2012 State of the County Address
"Our partnerships make us stronger"
Chairman Pillmeier, Majority Leader Bonacic, Minority Leader Berkman, Leader Amo, members of the Legislature, honored guests, department heads, and fellow citizens of Orange County…
Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to present the 2012 State of the County Address.
Before beginning, I would like to take a moment to thank the brave men and women of our U.S. armed forces who by their sacrifices, and that of their families, allow us to live in peace to pursue the American dream.
To all those in the military, past and present, active and reserve, the County of Orange honors you and thanks you for your service…
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We all learn very early on in life the importance of forging partnerships. In adulthood, not much changes. We seek out partners in our places of business, in our community organizations and houses of worship, and with family, friends and neighbors.
We do so to increase the likelihood of achieving the missions and goals we believe will make our lives better. We are constantly, and quite naturally, always building alliances with one another because our partnerships make us stronger.
County government is no different. Without partners in the private, public and non-profit sectors, as public servants we would not be able to provide the services that our residents demand and deserve.
By working together over the past year, we have accomplished so much…
Produced an on-time and balanced budget that reduced taxes;
Maintained the highest possible credit rating of Triple-A assigned by Moody’s;
Assisted the placing of 2,200 Orange County residents in employment;
Envisioned in 2006, we finalized a contract with Coach USA/Shortline and the state to provide over $18 million in support of public transit, enabling the construction of Shortline’s new $14 million dollar headquarters and bus maintenance facility;
Implemented the Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) dispatching system enhancing public safety with accurate, real-time patrol information for 31 police agencies, which includes the County Sheriff, and the New York State Police;
Collected more than $5.5 million in boarder revenue working with Orange County Sheriff DuBois;
Centralized the procurement of goods and services with local municipalities for a savings of over $2 million;
Provided $24,000 to local and state police to aid DWI efforts, with funding coming directly from fines and fees from DWI arrests;
Introduced a Free Prescription Drug Discount Card with ProAct that has surpassed $250,000 in prescription savings for County residents with nearly 7,000 claims filed in the first six months at no cost to the County;
Named as one of the nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People by America’s Promise for two years straight;
Achieved nearly $1 million in savings through our Lean Six Sigma efficiency program, in which nearly 100 County employees have participated;
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chose Orange County as one of 60 sites nationwide to improve emergency health response; and we,
Received $1.1 million in new state funding for expansion of Mobile Mental Health Services in the County that will reduce demand on local emergency rooms.
Chairman, Legislators, ladies and gentlemen…
These are just some of the ongoing initiatives from the past year that my administration has undertaken in working with the members of the Legislature, with our County workforce and with our many community partners - all for the betterment of Orange County and our future.
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Public safety is a top priority for our County. Many people, across several offices and departments, work long hours in order to serve and protect us: the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Emergency Services, the Department of Probation, as well as hundreds of state, city, town, and village partners we work with across the County.
District Attorney Frances D. Phillips completed his 26th year in office in 2011 with a 97 percent felony conviction rate in superior courts, while prosecuting a total caseload of more than 21,000 cases in local courts. He continued to participate with the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, state and local police agencies to arrest members of the Bloods and Latin King Street gangs. In addition to prosecuting individuals charged with crimes, the office works to both divert and rehabilitate first-time offenders by providing programs for rehabilitation.
As the chief law enforcement officer in the County, Sheriff Carl E. DuBois and his deputies work to preserve and protect the peace in Orange County. His investigators recently worked with the Medicaid Inspector General's Office, charging two individuals with defrauding Medicaid of approximately $230,000. His office also worked alongside the FBI to support the Hudson Valley Safe Streets program.
Last year, the Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Orange County Consumer Affairs Commissioner Charles Mitchell, facilitated and coordinated the Precious Metals Law so that it is valid and enforceable.
Walter C. Koury is the Commissioner of the County’s Department of Emergency Services. His department is responsible for enhancing the safety of all residents of Orange County by providing the public and all emergency service agencies with the information and training necessary to respond to emergencies.
In 2011, E-911, which serves all 108 fire, police, and EMS agencies in the County, answered 280,000 calls, a 9 percent increase over 2010. This is a service we all take for granted, but just yesterday a leap year baby in Newburgh could not wait to get to the hospital, but luckily for him a skilled Orange County 911 dispatcher talked a firefighter through the delivery process resulting in his birth. I would like to thank dispatcher Deborah Moretto and everyone at 911 for doing such a great job assisting the public each and every day.
