STONE RIDGE – More than six months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic hobbled a stable regional economy and turned students into homeschoolers.
SUNY Ulster’s empty campus accentuated that fact Thursday when Ulster County Executive Patrick Ryan unveiled his 2021 $333.8 million budget, which lowers spending 2.6 percent from the 2020 budget and avoids layoffs without a tax increase.
“I think we got the balance right,” said Ryan. “We’ve reduced overall spending. We did it with no tax increases or no layoffs, and we are continuing to invest in those key areas of rebuilding a more equitable economy and taking care of each other at a moment of need.”
The budget reduces spending $2 million for social services and $1.23 million for the sheriff’s office. Mental health services will get a $540,000 hike to $13.7 million, including $900,000 for mobile mental health services. Public health spending will increase $140,000 to $7.9 million, and the budget also includes $670,000 for opioid use prevention. There was a dramatic increase in overdoses from a year ago.
The county will spend $48.5 million on infrastructure, and $5.3 million for economic development, including $225,000 to help maintain the Tech City complex, formerly IBM.
The pandemic’s wake has enabled lawmakers to react for 2021. The 2022 budget could be different as the pandemic fails to set a steady course. Ryan said the county has a healthy un-appropriated fund balance that can keep the county’s finances stable through 2022.
“We have that financial flexibility. We are maintaining a level of operations that I think we can maintain through a continued bumpy road if that’s what comes,” he said. “The future is very much uncertain, and we want make sure as we head into that future, we still have reserves and that flexibility.”