Legislature passes outreach resolution for volunteer boards

At the July 9, 2018 full board meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, members unanimously passed a Democratic resolution co-sponsored by Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook) to improve outreach for citizen participation in volunteer boards and committees, overcoming Republican resistance at the June sessions.

The final amended form of the resolution, entitled “Resolution to strengthen outreach and participation in Dutchess County volunteer boards and committees,” requires the county to list the many volunteer boards and committees on the county website in a consistent manner and explain their purpose. It would list the members of the committees, provide details on when and where they meet and how to volunteer to join one. It also requires that candidates put forward for appointment or reappointment include an updated or current resume.

Previously, the membership of many boards was unavailable and the very existence of some committees were hard to confirm, even by legislators.

“This legislation helps residents connect more easily with volunteer committees that are helping the county work on a particular issue–whether it’s Lyme disease, environmental hazards, traffic safety, or veterans’ welfare,” said Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Poughkeepsie). “The more we work together the more good we can do.”

Originally introduced as a transparency resolution covering all of county government and requiring the publication of agendas and minutes, the resolution was amended by Republicans in July to remove those requirements and to exempt the County Executive’s meetings and boards. Republicans had voted against considering the original resolution on June 7 on a party line vote.

The Democratic caucus is a proponent of transparency and will continue to support and push for more resolutions such as this to insure better government.

“Although this is a watered down version of the original transparency resolution that Legislator Edwards worked tirelessly on, I am happy that we were able to finally get a resolution on the record that will prove to offer the public a real opportunity to get involved in their local government along with staying up-to-date on the issues we are working to resolve,” said Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park).

“This is a good first step and something that should have happened years ago,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “Minutes and agendas should also be publicly available and there is no reason volunteer boards overseen by the county executive should be exempt but we’ll take what we can get for now.”

“An inclusive government makes our community stronger. Especially when progress comes with a $0 price tag, perpetuating barriers to participation is indefensible,” said Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon).

Legislature passes SUNY Dutchess budget, increases funding by $1.75 million

At the July 9 meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, the annual budget for Dutchess Community College (DCC) was approved 16-7.

The budget increases the the county’s contribution by $1.75 million over the previous year, primarily due to reduced enrollment. College attendance is counter-cyclical. When the economy is going well, many would-be students opt to join the workforce rather than attend college. DCC receives state funding on a per-student basis so when attendance wanes, state funding drops as well as tuition – fewer students means less tuition collected overall.

The increase has no immediate impact on county taxes and will be factored into the annual budgeting process this fall.

Eventually, when the economy slows down and jobs are tougher to find, enrollment will increase, state funding will rise and the county will be asked for less. The typical split for community colleges has the county, the state and the student each splitting a third of the costs. With this budget, Dutchess County will still be contributing just 26%.

“Dutchess Community College draws students from throughout the Hudson Valley, not just Dutchess,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “While enrollment is down in this expanding economy, as it is at most similar institutions, it is crucial for us to support our local college and keep it in good shape for any tough times to come.”

Several residents and alumnae from the county came out to speak in favor of supporting the requested funding for Dutchess Community College. Key points made by many residents included the need for ongoing access to quality education and giving students of all ages better opportunities in life.

The resolution passing the budget also calls on Robin Lois, the Dutchess County Comptroller, to do a full assessment of the college’s books, something that was already on her schedule.

Legislator Randy Johnson (D-City of Poughkeepsie) said, “This is not the time to turn our backs on students and kill their dreams. The prize of Dutchess County is not the jail, it’s not DPW, it’s not the airport, but it is our community college. We live in a world where we see tax breaks given to the wealthy all of time, so I think it’s time to invest in the present and the future, by giving breaks to the general public by funding public education for Dutchess Community College.”

Minority Leader, Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park), said, “For many years prior to recent years, the County has notoriously underfunded its own community college compared to other counties throughout the Hudson Valley. I attribute my broader sense of giving back to our community and values to attending Dutchess Community College as many here in Dutchess County do. Without hesitation, DCC has answered the need for expanding services into the community through programs such as Dutchess Thinks Ahead and the new educational site at the Family Partnership Center. I am always proud to vote to support DCC.”