Recently, the division completed an expansion of the County’s Communications infrastructure to include the addition of two new communications towers. One tower will improve emergency communications in the Towns of Deerpark and Greenville, and the City of Port Jervis. The second tower will improve emergency communications in the Towns of Highlands and Cornwall, the Villages of Highland Falls and Cornwall-on-Hudson, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and marine coverage on the Hudson River.
Last year, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee reminded us of what great people live among us, as truly, neighbor helped neighbor to get through these tough days and weeks. Many volunteered to help the public, from fire, to EMS, to the Red Cross, as well as the numerous people who gave of their time unselfishly. Their contributions were important and appreciated by all our residents. To all who gave of themselves for the benefit of others, on behalf of the citizens of Orange County, I thank you.
Looking back for a moment to 2008, it was a very important safety decision for the County to invest in this state of the art facility. It has without a doubt proven to be a great resource for Orange County, delivering unending dividends. And, it will continue to do so 70 to 75 years into the future. The Legislature had the foresight and the vision to support this center, and I truly believe its use has positively impacted the County and the region.
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As steward of the County’s finances, it is my duty to protect the financial interests of the people of Orange. Resources need to be allocated responsibly, in addition to being nurtured for the future. Investing what we have today for those who will come tomorrow is not only a responsible course of action, but an absolutely necessary one for our continued financial stability. This is indeed a challenge, first considering the current economic climate where resources are scarce, and secondly, there are always many different opinions on what projects to fund and where to invest.
For a second year in a row, Orange County has maintained a Triple-A Bond Rating by Moody’s Investors Services. This is a vital indicator of our County’s fiscal health, as an independent and objective world-renowned institution recognized and validated the economic decisions Orange County has been making each and every day on behalf of our residents. We can all be proud of this achievement, especially as we are still just one of two counties in New York State to currently hold this distinction.
Such an environment helps promote job creation and retention, which is the key to a better life for all Orange County residents. Seventy percent of all jobs are from small businesses, and eighty percent of new job growth is from existing businesses. It is very clear that the County’s relationship with the business community is mutually beneficial and should be supported by us all.
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Economic development in this climate is all about one crucial objective: JOBS…
Our economic development plan, directed by Deputy County Executive James D. O’Donnell, continues to be aggressive and innovative. Our many economic partners work tirelessly to encourage companies to open or expand their businesses in the County, and they are: the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), Chairman James R. Petro, Jr.; the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, President John A. D’Ambrosio; the Orange County Partnership, President and CEO Maureen Hallahan, the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, President and CEO Michael Oates, in addition to their respective Boards of Directors and staffs.
Within the last 12 months, 19 companies chose to grow their businesses in Orange County: 412 new jobs were created, 1.5 million square feet of industrial / office space was absorbed, and $415 million in capital investment was invested. In the past 8 weeks alone, we have retained more than 600 jobs, and closed on two expansions by occupying two vacant buildings and filling 78,000 square feet. And, just last week, we closed on a 350,000 square foot manufacturing project that will add 90 new jobs to Orange County following their construction. This project is a $35 million capital investment.
The Orange County Business Accelerator, the County’s economic incubator managed by Director Michael DiTullo, continues to be a huge success, with 9 resident businesses on site at their offices at Stewart Airport, and 12 associate clients, creating almost 70 jobs last year.
Their first graduate, Continental Organics, broke ground for their new sustainable agricultural facility this past fall in New Windsor. The initial phase of Continental Organics includes a $2.4 million capital investment and will provide jobs for nearly 140 area residents and will have a focus on hiring military veterans. Continental Organics will be the largest facility of its kind in the Northeast and is projected to be the largest in America within two years.
And, Mediacom, the nation’s eighth largest cable television company, decided to not only stay in Orange County but to make it their new corporate headquarters. They broke ground this fall in Blooming Grove with a brand new $41 million facility, keeping 250 jobs in the County, with an additional 150 positions to be created over the next few years. I applaud Rocco Commisso, owner and CEO, for staying in Orange County and contributing to our economic growth.
Finding work for our residents is an important component of the County’s economic strategy, and Director Steve Knob of the County’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) counsels job seekers on employment skills, making them more marketable to potential employers, in addition to placing candidates with local businesses.
Last year, ETA’s Orange County One-Stop Career Centers served over 8,000 unique customers across all programs at our three locations in Newburgh, Middletown and Port Jervis. Even in these difficult times, ETA helped more than 2,200 Orange County residents obtain employment.
