Ulster County Exec's State Of The County Address Marked His Last
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein delivered his final state of the county address Wednesday night at SUNY Ulster. The Democrat reflected on his decade in office as he prepares to join the Cuomo administration.
After delivering about 10 minutes of thanks, to employees of his administration, past and present, the legislature, his family and the county’s residents, Hein began his tour of highlights, saying he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“The state of our county is not only strong, but it is stronger than it has ever been in our entire history,” said Hein.
The county’s first executive, Hein has been in the post since 2009, following a change in the county charter that created the position. His third term would have run through the end of this year. Instead, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated Hein to lead the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Hein says he came into office during an economic crisis and crumbling real estate market nationally, but there were problems locally. Now, he says, the county has the lowest unemployment in 20 years, and crumbling infrastructure has turned into roads and bridges standing better than ever.
“Because we have been fiscally responsible, and we’ve partnered in the process, and because we now have a taxpayer protection fund in place, barring mismanagement, county property taxes are set to go down for the next two or three years in a row,” Hein said.
Hein says when he first started, the majority of county managers were men.
“I’m pleased to be able to say that Ulster County government now, well over 50 percent of managers are women, the government runs better and we successfully ensured pay equity every step of the way,” said Hein.
Hein touted accomplishments such as funding the Ashokan rail trail.
“The ability to be able to run a trail, 11 ¼ miles, opening up the entire north shore of the Ashokan Reservoir for the first time in over 100 years, without permit or fee,” said Hein. “And it’s going to be open this year.”
The project did face opposition from railroad enthusiasts. And he highlighted other “game-changing projects,” including a restorative justice center. Hein said the county is healthier, literally.
“We went from near the bottom of the New York state national health rankings to now near the top,” said Hein.
Hein pointed to environmental progress.
“100 percent renewable energy is how Ulster County operates, first county in the state, I couldn’t be more proud. Net carbon neutral, the only county in the state of New York that’s net carbon; I don’t want to be the only county in New York that’s net carbon neutral,” said Hein. “I long for the day when it’s commonplace and we’re smart and we’re focused on our future.”
Hein dedicated a portion of his speech to accomplishments for veterans. He held up the Patriots Project, the county’s only homeless veteran facility.
“We have helped almost 100 homeless veterans,” said Hein.
He spoke about the Ulster County Memorial Roll of Honor, a monument in front of the county office building in Kingston. And he seemed to choke up the most when talking about a late woman who, in her 90s, was the last Gold Star mother in Ulster County of a Vietnam veteran. Hein says she came with her family to the opening of the monument and, after the dedication, requested a word with Hein. She thanked Hein, who then tried to reverse the thank you in her direction.
“She said, no, you don’t understand. After all these years, after all these struggles, I finally have an appropriate place where I can talk to my son,” Hein said. “It wrecked me. I could barely stand up. She was an amazing lady. She passed away two weeks later. I can’t tell you how proud I am of our team for fighting to make sure that we got it done on time for Mrs. Kennedy. It was game changing for her, her family and for all of us. So, a little shout out to Mrs. Kennedy.”
Hein then urged his successor, whoever that may be, to preserve the charter, and continue securing environmental and infrastructure gains. When Hein does officially depart, expected to be soon, his chief of staff Adele Reiter will be appointed interim county executive. There will likely be a special election, depending on the timing of Hein’s departure, followed by the general election in November. Hein closed his final “A Decade of Change” address with familiar words.
“Ulster County today is what is will always be — the finest place anywhere to live, work and raise a family,” Hein said. “Thank you and God bless.”