Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro presented his 2020 State of the County Address Thursday evening at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park to residents, business and nonprofit leaders, as well as local and state officials, focusing on a theme of “Home.” With Dutchess County Government’s fiscal condition strong, as evidenced by reaffirmation of the County’s AA+ bond rating by Standard & Poor’s earlier this week, the County Executive’s annual message focused on the challenges of ensuring our community is a home for everyone and the County’s efforts to provide support and opportunities for all to flourish with a sense of stability and security.
“We cannot hope to overcome our greatest challenges, solve our most intractable problems without the opportunity provided by a true home – a loving and supportive place – where one can dare to dream; where we can disagree but come together; where we heal and grow; where we are free to fail and find a path to greater promise. … We know we are building a home – the starting point in the race for life. We strive to make it a fair start, where when the horn sounds in this grand race, every person of every ability and background is standing shoulder-to-shoulder on that starting line,” County Executive Molinaro told the nearly 400 people in attendance at the event. The event began with video review of many of the accomplishments achieved over the past several years. In his Address, County Executive Molinaro looked ahead to what’s next for the County:
Home is Hope
Dutchess County, like communities throughout the nation, continues to be challenged by the issue of homelessness, with an 18% increase in homeless population from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, the Department of Community & Family Services provided placement for more than 170, including families, couples and individuals. Most of those people are employed, but unable to find affordable housing, despite a record number of affordable housing units being constructed in the past year, or they are struggling with health conditions, often co-occurring mental health and substance use problems.
County Executive Molinaro outlined four bold steps the County will embark on to reduce the homeless population, provide more effective transitional housing and increase the availability of affordable housing:
• Establishment of a Housing Support Center and Hotline to centralize existing housing services to provide information and support to those searching for affordable housing, help access available financial assistance, and connect with financial planning and legal services.
• Engage local hospitals and nursing homes, as well as state-run correctional facilities, to ensure appropriate re-entry planning prior to the release of patients or incarcerated individuals to reduce the number of people directly discharged into shelters.
• Develop a new centralized transitional housing solution to reduce reliance on costly motels for providing temporary housing. Motel placements cost nearly $2 million a year and limit the County’s capacity to help families transition to permanent housing.
• Work with local municipalities to add zoning language and land use policy to expand rental and housing options to increase access to affordable housing.
In 2019, Dutchess County experienced its first year-to-year decline in opioid-related deaths since 2014. Last year, there were 77 overdose deaths in Dutchess County, compared to 93 in 2018. Among Dutchess County’s effort to battle this epidemic:
• Expansion of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) across the county, including availability of initial treatment in local hospital emergency rooms, the Dutchess County Stabilization Center, and the Dutchess County Jail.
• Recovery coaches available to people where they are, including street outreach in the City of the Poughkeepsie as well as a recovery coach in eastern Dutchess County through the Rural Overdose Disparities Project, a partnership with HRHCare and NextDistro.
• Opioid Summit at Marist College in partnership with Ulster County to share best practices, develop comprehensive solutions and further strengthen response to this regional and national epidemic.
The State of the County Address featured a new video highlighting the power and reach of Dutchess County’s ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative to build a community of inclusion that is accessible and welcoming to people of every ability. The ThinkDIFFERENTLY movement continues to expand across the state, and even the nation, and in 2020, new events will include:
• Marist College Red Foxes will host a sensory-sensitive basketball game next season.
• ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday at the Dutchess County Fair will include additional events throughout the day, sensory sensitive cool spaces and locations with greater accessibility will be available throughout fair week.
• Cornell Cooperative Extension will provide opportunities for those with disabilities to take part in 4-H groups.
• Special Olympics New York will return to Dutchess County for their 50th Anniversary with the Summer Games in June.
Path to Promise
Under the leadership of the newly appointed Assistant Commissioner for Youth Services, Dutchess County’s Path to Promise initiative has an ambitious agenda ahead, including:
• Increased engagement with the community and support for grassroots youth organizations with mini-grants for smaller projects that address some measurable aspect of childhood and youth development.
• Host youth influencer forums, more fully integrate Path to Promise into the Annual Youth Summit and develop an interactive Path to Promise workshop.
• Utilize data to develop and track solutions including providing Phase I of a new Path to Promise website with a user-friendly, searchable asset database of available youth services in Dutchess County. Phase II will be the creation of an online data dashboard and tool to track indicators and drive solutions related to youth success and wellbeing with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) performance indicators.
2020 will be a transformational year for Dutchess County’s park system as design development of the Lake Walton Preserve into a universally accessible park gets underway to create connections to the Dutchess Rail Trail, including the construction of a loop walking path around the lake and viewing areas.
Early stages of design has begun for the new urban trail along the former CSX rail corridor in the City and Town of Poughkeepsie, creating a unique linear park that will connect neighborhoods, local businesses, restaurants, educational institutions, major development projects, and playgrounds to the Walkway Over the Hudson and the rail trail network.
Quiet Cove Riverfront Park - where several projects have been recently completed including a second waterfront deck, kayak rentals through an ADA accessible launch, and upgrades to the historic naval boathouse - will begin its final phase of improvements which include opening up the Hudson River viewshed with the removal of unneeded buildings, a new parking area on the river side of the tracks, and a redefined entrance to improve vehicular and pedestrian access.
The County Executive also highlighted numerous other initiatives in his Address including:
• New Emergency Management App, providing information on trainings, road closures, emergency plans, power outages, shelters, and other critical emergency and preparedness information, to be launched this spring.
• New resources for the Human Rights Commission under the umbrella of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health.
• New Equal Opportunity and Inclusion Officer to increase the diversity of County workforce and investigate discrimination.
• Redesign and redevelopment of the critical Market Street corridor in partnership with the City of Poughkeepsie.
• Hudson River protection advocacy including holding the Environmental Protection Agency accountable for complete cleanup of PCBs and development of a responsible Shoreline Access Plan that be can supported by river lovers and key stakeholders.
County Executive Molinaro’s full 2020 State of the County Address is available on Dutchess County’s website. Citizens are invited to participate in conversations about the 2020 State of the County at town hall forums to be held over the next several weeks including:
• Elmendorph Inn, 7562 North Broadway, Red Hook on March 4th at 6 pm
• Wappinger Town Hall, 20 Middlebush Road, Wappinger on March 18th at 6 pm
• Amenia Town Hall, 4988 Route 22, Amenia on April 7th at 12:30 pm
LaGrange Town Hall, 120 Stringham Road, LaGrangeville on April 13th at 6 pm