Agriculture is still the County’s number one industry, selling approximately $74 million in market value of agricultural products. It is also an important historical legacy for us and a major part of our County’s future. We are doing our part to support this key community by creating opportunities for farmers to work cooperatively, improving infrastructure and delivery systems in rural areas, increasing access to and promoting farmer’s markets, while helping partners in the region take advantage of buying local agricultural products in bulk.
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Government needs to partner with other forms of government to achieve savings for taxpayers…
Let me share with you some of the areas I believe we are exploring with local governments to maximize our purchasing power to save local tax dollars. In 2011, Orange County Department of General Services saved over $2 million from our new procurement policy. I have directed Commissioner James P. Burpoe to share this procurement initiative with municipal and community leaders so that they too may take advantage of lower prices when purchasing by volume. Some examples where savings could be achieved and passed on to County residents: Integrated Telecommunications; Utilities; Professional Services; Grants; and Computer and software equipment.
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Ladies and gentlemen, please know that although we here in Orange County do our best to be fiscally responsible there are obligations placed on us, of which, we have little to no control over…
The State of New York, and by extension the County of Orange, is now at a critical juncture. Nine New York State mandates consume 90 percent of our New York counties’ property tax levy, while New York State’s property taxes are nearly 80 percent above the national average. This is simply an unsustainable burden.
For counties, the root cause of this oppressive property tax burden is the State’s requirements regarding the delivery and funding of an extensive State-driven spectrum of health and human service programs.
These unfunded mandates – the programs and services counties are required to provide residents – are the largest item in any county budget. For Orange County, these mandated services will consume 79 percent of our 2012 operating budget!
Is that not outrageous? That 79 percent of our annual budget goes toward programs and services beyond our control as a County? This means that while we raise revenues through property taxes, sales tax, and other fees our County has little control over how our money is spent.
Remarkably, it is just nine state mandates that consume 90 percent of the property taxes collected statewide. The largest consumption to our budget by far is Medicaid. The other eight mandates include: Child Welfare, Pre-school special education, Indigent Defense, Probation, Early Intervention, Youth Detention and Pensions.
New York State requires counties to make all 43 federal Medicaid program options available to our residents. Of that 43, 14 are mandated, 29 are not. Orange County residents will pay over $75 million this year to support Medicaid. In addition, our share for the Public Assistance Safety Net program has grown to 71 percent from 50 percent just two years ago.
We are proud of the way we deliver critical programs to our residents. These are important health, human service, and public protection programs. We take our duty to the people very seriously. However, the requirements for this service delivery, which the State has placed on counties, have made this burden unbearable for us.
The system is broken, badly broken, and it is now time – beyond time – to take swift action to make the changes that are so sorely needed for the health and well-being of our County, and its people.
Simply capping property taxes does nothing to reduce the actual costs of these nine mandates, and the many other programs that New York State requires counties to fund on a local level.
In addition, Orange County spent $23 million for New York State pension costs in 2011. This is an increase of $7 million, or 44 percent from 2010, and yet, we have little to no control over the pension benefits awarded to our own employees. By 2014, state-required contributions for County pensions will consume nearly 25 percent of our entire County property tax levy!
I firmly believe that no one entity can address these difficult issues alone. The time has come for us to partner, collaborate, and work together to change the system and provide much needed mandate relief.
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As an elected official, one must make tough decisions that may not be popular today, but choices that hopefully will be understood tomorrow. And clearly one of these tough decisions involves the future of Valley View. Throughout my 33 years in public service, this is by far the most difficult decision I have ever made. However, government can no longer afford to operate a long term health care facility.
The federal and state governments simply do not want county governments in the nursing home business, and they have sent this message loud and clear by continually reducing aid and support. This is a dilemma that is not only facing Orange County, but as president-elect of the New York State Association of Counties, I see this trend plaguing all those counties which continue to operate county run nursing homes.
I believe it is society’s responsibility to help care for those who have come before us… those who have helped to build our great County. We have a solution that will continue to maintain the care, jobs and services for the people of Orange County.
While government can no longer afford to provide this service, the private and non-profit sectors have the ability to efficiently run the facility to ensure the high quality of care continues for future generations. As a senior citizen myself, and having had parents and relatives in skilled nursing facilities, I fully recognize the need for this service and the fact that I too may someday need it. Let me make this perfectly clear, it has never been my goal or objective to have the facility closed. But action needed to be taken and taken now!
