Big pay days

One of the many rumors circulating around county executive Pat Ryan’s $333 million 2021 budget before its formal presentation on Oct. 1 was that it would include “some really big raises.”

I didn’t believe it. Nor did Ryan even use the word at his budget rollout at Ulster County Community College.

I expected he’d hold the line on property taxes, cut spending (by about $8 million, less than three percent) and skim ten or twelve million off the fund balance (surplus) to balance his budget.

But big pay raises? In a county hard-hit by the pandemic with near double-digit unemployment, a poor county where Ryan repeatedly speaks to some 40 percent of residents “living paycheck to paycheck?” How could anybody with discretionary authority grant anybody (outside of binding union contracts negotiated before the pandemic) even minimal increases in salary?

Ryan did. And more. Much, much more.

The headline-grabbing position was public defender, which will go from a part-time director at just over $89,000 to full-time at $120,000 a year. Two thoughts: Why did we pay almost $90,000 for a part-time position and isn’t $120,000 a bit generous for a new hire, considering the exec himself is paid $133,000?

Fact is, Ryan had announced the public defender salary schedule some time before the budget came out. Still, there was plenty of gravy to dole out among grateful upper level administrative types.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Former tourism director Rick Remsnyder might have given his mid-September retirement a second thought if he had known his $82,000 exit salary would be increased to just under $100,000 for his successor.

This isn’t about wage envy. It’s about equity. According to the state department of labor, the median household income in Ulster County is just under $60,000. In many a household, it takes at least two jobs to generate that income. And we’re paying county department heads six figures with at least 35 percent more in benefits?

Bah.

Ryan’s proposed 2021 budget is now in the hands of the rubber-stamp legislature. One should not hold one’s breath for anything more than a very slight pruning around the edges. Heck, legislators might even put in for a raise on their $14,000 a year part-time salaries. How could Ryan deny them?

FOOTNOTES – County government excepted, hold-the-line on salaries seems to be the theme as lower level municipalities roll out their 2021 budget. Everybody’s hoping for help from the feds but that won’t happen unless Democrats take over the senate.

Kingston Mayor Steve Nobel’s proposed budget looks like a mini version of Ryan’s.  I wonder if these classmates (KHS-2000) get together in some dark room to compare notes.

The $2 billion in new county assessments over the last two years will make budget-making a bit easier, but there’s a fly in the ointment. Almost all the record increase, according to county authorities, is in residential, very little in commercial. Bottom line, residential may keep handy people busy, but it doesn’t generate jobs.

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS – Rumors continue to swirl around the rusty abutments of the century-old Rondout Creek bridge which connects Kingston to Esopus, like might it be converted to a walking bridge? (I got this from a Rondout hairdresser and we all know hairdressers are rarely wrong.)

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, says “it’s complicated.”

State studies indicate, said Cahill, that it would actually cost more to convert the bridge into a walkway than for vehicular traffic. “Walkers (in toto) weigh more than cars,” was his succinct explanation.

How much more money, he wouldn’t say, but it could run into several millions, money the cash-strapped state doesn’t have at present.

Repairs, said to be in the $40 million range, are a priority, he said, mostly because “it’s literally falling into the creek.” (With apologies to Hal David and Burt Bacharach, may we have a few bars of concrete keeps falling on my yacht?)

My vote goes for restoring the bridge, one of the most picturesque in the Hudson Valley, for motorists, with additional accommodation for walkers and bikers.

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