Save the gravy for better times

After writing himself in for a $10,000 raise in his 2022 proposed budget, it’s probably a good thing – for him – that Kingston mayor Steve Noble doesn’t face voters again for another two years.

Adding insult to injury, Noble also proposes hiring a “chief of staff” to assist him in managing some $19 million in federal pandemic aid. At a proposed salary of $80,000, plus benefits. Eighty G’s is the mayor’s current salary.

I’ll admit to a sudden spike in blood pressure when that one hit the front page of Sunday’s Freeman. What the hell is going on at city hall?

The mayor’s explanation that this salary turbo-charge has been in the works for years, that the road to a $100,000 annual salary was mapped out and seemingly approved in concept by the common council the year before the pandemic hit doesn’t pass the what the hell test. The strategy was to ease the shock by stretching a $20,000 raise over four budget years. That Noble was willing to forego the second raise in 2020 was noble, but only delayed the inevitable.

What city hall doesn’t get – and they’re not the only ones – is that raising salaries at a time when constituents have lost jobs and businesses – and some their homes – is incredibly tone-deaf. We are not out of the woods by any means what with rising inflation, broken supply chains and perhaps some other foreign virus lurking in the shadows.

That the proposed budget includes a miniscule reduction in property taxes hardly compensates for the hog-wild spending it includes.

It is up to the common council, which isn’t penciled in for raises, to stand up and send this one back with a large red “Rejected” on the cover.

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NOTES – Elsewhere, it would appear this cascade of federal cash has some budget makers a bit light-headed.

The usually tight-fisted town of Ulster supervisor Jim Quigley is offering up a 3.5 percent property tax increase for 2022. It takes a “super majority” of four votes on the five-member town board to exceed the state’s 2 percent limit. Fortunately for Quigley, perhaps less so for townsfolk, their supervisor has the town board in his pocket.

County executive Pat Ryan came in as a big spender, trimmed his sails during the pandemic, then restored spending and most of the jobs he cut for next year’s budget. At least he didn’t give himself a double-digit raise.

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PRAISING PAT – Our county executive pats himself on the back about three times a week on average, so he doesn’t need any help from me.

But no one should ignore Ryan’s initiative in dealing directly and strategically with the mental health crisis in our county. Recall almost a year ago Westchester Medical, which owns our two hospitals, transferred mental health services to Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie. There was a time not too long ago when Ulster had the best mental health facilities in the Valley.

Ryan, along with other political leaders, repeatedly pleaded with Westchester to restore those services. “Save our Mental Health Facilities” placards sprouted on lawns like political signs. To no avail.

Ryan, in next year’s budget, took this bull by the horns in recommending the construction (or location) of a multi-million 24/7 walk-in mental health facility. Plans are also underway for establishing regional smaller facilities around the county. The cost will go considerably higher. Professional staffing for these kinds of facilities, as Westchester bemoaned, is exceedingly expensive and treatment can take years.

So be it. We can’t recover the hundreds of lives lost during the ongoing opioid epidemic or assuage the anguish of those families and survivors. But this bold initiative by the county says those lives were not lost in vain.

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ME TOO LEGISLATURE – County legislators apparently got lots of positive feedback on Ryan’s mental health plans. In less than a month after Ryan announced it, the legislature climbed on the bandwagon at its regular October 19th meeting.

Legislators like to call themselves the “policy making” branch of the government. And if you buy that, they’ll tell you they “hold the purse strings,” too.

Policy, as again demonstrated in this case, has been made by the executive through the budget process. The legislature’s budget review process is now underway to conclude with a formal vote by the legislature early in December. Experience suggests a 99 percent approval. Purse strings, indeed.

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SIGNS OF THE TIMES – They say signs don’t vote, “they” being candidates who can’t get anybody to put their signs on their front laws. Signs may not decide elections, but they mean something.

In Kingston’s Third Ward, newcomer Tiffany Christiana is running for alderman on the Republican ticket. Her signs say only “Vote for Tiffany.”

It annoys some that most candidates do not include their party affiliations on their signs, there being a small percentage of people who vote strictly down the line of that party means everything.

Huzzahs in that regard to Ninth Ward incumbent Michele Hirsch, who, albeit in small letters, identities herself as a Democrat on her signs. Hirsch, who is unopposed for a second term, seems to have signs on every other lawn. Somebody must like her.

There’s a great old story about self-identification. I have hundreds.

What they used to call a “sure vote” Democrat (Republicans had similar stooges) was reelected in one of the downtown wards for the umpteenth time when a radio announcer covering the election approached him at the after-party.

“We have here the incumbent from the Eighth Ward,” the newsman intoned.

“I’m no incumbent,” the winner yelled, grabbing the mike. “I’m a Democrat!”

Next: We’ll delve into some of the more interesting races in Thursday’s edition. After that on Friday morning, Me and Mario will do a wrap on our 7-9 show on GHQ-92.