The County needs to sell Valley View because the cost of operating the facility rises higher and higher each year. In 2011, County taxpayers funded $19 million and it is projected to be $30 million in 2015. We will simply run out of money to pay for it. In order to avoid such a situation, the strategy is to sell Valley View to a private or non-profit entity that will continue to operate it, caring for those who require its services, while keeping those jobs in Orange County. I am working with the Legislature and the firm the County has contracted with to find an appropriate buyer.
But the County cannot complete this action without the support and authorization of the State of New York. At one time there were 60 county operated nursing homes in New York State. There are currently 36 left and of those, ten are under study for closure or sale. I have personally spoken with Governor Cuomo about this dilemma and the need for the State to take swift action when it comes to reviewing and approving the sale of these facilities. We are doing our part to watch out for Orange County taxpayer dollars and the State of New York needs to be our partner to ensure a smooth transition from government to a privately run facility.
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As you know, the Orange County Department of Public Works (DPW), under the leadership of Commissioner Charles W. Lee, is responsible for maintaining the County’s highways, bridges, and related infrastructure, Orange County Sewer District #1, and three solid waste transfer stations, the Orange County Airport, and a variety of watershed protection and special districts.
In 2011, DPW crews, paved or surface-treated 32.5 miles of County roads and paved four non-highway sites; prepared designs for road improvements on County Road 1B, County Road – 106, and replaced two County bridges.
We have completed the Tower Building renovation project finalizing the SUNY Orange Newburgh Campus. This is the County’s sixteenth capital project, all completed on-time and under budget, unheard of in government. And you are hearing for the first time, we achieved a savings of $2 million just on this one project. Not all governments can make this claim, but we can. The County’s track record with building projects is unparalleled, and for this we should all be proud.
During the last four months of 2011, the Engineering Division spent much of its time working on documenting, repairing, inspecting and facilitating the recovery of infrastructure from storms Irene and Lee. Twenty-eight roads and four bridges were closed immediately following the storms due to flood damage. Currently, only two roadways remain closed.
The Buildings and Grounds Division was instrumental in helping County departments relocate to new offices after severe weather damaged the Government Center. They completed renovations at three buildings on Matthews Street in Goshen, in addition to renovating and relocating the Orange County Clerk offices to the Parry Building.
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Commissioner David Church and his staff at the Orange County Planning Department provide the framework for development that respects our overall master plan, environmental assessments, and provides consistent application of land use regulations, in addition to transit planning. The Department of Planning completed 430 reviews of individual planning or zoning permits referred by municipalities last year.
The Planning Department is working with my office and the Orange County Planning Board to research and prepare the first ever County Economic Development Strategy that will be used as a roadmap for the County’s economic revitalization. This year it will be added as a new chapter to the County Comprehensive Plan. We have already gained key input from Orange County Partnership, the Orange County Arts Council, the Citizens Foundation, and others.
In 2011, Planning, working with the Orange County Water Authority, implemented municipal water supply leak detection program County-wide by providing grants to twenty-six municipalities, who surveyed 656 miles of water lines detecting 138 leaks that were repaired, saving nearly 1,337,904 gallons of water per day for County systems. The estimated cost savings to Orange County taxpayers is $920,835 annually.
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Orange County is dedicated to improving the lives of our youth. We are currently assessing our Youth Bureau in hopes of transferring programs by merging them with the County’s Office for the Aging. Intergenerational consolidation is being done by governments around the nation in anticipation of delivering better services to these unique constituencies. We not only believe this will provide better services for our seniors and youth, but will be an efficient use of government resources.
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The physical health of our residents is always a concern of ours, as a better way of life means health and well-being. Always working on this is the County’s Commissioner of Health Dr. Jean M. Hudson, who along with her entire Healthy Orange Team at the health department monitors and protects the health status and health needs of our residents. They are committed to promoting good health, nutrition, and an active lifestyle through educational programs, health screenings, and other opportunities to maintain wellness.
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Even in these difficult economic times, we understand the social contract we have to those of our neighbors who have challenges, or difficulties in providing for themselves. Commissioner Dave Jolly leads the County’s Department of Social Services (DSS), a department that provides and manages a wide range of social programs to help those in our communities, friends and neighbors, who are in need.
Families and individuals receiving Temporary Assistance increased in 2011, with 3,280 households or 7,026 individuals receiving financial help to maintain a minimal standard of living, while 58,480 individuals accessed the medical assistance program Medicaid, a 7 percent increase from 2010.
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Of critical concern to our County are those who have served and are serving…
Orange County is currently home to nearly 23,000 veterans, as well as duty personnel from all branches of the armed services. The County’s Department of Veterans Service Agency provides counseling and assistance to our veterans, their dependents, and active duty personnel, including a van service and a program that meet the special needs of this population.
