Guest Column

Dutchess County Well Positioned for Property Tax Freeze Credit

October 15, 2014

Dutchess County Government is statewide leader in shared services and consolidations. It positions the County to meet the Government Efficiency Plan savings criteria. In 2013, County Executive Molinaro launched the Municipal Consolidation & Shared Services Grant Program, the first of its kind in New York State. The program incentivizes local municipal projects that consolidate services, produce shared services, evaluate municipal consolidation opportunities and implementation possibilities, eliminate an entire government entity, establish the regional delivery of services, and/or offer other efficiency improvements.

County Tax Collection Process In Need of Review

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 27, 2014

Taxation is a necessary evil that takes property from private individuals for a public purpose. Those of us in government who set the tax levy owe it to the populace to continually assess the amount of taxation, as well as the collection process. We owe it to our residents to assure that the collection process is uniform and least burdensome. An initiative I am spearheading in the county seeks to do just that.

Governmental Policy on Dementia Considered

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 09, 2014

As we age, dementia is a health risk for us all. While there are 47 diseases or disorders related to dementia (most notably Alzheimer’s Disease), it is in itself not a disease. More accurately it is a term used to describe a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with the activities of daily life. As technology and medicine have increased life expectancy, so also has the prevalence of dementia increased.

Flawed County Budget Forecast: Mixed Weather Ahead

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 04, 2014

Budgeting resembles meteorology. It requires sifting through known and measurable data to predict future trends and patterns for outcomes that may never be realized. But what happens when the forecast is wrong? A bride and groom who plan an outside wedding on a weatherman’s forecast of a sun-filled sky have every right to be outraged when it downpours.

Bringing Home the Inmates

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 06, 2014

Dutchess County arrests more people than we have jail space to house. Our county jail located in Poughkeepsie houses 257 inmates. An additional 200 inmates are transported to jails in other counties whereby Dutchess County pays rent and transportation costs to shuttle the inmates back and forth for trial. This costs an annual $8 million per year.

Infirmary Building Demolition Considers Cost and Significance

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 28, 2014

Legislators will gather in May to vote on whether we can afford the demolition of numerous historic buildings long since deteriorated. We’ll also consider whether the age and significance of two of them might make them worth keeping for a while longer despite insufficient funds to renovate.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Dutchess County Supervisors purchased property on Oak Summit Road in the Town of Washington to serve as the county “poor-house,” “lunatic asylum,” and later an infirmary. Buildings were constructed gradually so that in 1998 when the Infirmary closed a campus of some ten inter-connecting buildings of deteriorating conditions stood vacant.

The Plan to Make Dutchess Airport Financially Self-Sufficient

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 14, 2014

Among the highlights of the State of the County address in March was the announcement that Dutchess County Government will pursue plans to re-privatize the Dutchess County Airport. The consultant’s report that urged this conclusion has been several years in the making. As confirmed in the report, the airport currently runs an annual deficit of $300,000 for which the county taxpayer is forced to assume.

The report compared the Dutchess County Airport to five other municipal airports of similar size and found that among them Dutchess was the only airport to manage operations itself.

Dutchess Energy Tax to Be Repealed

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 01, 2014

The Dutchess County Legislature will soon repeal the unpopular energy tax that drew the ire and anger of residents countywide. It cannot come soon enough.

Since the county budget's adoption in December - which included a 3.75% tax on home energy use effective March 1, 2014 - people all over the county have been calling, writing, emailing and filling up the editorial pages of our newspapers almost daily to tell us elected officials how outraged they are that government would consider taxing such a necessity as home heating fuel and electricity. It was the voice of the people -- stern, disgusted and at times furious - that deserves credit now that the repeal of the energy tax will soon be effected.

Dutchess County Embraces Prevention Planning

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 15, 2014

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Social workers and those in the mental health field have understood this for some time where early detection, diagnosis and intervention have been the stratagems for keeping at-risk persons - and society as a result - healthy and stable.

Following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and elsewhere where untreated and unstable individuals unleashed unthinkable death and mayhem onto innocent children and their families, Dutchess County has now also embraced a pro-active preventative approach focused on youth development and crisis outreach. County Executive Marc Molinaro and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ken Glatt are both to be commended for their leadership in this crucial area.

Keep 2014 County Borrowing to a Minimum

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 03, 2014

In 2014 the cost to run Dutchess County government, as adopted by the county budget, is $439.3 million.In addition to these annual operating costs the county borrows money for capital projects and large purchases by issuing government bonds. The value of the bonds is determined by the county’s financial health, which is determined by our spending plan and particularly how much money we keep in reserve. In recent years the county fund balance has been operating at stark levels -- so low that the county bond rating or borrowing power was downgraded in November from Aa1 to Aa2. Until the superior bond rating is again achieved, the cost to the county will be higher to borrow money.

Expansion of Mental Health Beds Should Follow Hospital Acquisition

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 07, 2014

Five years ago next month, amid challenging economic times, Saint Francis Hospital reduced its adult mental health unit by six inpatient beds. At the same time it closed its inpatient psychiatric unit for children. Since then every child and teen-ager in need of hospitalization for emotional or mental distress (28 during December) has been sent to Westchester County for treatment. Due to lack of mental health beds, mentally ill adults have also routinely been shipped out-of-county for hospitalization (41 in December).

Home Energy Tax Balances the County Budget

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 09, 2013

There are times when I question why I’m in politics. I distress when the votes go contrary to my conception of common sense and justice. The December 5, 2013 decision of the County Legislature to repeal the tax exemption on home energy use including heating fuel is one of those times. Perhaps I am too philosophically driven?

Revenue Need Dominates 2014 County Budget

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 18, 2013

The County Legislature is now engaged in review of the 2014 county budget which will be adopted by committee on November 21st, and by the full legislature on December 5th.

The County Executive’s proposed $411.1 million budget is $2 million higher than last year’s $409 million spending plan, largely due to increases in jail housing out costs, pension costs and increases in unfunded mandates like Medicaid. While spending restraints naturally dominate budget hearings this year the central budgetary topic is revenue. For the past few years Dutchess County has faced shortages in revenue, in part due to economically-caused decreases in sales tax and partly due to legislative unwillingness to raise property taxes to meet budget needs.

The Expanding Role of Public Defenders

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 08, 2013

For the third consecutive year - and amid widespread county layoffs - the Public Defender’s office continues to swell with new hires. Recent years have seen: (1) the formation of a Family Court division in the Public Defender’s Office (now in phase two of staggered hires), (2) the creation of a shared services attorney position for purposes of legal conflicts with neighboring Ulster County, and (3) October’s Legislative decision to hire Arraignment Attorneys. The Public Defender’s Office is clearly defying the trend wherein other county departments are being asked to do with less.

To be fair, the new hires in the Public Defender’s office are almost entirely paid for (at least for now) - not by county tax dollars - but by grants received from the State’s Indigent Legal Services.

Sheriff Deputies Stationed in Area Schools

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 10, 2013

The school year opened this year with an armed sheriff’s deputy patrolling school corridors in five of the county’s school districts. We call them School Resource Officers, a resurrected name for a program that once targeted teen-age substance abuse that was eliminated when federal grant money ran out. The present return of SROs is a reaction to the school violence incurred in Newtown, Conn., and before that in Columbine, CO. Five school districts have elected to participate including Pine Plains, Arlington, Wappinger, Dover and Pawling.

Gears Turning Again at RRA Facility

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 30, 2013

The waste-to-energy plant run by the public authority, Resource Recovery Agency, experienced a downfall this past June when its turbine went offline. The turbine produced income by generating electricity from the steam outputted by burning trash. The nearly three and a half months that the turbine was down resulted in loss of roughly $1 million in revenues. This caused trembles in Dutchess County government since by law RRA losses are met by taxpayer subsidies.

Activity Intensifies as County Approaches 300th Anniversary

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 12, 2013

Dutchess County is quickly approaching its 300th anniversary of limited self-goverannce. Late next month the County will observe the tercentennial of when Great Britain first permitted its colonists living in the county of Dutchess the right to vote. The county has been celebrating these democratic roots all year-long based on legislation which I authored. Activity has been intensifying as the anniversary approaches.

