Budget blues: Buddy, can you spare a dime?

With most municipal spending plans, budgets begin and end with “the bottom line,” i.e. the property tax rate. By state law, a two percent increase over the previous year is the limit, which if fully appropriated, would come to about $1.6 million in a county budget. By comparison, the county pays some $6 million a year in debt service on the new jail.

Former county executive Mike Hein approached that line in the sand only once during his decade in office. Current executive Pat Ryan emulated his predecessor in his first two budgets in offering miniscule, politically popular property tax reductions.

The 2021 budget Ryan will send to the county legislature on Thursday morning will be a far different kettle of fish than the guns and roses package he handed up a year ago. In that budget, Ryan, in office for only a few months, boosted spending from some $330 million a year to almost $350 million and still held the line on taxes. Clearly, the county was swimming in cash. But times change, don’t they?

It was the late Kingston mayor Ray Garraghan (1965-69), a self-made millionaire, who once observed that “everybody (in government) looks smart when they have money. It takes real brains to manage when you don’t.”

Big spender Ryan’s talents will be challenged to the max as he attempts to hold the line on spending in the face of diminished revenues. A handful of strongly encouraged early retirements will help the bottom line, but won’t begin to approach the losses of millions in revenue from plummeting sales taxes and possible reductions in local aid from a cash-strapped state. Washington may bail out localities, but not to the extent of making anybody whole.

Ryan has already announced he’ll ask the legislature to tap the $1.5 million rainy day fund Hein left in the cookie jar. Maxing the property tax might play if presented as a one-off until we return to what used to be.

Theatrical presentation – Ryan unveiled his 2020 budget at the Wendell Scherer auditorium of Kingston High School last year. This year he’ll give it the old college try. The budget will be presented at SUNY Ulster’s Quimby Theater on Thursday at 11 a.m.

Unlike Hein’s presentations attended by hundreds directly affected by his budgets (thus the loud cheers and whistles when Hein as much as cleared his throat), Ryan’s roll-out will host but 50 invitees. Call it social gathering. County legislators are among the few invited, the first time they’ll gather in public session since last winter. I wonder if I’ll recognize anybody. Some legislators are already grousing that they had no input in a cloistered budget process. Some things never change.

In memory of Mel – Former county legislator and alderman Melvin Mones of Kingston died at his son’s home in Virginia in early April, a few weeks short of his 90th birthday.

Mones, a Republican, was a pharmacist. He and his wife Rhona, a founding faculty member of what was then called Ulster County Community College, “went west” to San Diego upon his retirement in 1987.

Long gone, but fondly remembered by us old-timers, Mones was a pragmatic pol and “a good party man” who nonetheless forged working relationships with Democrats. We could use a few good people like that these days.

Mones is survived by his wife, two sons, Stewart (with whom he and Rhona lived the last few years) and Steven and a grandson. Graveside services, delayed by the virus, are scheduled for Friday at 10:30 in the Jewish section of Montrepose Cemetery.

This just in – Boy Wonder Dan Torres, an assistant deputy county executive and a New Paltz councilman, turned 30 in May.

Thirty. I never thought I’d see the day. Torres immersed himself in local politics as a student at SUNY-New Paltz and was elected to the town board somewhere around 21. He established a strong friendship with Pat Ryan in the 2018 Democratic congressional primary, worked with him for what was a walkover election for county exec last year and was rewarded with a near-six-figure job in the new administration.

And now he’s 30. Seems like the young man, heretofore called “the kid,” has already led a full life.