Munn calls on fellow legislators to stop blocking transparency resolution

At the June 7, 2018 committee meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, Republicans unexpectedly voted in unison to block a resolution to improve transparency in county government. The committee vote occurred along party lines, 6-5.

The resolution, entitled “Resolution for Transparency in Dutchess County volunteer boards and committees” would require the county to list the many volunteer boards and committees on the county website in a consistent manner and explain their purpose. It would list the members of the committees, provide details on when and where they meet and how to volunteer to join one.

Currently, the membership of many boards is unavailable and the very existence of some committees can be hard to confirm, even by legislators.

“We figured something simple like listing committee names on the website would be an easy bipartisan lift for the legislature,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “It is unclear why there is suddenly opposition to requiring this information to be made available to the public.”

Originally put forward at the May meeting, it was tabled at the Republicans’ behest in order to get an updated fiscal impact statement and to clarify the request for the county’s IT department. The current fiscal impact statement is zero – no cost for improved transparency – based on updated language.

“Dutchess makes it hard for residents to find out how to volunteer and join conversations about key issues such as suicide prevention, Lyme disease, elder abuse, or serving the needs of veterans,” said Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Poughkeepsie). “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue–it’s a common sense step that would strengthen our community and our government.”

The June vote was to resume consideration of the tabled resolution.

“An inclusive government makes our community stronger. Especially when progress comes with a $0 price tag, perpetuating barriers to participation is indefensible,” said Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon).

Republicans that had stated their support on the floor in May, including Will Truitt (R-Hyde Park), suddenly voted against discussing the same resolution in June.

“If you want to get involved with county government, it ought to be easy to find out how. Government, after all, is not some distant foreign thing, made up of ‘them’. Government is us; we, the people. That’s really what this resolution stands for,” said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon).

The effort to add volunteer boards and committees to the website follows a successful rules change in January proposed by the Democrats to require legislative committee minutes to be posted separately on the county’s website.

“Combined with the recent change to allow salary increase votes in non-election years, there seems to be a pattern of opposition to transparency and openness,” said Munn. “I hope those opposing this will change their minds or at least give me a sensible reason why not.”

Munn votes against new law relaxing rules on raising politician salaries

Does the June 11 vote to make it possible to raise salaries this year mean salary hikes for politicans are in the offing?
At the June 11, 2018 full board meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, Republican legislators voted to make it easier to raise their own salaries and those of other county elected officials. Legislator Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook) and every other Democratic legislator was opposed to the change. The local law was approved 13-10.

“I voted no because I refuse to be an accomplice in the effort to hide votes on salary increases for elected officials,” said Munn. “If anybody feels an increase is justified, they should be ready to make their case to their voters.”

The new law, when signed by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro (R-Red Hook) who did not oppose the measure, allows the legislature to vote to raise the salaries of elected officials (including Molinaro’s) in any year instead of just election years.

Molinaro is currently running for governor of New York and did not attend the meeting.

During the meeting, Legislator Barbara Jeter-Jackson (D-Poughkeepsie) asked the chamber if someone could explain why this change was necessary and good. Her query was met with silence from the assembled lawmakers and administration staff.

The new law was sponsored by Chairman Gregg Pulver (R-North East), Assistant Majority Leader Don Sagliano (R-Pleasant Valley) and Legislator Jim Miccio (R-Fishkill). None of them answered Legislator Jeter-Jackson.

“Why fix what’s not broken?”, said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon). “As it stands, the law makes any change in salary come closer to an election, so any increase we decide on, we’ll have to answer for. Why hide that by moving it to an off-cycle year?”

The existing law required that votes to change salaries could only happen during election years before July 15 to allow the voters to weigh in immediately on the decision. For example, legislator salaries could only be voted on in odd-numbered years (not in 2018) and salaries for elected officials with four-year terms like county sheriff, county clerk and county executive could only be voted on once every four years: the year they face the voters.