State of County Finances Reviewed

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 12, 2013

Legislators received an update on the county’s finances at our August meeting. As we move into the budget season for 2014 the situation looks grim.

Despite sales tax revenue exceeding budget projections by $1.4million for a total of sales tax revenue of $134.5 million Dutchess County ended last year with $6.3 million in the hole. Loss of state and federal aid is partly to blame.

Elections Board Reform Past Due

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 09, 2013

The recent grand jury indictments against the current county Democratic Elections Commissioner (46 felony and 48 misdemeanor charges) and the immediate past Republican Elections Commissioner (one felony and two misdemeanors) is devastating to the public’s trust for election integrity. The election commissioners’ chief responsibility is safeguarding the election process. Yet if we believe the indictments, the converse is true. The charges are absentee ballot tampering and the altering of votes, both with the intended result of stealing elections.

DCC Tuition Rises; Dorm Questions Avoided

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 01, 2013

“Uncomfortable” is among the words to describe the atmosphere when representatives of Dutchess Community College came before the County Legislature in July to ask for acceptance of the college budget. The community college is almost universally praised for its academics and for the advancement opportunities it affords high-school graduates and adults, but in recent months eyebrows have been rising.

To be fair, some of the criticism is the result of rising tension between the college teacher’s union and the administration due to an expired contract and a breakdown in negotiations. Faculty have been attending legislative meetings in June and July to air their discontent during public comment.

Impending Health/Mental Hygiene Department Merger Questioned

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 05, 2013

June signals the start of the County Executive’s preparations for next year’s county budget, which the Legislature will scrutinize in November before eventual adoption in December. In his January State of the County Address the County Executive announced plans to merge the County departments of Mental Hygiene (DMH) with the Health Department. This concept was again revisited in June with the resignation of Health Department Commissioner Michael Caldwell after nineteen years to make way for the impending department merger. Such an alleged cost-savings-intended measure is a disservice to the 1 in 4 adults who struggle with mental illness in our society, will undermine other legitimate county functions, and ultimately results in a higher criminal justice budget.

County Bonding Continues

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 17, 2013

In June, the County Legislature passed the ninth bond of the year when it authorized going out for bid for a consultant for a formal study in preparation for jail construction and/or expansion. This bond, for $1.2 million, will commence the project definition stage whereby a consultant draws up real facts, figures, costs, dimensions, plans and placement to solve the county’s jail overcrowding issue. After the report is issued the County will then have all the data it needs to move forward on building a new jail, or expanding the current corrections facility, or choosing not to act at all. This vote is expected to take place early in 2014.

Jail Plan and Census Considered

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 04, 2013

In June the Dutchess Legislature will vote on the first step to alleviate jail overcrowding and bring home the over 200 inmates currently housed out at other county’s jail because the Dutchess jail lacks sufficient space. Bringing home the inmates is humane as it will allow many to be closer to their families, be processed through the criminal justice system faster, and take part in the county’s generous services to curb recidivism. But the plan to bring home the inmates “ which includes the construction of temporary pods that will save $2million over housing out per year “ will not actually be voted on in June. Rather it is part of the larger plan for which the central thread is the construction of a brand new jail or the major expansion of the current facility.

Jail Action Imminent

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 21, 2013

A special meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature is planned for Tuesday, May 28th for a presentation on jail construction. The presentation will be from a consultant the Legislature authorized at our March meeting who will offer an independent evaluation to the findings of the September 2012 Criminal Justice Council report that among other things recommended new construction. This will be the first time the Legislature has considered a serious-minded bricks and mortar approach in close to a decade.

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.

Exit Plan Needed for the RRA Burn Plant

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 08, 2013

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.

Legislature Adopts Solid Waste Management Plan

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 01, 2013

There is little to 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.

County Passes First Wave of Capital Project Bonds

April 01, 2013

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.

Policy Debates Follow in the Aftermath of Newtown

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 25, 2013

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.

Taxpayers Pay When Judges Jail Debtors

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 08, 2013

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.

Solid Waste Discussion Return to County Legislature

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 19, 2013

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.

County Redistricting Complete

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 05, 2013

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.

Community College Concerns Arise

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 24, 2013

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 graduates.

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.

Preventing Foreclosure

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 10, 2013

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.

Consumer Protection and Unfair Trade Practices Considered

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 25, 2012

The past few months the ever-wobbling balance between consumers and business has been receiving a fresh look in the chambers of the Dutchess County Legislature. The Legislature initially established consumer protection practices in Dutchess County in 1991. On our agenda this year has been two bills that would seek to modify the item-pricing system used by supermarkets and impose accurate street advertising of gasoline prices for both cash and credit at gas stations.

Item Pricing: In 1991, the County passed laws to require supermarkets to place signs on grocery store shelves, individually stamp each item for sale, and made it a violation to sell an item at a higher price than the price advertised.

County Adopts 2013 Budget

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 10, 2012

After five weeks of legislative scrutiny and a board meeting that included five plus hours of legislative debate, the 2013 County Budget was adopted at 12:25 on the morning of Friday, December 7. The $409 million spending plan comes in at 0.2 percent lower than the $411 million 2012 county budget, but still raises taxes in the face of rising costs. The property tax levy will rise 2.1 percent to $105.9million, which while under the state-imposed property tax cap, will be felt by property owners as an increase equal to about 6 percent depending upon assessed values.

A possible property tax levy increase as high as 7 percent was diverted in part by the reinstatement of a 0.5 percent mortgage recording tax.

2013 Proposed County Budget Set to Prune Human Services

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 26, 2012

The County Executive’s $408.3million spending plan for 2013 proposes to raise property taxes by 2.025 percent, implement a new mortgage tax at 0.5 percent, and assures the pruning of the delivery of human services via $7.6million in spending cuts. Inherent to these spending cuts are layoffs, program eliminations and changes to hours of operations that will scale back the availability and offerings presently offered by the human service departments of mental hygiene and social services.

The Department of Social Services is scheduled to close its Poughkeepsie offices to the public on Wednesdays so that staff can “catch-up” on paperwork. Closing to the public on Wednesdays is believed to save $100,000 in overtime costs.

2013 County Budget Plan Released

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 12, 2012

November is here, and that means that lawmakers in the Dutchess County Legislature are busy scrutinizing the details of the County Executive's 2013 budget plan. Departmental budget scrutiny is taking place daily followed by amendments, which will result in an adopted county budget in early December. This year's budget was particularly difficult due to last year's over-reliance on a $23-million fund balance (reserve monies) producing a $40-million budget gap. The County Executive's proposed budget overcame the budget cap, however, through various means including:

Early Retirements and Layoffs: By offering a one-time payment of $20,000 to veteran employees, 72 senior-level employees were encouraged to retire thus avoiding the need to lay-off lower-level employees.

Airport Audit Airs All

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 29, 2012

In late October in the midst of budget preparations and talk of jail expansions, the County Comptroller released an internal audit of airport operations at the Dutchess County Airport. This audit came at the request of the County Legislature, and specifically Legislator Joe Incoronato (R-Wappinger). Incoronato has been leading the charge for an audit after determining chronic budget deficits at the airport of $2 million during the last three years. These have resulted in the annual allocation of taxpayer-funded subsidies to offset the shortfalls.

Tax Increase Expected in County Budget: Poll Says That's What People Want

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 16, 2012

In a few weeks the County Executive will release his proposed budget for 2013. Amid oppressive state mandates that consume 77% of the county budget and with declining home values that have decreased by 3.9% in the first six months of the year alone, the County Executive's budget is expected to raise taxes. The scuttlebutt is that the increase will be by a large percentage, rumored somewhere between five and 12 percent. A Poughkeepsie blogger who analyzed past trends and current markets predicted the County Executive's budget will be "the highest tax levy in the history of Dutchess County" (Dutchess County Gov't 2013 Tax Rate Likely To Be Highest in Millennium).

