County Executive Hein's leadership has resulted in an unprecedented level of accountability. The Hein administration has identified and then eliminated long standing problems by fixing County departments that were broken for far too long. For example, the County Executive has reorganized the Department of Public Works, the County Health Department, the Probation Department, and the Youth Department. Additionally, there is an unprecedented level of cooperation between the county and the town and village leaders, all designed to eliminate waste, reduce costs and improve the delivery of services to taxpayers throughout Ulster County.
Since taking office, the County Executive has consolidated county departments, expanded shared services, strengthened an already strong bond rating, reduced the size of county government and lowered payroll taxes by millions of dollars - while delivering more services than ever before. In 2013, Standard and Poor’s upgraded the County’s bond rate from AA- to AA due to Ulster County’s “good financial policies and practices.”
Ability to Prioritize
Since the County Executive came into office, he has been able to consistently prioritize the promotion of Ulster County as a four-season destination and dedicate the necessary resources to attracting tourists. In 2009, Ulster County began a highly effective advertising campaign in NYC and developed a state of the art marketing website - www.UlsterCountyAlive.com.
Tourism spending in Ulster County was more than $474 million in 2012, a 4.9 percent increase over 2011. That follows a 5.3 percent increase over 2010 and a 2.6 percent increase over 2009. Overall, tourism spending has grown by 12.9 percent since 2009. The information was gathered in a report by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company commissioned by the Empire State Development Corp. and the I Love NY campaign to track tourism spending and employment data. Coinciding with the increase in tourism spending, Ulster County also experienced a 6.2 increase in occupancy tax revenue in 2012. The county collected about $1.1 million in occupancy taxes last year, which is about $64,391 more than the year before. This was also the third straight year that occupancy tax revenue increased for the county.
Department of Public Works - The Department of Public Works maintains more than 850 miles of County roads and 157 bridges, in addition to caring for dozens of properties. With the previous Legislature-run government, management of this department was lax and nepotism widespread. Under the Charter, the County Executive swiftly took charge of this department: the hiring of relatives and friends ended, processes were streamlined, systems revamped and significant costs cut. In 2010 alone, the DPW budget was decreased by $2.33 million. Six towns entered into new shared services agreements with the County to plow and maintain roads, plow trucks were modified to allow single-man plowing operations and overtime was reduced dramatically. Computerized self sand spreaders further reduced costs by $400,000 in 2011.
Health Department - Upon taking office, County Executive Hein set forth an ambitious goal to make Ulster County the healthiest county in New York State. To start, he immediately tackled a severely dysfunctional Health Department. After ending this blatant nepotism in the workplace, the County Executive conducted a nationwide search for the best Public Health Director possible and appointed Dr. Lamar Hasbrouck. Thereafter, in 2012, the County Executive recruited and appointed Dr. Carol Smith as Commissioner of Health and Commissioner of Mental Health.
A.C.E. (Accountability, Compliance & Efficiency) Unit - In the 2014 Budget, County Executive Hein announced the creation of a newly specialized unit designed to be responsible for operational accountability, compliance & efficiency. The new unit, titled A.C.E., is part of a reorganization of the existing Golden Hill Transition Team and will not add new positions or expenses to the budget. The A.C.E. division will be part of the Department of Finance.
Fighting for Taxpayers
The County Executive's leadership has led to an unprecedented level of accountability in County government. The Executive believes that it is the responsibility of government to operate within the means of the people it has been created to serve. In 2010, the County Executive delivered a proposed budget with no tax increase. He streamlined operations and further reduced the county workforce to prevent any increase to the county tax levy. The County Executive made many tough choices and cut spending in numerous departments in order to protect taxpayers from the skyrocketing cost of government.
In the County Executive’s proposed 2014 Budget, Executive Hein delivered a budget with the largest reduction in government spending in the history of Ulster County with no property tax increases. The tax levy will be the same as 2013 marking the third time the County Executive Hein has delivered a budget at or below zero percent to protect over-burdened families in their time of need.
