An Exchange Of Ulster County Letters Demonstrating The Fiery State Of Local Politics...
Dear County Executive Hein,
The creation and administration of the budget is the most difficult, challenging, and important part of county government and governing. Through the budget we are charged and trusted with allocating Ulster County taxpayers' hard earned dollars to safeguard and improve the services they depend on.
I understand that sales tax revenue in the county budget is a projection. Put another way it's an educated guesstimate that, by its very nature, runs the risk of not being met. Many of New York's counties experienced lower than expected growth in sales tax revenues for the past few years. NY State Comptroller DiNapoli has encouraged county officials to develop plans to reduce dependence on temporary one percent sales tax revenue extensions from the state.
I understand that Ulster County did not receive a portion of expected sales tax revenue when the 1 percent extension was allowed to sunset. With that said, I do not understand using a budget projection to arrive at the amount of sales tax revenue lost. The amount you have been declaring that the county lost in sales tax revenue as a result of the extension lapse is conjecture at best. Although I do not have a degree in accounting, it stands to reason that the amount lost in sales tax revenue is simply one per centum more than was collected during the lapse. If my reasoning is flawed, I welcome an explanation.
It is also my understanding that you and your staff have invested a significant amount of time "educating" legislators on the cost prohibitions of taking over election costs and lobbying against my resolution calling for the exploration of alternative fuels, including hybrid technologies, for the county fleet.
As we work together, whether during the budget process or throughout the year, it is important to separate the wheat from the chaff. We must have honest, unembellished discussions about the county's fiscal condition so we may work together preserve and improve services while providing some fiscal relief to our residents.
John R. Parete, Chairman
Ulster County Legislature
Dear Chairman Parete,
Thank you very much for your letter dated October 7, 2014 and your recognition of the challenging decisions required in preparing the Executive Budget. I am very proud of this budget as it is without question the most progressive budget in the history of Ulster County.
Prior to the delivery of the Budget, I had the pleasure of meeting with members of the Legislature from both sides of the aisle including the Majority and Minority Leaders and the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee to provide a budget overview and facilitate communication. This budget benefits all of our residents, especially those most in need, while at the same time lowering real property taxes for the hard working taxpayers of Ulster County. I have great respect for the work of the County Legislature and our combined duty to serve our citizens. It is my great hope that we will be able to complete the 2015 Budget expeditiously given the greatly accelerated budget adoption timeline forced on us by the recent State Sales Tax Law.
Some of your comments regarding sales tax are unfortunately not only inaccurate but also do not acknowledge the crushing burden that State mandates have placed on the County. My estimates of the loss in Sales Tax revenue has been confirmed and documented in reports from both the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and the Office of the State Comptroller. These lost dollars are significant and, contrary to your statements, have seriously hampered our ongoing efforts to further repair, upgrade and maintain Ulster County's vast infrastructure needs.
I share your concern with the temporary nature of our additional 1 percent sales tax, the need for which has been driven by unfunded state mandates and cuts to state aid for counties across New York State. All but a handful of New York counties have had this additional sales tax authorization for over twenty years; and it's disingenuous for our State Legislators to act as if these revenues are not part of the permanent operations of a County. Let's be perfectly clear, the need for this "temporary" sales tax revenue is directly driven by permanent actions of the State Government. That said, to begin addressing the concern that the additional sales tax revenue is not permanent, I would encourage you as Chairman of the County Legislature to bring forward the extensive list of policy changes that you support and would be required in order to cut the estimated $22 million in expenses associated with the temporary sales tax as well as the $3 million loss that would impact our towns and the City of Kingston.
In addition, the County takeover of State mandated election costs from our municipalities reflects a significant recurring expense on the County; and, I believe it is unwise to make such a commitment without understanding how it would fit into the County's long term financial plan. Only after reviewing the potential for this action and building it into our projections was I comfortable in making this recommendation over a three year period beginning in 2015. Your previous resolutions to takeover this State mandate from our municipalities was not based on any financial analysis or planning that we or the County Legislature was aware of. We were troubled by your response at caucus to the question of how you would pay for this new cost in that you stated that it was somebody else's job to figure out the budget. I disagree and believe that the budgeting responsibility engrained in the County Charter for the great people of Ulster County is shared jointly between my administration and the County Legislature and we have deep respect for this process.
Ulster County County Executive
Dear County Executive Hein,
Legislature Vice Chairman Donaldson and I must have lost our invitations to the communication facilitating pre-budget meeting you mentioned in your October 9th letter. While I appreciate that you appreciated my letter, your assertions that you invite cooperation and teamwork have become increasingly empty and insincere.
Perhaps, I had a precise understanding of the county's long term fiscal situation which prompted me to propose the takeover of election costs, not once, but two times in my tenure as a County Legislator. When Legislator Donaldson proposed a three year phase in of the takeover at caucus back in August, I wholeheartedly supported it. I guess the county's "long term financial plan" became clearer one month later?
You remind the Legislature, almost daily, that our responsibility is to set policy. The County Executive's responsibility is to carry out those policies and to facilitate the day to day operations of the County. Curiously, we continue to receive policy submissions from your office. I am committed to doing my job, as spelled out in the Charter, and working with the Legislature to set policy. I will, as you suggest, continue to bring forward my extensive list of policy changes to improve operations and better the lives of the great people of Ulster County.
Some of us in this Legislative body know more about what's going on than you think we do. I've been around a long while and have worked with all sorts of people and have made many, many friends who tell me everything. One thing I've learned is when you think you're the only pebble on the beach you fail to see the tide.
John R. Parete, Chairman
Ulster County Legislature
PS — I am disappointed that a personal letter from me did not warrant the respect of a personal reply from you, but rather global distribution. Another lesson learned.