History Rises and Falls at October Legislative Meeting

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 12, 2012

The cause for historical preservation received both a boost and a setback at the October meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature. Therein the Legislature confirmed the County Executive’s appointment as the County’s first full-time County Historian, a position long vacant. It also voted to bond the demolition and razing of the historic Nelson House Annex, a decaying structure on Market Street that stands between the County Office Building and the Dutchess County Family Court.

The appointment of Will Tatum III as county historian fulfills a chartered county role long neglected.

County's Regimental Role in the Civil War Remembered

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 11, 2012

Events commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Dutchess County regimental role in the Civil War are being held this month. The 150th Volunteer Regiment led by Dover’s Colonel John Ketcham with chaplain support from Amenia’s Rev. T. E.

County's September Agenda Had Budget Impacts

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 01, 2012

During the month of September the County Executive began meeting with legislators and business groups to unveil portions of his 2013 Executive Budget that will be publicly released in late October. Due to a $40-million budget gap it is expected to have a sting on several fronts. Already local municipalities have had their sales taxes capped. Additionally, layoffs and tax hikes are expected in an effort to bridge the gap.

County to Withhold Tax Revenue from Towns

September 14, 2012

In the early days of September, town supervisors and village and city mayors across the county received daunting news in the mail. The County Executive informed municipalities that in an effort to balance the County Budget, he as the county’s chief financial officer would be shortchanging the amount of sales tax revenue that they will receive this year. My phone started ringing the next morning. The discussion continued this month as I made my rounds to town board meetings.

County Considers Fracking Legislation

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 06, 2012

Will fracking fracture the county legislature? Perhaps. For the first time county government takes up the contentious issue of fracking. It promises to be a several month-long discussion.

County Government Still Considering Tax Exemptions

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 30, 2012

In a few months the County Executive will present the Legislature with the 2013 County Budget, from which Legislators will then scrutinize, adjust and adopt sometime in early December. Once adopted the tax levy will be set, which is the amount to be collected from taxed properties in the county. Once determined the rate per property is set, from which based upon a resident’s property value the amount to be collected can be determined. Inasmuch as different properties have different values, so also the status of the property owner determines how much, or how little, he or she pays.

Old Projects Show New Signs of Life

The County Account by Legislator Michael N
July 23, 2012

Consistency of need and expectation for government leadership has remained steady for the people of Amenia. When I first ran for County Legislature in 2009 I heard numerous voices asking when the County was going to complete the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, whose unfinished portion north of Millerton was seen as having a negative effect on local tourism. I heard from business people concerned that without a public sewer in the hamlet of Amenia that any effort for a business center there would fail. I also heard from people concerned about the future use of the Taconic DDSO grounds after the inevitable closure of the state developmental center.

Budget Concerns Again Highlight Legislative Meeting

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 14, 2012

For the second straight month, budgetary concerns overshadowed other agenda items at July’s County Legislative meetings. The summer months are when the County Executive and department heads crunch numbers in preparation for the November 1st release date of the Executive County Budget. This year the Executive has asked county residents to tell him their priorities via an online survey that educates taxpayers on the budget process as well as specific questions. To date 1,652 residents have taken the survey, which will remain accessible on the county website through August.

Trends in Mental Health Services: The Positives of "Diversion Services"

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 26, 2012

No person with a mental health diagnosis wishes hospitalization for themselves, just as no one wants to be sick. Hospitalization is intrusive and disruptive to a person’s personal and professional lives. Not only is it costly, but for the mentally ill the recovery time is computed in weeks, rather than days. Hospitalization can therefore be fatal to employment and relationships, thereby making it much longer for life to “return to normal.”

“Diversion Services” was a concept initially championed by the peer movement of consumers of mental health services to mean “alternatives” to inpatient hospitalization.

Trends in Mental Health Services: The Dangers of "Diversion"

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 21, 2012

For the last few decades “ and renewed in recent weeks “ I have acted as an involuntary observer of our community mental health system in that my mother is a consumer of mental health services. To correct any stigma-induced inferences invoked by that first sentence I should mention at the onset that my mother has a college education, holds a job, owns property, volunteers in the community, has her own private health insurance (two in fact) and pays taxes.

My mom’s health and wellbeing is impacted by the community mental health system, which is a mixture of public/private institutions dictated by public policy that appears ever in flux. Through her experiences “ and through mine as a caretaker and as a son “ I have witnessed the ebbs and flows as changes in public dollars, attitudes and variances of opinion on the civil rights of the mental ill have both progressed and regressed.

County Record-Keeping Takes Giant Step Forward

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 12, 2012

County Legislative meetings air live on the Internet via the County website. Meeting minutes, agendas and voting records are also printed, bound and in years past scanned onto microfilm, or taped onto audio and video tapes. Then alongside other county documents these records are filed in storage in a warehouse inaccessible to most of the public, save the County historian (a position currently vacant). In this Information Age, Dutchess County’s record-keeping and preservation efforts are about to take a giant step forward through an important policy shift.

Tax Relief for the Disabled; In Dutchess County Its Time Has Come

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 05, 2012

We all know too well how burdensome property taxes have become. They are particularly oppressive to those on fixed or low incomes. Our state legislators in Albany rightfully took note of this in 1998 (amended in 2006) by enacting exemptions that provide some relief to the two groups who by virtue of age or handicap struggle the most with ever-increasing taxes: seniors and the disabled. While the State treated both groups equally, unfortunately here in Dutchess County the implementation of the tax relief to these deserving groups was less so.

Bleak Numbers Cast Shadows Over County Finances

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 07, 2012

County Legislators received an update on the County’s fiscal picture in late April from budget and finance personnel. It was bleak, as was to be expected. Afterall the 2012 budget when passed did not balance spending with revenues but instead borrowed extensively ($23million) from our reserve funds. This left the County at the end of 2011 with $7.8million in its fund balance, which is only 1.9 percent of the County’s $411million operating budget.

A Wassaic Slaughterhouse??? Future Use for Taconic DDSO Considered

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 24, 2012

Among the most pressing economic issues discussed by attendees at a recent meeting of the Harlem Valley Chamber of Commerce was the future use of the Taconic DDSO grounds. Community members felt that something business-oriented should be attracted and that government leaders should assist in the conversation, particularly because the property is state-owned. To that end in recent times I have been carrying this topic forward in community conversations in asking local people what they would like to see. One idea that has surfaced is a Wassaic Slaughterhouse.

County's April Legislative Meeting Has Broad Scope

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 16, 2012

Dutchess County government welcomed its newest legislator, David Sherman from Northeast, at its April meeting. Sherman was selected to succeed Legislator Gary Cooper who resigned to take a county job in the highway department. The meeting provided insight into various components of the function and roles played by county government.

The meeting included several presentations including a State of the Environment slideshow narrated by Washington resident and Environmental Management Council member Vicki Kelly.

County Tax Exemption for the Disabled Proposed as Just

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 09, 2012

This column has recently been considering philosophical theory and contemporary practice regarding the issue of justice with respect to taxation practices. The impetus has been being a county law I am sponsoring to grant tax exemption status to disabled property owners below certain incomes. Such an exemption works by granting a property tax discount to those who qualify, while expecting the rest of the community to make up the difference. In a day and age where class warfare is on the rise, and there is much voter angst being channeled against so-called “entitlements,” I have been looking for justification to Aristotle’s ancient discourses on justice and the role of the State.

Caps and Exemptions: The Ever-Evolving Tax System

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 02, 2012

A year ago the New York State Legislature shrewdly granted social acceptance to the concept of raising taxes and gave license to politicians statewide to annually do so absent the customary public outcry. Disguised as a property tax cap, state leaders marketed, passed, and then patted themselves on the back for giving school districts, county legislatures and town boards the freedom to annually raise taxes by reframing the debate. No longer is the question whether to increase, but by how much. In essence the property tax cap stipulates that taxes rise each year by two percent (3.3 percent in Dutchess) unless legislators crave more.

The Injustices of Legal Plunder

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 20, 2012

There’s no law without philosophy. I’ve tried to stay true to this simple maxim in both my ruminations and approach to law-making. I constantly ask myself to what underlying principle is any law rooted, and how does it fare in particular with the U.S. and NYS Constitutions to which we legislators swear allegiance.

