been struggling over how to stretch tax dollars to provide essential services, while wrangling over which services must be cut. This is not easy.

Last year, services were largely maintained causing property taxes to soar 11 percent. This year promises to be even tougher as taxpayers cannot afford the same rate of taxing and spending. Tough decisions will force legislators to either eliminate services, raise taxes further — or a combination of both.

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Consider the following cuts that have been proposed in the executive’s budget. Legislators must decide whether to leave them cut or whether to restore them. If they vote to restore, taxes will rise.

• The elimination of 75 sheriff deputies that comprise the county road patrols that our municipalities and schools rely on for protection. Cost to retain: $5.3 million.

• The elimination of the Crime Victim’s Assistance Program that provides comfort and assistance to rape victims including preservation of forensic evidence that has led to the conviction of rapists. Also slated for elimination is a Teen Parent program, Supervised Visitation program, and Domestic Abuse Response Team program. Total cost to retain: $563,952.

• Zero funding for the Resource Recovery Agency, the waste-to-energy incinerator that burns our trash, and for which contractually the county is required to pay. Cost to retain: $6.6 million.

• The elimination of the Long-Term Home Health Care program operated by the Department of Health that provides in-home care to seniors countywide. Cost to retain: $323,000.

• Elimination of the Environmental Program at the Cornell Cooperative Extension that organizes town-wide vernal pool surveys, organizes a countywide watershed coalition and updates the county’s Natural Resource Inventory, as well as programs that further the interests of agriculture, nutrition, 4H, teen leadership and environmental planning. Total cost to retain: $496,002 ($219,006 of that is for the environmental program).

• Elimination of the Human Rights Commission that advocates for residents who face discrimination pertaining to employment, housing, public accommodation, education and civil or human rights. Cost to retain: $231,828.

• The layoff of 25 county employees plus the elimination of 31 vacant county positions.

• Whether to continue to exempt clothing under $110 from sales tax. Cost to retain: $5.4 million.

Balancing services with jobs and the tax levy is tough work. A decision to retain any of the above (not to mention all of them) will result in tax increases that in this tough economy nobody wants — or needs.

Your input is welcome. E-mail concerns to all 25 county legislators at CountyLegislators@co.dutchess.ny.us or plan to attend the County Budget Public Hearing on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie.


Michael N. Kelsey is the Dutchess County legislator-elect for the towns of Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and the village of Millbrook. He will be sworn in on Jan. 5, 2010. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.

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