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THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 2010   
Vol 3.25   
Gutter Gutter
Down in the Dumps
Ulster, Sullivan Lag in Economic Health

NEW PALTZ The Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach has released a new report, this time on "Regional Well Being" in the Mid-Hudson Region. Covering the counties of Dutchess, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan, the report looks at the region through the prisms of the Economy, Education, Safety, Arts & Culture, Health, Governance, Environment, and Community & Equity. Under these eight headings, an enormous amount of data was examined.

Assistant Director of CRREO K.T. Tobin Flusser, the principle author and Project Director for this report, said, "It's important to note that we want to take a regional view. We're not just setting out comparisons between counties; our priority is to look for region-wide points."

For instance, on the region's income and costs metric, "Our data shows that in our region 50 precent of income is going to housing and transportation. To put that in context, we took a dataset of New York counties for a comparison. We excluded New York City and counties with less than 65,000 inhabitants. The remaining New York Counties had a figure of 39 percent of income going to housing and transportation."

Any ideas on why housing and transport costs are higher here?

"Too early to say," said Flusser. "We are establishing a baseline here, with this report. In future years we will be able to check for trends."

However, Tobin Flusser did note that 35 percent of those with jobs commute out of county to work, and that Orange County leads on that metric.

"We sought bellwether measurement indicators," said Tobin Flusser. "And, I should also point out, we didn't do this up here in New Paltz on our own. We had faculty, community leaders, economic developers, environmentalists, people from housing, arts, practitioners of many skills and schools, and we got them all together in a room four times and hashed out what the vision was for the region, and what particular measurements we would use to track our well being over time."

That was in 2009. "Work on this report began in the fall of 2008," said Flusser. "Data gathering began last fall and now we've released our first report on this research."

Besides Flusser, two other staffers and five students worked on the report. "Plus, we had faculty student pairings to do particular areas of research."

The report states, "To succeed in the twenty first century, we must better understand the interdependence of our four counties and the region they comprise."

To that end, it should be noted that the region covers 3,715 square miles and has nearly a million inhabitants. This population has a bulge in the 35-54 age group, which comes in at 30 percent, while 23 percent are under 18, and 24 percent are over 55. The population is 75 percent white, 12 percent Latino, eight percent African American, three percent Asian and two percent 'Other.'

However, despite the regional focus of the report, there are some interesting statistical differences between the four counties.

Home ownership, for example, is highest in Orange County, and at 72 percent is five-percent higher than the national rate. But, to go with that, Orange also has the highest rate of foreclosures. Orange is also the county with the highest proportion of incomes above $100,000 at 14 percent.

On the economy, the study measured jobs, costs, income and poverty. On a scale of 0 to 100, our region scored 54 on the Economic Indicator. Dutchess led the pack with 60, Orange had 58, Ulster 45 and Sullivan trailed with 37. Other indicators, like Median Household Income followed that pattern. Thus our region lagged slightly, while comparable New York counties hit 58 on the scale. On jobs, we should note that the report finds that one in five jobs in the region was in the public sector.

In the section on the environment, the report notes that, "One third of the water bodies in our region have suffered negative impacts." And here, Orange County leads as well, with only 36 percent of the Water Body Inventory, having experienced "no impact." Region wide, 11 percent of our water bodies were described as "impaired."

In terms of community, our region is populated mostly with New Yorkers that is, people born in this state who make up 71 percent of the total. All but 12 percent were born in the USA. Ulster county, at 76 percent, had the highest proportion of natives of New York state; and Orange the highest non-American born, at 13 percent.

Our region stands in strong contrast to New York State as a whole, when it comes to in-migration. While the state lost 1,538,274 people between 2000 and 2008, or 8.1 percent of net domestic population, this region grew, with Orange leading with a five percent increase as 17,259 more people moved in than moved out.

As for taxes, note that the average residential real property tax bill region-wide was $5,138 in 2008. By contrast the comparable New York State counties figure was $4,641. Sullivan County had the lowest tax figure, at $3,910; Ulster was second, at $4,809. Dutchess and Orange at $5,413 and $5,608, respectively were considerably higher.

After taxes, there is death to think about. And, on this grim metric, Ulster County scored well, with the lowest rates for Respiratory Disease Death and Heart Disease Death. Under Cancer Deaths, Sullivan County scored by far the highest in the region, 216 per 100,000 inhabitants, with Orange at 182, Ulster at 171, and Dutchess at 165. Again, on the Accident Death Rate, Sullivan scored far higher than the rest of the region, with 52 deaths per 100,000, with Ulster on 29, Orange 28 and Dutchess 25. New York State as a whole scored 24 here.

After examining hundreds of different metrics under the eight headings, a "Well Being Index" was created. Ulster County leads there, with an overall score of 57, pulled up sharply by a crushing victory under Arts & Culture, where Ulster scored 80, while Dutchess trailed at 39, and Orange and Sullivan scored lowly 25s. Ulster was also boosted by a 71 under Safety, leading the other counties by a healthy margin.

K.T. Tobin Flusser was keen to emphasize that this report is just the first step.

"We are going to be following this with continued study to establish trend lines, but this is a beginning," he said.

The Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) is based at SUNY New Paltz, and was established in 2007. CRREO conducts and publicizes research on regional topics. The report on Regional Well-Being has been distributed to local government decision makers. Further reports are to follow.

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