2012 To Be A Costly Year for Elections

The County Account by Legislator Michael N
March 02, 2012

In 1713, Dutchess County residents elected their government leaders for the first time. Fast forward to 2012. This year the size of government and its inability to coordinate will provide unparalleled election opportunities in rapid succession. Unfortunately each comes with a steep price tag.

Costs and Fairness of Child Support Considered

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 17, 2012

Separately in recent weeks, Dutchess County has been considering the gigantic cost to house inmates at the county jail, and the increasing costs of indigent counsel at Family Court including the approved proposal to utilize public defenders in family court matters. I married these two issues together in asking jail administrators about the jail census. I learned that approximately one inmate per day at the County jail is there because he (mostly men) failed to pay child support. This was disturbing to learn since county jailing costs are so high due to overcrowding (we pay $6million a year to house out inmates to other counties).

Legislative Chairman Outlines 2012 Agenda

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 08, 2012

At the County Legislature's opening session in early January we re-elected Rob Rolison as our chairman for the third consecutive year. Chairman Rolison spoke of our policy priorities for the coming year in his acceptance speech. Excerpts are included below:

Solid Waste
"In 2010 I created a Resource Recovery Reform Committee that was designed to investigate ways to improve our recycling rate and reduce the County subsidy from our waste-to-energy facility. Under the leadership of Legislator Jim Miccio (Fishkill) this committee has researched and debated how best to fulfill its mission.

County's Transition Is an Opportunity for Reflection on Our Heritage

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 02, 2012

The New Year’s holiday causes us to look forward to 2012 with anticipation, but also to reflect back on the previous year. With the transfer of power from County Executive Bill Steinhaus to newly-elected Marc Molinaro, Dutchess County government has also been looking both forwards and backwards. The Legislature recognized Steinhaus for his long service to county government at the final county legislative meeting in December. First elected in 1991, he served as County Executive for 20 years and as County Clerk for thirteen prior to that.

County Mental Health Clinics to Change in 2012

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 19, 2011

Dutchess County’s 2012 budget includes a shift from continuing day treatment (CDT) mental health clinics to those with a personalized recovery emphasis. This change will be felt this year in Millbrook, Dover, Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie and Beacon. It is a decision that as it stands now will result in the layoff of 22 jobs in April, and the all but certain legal arbitration initiated by their union. The shift from continuing day treatment where participants go daily for continuous care is to a clinic model that is designed to be temporary care.

Adopted 2012 County Budget Reflects Policy Change

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 13, 2011

By a vote of 16-9, the Dutchess County Legislature passed the 2012 County Budget in early December. The budget raises the tax levy by 3.3 percent but keeps it under the state-imposed tax cap because pension costs and other expenses are exempt from the two-percent cap. Due to declining home values the tax rate will increase about six percent, which translates into about a $50 increase for a home valued at $250,000. While some including the County Comptroller have been critical of the budget’s sizeable reliance on fund balance ($25 million) Moody’s Investor’s Service seemed less concerned instead renewing the County’s Aa2 bond rating a week prior to the budget’s adoption.

Assigned Counsel Poised to Change at Family Court

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 04, 2011

At the time of this writing the County Budget has passed from committee and is awaiting approval by the full Legislature. An important institutional change that seems imminent is the shift in assigned counsel at Family Court to a public defender model. All three family court judges spoke at length against a public defender model at public hearings and in letters alluding to anticipated inefficiencies in quality of representation, cost and workability. Yet the public defender model appears ready to succeed largely because it is funded in part by a grant, freeing up tax money to be spent on other needs.

County Executive's 2012 Budget Released

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 13, 2011

On November 1st County Executive Bill Steinhaus issued his final County Budget, for which the Legislature will spend most of November scrutinizing and amending before final adoption in December. After twenty years at the county’s helm Steinhaus will retire in January. In a sense his final budget appears a parting gift. It includes not a single cut to county contract agencies including Millbrook’s Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The County's Job Front Update

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 21, 2011

In our current economy where unemployment remains high people are looking to government for solutions. While job creation is not a traditional governmental role, creating and fostering environments ripe for economic development and job creation has become an expectation among the electorate. In September and October, the County Legislature received reports from the county Industrial Development Agency, Economic Development Corporation and the Workforce Investment Board on their efforts to revitalize the county’s economic health.

Authorized by 1976 state law, Dutchess County’s Industrial Development Agency exists as a public benefit corporation to induce companies to invest capital in projects within the county that will ultimately grow the county tax base and create jobs.

2012 County Budget Preview: Indigent Legal Counsel

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 14, 2011

On November 1st the County Executive will deliver his proposed 2012 County Budget. The details of the budget are presently unknown, but one issue that is certain to be included is the form and funding of indigent legal counsel at Dutchess County Family Court. This cost soared in 2010 to about $2million.

Last year’s budget included a novel idea to convert the indigent legal counsel model used in family court proceedings from an assigned counsel panel of private attorneys to a public defender model utilizing county-employed attorneys.

The Report Before the Report: County Considers Jail Options

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 07, 2011

In September the full Legislature heard from SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) on a draft report of their, “A Collaborative Approach to County Jailing in the Hudson Valley.” The report compares and contrasts situations in five neighboring counties and offers both suggestions and statistics.

Dutchess County leads the state in housing out inmates. We presently provide over a third (34.7%) of the boarded out county inmates in all of New York. CRREO’s report calls this a “crisis in jail capacity.” The net cost per inmate per day in Dutchess County is $227.88.

The Changing Face of Mental Hygiene Services

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 28, 2011

Now what? That’s the question mental health providers are asking as the fallout of Governor Cuomo’s state budget is felt in Dutchess County and throughout the state.

Cuomo's budget severely reduced the state Office of Mental Health, which until recently managed mental health care through county departments of mental hygiene. Instead under the budget coordination of care will be turned over during the next two years to private BMOs (behavioral management organizations), who for a profit will determine levels of care.

The Societal Effects of Grocery Prices

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 15, 2011

Part 3 of a 3 part series regarding the escalating price of food

Rising food costs, which have increased about 12 percent over the last decade, may not be a major concern to the poorest of the poor. Most receive their food via government safety-net programs via Food Stamps that locally has seen a 97% increase in the last four years!

Food costs, however, are proving a considerable hardship to struggling families and retirees whose incomes are slightly above the poverty threshold. The USDA predicts that one out of seven American households are experiencing hunger in this bad economy.

Still Concerned Over Rising Food Costs?

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 10, 2011

Part 2 of a 3 part series regarding the escalating price of food

Complaining about rising food costs is easy to do, understanding it less so. Before lamenting upon rising food costs at the supermarket a systems-wide analysis and some historical perspective is appropriate. This installment is rooted in the panel discussion transcripts of last December’s joint-departments of Agriculture and Justice hearings in Washington D.C.

America enjoys the best agricultural and food system in the world.

Are Rising Food Costs A Cause for Concern?

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 29, 2011

In recent years the cost of food has been escalating. Supermarket prices spiked in 2008 by 8 percent including a 69-cent rise in a five-pound bag of flour, and 58-cent rise in a 32-ounce bottle of corn oil. In 2009 fresh vegetables increased by more than 4 percent, while beef went up 6 percent and pork increased 11 percent (meat prices are affected by rising grain feed costs).

Last December the U.S.

Cause for Jail Expansion Advances

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 14, 2011

The findings of a commissioned report on jail-alternatives coupled with $3.6million in emergency spending that the Legislature appropriated in July to cover increased jail costs spurred the Legislature this month to form a committee to study the jail situation. This committee, which will report back in December, is expected to recommend jail expansion.

Under consideration is the county’s flawed decade’s old policy of housing-out inmates to other counties’ jails. In July, the daily housed-out count exceeded 200 for the first time in county history.

Free Speech v. Peaceful Burials National Debate Comes to Dutchess

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 08, 2011

It’s not every day that local government considers legislation of current national import. Yet, that’s what the County Legislature did this month is in debating a draft of a local law prohibiting demonstrations at funeral services. The bill was rooted in the March 2, 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Snyder v.

