Dutchess County’s executive is proposing a 2023 budget that would invest in preventing opioid-related deaths, encourage the creation of affordable rental housing, add youth safety and engagement services, and bolster law enforcement.
The roughly $560.4 million budget proposal, which cuts taxes, builds on programs already implemented prioritizing public safety, substance abuse and housing, which have been common themes in the county over the past several years.
“Our focus had been much broader because times were different,” said County Executive Marc Molinaro. “When I began, all I committed to public health, but that’s narrowed now to certain specific things, the post-pandemic world that we live in, the opioid epidemic.”
Molinaro introduced his spending plan, which lays out the county’s vision for the coming year, Tuesday in the Dutchess County Legislature’s chambers.
It’s a vision Molinaro may not be around to see come to fruition. The proposal comes one week before an Election Day in which Molinaro is vying with Democrat Josh Riley to represent the 19th Congressional District, which no longer includes a portion of Dutchess. Accordingly, speaking about his proposal Monday, Molinaro said he was hopeful the county can remedy many of its issues through initiatives such as its Housing Trust Fund and Stabilization Center, but was pessimistic about the status of safety in the county, blaming New York’s bail reform measures, which has been a popular talking point among Republican candidates throughout the election.
Should Molinaro win the election, for which early voting is already underway, he would be replaced by Deputy County Executive William F.X. O’Neil.
Democrats said they were not provided with a copy of the budget prior to the announcement on Tuesday. They also want to see more investments need to be made in the opioid crisis, homelessness and crime.
“Marcus Molinaro has had over a decade to tackle these issues head on,” said Legislature Minority Leader Yvette Valdes Smith, a Democrat representing Fishkill and Beacon in the 16th District. “The consistent underinvestment and neglect by Molinaro has exacerbated each and every one of these issues to the point of crisis.”
The proposed budget calls for $560,369,932 in total appropriations, which is lower than the 2022 modified budget of $601 million, but higher than the adopted budget of nearly $532.7. A county in a release noted “spending was notably higher,” this year “as the county seized the opportunity to pay down debt and avoid future indebtedness by utilizing fund balance.”
The county next year would be spending $15 million on its response to homelessness and $7.5 million on mental health and opioid response.
The proposal also cuts the property tax rate and the tax levy. The total property tax levy for next year would be $99.45 million, as compared to $99.8 million in last year’s budget. The tax rate decreases 12%, from $2.85 to $2.50 per $1,000 of true value assessments.
The Legislature will hold a public hearing on the tentative budget Thursday.
Here’s what was covered in main elements of the budget proposal:
The county would invest $3 million in MidHudson Regional Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence and $1.8 million for a long-term rehabilitation and more outpatient services with St. Joseph’s in Poughkeepsie.
Westchester, Dutchess and Ulster are on pace to see more fatal overdoses this year than in 2021, according to their counts for the first eight months of 2022.
Dutchess County hopes its investment in MidHudson Regional will fill gaps within its system of mental health services by creating a therapeutic space for patients, expanding behavioral health services and providing staff and training opportunities for nurses and clinicians.
The county spent $1.5 million in capital funds for St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center this year to open a 25-bed long-term treatment center at the former Catharine Street Center in the City of Poughkeepsie. Next year, the county will add $330,000 to ensure 75% of the beds are used for Dutchess residents. The funding will come from opioid lawsuit settlement allocations.
St. Joseph’s will also open an outpatient clinic at the site in 2023, which will work “in conjunction” with the county’s homeless shelter to be developed in the city.
The Stabilization Center will add a new registered nurse position and the county hopes to save $950,000 due to a new billing structure that could make the center self-sustainable in the next five years.
The county plans on opening its Emergency Housing Facility at 26 Oakley St. in the city at the end of next year.
Dutchess is using $3.1 million in American Rescue Plan funding for the project; $2.1 million for the facility and $1 million for professional services, according to a resolution approved June 13. The 2023 budget would include an additional $500,000 for new programing for the shelter.
The county had previously committed over $12 million to its Housing Trust Fund, which provides assistance with housing construction and rehabilitation; infrastructure and redevelopment support; and support for homeownership.,
“Housing, we’re catching up,” Molinaro said. “The amount of money we’re putting toward affordable housing development is unlike anything else.”
The housing sales market, which he said is slowing down, may help the county in meeting the demand, but rising costs of daily life may also slow them down. The county has requested applications for potential projects requiring assistance from the trust fund.
The county will also providing $100,000 to the United Way’s 211 Information Line that connects residents to services, including those in need of housing. The organization lost its federal funding, which the county is committed to picking up.
Dutchess County hopes to expand its Youth & Police Initiative. The program, which was previously implemented at the City of Poughkeepsie School District, is meant to improve the relationship between young people and police officers and is seen as a step toward stemming violence.
While other districts have not committed to bringing in the program, the county said possible districts interested include Beacon, Wappingers and Hyde Park.
The county is also investing in body worn cameras for police. Already, the county has obtained cameras to enable each member of the Sheriff’s Office to wear one each time they are working and interacting with the public. The 2023 budget not only includes funding for the first full year of that program, but previously Dutchess announced an incentive for other agencies around the county − which still must be approved by the Legislature this month − to also equip their officers.
Funding would also be provided to equip the sheriff office’s with body worn cameras as part of its reform and modernization initiatives. The county’s legislature still needs to approve the Body Worn Camera Shared Services Purchase Program, which is on its agenda for November.
City and town of Poughkeepsie, Town of East Fishkill, Hyde Park, Pine Plains, Fishkill, Millbrook and Village of Wappingers have all expressed interest in the Body Worn Camera Shared Services Purchase Program, according to the resolution on the Legislature’s agenda. The county would provide $2,800 per camera and $2,000 per party for setting up costs. The total cost of the program is $620,800 for a total of 215 cameras.
The county is also putting $20 million over the course of the next five years into its public-safety radio network system which would provide county-wide coverage for all public safety radio users.
Saba Ali: Sali1@poughkeepsiejournal.com: 845-451-4518: @MsSabaAli.