The CJC report recommends building a brand new jail with a state-of-the-art design that will be able to accommodate 500-650 total inmates. Our current facility is capable of housing 257 inmates. We currently have 200 inmates housed out to other counties (for an annual housing out cost of $6.7million) and an additional 600 more persons in the criminal justice system are being diverted from jail through an aggressive alternative to incarceration program.
The CJC report claims “the evidence is compelling to build a new facility” (as opposed to expanding the current facility) in that there is lower cost per square foot to build new, it is easier to maintain, and is likely to result in a dramatic decrease in staffing needs. The new jail will allow for the opportunity to designate defined units in the jail to better serve various populations including women, children and those with mental illnesses or substance abuse, and provide each with appropriate treatment. More than 80 percent of the current jail population has a history for treatment of substance abuse, mental health or both. Inmates below age 21 comprise 15 percent of the jail population. Women on average comprise ten percent.
The CJC report argues for building on the abandoned, state-owned Hudson River Psychiatric Center property, and that in the short-term the county can save housing out costs by constructing temporary “pods” at the current North Hamilton Street site that will permit county inmates to be housed in-county while jail construction proceeds. The State Commission on Correction has indicated it will only approve the temporary “pod” program if the County votes on a long-term solution to its jail capacity problem, whether it be building new or expanding the current jail.
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The newly adopted Local Solid Waste Management Plan sets a lofty goal of 60 percent recycling attainment by 2022 – a noble goal – but falls short when it comes to a plan for the RRA’s waste-to-energy plant whose operating contract expires next year. The burn plant has consistently failed to produce a profit resulting in annual taxpayer subsidy sometimes as high as $6million a year. This year it is expected that taxpayers will contribute $2million to offset losses. The SWMP’s omission to chart a path towards privatization will require further action by the County Legislature.
The County Legislature, conscious that the SWMP presented an opportunity for positive change, invested time and effort in previous years into studying these issues before forming a solid waste department in county government to implement our vision. The 2011 legislative taskforce acknowledged that “Dutchess County must look to make the RRA self-sufficient and solvent, and if by 2014 it is not, sale of the WTE facility should be considered."
The SWMP fails to chart a path for privatizing the waste-to-energy plant now administered by an independent public authority, the Resource Recovery Agency. Instead it assumes the new contract will go out to bid and the RRA’s unelected/non-county personnel officers will broker a deal beneficial to the county. The terms of the contract will defacto determine solid waste policy in Dutchess County for the length of the contract – not to mention the amount of taxpayer subsidy.
Continued investment in the burn plant which needs garbage to turn a profit flies in the face of our now adopted target goal of reaching a 60 percent recycling goal. If the RRA does not meet its garbage quotas, county tax dollars are required to cure deficits, if they do meet garbage quotas then absent imported waste we cannot meet our recycling goals. The County needs to open up a ...<< MORE >>
There is little cheer
about the Legislature's April vote to adopt the Solid Waste Management Plan.
The plan was a year in the making after the Legislature rejected a previous effort made by the Resource Recovery Agency, an independent public authority embroiled in controversy. Their 2010 plan plotted expensive upgrades and an endorsement of the waste-to-energy policies of the last two decades. In response – after a year of legislative hearings and committee work – the Legislature stripped the RRA of its planning authority, formed a $250,000/year solid waste department in county government, and gave the new department instructions to produce a more amenable plan.
The county-generated plan rightfully acknowledged the county’s failure to achieve more than a 20 percent recycling rate despite a 1994 county law to make recycling widespread. It sets the new county recycling goal at 60 percent.
Sixty percent recycling is a noble goal. However with last year’s opening of the Hudson-Baylor single stream recycling plant in Beacon the private market will increase the recycling rate even absent the new SWMP’s specified goal. While the plan creates a new county position of recycling coordinator we cannot lose sight of the fact that solid waste is an industry best left to for-profit entities.