Homelessness Response Remains Constant Despite Anniversary

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 29, 2011

In July the County Legislature passed a resolution to allocate $989k in federal funding to further rent assistance to low-income people and affordable housing opportunities in the county.

Noteworthy is that July 22nd marked the 14th anniversary of the historic federal McKinny Ventro Act. Therein Congress found that the nation faced “an immediate and unprecedented crisis due to lack of shelter.” It declared that “states, local units of government and private voluntary organizations have been unable to meet the basic needs of all the homeless” and approved the “use of public resources and programs to meet these critically urgent needs.”

The McKinney Ventro Act, adopted and signed into law by President Reagan in 1987 was the first significant legislative response to homelessness. It established the elaborate framework and a multitude of specific programs that continue to deliver services to the local homeless population today.

County Finances Show Improvement

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 15, 2011

Gasoline prices dictate consumer behavior, which during the summer months sometimes means the difference between a vacation and a “staycation.” The high cost of gasoline and home heating oil is also causing government leaders to think differently about our budgets via sales tax revenues. This month county leaders received a report on the close-out of 2010 finances, which were largely affected by higher-than expected sales tax revenues. These favorable revenue reports, after many years of dismal reports, allowed us to move forward with consensus on projects requiring both spending and borrowing.

After two years of revenue shortfalls and unanticipated expenditures for state mandates, 2010 was a year of conservative budgeting.

Medical Examiner's Office Approved

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 11, 2011

Innumerate the core functions of government. It will be hard-pressed to find many who include a medical examiner. Few realize how commonplace autopsies and medical investigations have become in the functioning of government. Yet the Sheriff’s Office and local police forces rely heavily on the Medical Examiner for evidence collection.

Save Money by Converting Psych Center into a Jail

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 29, 2011

Dutchess County is presently housing out about 182 inmates per day to correctional facilities in other counties because the Dutchess County jail lacks capacity to serve our public safety needs. In July the Sheriff will request the Legislature approve $1.6million, in addition to the $2.6million included in the 2011 County Budget, to cover housing-out costs. Also in July the Legislature will consider a second request from the Sheriff for an additional $1million for overtime expenses associated with assisting inmates “with medical and mental issues”. With the announcement that the State is closing Hudson River Psychiatric Center perhaps as early as October 1, 2011 the County should immediately seize upon this possibility for transferring ownership of the psychiatric center to the County to serve as a secondary county jail.

The Bonding Season Begins

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 27, 2011

Summer begins for those of us in the County Legislature with multiple proposals to consider bonding money to finance infrastructure and capital improvements on county property. Certainly the County has responsibilities to take care of its assets, replace those that outlive their usefulness, maintain safety, and make prudent decisions to keep county government functioning. With limitations on tax revenue and many competing and noble interests vying for budgetary tax proceeds, governments rely on bonding to finance those large projects and purchases for which no cash is on hand. Investors provide county government with money upfront and bonds are issued with promises to repay over time.

All the Rage: Domestic Violence and Public Policy

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 05, 2011

Last year Dutchess County saw five deaths stemming from domestic violence including a Pleasant Valley woman who resides on the western edge of our legislative district. The horrors of these acts demand government and societal responses including comfort/support for victims, preventative efforts, and swift justice.

Domestic violence is receiving much legislative attention today because of its front-page headlines. While this is good for public policy so as to strengthen laws and supports, there are dangers.

Local Volunteers Serve the County Well

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 26, 2011

Author and columnist Emma Bornbeck once compared volunteers to yachts noting in admiration that  “they could stay moored where it’s safe and still justify their being, but they choose to cut through the rough waters” for a nobler purpose. Government benefits considerably from citizen volunteers.  In recent months the County Legislature has made appointments to several important committees and boards with good representation from our region.

The Environmental Management Council’s reappointed members include Vicky Kelly of Millbrook, and newcomer Nicole Burris from Wassaic. Formed in 1972, the eleven-member EMC exists to advise the public and government on local environmental issues as well as update the county’s Natural Resource Inventory which they did last year to many accolades.

The "Emerging Epidemic" of Bedbug Infestation

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 23, 2011

My colleagues in the County Legislature raised their eyebrows recently when I submitted proposed legislation about bedbugs. No one regularly talks about bedbug infestation. But following my report on the county at the February Village of Millbrook meeting, one woman did. She told me bedbugs have become quite a problem locally and asked me to look into it.

State Policy Shift Endangers Mental Health Services

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 16, 2011

This week’s announcement of the state’s closure of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center and accompanying community residences is a step in the wrong direction. At a time when Dutchess County is already facing a record number of housing out of mental health patients to other counties (87 in March) we will now be doubling this number due to HRPC's October closure. This is a tremendous disservice to our neighbors and family members who struggle with mental illness. The distance will hamper treatment by disconnecting families from treatment and stress discharge planning thereby jeopardizing recovery.

Dutchess Redistricting Begins: Outcome Unknown

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 09, 2011

Speculation about political races is almost as fascinating to political watchers as uncertainty about the redistricting of legislative districts is daunting. This year, upon release of the U.S. Census figures, legislators on the federal, state and county levels are redrawing their maps to reflect population shifts. In Dutchess County the effort to redistrict has begun but the delayed release of the Census data (end of March) made it too late for a new map to go into effect for this year’s election.

Solid Waste at a Crossroads

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 02, 2011

Setting policy on solid waste is not something many of us dwell on, yet how society disposes of its trash has many ramifications to the environment, public health, wildlife and the quality of life of our communities.

As a child growing up in the 1980s I recall family vacations in the Adirondack Mountains where my parents would take us to visit the town dump (landfill) to observe black bears feeding on human garbage. Then one year the town dump was replaced with a transfer station. A similar policy shift in solid waste management was occurring in Dutchess County around this time as landfills around the county were similarly replaced with transfer stations.

The Fate of HRPC and State Hospitals

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 25, 2011

Both branches of county government considered the local delivery of mental health services in April. The County Legislature voted to increase housing beds by 15 (apartments which will permit hospitalized mental patients at Hudson River Psychiatric Center to move into the community) at a time when the shortage of inpatient hospital beds reached an all-time high in March. This was done amid rumors and condemnation from the Executive Branch that the State is contemplating permanently closing HRPC.

Tending to the mentally ill officially became a government duty in New York State in 1894 when the Constitution was amended to create the State Commission in Lunacy (renamed State Hospital Commission in 1912).

"County Heritage Days" Celebration to be an Annual Event

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 18, 2011

Dutchess County has a heritage in which we can all be justly proud. From the county’s role in the American War for Independence to the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates leading to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, to the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the 1944 Presidential election with Dutchess County at the center that pitted FDR versus New York’s governor from Pawling, Thomas Dewey, Dutchess County’s history is one in which we can be proud. Thanks to a resolution passed this month in the County Legislature which I authored the achievements and milestones of our legacy will be remembered annually.

Veteran Population Down, But Appreciation Up

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 12, 2011

Nationally, military operations have expanded as we enter our third concurrent war. Locally, the veteran count has diminished according to census data showing the County’s total veteran population has decreased by 20% since 2000. The one constant seems to be the public policy goal of finding ways that we can show our appreciation for the sacrifices given by our men and women in uniform.

Dutchess County is currently home to 21,093 veterans, which is down from the 26,463 population reported in the 2000 census.

County Legislative Update

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 31, 2011

In the first quarter of 2011, the County Legislature made progress on several fronts.

Chairman In January we re-elected Legislator Rob Rolison from Poughkeepsie as our chairman for a second term. Legislative priorities outlined in his Chairman’s address included a renewed commitment to fiscal accountability, citizen participation and transparency, and focused specifically on addressing jail overcrowding, and improving the county’s role in solid waste management. Of note, Chairman Rolison made his second official visit to our district in February as part of Senator Greg Ball’s summit for elected officials held in Amenia.