Under both the new and old laws, any salary changes will not take effect until after an election and the next term begins.

“Good government allows for its people to participate in it and holds elected officials accountable. This new law is the opposite of good government,” said Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park).

Munn continues push to expand prescription drug take-back measures, fight opioid abuse

Democrats in the Dutchess County Legislature recently proposed legislation that would require drug manufacturers to pay for the installation of secure, drug take-back boxes at every pharmacy in the county rather than making the county taxpayers (or local business owners) foot the bill.

On Wednesday, Democratic legislators again called on the Republican leadership to allow their legislation onto the floor and to do more for residents that want to dispose of their unused prescription drugs and help combat the opioid epidemic and reduce teen drug abuse.

“On March 11, we submitted legislation modeled on a law that passed unanimously in Rockland County last year that would cost taxpayers nothing,” said County Legislator Joel Tyner (D-Clinton). “It wasn’t even allowed on the agenda for discussion.”

“This is one small way that the pharmaceutical companies that have profited so handsomely from the over-distribution of these narcotics can begin to assume some responsibility in mitigating the damage that they cause,” said County Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon).

On Monday, May 14, the Dutchess County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution to help a handful of qualified pharmacies to set up secure drop boxes for unused prescription drugs. This act applies to just six pharmacies in towns that do not already have a drop box at their local police stations.

The county will offer $1500 to pharmacies who are willing to install the take-back boxes to help offset the cost. This grant money will allow for small, mom and pop pharmacies to participate without financially straining their businesses.

“This was better than nothing, but barely so. We have proposed better solutions that are being ignored,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “With the ongoing opioid crisis and the misuse of leftover prescription drugs by kids, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to drop off their unused pharmaceuticals.”

“Many youths are taking leftover drugs purchased from big chain stores and risking their lives,” said County Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias (D-Poughkeepsie). “A single take-back box can save a life – we need one in every pharmacy.”

The Democratic caucus plans to resubmit the legislation requiring drug take-back boxes county-wide.

“Given the number of lawsuits across the state and the country, the time is ripe for a manufacturer-funded drug take-back program in New York State,” said County Legislator Francena Amparo (D-Wappingers)

“We won’t wait for the State to set this necessary legislation,” said Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park). “It is within our purview to expand this program to all pharmacies in our county.”

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal & Electronics Recycling Event on April 7

Hazardous ChemicalsThe Dutchess County Division of Solid Waste Management will hold a Household Hazardous Waste Disposal & Electronics Recycling Event on Saturday, April 7th from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency, located at 96 Sand Dock Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie. The collection is open to Dutchess County residents only.

This popular event is first-come, first-served, and residents should expect to experience wait times. Hazardous waste in containers larger than 10 gallons will not be accepted. Pre-registration is required for this event and there is a $10.00 registration fee. Residents can register online or by calling (845) 486-3604. The fee can be paid online using a credit card or paid by check. Checks should be made payable to “Dutchess County Commissioner of Finance” and mailed to or dropped off to the Dutchess County Division of Solid Waste Management at 27 High Street, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601.

The Household Hazardous Waste Disposal & Electronics Recycling Event provides residents with a safe and responsible way to discard a diverse range of household items that cannot be disposed of through regular recycling or garbage bins. Acceptable items include television sets, computer monitors, telephones, pesticides, pool chemicals, and more. A complete list of acceptable items to bring to this disposal day is included below.

The Dutchess County Division of Solid Waste Management collection events are partially funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Additional collection events are planned for June 16th and October 27th.

Senior Friendship Center relocates to Red Hook Community Center

Great news for seniors in northwestern Dutchess County and Red Hook and Tivoli in particular! The Office for the Aging (OFA) will relocate its Senior Friendship Center from its current location at Memorial Lutheran Church, 1232 Route 308 in Rhinebeck, to a new location in the Red Hook Community Center, 59 Fisk Street in the Village of Red Hook.

