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Rensselaer County Legislators offer reactions to 2023 budget passage

The Record logo The Record 11/30/2022 Michael Gwizdala, The Record, Troy, N.Y.

Nov. 30—TROY, N.Y. — Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin's 2023 proposed budget passed the Rensselaer County Legislature 16-2. After the vote, county legislators provided their reactions on what they liked and disliked about the final passage.

Kelly Hoffman (R — North Greenbush) commented on the first budget she has overseen as Chairwoman of the Legislature. She lauded the property tax cut included, as well as the county attempting to adapt to the pandemic.

"The budget continues the progress of the Reimagine Rensselaer initiative that includes the new fire training center in North Greenbush, the new senior center in Troy, and the move to the new offices in East Greenbush. A fifth consecutive property tax cut is also welcoming news for all of us, especially as the cost of living continues to rise," Hoffman said.

Vice Chair Bob Loveridge (R — East Schodack) was pleased with the investments being made in moving the county forward.

"I am impressed that this budget looks towards the future of our county and addresses the challenging financial issues that local governments will continue to face during these uncertain financial times. We are prepared to boldly move this county forward and address challenges while continuing to protect taxpayers and residents. Smart spending and wise investments will keep us on solid ground and spur more investment in Rensselaer County," Loveridge explained.

Majority Leader Ken Herrington (R — Brunswick) echoed those sentiments.

"I was thrilled to support the continued investments in improving our roads and purchasing new vehicles and equipment for our hard-working highway department, all while continuing to lower taxes," Herrington commented.

Chair of Finance Rob Bayly (R — Poestenkill) was appreciative of the aid given to taxpayers as inflation and corporate price gouging place a burden on residents.

"As residents pay more for fuel, heating oil, and groceries, it is refreshing that our County taxpayers will not have to pay more in property taxes. This unprecedented fifth consecutive property tax cut will maintain and improve services, and is great news for Rensselaer County residents," Bayly noted.

Legislator Tom Grant (R — East Greenbush) was also impressed with the county's commitment to development.

"I am pleased to support this budget that reduces property taxes. It is gratifying to know that the growth in East Greenbush is critical to the success of the County's finances. New development projects in East Greenbush and North Greenbush and other parts of the county all help improve the fiscal strength of our County, and that is good news for everyone," Grant explained.

While the budget vote (16-2) was again bipartisan, unlike recent vintage it was not passed unanimously. Minority Leader Peter Grimm (D — Troy) and Deputy Minority Leader Cindy Doran (D — Troy) voted against the budget citing concerns related to the "Reimagine Rensselaer" plan which they say will shift many county services out of Troy to East Greenbush and thenceforth cost millions of dollars that could negatively impact the Collar City.

"As we work to understand County Executive McLaughlin's Reimagine Plan, we find it unimaginable that the City of Troy has not been fully considered, in fact completely ignored," Grimm stated, adding that McLaughlin's plan calls for the relocation of many County services from the City which holds one-third of the County's population.

Doran also took umbrage with how certain dollars are allocated within the budget.

"Once again, County Executive McLaughlin's 2023 Budget continues his tradition of bait and switch by listing positions in his budget that are never filled," Doran stated.

"In the Minority Office alone, positions for legal counsel and office staff are itemized in the budget, and money is collected from taxpayers; yet, the County Executive and Republican Legislature refuse to allow for these essential positions to be filled. Residents are cheated out of equal representation that they pay for and rightfully deserve. Just how many more essential positions are listed in his budget and paid for with tax dollars that are never filled, and we are aware of the same practices throughout county departments. When positions are not filled, the Republicans claim this money as surplus at the end of the year that gets transferred to slush funds that only the Republicans control. Oftentimes, this surplus gets doled out at election time," Doran noted.

"Minority offices serve a vital function in government. We remind the community that there are more important issues to consider than one's own self-interests or the interests of one political party. The Minority, whether Democrat or Republican, improves the legislative debate and ensures the party in power is honest, transparent, and accountable. While the Minority Office has consistently requested the reinstatement of these positions, the Republican Majority continues to cripple the Minority Office of its function for political and punitive reasons," Grimm explained.

"For government to function effectively, both sides of the aisle must have legal counsel and sufficient staff so that members can judiciously review legal contracts and resolutions that authorize millions of dollars in expenditures that come before the Legislature. Republican operatives are desperate to control the narrative and do not want to hear from any voice that may disagree or question their actions. This is a disservice to the residents of Troy and the county at large. We cannot support the adoption of a Budget that intentionally misleads the public and does not fulfill essential budgetary oversight and assurances," Doran added.

While Legislator Nina Nichols (D — Troy) voiced some of the same concerns as Grimm and Doran, she commented on why she ultimately voted for the budget.

"I supported the adoption of the 2023 Rensselaer County budget. I voted yes for a budget that delivers a tax decrease without compromising services. That's good for the working families in Troy and throughout Rensselaer County. I did join my Democratic colleagues in prevailing upon the Legislature to restore the legal counsel for the minority office and an additional legislative assistant—both positions included in the budget we passed as with past budgets but left vacant each year. These positions would help us represents our constituents more effectively and provide consistent services, particularly with the need to have a presence both in East Greenbush and in Troy where a third of county residents reside," Nichols stated.

Legislator Ken Zalewski (D — Troy) additionally remarked on his initial budget vote.

"As I come to the conclusion of my first-ever budget cycle as a County Legislator, I have a few thoughts on the process and the final results. Overall, this was a straightforward budget that kept expenditures at a reasonable level, while allowing us to actually lower taxes for County residents, especially those in my own district (City of Troy). The fact that we are able to maintain quality services while reducing the tax burden for our residents is a testament to the fiscal discipline exhibited by our department heads, working in collaboration with administration officials. For this reason, I voted in favor of adopting the 2023 budget," Zalewski stated.

"However, my colleagues and I in the Democratic caucus did make some recommendations that were not implemented, which would enhance the legislative services that we provide to Troy residents. Most notably, we requested that we fill one of four vacant and budgeted positions for a Legislative Assistant. Taxpayers are already footing the bill for these positions, so we should fill them in order to better connect constituents to their elected officials, especially as County offices move from Troy to East Greenbush. We also requested a Legislative Counsel — a part-time position that had been utilized in the past — so that we can receive the best legal advice as we draft legislation and provide oversight to the Executive Branch. For now, those requests have gone unheeded, but I will continue to advocate for these common-sense changes," Zalewski continued.

"I will also mention that I have two concerns about funding for the Board of Elections. First, we need to fund at least two early voting sites in the City of Troy, in order to make voting convenient and accessible to all residents of the city. Early voting is fairly new in New York State, but its usage is steadily increasing. We have seen massive early voting in states like Georgia, where early voting has been in use for years, and I anticipate that the same will happen in our state. Expanded access will create expanded usage. Second, our electronic voting machines are starting to show their age, with mechanical breakdowns becoming alarmingly common. I have spoken with BOE staff from both parties, and they all agree that it's time to replace these out-of-date machines. I am advocating for this process to start in 2023, so that we can include it in the 2024 budget. I am confident that I can obtain bi-partisan support for this effort," Zalewski noted.

"I would like to once again thank all the County department heads and administration officials for producing a solid and supportable budget for Fiscal Year 2023. My constituents in Troy appreciate the tax relief, especially during this time of high inflation. I look forward to continued collaboration and fiscal oversight over the next year," Zalewski added.

(c)2022 The Record, Troy, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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