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Dutchess Bickering Complicates Walkway Completion

By Susan Barnett

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-845624.mp3

Hudson Valley, NY –

The partisan bickering that dominates county government in Dutchess County may add to complications for the construction of a major tourist project. Hudson Valley bureau chief Susan Barnett reports.

Republican County executive William Steinhaus has not had a friendly relationship with the county legislature, especially since the Democrats took control. Democratic legislator Joel Tyner, a frequent Steinhaus critic, says it's gotten to the point of intimidation.

The rail trail question is one that has repercussions far beyond Dutchess County. There's a small stretch of property currently owned by CSX railroad which is the best connection from the Dutchess Rail Trail to the east side of the bridge.

Talks are ongoing between the county and CSX...but there's still no deal and the walkway, which has received major state and federal funding, and is set to open in October. Senator Charles Schumer announced he was getting in on the talks, which led to a press release from Steinhaus's office suggesting that was complicating talks that were underway. Sources say Steinhaus's support for the acquisition of the land diminished once the legislature refused to include funding for a waterfront park he supports. Steinhaus's office and the county media spokesperson, Colleen Pillus, have not returned our phone calls.

The Dyson Foundation, headquartered in Dutchess County, finds itself in the middle of this as it is a strong supporter of the walkway project and has funded a study of 18 county governments around Dutchess so legislators can compare and perhaps find places to save money. The dyson-funded study was just released, and it showed that Dutchess elected officials, with the exception of legislators, make more than average salaries compared with surrounding counties. And the biggest potential money-saver could be changing the current free health insurance for nearly 200 employees to one that requires a contribution. Legislator James Miccio says at first blush it seems like a good idea.

Legislature chairman Roger Higgins says despite the problems with the county executive, the county legislature is doing its work, and providing a valuable checks and balances to Steinhaus.

NOTE: Continue listening when report ends for extended, full interviews with Dutchess County legislator Joel Tyner and County legislature chair Roger Higgins.