County executive Pat Ryan talks about his priorities for Ulster - BlueStone Press
October 21, 2019
Rochester

County executive Pat Ryan talks about his priorities for Ulster

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Pat Ryan, the recently elected Ulster County executive, gave a talk on July 2 at Rochester’s town hall in Accord. He introduced himself, outlined what he’s planning to do in office, and took a number of questions. He had a full house (the Town Board meet was directly after his talk).

He had decided on five top-priority issues to deal with, he said. No. 1: He plans on "implementing a series of projects to move us to 100% renewable energy in our county, and to invest in green jobs training to create jobs in that new, emerging part of our economy."

No. 2 on his list, he said, is "recognizing the fact that 40% of the people in Ulster County are living paycheck to paycheck. I think that's conservative, frankly … As we grow, we have to make sure everybody shares in [that growth]."

No. 3 is “tackling the opioid epidemic, which we know is ravaging our communitites … I'm sure everybody in this room could tell stories of people they know. Ulster County is sadly now the worst in the state for opioid overdose deaths per capita. That's a dark statistic." Ryan intends to use that grim fact, however, to ask for increased state funding for treatment beds and other support for the victims of opioids and their families.

He described his next priority as “redefining justice. How do we put fewer people in jail, where it costs seven times more [than rehabilitation]?" He imagines the creation of special courts devoted to mental health and drug addiction cases, to “help people get back on their feet rather than incarcerating them.”

Lastly, he affirmed his commitment to responding to the needs of the county's people and “coming from a place of integrity… In the spirit of responsiveness, I'm holding a town hall in every one of the 24 municipalities that make up Ulster County over the next few months.”

Ryan then opened it up for questions. Bea Haugen-Depuy, a Rochester Town Board member, used the hypothetical example of "a 55-year-old with dementia. What programs are available to keep this man or woman safe?"

"The question you're asking is hitting on the interconnectedness of all the services we provide,” answered Ryan. “We have 25 different departments, and I think to a lot of people it feels like, where do I even start? Where do I go" to seek help from the county? He talked about the overlap of services provided by mental health, veterans, the Office for the Aging, and other social services. "We have what probably feels like an alphabet soup of different agencies," and one of his goals is to make it easier for people to understand how to navigate the system. A person with early-onset dementia, as in Haugen-Depuy’s example, might fall through the cracks – not old enough for senior programs and not willing, perhaps, to seek mental health support. Ryan brought up the case of a woman with disabilities he knew who turned 21 and suddenly wasn't eligible for the help she'd been receiving through child-oriented programs. “If people have examples or specific cases, that would help me a lot,” he added.

Town supervisor Mike Baden brought up a wintertime issue in Rochester. He said that vendors are contracted by the county to provide heating fuel for those who need financial assistance (the HEAP program), but if those vendors are busy with their paying customers they don't respond to HEAP calls, saddling the town’s constabulary with the responsibility of bringing a few gallons of fuel to people who have no immediate means of filling their own tanks. Ryan thanked Baden for this information; he’d been unaware of it, he said.

A landscape ecologist the town had consulted on its Natural Heritage Plan brought up the importance of support for local agriculture and water resources. "There's every indication that California may be undergoing a thousand-year drought," he said, making local farm products more a necessity in the future than just a choice and a tourist attraction, as they are now. "We may need to rely on our food sources, ideally in a way that doesn't affront our water supply,” he said. “Keeping [the local farmers] happy and alive and thriving is to everybody's benefit."

Ryan, on same topic, talked about the possibility of shared resources and how that could help the farmers, such as "shared refrigeration space in terms of storage and distribution.”

Another idea for possible shared resources was introduced by supervisor Baden. Rochester needs a new bridge on Boice Mill Road, but is being held up by the cost of designing the bridge and having it inspected. Couldn't county engineers do those jobs for Rochester and other towns?

Another point: the difficulties of maintaining volunteer fire departments and the possibility of tax advantages for volunteers, "the least we can do" for them, said Ryan. The theme of shared resources applied here too; the local fire departments don't use a common hose fitting size, which can hinder them when working together to put out a blaze, as they so often do.

Ryan outlined an initial plan dealing with the opioid crisis. Right now you could wait weeks or months" for a place at a treatmeant center, "obviously not sustainable." He is pretty sure UC will be receiving a "multimillion-dollar grant" to provide more treatment "beds" and said this would be his top priority in approaching Albany for grant money.

Ellenville Hospital, he reported, is running a pilot program to give "medication-assisted treatment" to people who show up in the ER instead of just helping them to detox and sending them on their way. “All the research on this has shown a threefold reduction in repeat cases of overdose when this is applied, and that's a pretty easy policy change."

Besides giving the public a window onto his plans, Ryan got back a lot of ideas and information that night. He wound up his talk by giving out his cell phone number [845-481-0833] and inviting people to call with problems or suggestions.

 

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