In New York, the Ulster County executive delivered his budget address Thursday. He has a number of projects on the list to develop what he calls a people-centered economy.
Democratic County Executive Pat Ryan says Ulster County has weathered a fiscal storm during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I really am proud to stand before you today and deliver a county budget that will once again hold the line on taxes while also proposing no layoffs and maintaining and, in many cases, improving the quality of the delivery of our services,” Ryan says. “We can applaud for that, we can applaud for that.”
Ryan spoke before a socially-distanced audience at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge. Several of his budget proposals support the Ulster 2040 action plan he released this week.
“And in a year like this, it would be very easy to just maintain the status quo, keep our heads down and just try to, just try to make it through,” Ryan says. “But I believe this is exactly the moment that we need to do the opposite. We need to think big, we need to have a vision and we need to not just try to survive, we need to focus on coming out of this thriving again as a community.
Ryan, in his first four-year term, says plans include addressing the surge of mental-health issues, compounded by the pandemic. His budget proposal includes expanding the county’s mobile mental health program.
“In addition, for the first time ever, we’re assigning a full-time social worker to our 9-1-1 call center, making us one of the few communities in the nation to make this important commitment,” says Ryan.
Heading into 2021, Ryan says it’s important to focus on two key things.
“Grow and build a more just and equitable economy, and care, just never forget that that is what we’re all in this to do, to take care of each other and, especially at a moment like this, to leave no one behind,” Ryan says.
Ryan says four in 10 households in his county were living paycheck to paycheck before the coronavirus pandemic. And he plans to address the housing crisis.
“In partnership with our legislature and new joint Housing Advisory Committee, this year we will finalize our plan to convert our former jail site, which has sat unused for 13 years, to convert that into a major workforce housing project that will be accessible to all of those same frontline workers who put, again, their lives on the line for us, and who deserve to live with dignity in the community that they’ve served so nobly,” Ryan says.
His $333.8 million spending plan includes a number of other projects. One is aimed at growers in Ulster County and would reimagine the Hudson Valley Mall.
“Partnering with the Hull Group, Farm Bridge, Novo Foundation and New York State Empire Development Corporation and others, we’ll create an agribusiness hub there that will form the centerpiece, or one of the centerpieces, of our new economy,” says Ryan.
Another project would invest in the site formerly known as Tech City.
“We’ll also begin a rebirth at the former IBM site, taking long vacant buildings and putting them back to work as a hub for artists, designers, manufacturers and creatists,” says Ryan. “To that end, our capital budget this year includes $2.9 million over several years to fund and begin this work.”
A third involves environmentalists. Ryan’s first executive order when he took office in June 2019 was to implement a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable, locally-generated energy by 2030. He also set forth a Green New Deal and plans to help achieve this by launching next year the county’s first electric buses and building supporting infrastructure. He mentioned a $2.5 million investment to upgrade HVAC systems, lowering costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
“In addition, we’ll be expanding our Green Careers Academy, which SUNY Ulster has been the key partner in, and bringing in Ulster BOCES to expand this programming to our high-school level students,” says Ryan. “Additionally, we’ll dedicate up to $75,000 to ensure any young person or worker in the county can afford to attend those programs with no limitations.”
The Rockland County executive also delivered his budget address Thursday and the Orange County executive presented his Wednesday.