The plan failed to consider privatizing the RRA waste-to-energy plant and instead included a request for proposal for a new operator for the burn plant in its implementation schedule. This was a tacit endorsement for business to continue as usual despite taxpayer subsidies as much as $6million a year (a projected $2million in 2013). Such a conclusion is not in keeping with the previous declared intent of several ...<< MORE >>
Each year in December the County Legislature adopts the Capital Projects Plan, a five-year blueprint for bond requests from county department heads to fund projects and purchases. Then beginning in January the bond requests begin rolling in. Legislators are permitted scrutiny of each individual project, although often accompanied with pressure that time is of the essence or that if we vote No, somehow we’re an enemy to progress.
In 2013, the Legislature has thus far approved three bond requests. We adopted a $906,000 request from the County Clerk and Office of Computer Information Services to purchase an electronic content management system that will allow the digital online storage of archived documents (eventually to be made available to the public) as well as streamline the process by which county departments interact with each other. This was an efficient use of county funds that invests in technology, serves the public interest and will lead to greater productivity. The remaining two bonds passed in February and March left much to be desired. I voted No on both.
The Legislature passed a $1,010,000 bond to replace the grass field at Dutchess Stadium with artificial turf and upgrade the electrical system. Dutchess Stadium is owned by the County but leased by the Hudson Valley Renegades. In 2012 the County earned approximately $20,000 in net profit. Under the new bond the county’s first year payment will be $93,593 for a loss of approximately $73,000. County Planning argued that this loss could be mitigated by increases in county-run events and perhaps the construction of a new county-run restaurant on the property to capture fan money. I wonder if operation of a baseball stadium and restaurant are not better left to the private sector?
The impetus behind the Stadium bond is that the Renegades’ lease will run out in 2016, a brand new state-of-the-art facility has been constructed in neighboring Rockland County without a tenant and that without field upgrades to the Dutchess Stadium the Renegades might bolt. There is no guarantee that the new field will entice the Renegades to stay. Best case scenario: the Renegades stay and the County finds innovative ...<< MORE >>
The gun control debate came to Dutchess County after a number of county residents asked county legislators to take a position on the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act signed into law by the Governor in January under a message of necessity. This legislation was intended to be a response to the tragic school shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn. I served as a sponsor of a memorialization resolution in the county legislature that asked State leaders to revisit the topic and start anew in their efforts towards a comprehensive response to gun violence.
Well over 200 people came to speak and observe the March county meetings that considered our resolution. Public comment exceeded two hours during committee, and three hours during our board meeting. Speakers represented both sides of the gun control debate, although a majority of speakers criticized the SAFE Act as a violation of their Second Amendment right to bear arms, that it unfairly aimed its punitive powers at law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, circumvented process and public comment, and that it did not address the actual root causes of the violence perpetrated in Newtown and shootings throughout the country.
County legislatures around the state (52 at last count) have been asking the State to repeal the SAFE Act. Dutchess joined these counties with a vote of 20-4 with one absence. Our resolution, which I helped craft, opposed the process by which the SAFE Act was enacted, criticized the new cost it will impose on counties, and called on the State to conduct public hearings to address gun violence so as to reach meaningful results. The resolution – while recognizing that there are some encouraging provisions in the SAFE Act – asks Albany leaders to take a broad view that includes school security and mental health in addition to access to firearms.
Already in Dutchess County, the Legislature has held a hearing with police agencies and school resource officers to review safety protocols. The County Executive has also mailed school districts price options for hiring sheriff deputies for school security. Soon the County may also be giving increased attention to at-risk youth and violence prevention programs. Such is the ...<< MORE >>
On a random day in February (2/20/13), there were 28 County residents jailed in Dutchess County for civil contempt. The average length of stay for those sent to jail for civil reasons in 2012 was 41.5 days, which amounts to $9,457 per person. During 2012 there were a total of 71 persons sentenced to jail for civic reasons by Dutchess County judges for an approximate taxpayer cost of $671,447.
