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The Ulster County Budget: What Will Happen When the Other Shoe Drops?

Earlier this month Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan proposed a $333.8 million budget for 2021 that requires neither a property tax levy increase nor employee layoffs, and with a smaller withdrawal from the county’s savings account (the fund balance) than was made in 2020.

At first glance, this seems like an extraordinary achievement during a time that the New York State economy has been devastated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. After early speculation that the decline would be much greater, county sales tax revenue is projected to drop next year by $8 million, to $120 million. That matches the actual level for 2018, but is just about 6 percent lower than the pre-Covid projection for the current year.

Ryan’s proposed spending is $9.06 million (2.66%) less than the $342.3 million recommended and approved for his first budget last year (which itself reflected a 4% increase). Significant cuts were made in every major service area except health, mental health and community college aid. Almost two-thirds of the county’s proposed spending reduction ($5.77 million, 63.7%) will be achieved by lowering personnel costs, largely as a result of a retirement incentive offered earlier this year. About 125 county employees, 10% of the workforce, opted in.

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