The OFA operates eight Senior Friendship Centers throughout Dutchess County, which are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offer nutritious congregate meals and social activities.

The new Red Hook location, which will be open Monday through Thursday, is 36 percent larger than the current site in Rhinebeck. Positioned closer to population centers in northwestern Dutchess County, the Red Hook site will provide more space for socialization and exercise, and it will offer the opportunity for intergenerational activities with seniors and teens, as well as activities with local organizations.

“Bringing the Senior Friendship Center to the Red Hook Community Center is a win-win situation for everybody,” said Kris Munn, County Legislator for Red Hook and Tivoli. “The facility is larger and can offer more opportunities for seniors while also supporting the overall mission of the Community Center to serve the entire community.”

OFA staff expects attendance at the new Red Hook location will double in the coming year, compared to the number of seniors who have attended the Senior Friendship Center location in Rhinebeck.

The new location will also serve as the base of operations for the OFA’s Home Delivered Meals program serving Milan, Red Hook, Rhinebeck and part of Clinton; home delivered meals are available to eligible seniors five days a week. Additionally, the new location will provide seniors opportunities for unique activities, such as tai chi and line-dancing classes.

More information about the services and programs offered by the OFA is available by visiting Dutchess County Government’s website or by calling 845-486-2555.

Tivoli Bridge sidewalks to be closed to finish construction

The installation of the lighting was completed this week – although Central Hudson still has to come wire up the bulbs – and according to the County Department of Public Works, the stone veneer on the parapet walls will be installed starting next week.

As a result, the sidewalks will need to be closed to create a heated enclosure so the mortar won’t freeze in the cold weather. It will take about two weeks to complete, weather permitting.

There will be signs and barricades to guide vehicles and pedestrians through the construction area.

Aside from any issues that arise during final inspection, that should complete the project.

February 2018: Why can legislators vote without being present?

Much of the February agenda is uncontroversial and deals with paperwork such as acquiring the right to build on tiny pieces of property around road projects in Wappinger and Pleasant Valley and the rail trail in the Town of North East and reappointing people to the Traffic Safety Board.

But one item some colleagues and I would like to tweak are the Rules of the Legislature.

If a legislator were to leave the legislative chambers and a vote is called while they’re gone, most people would figure they’d be marked as absent or non-voting or as having abstained. And if someone misses a vote because they’re not there, well, that’s life. I’d hope that their fellow legislators would wait a couple of minutes for them to return but if not, so be it. And the missing legislator can explain their absence to their voters if need be.

But – believe it or not – there is a section of the Rules of the Legislature that says that the missing legislator’s vote will automatically tallied with the winning side. Legislators can vote even when they’re not there and don’t get a choice of which side to support!

Look, I know this situation isn’t going to happen often. Most of our meetings don’t last long enough that people need to use the restrooms and emergency phone calls from our families are rare. But it happened last year to one of my colleagues during a five hour budget meeting. She stepped out for the restroom and during the few minutes she was gone, a vote was called – perhaps intentionally – and her vote was stolen away and tallied against her wishes.

Again, it is rare but the idea that the legislature would put in its rules the ability to have someone forced to cast a vote they disagree with under any circumstances – well – it is undemocratic. In fact, the whole idea of a legislator voting without even being in the room is absurd.

We’re trying to change that rule so the only person casting votes on behalf of the people of Red Hook and Tivoli (and all the other towns and cities) are the people they elected.

What do you think? I welcome your input. Email me at kris@munnforredhook.com or comment below.

Coffee with your Legislator

Friday, January 19 from 8am until around 9am Kris will be at Murray’s in Tivoli and available to meet to chat about anything you like. If you have a local or state issue you’d like to share, he’s all ears – and if there is any way he can help he’ll do his best to reach out and assist.

This month Kris has already visited the Red Hook and Tivoli village boards and a meeting of the Red Hook Town Board to take any questions and report on county business that relates to those municipalities.

If you’re unable to meet in person or would rather just reach out electronically, all of Kris’ contact information is right here.