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Reaction to County Budget Proposal Mixed

By Holly Crocco

Representatives from the western side of the county spoke favorably of County Executive Kevin Byrne’s efforts to work with local municipalities to trickle funding down, but also urged him to reconsider his decision not to continue sharing sales tax with municipalities, in his proposed 2024 budget.

Jeff Mikkelson of Cold Spring, who serves as advocacy chairman of the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce, read a letter from chamber members and business owners at the Oct. 5 budget presentation at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel.

“In our view, the temporary revenue-sharing initiative was a resounding success,” said Mikkelson. “It provided badly-needs funds for local projects that municipalities were in the best position to identify and execute.”

This includes repairs and upgrades to water and sewer structures in Putnam Valley, renovations to a public park in the Town of Kent, a feasibility study of a village-wide sewer system in Neslonville, and support for an EMS building in Patterson, he said.

In 2022, Putnam County collected a record $82 million in sales tax revenue, which was about $17 million more than was budgeted. Therefore, the previous administration proposed sharing $5 million with local municipalities. Byrne’s budget proposal does not continue that initiative.

“For the sake of our residents, our communities and or local economy, we believe that allowing local governments to help direct these surplus funds two where they are needed most would be good not only for these municipalities, but also for the county as a whole,” said Mikkelson. “We therefore urge the Legislature to make sales tax revenue sharing permanent starting in 2023.”

Cold Spring Village Board member Eliza Starbuck said she was excited to hear Byrne’s proposal for a Municipal Partnership Initiative. She said the village has a tight budget and very little staff, so it doesn’t have a grant writer or engineering expert at its disposal.

“So, we don’t have a lot of resources to build plans and most of our budget is really just going to maintaining the status quo – to shovel the sidewalks and plow the streets,” she said. “But we are sitting on a crumbling infrastructure and we don’t really have the staff to address it.”

While Starbuck said the village will certainly apply for the initiative, she asked if staffing or support will be available to help the village put together a plan so it can be competitive with other towns that have more resources, such as the Town of Carmel, which has a more robust staff.

Cold Spring Mayor Kathleen Foley said she has been happy to see the county and village governments working more closely together, specifically with the county’s Bureau of Emergency Services helping the village apply for support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damage caused by this year’s storms.

“I feel like we are finally in position to put forward a proper request to FEMA post-storm, and we wouldn’t have had that connection had it not been for BES and the county executive’s staff reaching out and helping us with that, and our legislator, of course,” she said.

Further, Foley said she is hopeful the Municipal Partnership Initiative will mean even more cooperation going forward.

The mayor also expressed her support for Byrne’s pending appointment of Barbara Barosa as senior principal planner. “It’s really fantastic to see some expertise coming back to the planning department,” she said.

However, Foley said she was disappointed to see the consolidation of the transportation director position and “another salary bump for that particular employee. We still don’t have signs on the trolley… The only public transportation we have on the west side of the county,” she said. “We just need a magnet on that vehicle and if we can’t do that for a $110,000 salary, I really just don’t know what transportation can do for us on the west side of the county.”

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