S.T.R.I.V.E. (Strategic Taxpayer Relief through Innovative Visions in Education) - In 2012, County Executive Hein unveiled a transformative plan for collaboration that provides enhanced educational opportunities while saving taxpayers millions. The S.T.R.I.V.E. Project will improve access to higher education, place surplus County buildings back on the tax rolls, repurpose an elementary school that would otherwise become vacant, provide a single point of access to Ulster County’s health and human services and provide better educational opportunities for less money. The initiative will save more than $21.6 million over the next decade. The S.T.R.I.V.E Project will relocate the SUNY Ulster satellite campus from its current location at the Business Resource Center (BRC) to what is now the Sophie Finn Elementary School in
Kingston, which has been proposed for closure. The consolidation would also allow for the sale of two county-owned properties: (1) at 300 Flatbush Avenue and (2) 25 South Manor Avenue. The sale of these two buildings will eliminate approximately $319,000 in operational costs and may generate revenue of $2,000,000 in sale proceeds. Additionally, by returning two properties back to the tax rolls, there will be an estimated $95,000 in new property taxes paid to the City of Kingston, the Kingston Central School District and Ulster County, benefiting everyone.
Stimulus Funding - Under County Executive Hein's leadership, Ulster County was initially awarded over $27 million in stimulus funding. Because the County was diligent in completing engineering and preliminary work needed to utilize those funds and because of the County Executive's aggressive advocacy for funds that were awarded competitively, Ulster County was able to get an additional $8.26 million in stimulus funds. This money was used to repave over 23 miles of Route 28, a critical transportation link for the region and an economic lifeline for the tourism industry.
Golden Hill - The County Executive's forward thinking plan to save Golden Hill is the only way to keep Golden Hill open. By transferring Golden Hill to a Local Development Corporation, which will sell it to a private entity, Ulster County will be able to maintain these much needed nursing home beds and keep jobs in our community.
Growing Jobs & Business
Business leaders in Ulster County understand that the County Executive is in their corner. This administration has worked tirelessly to assist businesses throughout the County whether they are start-ups, relocations or expansions. The County Executive believes that County government needs to move at the speed of business in order to grow our local economy.
Citing the importance of manufacturing to Ulster County's economy, County Executive Mike Hein created an Ulster County Manufacturing Council, in order to best advocate for Ulster County manufacturers. The Manufacturing Council provides insights and advice on issues such as workforce, access to capital, and business impediments.
In his 2013 Budget, County Executive Hein created the Office of Business Services (OBS) . As the single point of access for economic development in Ulster County, OBS staff’s number one priority is assisting Ulster County’s businesses. OBS coordinates efforts among Empire State Development, Regional Councils, the IDA, the Legislature, town and City officials, as well as other stakeholders. Most importantly, it accomplishes all this at the speed of business. This model functions with a Council of Economic Advisors and it enhances partnerships with the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee as well as the private sector, while retaining the watchdog responsibility of our elected officials by not simply throwing taxpayer money at an outside agency. It leaves intact the Shovel Ready Committee, the IDA and the Revolving Loan Fund Committee, all of which are appointed exclusively by the Ulster County Legislature.
Creating a Healthy Ulster County
County Executive Hein is driven to make Ulster County the healthiest county in all of New York. To achieve this goal, County Executive Hein successfully brought about a complete transformation of the Ulster County Department of Health, turning it from a dysfunctional and mismanaged bureaucracy into a model agency that New YorkState examiners have said is "a model of effective government." In 2012, The County Executive recruited and appointed Dr. Carol Smith as Commissioner of Health and Commissioner of Mental Health. The County Executive hosts Healthy Ulster County Week in order to showcase healthful businesses and restaurants in Ulster County and launched www.HealthyUlsterCounty.net so that Ulster County residents can easily find healthful options and tips to live healthier lives.
Ulster C.A.R.E.S. (Community Access through Restructuring of Essential Services) – In 2013, County Executive Hein unveiled the initiative Ulster C.A.R.E.S., an innovative plan to guarantee that high quality mental health services are available to Ulster County’s residents regardless of their ability to pay. In the face of a serious long-term funding crisis resulting from major reductions in State and Federal aid, more than $8 million over the past four years, our mental health and other health and human services professionals have collaborated to design Ulster C.A.R.E.S. to transform County government into a sustainable organization that ensures high quality services are available to Ulster County residents in need while simultaneously protecting taxpayers. Ulster County is participating with Hudson Valley Mental Health, Inc. (HVMH) in a public/private partnership to operate the County’s adult mental health clinics in Kingston, Ellenville and New Paltz.
