KINGSTON – There is a meeting going on right now, with nobody in attendance. The rare overnight recess by the Ulster County Legislature represents another hurdle in the county’s parliamentary race against time. At stake are millions in county funds.
Wednesday’s special session of the county legislature is being held over until Thursday afternoon, in a last-ditch effort to forestall the ongoing sales tax extension time bomb.
They are waiting for the State Senate to modify pending legislative approval for restoring the tax rate – lowered by one percent during the crisis. County legislators will reconvene at 4:30 p.m. today (Thursday), to rubber-stamp Albany’s green light.
Clerks must then prepare the paperwork and get a certified postmark the same day. Draconian austerity will be imposed if the deadline is missed. Kingston’s midtown branch on Cornell Street stays open until 7 p.m.
One percent of the county’s sales tax has been denied since the extension bill did not make it to the floor of the State Assembly last summer. County Executive Michael Hein’s administration locked horns with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, in an ongoing public dispute over the matter.
County Legislative Chairman John Parete was confident.
“It will get done,” Parete said. “It’s like Jackie Robinson stealing home, the umpire calls ‘safe,’ but you’re never sure whether he was right or wrong.”
“If we go into sequestration, the real losers are the public,” said democrat Majority Leader Donald Gregorius. “It’s not about Democrat or Republican, it's about not having enough money to do the job we need to have done.”
“We’re being held hostage again,” agreed Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Gerentine, a Republican. “Hopefully we’ll be successful at the end of tomorrow. If this does not happen, the consequences are very severe,” he warned.
“This is an extreme way to go; it’s unprecedented,” Deputy County Executive Kenneth Crannell told county lawmakers. “This is not over; the bill has got to be changed or fixed, with additional debate and discussion,” Crannell indicated, citing flaws.
“This would bankrupt Cornell Cooperative Extension; every dollar allocated to CCE is in there,” Crannell said of the sequestration. “There is money for law enforcement through overtime lines. This would close Pearson House and Sojourner Truth Park, if this tax is not in place by February 1st.”