Democrats largely reject spending plan
The Dutchess County Legislature approved, largely along party lines, a $502 million budget for 2021 that avoids layoffs and reduces property taxes for a seventh straight year. However, it also represents a skinnier workforce after the county introduced a retirement incentive program in the face of COVID-19 revenue losses.
The Legislature’s 15 Republicans were joined by Democrat Randy Johnson of Poughkeepsie in voting for the spending plan on Thursday (Dec. 3), while eight of body’s 10 Democrats, including Beacon Legislators Nick Page and Fritz Zernike, voted against approval. (Hannah Black, a Democrat representing Hyde Park, recused from voting.)
Under the plan, spending will shrink by about $18.6 million and Dutchess’ property tax rate will fall to $3.18 per $1,000 of assessed value from $3.26. To offset anticipated losses of $6.1 million in sales tax revenue and $4 million in state aid, the county is relying on $10 million in reserve funds and about $11 million saved when 152 employees accepted offers to retire or leave their jobs for payouts in 2021.
Of the positions approved for early retirement and buyouts, some will be eliminated and others left vacant, according to the county. The deleted positions include 12 corrections officers (for a savings of $920,000), two probation officers ($125,000) and drug counselors and social workers in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health.
County Executive Marc Molinaro said last month that no services are being eliminated under the budget, but that some services “may take longer to provide as we serve more people with fewer employees.”
“As we work together to face the challenges left in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this budget allows us to provide the support and services to our residents without adding any taxpayer burden,” Molinaro said in a statement after the budget passed.
Among the concerns for Democrats was the toll the loss of employees taking the county’s buyout offer may have on services.
The health department, which has had a leading role in the county’s COVID-19 response, will have 13 fewer positions and the Probation Department six fewer positions, according to figures released with the draft budget.
Legislator Rebecca Edwards, who represents Poughkeepsie and is minority leader for the Democrats, said that it would be “an avoidance of weighing the impact” to believe that the losses will not affect services.
“For 152 employees to leave is an immense loss of talent, of experience, of wisdom, of community in the county,” Edwards said.
Molinaro’s administration is highlighting several initiatives.
Next year, every Dutchess County sheriff’s deputy will begin wearing a body camera and the county will provide procedural justice and implicit bias training to every law enforcement agency in the county. The county said that 200 officers have signed up to attend the eight-hour classes by the end of the year.
The county’s mobile crisis intervention team will expand and “work more closely than ever” with police officers and Mental Health America, an anti-racism organization, said Molinaro.
Mental Health America, Astor Services and PeopleUSA will also take over the operation of the Dutchess Stabilization Center in Poughkeepsie, which provides services to people in crisis 24 hours a day.
In an effort to diversify county police forces, the county will amend its college credit requirement for the officer civil service exam, which mandates that applicants have at least 60 college credits. With the change, new officers will have five years to earn the 60 credits.
In a series of amendments, the Legislature added $300,000 for youth and community services and $50,000 for library technology to the Department of Planning and Development’s Agency Partnership Grant Program and $210,000 to the Department of Community & Family Services for additional security services and Domestic Abuse Response Team training.
The Legislature also amended the budget to restore $10,112 in funding to the Dutchess County SPCA and add $7,500 to the Board of Elections budget to provide additional support for early voting.