Civil offenders are persons sentenced to jail by judges for contempt of court, which by definition includes those sentenced by civil or family courts. Most civil commitments in Dutchess County are due to a failure to follow an order to pay child support. Judges are not sentencing debtors to jail for failure to pay per se, as much as they are punishing them for disobeying a court order to pay.
The jail penalty usually comes at the request of county Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSE), who boasts that last year the threat of jail led a deadbeat parent to come up with over $20,000 in arrears. Similarly in 2011 a man came up with $76,000 to avoid jail time. Of the more than 20,000 child support cases administered by the County, less than ten percent end up in court for delinquent support payments.
The threat of jail time for nonpayment of court-ordered support may produce results but the rate at which Dutchess County judges follow through with the threat for nonpayment is astounding.
With the exception of Suffolk County (which has seven times the number of inmates as Dutchess) and Rensselaer County (which is the main out-of-county depository for Dutchess inmates), during the twelve month period from October 2011 to October 2012 Dutchess was tied with Onondaga County (home of Syracuse) for the largest civil inmate population in the state. Both Dutchess and Onondaga had 90 civil-committed inmates, notwithstanding the fact that Onondaga’s jail holds almost two-thirds as many inmates as the Dutchess jail. During this same time period only six other counties out of a total of 58 counties had more than 40 civil commitments. Twenty-one ...<< MORE >>
For the third consecutive year the County Legislature will be considering a Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP). These plans designate county policy for disposing of trash which by law must be updated every decade. The previous SWMP expired in 2010. Competing visions for management and disposal of waste has delayed adoption. In 2010 the controversy-plagued public authority, the Resource Recovery Agency, issued their report which suggested major upgrades to the Poughkeepsie-based waste-to-energy plant they manage to a tune of $80-110million. This caused many to balk.
Seeking another opinion, the Legislature (with financial assistance from the Dyson Foundation) commissioned a second report in 2011. The findings of that report, in conjunction with the Legislature’s own legislative working group, led us to strip the RRA of solid waste planning authority. Instead we vested SWMP-creation control in the re-established County Solid Waste Department. That department was staffed during the first months of 2012. This month County Solid Waste released their proposed SWMP aptly called, Rethinking Waste. That document is presently the subject of public hearings and should come before the Legislature for a vote in the months ahead.
Rethinking Waste acknowledges that the County’s Solid Waste Department is “the largest it has ever been,” and the document advocates growing the department further. It proposes diluting the RRA’s role even more with the County absorbing the RRA’s full-time Recycling Coordinator now funded by the RRA. Elsewhere the report asserts the County take a more active role in promoting recycling by education and enforcement.
The increased hand of county government in solid waste management is a reoccurring theme of the report. Already the County has stepped up enforcement of solid waste laws including hauler licensing and compliance with separation of recyclable materials, the report claims. That said, the report dances around the enforcement of flow control, which it repeatedly says should be reconsidered. Flow control is the government-enacted mandate forcing haulers to bring county-generated trash to the RRA plant. Critics of flow control argue that the practice stifles the free market by giving favorable treatment to a public authority at the expense of private carters.
The report cedes actual recycling to the private market (specifically ...<< MORE >>
On January 30th the Dutchess Legislature adopted the new county legislative district map based on the 2010 census data. This map was three years in the making. In its finished version our local District 25 retains 87 percent of its former self. The new District 25, effective in 2014, will still include the towns of Washington and Amenia and the village of Millbrook in their entirety. Gone will be the town of Stanford, which will now be wholly a part of District 19 (alongside Pine Plains, Northeast and Milan). Also part of the new District 25 will be a solid block of eastern Pleasant Valley as opposed to the current district’s odd tree-root-shaped stretch over the northern part of town. In whole the district gains 1,504 people, while losing 2,207.
In the county only three districts remain the same (Red Hook, Clinton/Rhinebeck and western Hyde Park). The borders for the rest of the county’s districts shifted to accommodate population shifts caused mostly by Hyde Park’s shrinking population and the growth experienced during the last decade in Wappinger and Fishkill. In shaping the lines, legislators focused on grouping census blocks and in keeping as many towns whole as possible. In our region various drafts proposed splitting Amenia and Millbrook, but opposition to these plans were vocalized by the general population. Likewise Stanford, who in the current map is shared between two legislators, asked to be made whole. The newly adopted map was able to achieve these ends.