Help is on the Way for Public Transportation in Rural Dutchess County

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 21, 2011

Those of us who have chosen the rural life know that country charm comes with a price. We must travel further for amenities and sacrifice conveniences for the tranquility of our rural lifestyles. For some of our neighbors, however, the distance to reach medical care, groceries stores or employment can be a struggle especially for our seniors and those without access to a motor vehicle of their own.

Up until January 2009, the needs of our rural communities were being met at least partially by the County LOOP bus service.

Probation Department Assumes Many Roles

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 11, 2011

The Dover Probation Office merged with the Millbrook office in early 2011. This month, their county director received a state award for the department’s innovated and proactive strategies. So what exactly does a Probation Office do? After reading the 2009 Probation Department’s Annual Report it became clear to me that probation today is a lot more than meets the eye.

Teen-Age Suicide Prevalent but Preventable

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 05, 2011

The suicide rate for Americans under the age of twenty climbed by 18% from 2003 to 2004. It increased by 50% for kids between the ages of ten and fourteen from 1981-2007. In 2007, 4,410 kids between the ages of 15-24 took their own lives. These are shocking statistics.

COLLAPSED The Fate of Human Services May Mirror that of the Infirmary's East Wing

the County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 25, 2011

The recent demolition of the east wing of the county infirmary in Millbrook has renewed interest in its history, wherein it once served as the county’s poor house and later an infirmary. A snow-collapsed roof and asbestos infestation caused the east wing to be torn down in late February. That building is now gone but the societal needs it once served remain.

The Infirmary (alongside the decaying and boarded-up buildings of Poughkeepsie’s Hudson River Psychiatric Center (HRPC) and Dover’s Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center) has been intertwined with our community’s approach to society’s indigent, insane, ill and elderly populations.

Redistricting Revisited Trust Issues at Center of Debate

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 03, 2011

The seemingly mundane task of drawing legislative election district lines is generating unrest and concern in some quarters. Traditionally a task assigned to legislators, the trend in recent times has been to delegate this to a private citizen commission. In 2009, the Democrat-controlled Dutchess Legislature passed a law to delegate redistricting power to a five-member group, a move that in December of last year the current Republican-controlled body repealed. This was then vetoed by the County Executive who sided with Republican legislators in their reasoning that legislators should be drawing the lines, but felt the 25-member body needed to shrink to 15.

A Letter We Endorse - Wetlands Protection and Long Range Planning

Fernando Nottebohm
January 24, 2011

To: Town of Washington Supervisor Florence Prisco.

Dear Fussy:

I am sorry that I will be missing two important Town meetings, one on wetlands, the other on visioning. I suspect this is welcome news to you, since I tend to get impatient at those meetings, but I would like to share a few thoughts on topics that will come up at those meetings.

Updated Natural Resource Inventory Provides Localized Environmental Insight

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 19, 2011

Amphibian presence is indicative of a healthy ecosystem. This advice given to me by my uncle, a seventh grade biology teacher, years ago while on an Adirondack hike has stayed with me over the years especially whenever a frog, toad, or red eft has appeared along a subsequent hiking trail. It also came to mind while reading the chapter on Water Resources of Dutchess County of the recently published Natural Resource Inventory.

Therein the NRI was documenting how wetlands comprise 6.4% (33,000 acres) of Dutchess County, and are valued today for their benefits in storing floodwaters, recharging power in the renewal of pollutants, as well as supporting unusual plant life and of course breeding areas for amphibians.

Community-Building Begins with the Home

the County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 11, 2011

In 2010, ten district residents formally made the U.S. their home by taking the Oath of Citizenship. I officially welcome our new citizen neighbors: Jean Luc Guenia, Jonna Christina Adamsson, Yesenia Santos-Vasquez, Rowena Susan Gill, and Vasyl Kornevych of Millbrook; Elizabeth Jane Renwick, Antonia Arcenia Ramierez, Soha Ossama Hammad, and Amr Mahmoud Abou Eid of Amenia; and Adil Houssani of Pleasant Valley.

Also during 2010, over 11,000 more county residents went homeless than in 2009 with 26,796 sum individual nights spent in emergency shelters compared to 15,059 the previous year.

County Reapportionment Begins

the County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 19, 2010

Despite an overshadowing by the 2011 County Budget (which was formally adopted this week without vetoes), -- and following the December 1st release of the U.S. Census -- the Legislature took the first step towards setting 2011 county legislative boundaries in the decennial redistricting process.

Our first act was to repeal a 2009 Charter change that had redirected authority for setting district boundaries from legislative control to a five-member citizen’s committee. I was a sponsor of this repeal that passed the Legislature 14-10.

2011 County Budget: Compressed but Balanced

the County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 09, 2010

Just shy of 2am on Wednesday 12/8 the County Legislature adopted its 2011 budget with a zero increase in spending. Numerous tough decisions were made amid a grueling process that forced us to reshape and reprioritize.

A total of 83 positions were eliminated including 43 occupied. Some of these corresponded to department restructuring including the merger of the Office of the Aging, Veteran’s Services and Youth Bureau into the new Department of Services.

2011 County Budget Concerns

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 05, 2010

At the time of this writing, the 2011 County Budget is days away from adoption. A preliminary version was adopted by the Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee on 11/23, a public hearing was held on 12/2, and on 12/7 the full Legislature will make the final decisions resulting in the 2011 Adopted Budget. Following the adoption, the budget will then go to the County Executive who can veto any lines, for which a veto override legislative session is scheduled for December 16th.

There are many issues involved in this year’s budget including many deep cuts to contracted agencies as rising state mandates left little discretionary spending.

Jail's in, Farms are out in 2011 Capital Plan

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 28, 2010

Amid Budget talks, the County Legislature has also been working to finalize the 2011 Capital Improvement Program which outlines priorities and recommends projects to be undertaken in the coming year. Once adopted the Legislature then considers each project throughout the year to determine cost and scheduling. Inclusion in the plan does not guarantee projects will advance or if funding will be made available.

For the second year in a row no money has been allocated for open space and farmland protection.

Manage the Mandates to Curb Spending

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
November 16, 2010

County budget hearings are taking place on a daily basis now in Poughkeepsie as legislators perform their role leading to the eventual adoption of the County Budget on December 7th. What makes this year tough is the volume of state mandated spending imposed on the county. This leaves little discretionary room for County leaders to finance current programs and services without raising taxes. As the economy has roughened, the cost to perform these mandated services has also risen.

When "No" Votes Really Count

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 29, 2010

Agreeing can be easy. It is saying “No” that sometimes can be the tougher choice. During October my representation in the County Legislature was marked by two key “No” votes.

We considered granting a ground lease to Dutchess Community College for the purpose of constructing dormitories (at their expense) capable of housing 450 students, a concept the college has been advancing for the past seven-years.

Domestic Violence and Family Court Stats on the Rise

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
October 18, 2010

In September, the County Legislature approved an additional $300,000 appropriation to pay the cost of assigned counsel at the Dutchess County Family Court. This was the second vote this year to bolster the assigned counsel budget line (nor is it expected to be the last). The caseload at Family Court has been rising including those involving domestic violence.

Petitions filed in Family Court are up in 2010 (9,218) compared to the same eight months in 2008 (8,919), but beneath 2009’s (9,794) numbers.

RRA Alternatives Being Sought

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 24, 2010

Scrutiny on the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency has increased with the recent release of several reports: (1) a legislative working group report, (2) a critical review from the County Comptroller, and (3) a proposed Solid Waste Management Plan from the RRA suggesting how the County should manage its garbage disposal for the next 10-20 years. The issuance of these documents culminated in a special meeting of the Legislature on September 13th.

The Comptroller’s Report builds upon a litany of complaints that have been well-documented in the media. In general the Comptroller found the RRA has been given too much autonomy in its operations and finances; that it has not been capable of managing its operations efficiently; and that the County as a whole has failed to sufficiently monitor and question RRA expenditures.

Jail Population Soars amid Summer's Spike in Crime

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
September 16, 2010

Perhaps it should be called the Summer of Crime. In August 2010, Dutchess County reached its highest-ever incarceration with a jailed population of 427 inmates. This was up from July’s previous high of 411. Prior to that the county’s highest monthly population was 387 reached in November 2008 and then again this past June.

