Elected officials to receive large pay boosts

The Dutchess County Legislature on Thursday (Dec. 7) adopted a $601 million budget for 2024 that lowers property taxes, raises hotel and sales taxes, and boosts pay significantly for the county executive, legislators and other elected officials.

The 15-9 vote ended with three Republicans joining six Democrats in opposing the budget, an unusual level of disunity in a Legislature where the 17 Republicans and eight Democrats often split along party lines. The disunion represented the conflict over the increases in salaries and sales taxes.

With the raises, which were not part of outgoing County Executive William F.X. O’Neil’s original budget but passed as an amendment proposed by the Legislature’s Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee, incoming Executive Sue Serino will receive $185,500 next year, instead of the current $157,424.

County Clerk Brad Kendall will be paid 26 percent more ($150,000 versus $119,330) and the Legislature’s chair 56 percent more ($54,500). The budget also contains a 68 percent increase for legislators ($27,500) and an 81 percent boost for the majority and minority leaders ($45,500).

Assistant party leaders would receive a pay hike of 76 percent, to $36,500. Committee chairs, currently unpaid, would receive $3,000 stipends beginning next year.

Dutchess legislators also passed a resolution requesting state approval to raise its portion of the sales tax to 4 percent from 3.75 percent beginning in June 2024. Only six counties, including Dutchess, have sales taxes below 4 percent, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance. Putnam raised its sales tax in 2007 from 3.5 to 4 percent.

The higher tax will reap an estimated $8.3 million for the county and $1.7 million for Beacon and other municipalities, which receive a share of what the county collects. The increase will not affect purchases of clothing and footwear of up to $110, which will continue to be exempt from sales taxes in 2024.

“We cannot do this [raise sales taxes] at the same time we have just proposed raising salaries for officials here in Dutchess County,” said Legislator Yvette Valdes Smith, a Democrat whose district includes Ward 4 in Beacon and is the minority leader.

Visitors staying at county hotels will pay more under the budget, which raises the tax on lodging to 5 percent from 4 percent. The change is expected to generate $4.8 million in 2024, O’Neil said in a statement on Dec. 8.

O’Neil, who will leave office on Dec. 31, highlighted cuts in the property-tax rate and levy. Property owners will pay 26 cents less ($2.23) per $1,000 of assessed value next year, and the overall levy of $99.4 million is the lowest in 15 years, he said.

“This is a reasonable budget that not only takes into consideration the needs of all our residents, but funds them in the most responsible manner possible,” he said.

Along with the tax proposals, O’Neil said the budget includes cost savings and new spending. He said the new county jail in Poughkeepsie, the Justice and Transition Center, will save $1.8 million in overtime and another $5.5 million through “staffing efficiencies” and policies adopted by Sheriff Kirk Imperati.

O’Neil also said the county would save more than $265,000 on its public bus service by “eliminating inefficiencies” on underused routes, adding trips on “the most utilized routes,” expanding hours of operation to “work and shopping destinations” and instituting other changes.

The budget adds eight positions for a planned homeless shelter and two deputy sheriffs trained as “community resource officers” to work in the City of Poughkeepsie.

The county will support Hudson River Housing with an additional “housing navigator” and a vehicle for outreach to homeless people, and create a $200,000 grant program to expand composting by residents, with a matching grant program to help municipalities install and operate composting equipment.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

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