The process by which the new map came to be was both transparent and bipartisan. All legislative concerns were accommodated regardless of party affiliation, and the concerns of the public raised at five public hearings were incorporated into the final draft. Even at the January 30th adoption of the map those who dissented praised the process. Yet, the final vote on the map proved contentious. Five of the Legislature’s seven Democrats and its sole Conservative voted against the map. Their objection amounted to a previously debated process question: Should sitting legislators vote on their own legislative districts?
Five years ago, the Democratic-controlled Dutchess County Legislature said “No,” adopting a local law to put in place an Independent Redistricting Commission ...<< MORE >>
Dutchess Community College is among only 30 community colleges in the State that comprise part of the SUNY educational system. Despite a semester tuition increase of $500 as part of the 2012-2013 budget, the college still prides itself on the lowest tuition in the state. It also prides itself on a 2011 enrollment of 10,316 (a growth of 30 percent over the last ten years) and a 36 percent capture rate of in-county high school grduates.
The college’s growth and expansion however is becoming a cause for concern for the county legislature who by state design is intertwined with its governance.
Legislative concern is perhaps due in part because the college relies on county funding for one third of its expenses. Despite the prolonged hardness of the economy impacting families, businesses and government causing each to scale back and cut costs, the college seems undeterred in its plans for growth. It has become routine for DCC to submit annual bond requests in large disproportion to other county departments. During December’s capital project plan meeting it was projected that DCC would ask the County Legislature to bond over $71 million over the next five years.
The first two bond requests will come before the County Legislature in February. The college is asking for $362,500 to develop a master plan to guide their expansion for the next five years, as well as to construct an electrical power system at Dutchess Hall. They’re also seeking $150,000 for the county’s share of a $300,000 purchase price to acquire land to build a parking lot. The need for additional parking is directly attributed to the college’s growth and need to accommodate increased enrollment.
Some legislators also see the need for the parking lot as a direct result of the college’s decision to build the dormitory, Conklin Hall, which after six years of controversial debate opened in August of 2012. While the administration claimed the dorms would ideally house county residents, in its first semester in-county residents ...<< MORE >>
Foreclosures increased in Dutchess County by 17.6 percent in 2012 from 2011. Of these 1,096 foreclosed properties, 154 came into county control and the County Legislature voted to place them up for public auction in an attempt to recoup unpaid taxes. By Real Property Tax law the County acquired these properties through the in rem procedure for delinquency in paying property taxes. The occasion gave the Legislature one of several opportunities in recent months to discuss the poor economy and its effect on the housing market.
A second opportunity came via a resolution that the Town of Stanford passed. Stanford’s town board asked the County Legislature for permission to structure the payment of town and county taxes by installment for the ease and convenience of its residents. By present practice residents must pay their entire municipal taxes on February 28th or face penalties. Taxpayers are not permitted to pay partial payments. State law allows first class towns (determined by population and assessed valuation) to modify the payment schedule and to accept partial payments for which Hyde Park, Wappinger and the Town of Poughkeepsie presently allow. In some cases taxpayers have until August to pay their government taxes, although interest charges apply.
Stanford, which by designation is a second class town, is dependent upon the will of the County Legislature to give its citizens the ability to make partial payments. Through a series of town meetings I attended in 2012 the town board voiced concerns that rising taxes were making it difficult for town residents to make timely tax payments (something for which the increased foreclosure rate evidences). Even though residents who choose to make partial payments would be subject to higher interest rates, the town asked the county to give them the right to collect partial payments.
However, by state law if the county acts it must adopt a whole new payment collection schedule that would be binding on all towns of the county, not just town specific. Before mandating this I spoke at the October Supervisors and Mayors Association to solicit feedback from local elected leadership. The response was mixed, with good reasons ...<< MORE >>