Promoting Farming: Cornell Cooperative and 4-H

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 27, 2010

Imagine the Dutchess County Fair without farm animals. For many the animals take center-stage in their fair experience, which is a real testament to society’s continuing endearment and respect for farmers and future-farmers involved with the 4-H program.

Legislators were treated to presentations made by Cornell Cooperative Extension at the fair’s start about their four programs areas: environment, agriculture, family and nutrition services and 4-H. These presentations impressed upon us the important role of CCE in our communities in education to county farmers, town Conservation Advisory Councils, parents and families, as well as children involved in 4-H.

Sticking Up for Small Towns

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 21, 2010

Sometimes the greatest challenge for the County’s twelve rural towns is being heard. It’s too easy for our interests to become overlooked, overpowered or overshadowed by the interests of large towns. In recent weeks I was twice able to represent the small town interests of our towns with the recently adopted election cost-sharing formula and by admonishing the influential Poughkeepsie-Dutchess Transportation Council (PDTC) to include us in their policy-making.

Last December (prior to my tenure) the County adopted the concept of billing the towns for the cost of elections and chose $988k in the county budget, as the number for collection.

The Plan to End Homelessness - Part II

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 11, 2010

The homelessness epidemic that first surged in our country following the deinstitutionalization movement has expanded in recent decades with the rising cost of living amid the growing shortage of affordable housing. A Millbrook resident wrote me following last month’s column on homelessness, how a friend remarked during the 1970s that unless eradicated within a generation homelessness would become a tolerated staple in our society. Such has been the case as homelessness has not gone away; those who are homeless still suffer losses in their dignity and sense of self-worth; and society pays a hefty cost.
An example of the costs to society is the fact that homeless persons tend to be hospitalized more frequently and on average, four days longer than non-homeless persons.

Tanning Ban Proposal Renews Health Board Debate

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 06, 2010

Melanoma skin cancer affects one million Americans each year with young women between the ages of 25-29 particularly prone to melanoma from tanning-bed ultra-violet ray exposure. Statistics such as these were considered by the County Legislature this month during deliberation over a proposed local law to ban commercial tanning bed use by teens between the ages of 16-18.

Tanning ban legislation is currently being considered on the state level and for several months has been the topic of discussion at the County Board of Health. I was pleased to see this issue brought before the County Legislature “ not just the health board “ because the multi-layered policy discussions that ensue appear most appropriate for lawmaker consideration.

County Layoffs Likely in 2011

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 01, 2010

Layoffs are coming to Dutchess County. With 86 such layoffs in the past two years alone the prospect of layoffs should come as no surprise “ especially when considering the state of the economy (both local and state). But even so the very notion of job losses is enough to run Goosebumps up and down one’s spine; as it should. The expectation as we approach the November budget season is that layoffs in Dutchess will be larger than in years past.

Remember to Recognize Public Servants

July 25, 2010

Public service takes on many forms. This is easy to see from recent festivals and parades, and how the strengths of our community derives from those who answer the call to service in our fire departments, libraries, citizen committees and in elected office. It's important to recognize and remember.

In June, the County remembered former Millbrook Mayor and County Department of Public Works Commissioner Michael Murphy with a dedication ceremony at the Morgan Lake Dutchess County Rail Trailhead in Poughkeepsie.

Harmonious Voting Marked July Legislative Meeting

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 15, 2010

The Legislature radiated harmony at our July board meeting where many important and substantive items passed. This doesn’t imply that the decisions were easy (some were tough), nor that all the decisions were unanimous, but the prevalence of affirmative votes on both sides of the aisle surely gave the feeling that we did fine by our constituents.

The most controversial matter passed with only three dissenting votes. This was a $3.5million bond to purchase and install a new countywide telephone system.

County Debt Service Rises with Budget Six Months Away

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
July 03, 2010

Borrowing money for worthwhile ventures has become a staple in our society. The same is true for government though the issuance of bonds. Responsible stewardship is nevertheless needed to make sure the incurred debt is commensurate with the benefit to be received before indebting future generations. The June County Legislative meeting had us weighing heavily whether to borrow.

Eminent Domain Examined Amid Proposed Rail Trail Parking

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 14, 2010

Market Street in Poughkeepsie is recognized as the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution. It is there that the agreement to ratify the Constitution was reached on the premise that a Bill of Rights would protect the rights of individuals against the tyrannies of government. I am thinking a lot about the Constitution this month at the County Legislature Chambers also on Market Street.

New Law Empowers Health Decision-Making

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
June 04, 2010

The law changed for the better June 1, 2010 when the NY’s Family Health Care Decisions Act went into effect. This monumental law accomplishes two things: (1) it codifies the ability of persons to control their medical treatment after they lose decision-making capacity by appointing a proxy; and for the first time (2) it establishes a hierarchy of surrogate decision-makers when no choice of agent has been made. This is good news for New Yorkers of any age and particularly the elderly and ill. Yet, gaps still exist, and on the local level I hope to try to fill one of these gaps.

Election Costs: An Exercise in Equity?

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 28, 2010

Historically towns have paid the cost of elections. This was transferred to the county in 2006 following the federal Help America Vote Act. In December 2009, County Legislators voted to budget a revenue line of $988,395 to be collected from the county’s 22 towns and cities for their election costs. Who pays concerns all levels of government.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 24, 2010

In 1949, the U.S. Congress declared May to be Mental Health Awareness Month to raise public awareness and public discourse about the prevalence of mental illness in society. At the time Congress was rightfully concerned by the large number of men who were found unfit for military service when applying to serve in World War II. Over 1.8 million men were denied admission into the armed forces due to mental health issues.

Much to be Learned from Tick Awareness Month

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 17, 2010

Thirty-five years ago the first case of Lyme disease was discovered in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. Before long the black-legged ticks that carry Lyme disease migrated to Dutchess County. Dutchess soon ranked first among the most Lyme-infected counties in the country and still ranks today in the top ten. Four tick-borne pathogens have since been discovered, all present in Dutchess County including two clusters in Eastern Dutchess.

Health Board Oversteps with Mandatory Fluoridation

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 07, 2010

Fluoridation has been accepted for some time by those in the dental world as a resource for building strength in bones particularly teeth by preventing teeth decay, and perhaps that was the reason behind an April 15th Board of Health vote to require the additive of fluoride in public drinking supplies. This change would affect residents who live or work in Millbrook, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, East Fishkill, and beyond who drink, wash or otherwise access the public water supply.

The Health Board’s decision to add fluoride is highly controversial in substance as well as process.

Legitimate concerns exist.

Poughkeepsie's Solid Waste "Tag" Game

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
May 03, 2010

Warm weather ushers in children’s play including the classic game of “Tag.” Soon cries of “Not It” will be heard wherever children gather. Children learn early that role designation is the only way for games to work. Such cries of “Not It” are also being heard cross-county in Poughkeepsie as elected and appointed leaders involved with the county Resource Recovery Agency try to make that entity “work” for the taxpayer.

The county’s Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) is due for updating this year.

Energy Theme Prevalent at Aprils' County Legislature Meeting

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 22, 2010

Energy. The County Legislature’s April meeting was energized as much in its substance as it was in spirit. The meeting began with a vote to accept $2,328,800 of federal economic stimulus funds for energy-saving assessments and improvements at 23 county buildings. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sough to increase energy efficiency nationwide via a $452-million effort and our County Legislature vote will help to do just that.

The Impact of Election Decisions

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 08, 2010

Decisions have impacts. This is as true of the decisions we make as individuals as it is of government. Following the 2000 presidential election, Congress enacted the Help Americans to Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, followed by New York State’s 2005 enactment of the Election Reform Modernization Act (ERMA). The impact of these decisions is being felt in Dutchess County in recent years in the way that we conduct elections most notably in two distinct areas: the cost to put on elections, and the type of machines used.

Needs of the Needy Being Met by Department of Social Services

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
April 01, 2010

n 1938, the people of New York State ratified a new Constitution including Article XVII dedicated to the Social Welfare, which reads in part, “The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions.” On the county level the Department of Social Services helps meet these needs.