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Let me take a moment now to update everyone on the outstanding work of County Clerk Donna Benson’s office…
With a population of over 380,000, most Orange County residents use the high quality services of Orange County Clerk Donna Benson’s office, recording land records and court documents, utilizing one of the three DMV offices in the County, obtaining passports, and other services. Her office is also responsible for swearing-in newly naturalized U.S. citizens and welcoming them to America and the County.
The County Clerk’s Office also provides an ID card to veterans to utilize at participating business establishments in Orange County offering a variety of discounts. Currently, more than 6,100 veterans have enrolled in the program supported by over 475 local businesses.
This past fall County Clerk Donna Benson’s office was relocated like so many other departments that left the Government Center. Her office possesses records that go back generations. In order to preserve the integrity of these important historical documents, Clerk Benson and her staff worked nights and weekends to get their temporary space in the Parry building up and running for the public. She and her staff did an outstanding job. Let me personally say, thank you Donna, to you and your staff.
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In the next few weeks and months ahead, we, like the rest of America, will have to make difficult decisions at home and in our businesses as energy prices continue to soar due to escalating tensions in the Middle East.
Staying closer to home for shopping and leisure will soon become a necessity. Thankfully, we live in a County that has so much to offer that buying local and staying local will seem like a treat.
“Buy local” is not just a slogan. It is the most important decision we can make as consumers, because it will determine whether or not our neighbors stay in business, and whether or not our communities stay solvent.
Locally owned businesses keep their profits in the community and are more likely to purchase goods and services from local sources. This ends up having a multiplier effect that increases local economic activity, which in turn creates jobs.
We encourage residents to support their communities, by supporting their local businesses…
Our County parks offer residents and visitors over 3,000 acres for recreational opportunities that include: golf courses, camping sites, playgrounds, baseball fields, tennis courts, equestrian area, a dog park, waterfront areas, picnic sites, Heritage Trail, two museums, Hill-Hold and Brick House, and so much more.
In addition to our County parks, we are fortunate to have access to New York State’s attractions. Orange County boasts six state parks and a state forest, as well as the first founded section, 25 miles, of the historic Appalachian Trail. Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks are among the oldest established parks in the state park system at 99 and 102 years old, respectively.
History, yes, we are rich in history here in Orange County, from Washington’s Headquarters to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There are plenty of historic sites for all generations to visit to learn how America became the great country that it is.
Riverside fun is also abundant, as Orange County uniquely borders the Delaware and the Hudson. Activities such as kayaking, rafting, tubing, and canoeing, as well as boating, fishing and cruising may be enjoyed right here close to home.
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This past year has continued to be a very challenging one for the County. America still finds itself in an economic recession and many of our friends and neighbors remain unemployed. Federal and state mandates continue to consume a majority of the County’s budget. While natural disasters, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc on our communities and damaged County infrastructure.
Most notably, the storms forced the closure of the Orange County Government Center. The magnitude of relocating the County Seat to various sites was a daunting task at best. However, it was necessary to protect the health of the workers and residents who use the facility each and every day. Our department heads and County staff went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure a seamless transition of County government operations.
There has been much debate over the future of the Orange County Government Center. The Legislature will soon be making a decision with respect to the fate of the building. We have taken great strides to listen to the various concerns of the Legislature, the public and taxpayers of Orange County. We have spent countless hours working to assess our needs and to reduce costs. Today I am presenting a new vision for the future of the Orange County Government Center.
Today, I unveil a concept of a new government center complex that will reduce the costs to $75 million for construction. This project will put Orange County residents to work while stimulating the local economy and revitalizing downtown Goshen, our County Seat.
This coming Monday, I will be presenting to the Legislature the details of this new concept. I look forward to working with the Legislature to bring these plans from paper to reality.
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We are very lucky. Our forefathers left us a great inheritance, and we owe it to them, to our children, and to their children, to not only protect and preserve all that is good about Orange County, but to make it better, yes – stronger…
We can only accomplish this lofty goal by working together - citizens, businesses, governments and non-profits - as genuine partners for the benefit of all.
Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher of the 18th century said, “Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations…”
Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our County is strong, healthy and vibrant. We have a great future ahead of us because we have each other. Orange County is stronger because of our partnerships, and all we have to offer the next generation. We will leave them an Orange County that is better than how we found it. That is their legacy and our destiny.
Thank you. May God bless each of us, the great County of Orange, and the United States of America.
EDWARD A. DIANA
Orange County Executive
March 1, 2012