The County Executive launched Ulster County’s free Suicide Prevention Smartphone App - SPEAK (Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness Kit), the first of its type for any NYS County. The free app is an easy to use guide which provides the user with warning signs that correspond with levels of risk and also helps guide the user through what to say to someone who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts and helpful videos. Additionally, it supplies the user with comprehensive resources which contain local, state and national contacts, and most importantly, instant call buttons for immediate help that link to local, national and Veteran hotlines. This smartphone app is designed in conjunction with mental health professionals to be a powerful tool in the hands of anyone who may be in a position to prevent tragedy. The County is currently working on an Android version.
Building a Strong and Sustainable Future
Despite the aftershocks of one of the deepest financial downturns in our nation's history, the County Executive strives to ensure that Ulster County has all of the tools required to maintain a strong and sustainable future. Ulster County was tested again with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the worst natural disasters in the county's history. The County Executive coordinated federal, state and local efforts to ensure the quickest recovery possible.
Environmental Protection - Ever since New York City began getting its drinking water from Ulster County, NYC's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had only considered its own interests when making decisions about the Ashokan Reservoir and the Lower Esopus. Until Ulster County elected Mike Hein as County Executive, it was inconceivable that a local government would take on the DEP in order to protect Ulster County's farmers, private property owners, the environment or the local drinking water. Understanding the importance, and despite NYC's wealth of legal resources, the County Executive has relentlessly pushed NYC to come to the table and treat Ulster County like a partner.
Protecting Ulster County: Hurricane Irene - Hurricane Irene was the worst natural disaster in Ulster County's history. Days before Hurricane Irene hit Ulster County, when it was uncertain whether the hurricane would even reach our area, the County Executive proactively declared a State of Emergency and began coordinating the emergency responses that proved necessary. At the County Executive's direction, County departments planned cooperative response efforts in order to take all necessary actions to ensure the safety of area residents. The County Executive worked tirelessly with other local leaders, first responders and our State and Federal representatives.
During and following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the County Executive advocated strongly for FEMA to set up emergency centers throughout the County where business owners and residents affected by the storm could access government assistance.
Maintaining a Solid Financial Position - In 2013, Standard and Poor’s upgraded the County’s bond rate from AA- to AA due to Ulster County’s “good financial policies and practices,” which is one of the highest ratings Standard & Poor's offers. A strong bond rating is beneficial to Ulster County taxpayers because it reduces the overall borrowing costs associated with standard bond issues. According to Standard & Poor's, the AA bond rating reflects the County's “strong management, sound financial operations, budgetary performance and the County’s low overall debt.”
Providing Leadership Throughout NYS - Due to his ongoing leadership on issues like mandate reform and property tax relief among his peers, the County Executive Mike Hein was elected to serve as President of the New York State County Executive's Association. The County Executive will be working together with other NYS county leaders to protect taxpayers and provide essential services to people in need.
Patriots Project – In 2013, County Executive Hein announced plans for the Patriots Project Transitional Veteran’s Housing on Wurts Street in Kingston. The Patriots Project will afford Ulster County the ability to provide Veterans returning from the battlefields the level of service they deserve. The total project is estimated to cost $330,000 and will boast a state of the art facility after fully rehabilitating the building. The County received approximately $150,000 from the sale of the SUNY Ulster President’s Home and is receiving donations from both private and community partners. The Veterans Advisory Committee was formed this year to oversee the project.
Ulster County Rail Trail Project – On December 12, 2013, Ulster County Executive Hein announced a landmark agreement in principle between Ulster County and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection supporting the development of the Ulster County Rail Trail Project along the northern shores of the Ashokan Reservoir. The County Executive was joined by NYC DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland for the announcement which establishes a framework between Ulster County and DEP to facilitate and fund the conversion of a portion of the County-owned Ulster & Delaware Railroad (U&D) corridor into a multi-use recreational rail trail open for public use year round without permits or fees. Additionally, this concept is designed to concentrate and strengthen the historic railroad experience west of the Ashokan. The agreement covers the 11.54 miles of corridor that crosses NYC DEP lands from Basin Road in West Hurley and westward to Boiceville in the Town of Olive.