A review of DSS’ programs might benefit community members struggling in today’s tough economy. For the rest of us, know that your taxes are making the difference in the lives of the poor. The 2008 DSS Annual Report provides the most up-to-date statistics.

Children's' Issues Identified at Mental Health Forums

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 29, 2010

Parents and grandparents, siblings and children of family members with mental illness diagnoses have been attending a series of forums on children’s mental health to provide their diagnoses of a mental health community system that they say is in need of reform.

“I feel like I’m not being heard by doctors,” voiced a frustrated parent who attended a community forum held in Dover in early March. “Doctors have told me ‘it’s my fault.’”

The following week in Poughkeepsie another parent expressed a similar plea to be included in her son’s care, “Help me as a parent to be a therapist; to be that therapist the other 28 days of the month. Tell me what I should be doing to help my child.”

Parents say they feel alienated, stressed-out, and excluded by a community system that includes schools and hospitals, government and nonprofit agencies, doctors and therapists.

NYS Budget Likely to Impact Agriculture and the Environmen

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 19, 2010

On April 1st New York State is scheduled to adopt a State budget. While State politics and policies are not entirely germane to the ruminations of a county legislator in recent weeks several conversations with local residents have indicated that the State budget’s potential impact on our farmlands, environment, and parks is of concern. From the possible closure of Rudd Pond in Northeast and partial closure of the new Walkway Over the Hudson, to reductions in farmland protection and open space, the Governor’s proposed budget has many environmental ramifications.

At the heart of the matter are reductions to the State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which was created during the last recession in 1993 when environmental funding was scarce.

March Legislative Agenda: The Lull Before the Storm

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 12, 2010

From the outside looking in it would seem that during March the County Legislature reached a lull. While January and February’s meeting agendas contained many hot-button, discussion-generating legislation, March was pale in comparison.

The bulk of agenda items were appointments to committees and boards including the Board of Health, Forest Practice Board, Resource Recovery Agency and others. Much of County Government relies on the ideas and volunteerism of experts in the field via committees and boards and one of the roles of the Legislature is to appoint members.

Efficiency Ideas Being Considered for RRA Plant

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
March 05, 2010

Recently there’s much ado made about the Resource Recovery Agency in the County Legislature, and considering the cost to the county taxpayer rightfully so. In mid-February the full Legislature met as a committee of the whole with the leadership of the RRA to more fully understand their operations, the challenges they face, and fact-find so as to eventually create a cohesive solid waste management plan to guide future county waste disposal.

Dutchess County residents and businesses produce approximately 230-250 tons of garbage a year. Of this the RRA’s Poughkeepsie-based burn plant is capable of burning 164,000 tons via two boiler trains by which steam energy is produced and sold to Central Hudson (formerly also IBM).

Legislature's Feb. Agenda: Licensing, Lawsuits, Shared Services and Scouting

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 25, 2010

February’s monthly’s Legislative meeting was a long one. Public comment exceeded an hour as electrical contractors pleaded with the Legislature not to repeal an electrical licensing law that passed in 2008 but had yet to be implemented due to issues that a citizen’s committee charged with implementing the law said was “unworkable.” One after another members of the public asked the Legislature to improve upon the ill-fated law, which they said would promote public safety by limiting shoddy work by “fly-by-night” electricians. In the end the Legislature voted 17-7 to repeal the law.

Arguments against the licensing law were that government should respect the autonomy of its citizens to do their own due diligence in researching contractors, and that the law as written created an oligopoly and costly government bureaucracy.

Forums to Discuss Children and Families in the Mental Health System

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 17, 2010

There was a time when Mental Health Services were provided almost exclusively in the institution model, for which Dutchess County was a primary provider for institutionalized mental health care via two large state hospitals (Hudson River and Harlem Valley). Today, mental health services provided in community settings allow people with mental disabilities to reside, live and work in the community just like everyone else.

An intricate mental health system exists now so that persons in need have the supports they need to participate in society as much as humanly possible. Many groups and players come together to make this happen through a collaborative approach that involves nonprofit service agencies, county and state government, and the support of families.

Input Welcomed for Upcoming RRA Hearing

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
February 03, 2010

On Thursday, February 11, the County Legislature will convene a special meeting to hear from the managers and directors of the Resource Recovery Agency. The RRA has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent times and has had its management policies called into question by the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as other sources. The State Comptroller is near complete with an internal audit that is not expected to be favorable to the RRA. To exacerbate the situation, Dutchess County is on the hook to subsidize the RRA to the tune of $6.3 million this June with money the County does not have and for which the County did not budget.

Sales Tax and Health Insurance - January Legislative Meeting Detailed

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 28, 2010

he chief order of business at the County’s January legislative meeting was unresolved agenda items from 2009 including sales tax and legislator contributions to health insurance.

SALES TAX: The 2010 County Budget that passed the Legislature in late December was funded in part by an anticipated $5.4 million in revenue from extending sales tax on clothing and shoes under $110. Despite passing the budget, legislators could not agree to impose the sales tax on clothing and shoes last December. Therefore the measure returned in January with it now passing 19-6.

Time to Reign in Expensive Election Costs

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 26, 2010

Historically elections were run by the government closest to the people, namely town and village government with town clerks serving as election coordinators, and town boards vested with budgetary oversight. Then came the Bush v. Gore voting debacle of 2000. Congress responded with the Help Americans to Vote Act (HAVA) that sought to make voting protocol more uniform and accommodate as many voters as possible, particularly the disabled.

Philosophy of Solid Waste Flow Control

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
January 01, 2010

At the core of every political issue are philosophical questions. This is true of solid waste management. Does government have a role in trash-pick-up? If so should it be limited to mere policy enactment or take on a more active role?

Flow Control Legislation, Ripe for Reconsideration

The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
December 25, 2009

It may sound strange to consider solid waste management among the County’s 2010 New Year’s Resolutions, but the unpaid price-tag on garbage disposal that didn’t make it into the 2010 County Budget ($6.3 million) means the issue will take center-stage when the new Legislature is seated in January. Coincidentally 2010 is also the pre-ordained year for the County to revisit its Solid Waste Plan.

Today, the County relies on a public authority, the Resource Recovery Agency, to dispose of much of its trash. Issues involving the RRA are complicated and multi-faceted and much could be said about them.

New century, same old song: Every litter bit hurts

Lisa M. Dellwo
May 27, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I set off for a long walk along one of the wooded back roads that make the Town of Washington so picturesque. Ever since the last snow, I’d been walking this road regularly to get a bit of exercise and listen for the sounds of spring birds and frogs in the quiet surroundings. On this day, I traveled with my camera, hoping to get some pictures of spring vegetation emerging from the mat of decomposing leaves.

It wasn’t long before I saw a flash of warm yellow-green.

Meadowbrook Estates: New Urbanism on the Hudson

Jonathan Becker
March 20, 2008

While the enormous Durst/Carvel project in Pine Plains has been garnering headlines in the local press, the largest development that the Town of Red Hook has seen in several decades is winding its way through the planning process with hardly a blip on the local radar.

Meadowbrook Estates is a 119 unit, 308 bedroom condominium project proposed for land south-east of the town center (between Baxter and Norton roads). Built on 40 acres of land, it represents a density roughly five times that of Durst/Carvel.

At a recent meeting of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), many residents spoke out about how Meadowbrook promises more traffic, more school buses and higher taxes.

What's the Big Secret?

Kate Farrell
December 10, 2006

Juveniles and Adults on Probation Will Report to County Infirmary in Millbrook. Although Town and Village officials have remained silent regarding the plan, studies conducted by the County Executive's office in 2000 and in 2003, contend that the Infirmary (now the Mental Health Clinic) on County Road and Oak Summit Road has been defined as a site worthy of development because of its "central location in Dutchess County and to fulfill a County need to have a stronger administrative presence in the eastern and central section of Dutchess".

According to the operating certificate for the facility, 17 employees (12 full time and 5 part time) currently work at the site. The Mental Health Services that operate at the center treat about 88 adults during normal business hours, Monday through Friday.