Ulster County Executive Mike Hein has been selected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be his new Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance [ODTA].
Previously, Hein was appointed to the post of Ulster County Administrator before it was changed by charter to an elected position of County Executive. He won election in 2009 as the first County Executive and has served ever since.
The NYS website states the mission of the ODTA in one sentence: “To enhance the economic security of low-income families, assist individuals in accessing benefits and services, and enhance child well-being and reduce child poverty.”
The state website also points out that this office, “supervises a wide range of programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Temporary Assistance (TA), Child Support Services, Fair Hearings and SSI/Social Security Disability Determinations.
Hein said it is an honor to be asked to serve in this position by the Governor.
“I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude [and] it stems from the fact that we have collectively done some amazing work here in Ulster County,” he said.
Hein said when he began working for the county government, “it was in a severely compromised state” and by 2009 it was “out of control,” and facing the worst financial crisis in its history.
“I never forgot that I was elected by the people of Ulster County to fix what was ostensibly a broken government,” he said. “We had a significant number of people who were homeless Veterans, we did not have access to higher education for inner city youth, we had crime rampant on trail systems on what used to be former rail yards within Kingston, there were no connections for all the trail systems that we had and fundamentally Ulster County government was severely bloated, inefficient and ineffective. Fast forward to today, we have one of the strongest county governments in the entire Hudson Valley.”
Hein pointed out that today, “there is access to more services than ever before with lower property taxes; not just hitting the tax cap number, but structurally lower county property taxes than a decade ago.”
Hein has worked to streamline the operation of county government, while also pushing for programs that are environmentally friendly.
“We are the only net carbon neutral county in New York, we are the only county in New York that gets 100% of its energy from renewable resources. These are huge sweeping changes in Ulster County,” he said. “Ten years into this process it became clear to me that we had made so many of these changes that I felt comfortable knowing that we had truly fixed broken government.”
Hein said because of the Taxpayer Protection Fund that he started, county taxes should again be going down during the next few years. He recalled that when he came into office the “norm” was for capital projects to be millions over budget and years behind schedule, pointing out by way of example, the Ulster County Jail project, which was $22 million over budget and three years behind schedule. Today Hein has proven that capital projects can be done ahead of schedule and under budget, with an end product that is “extraordinary.” He said the new Family Court building has been called a model for not just the state, but for the nation, “by some of the highest judges in the state.”
Hein said there is a confirmation process for the new position before the NYS Senate that he will go through but is unsure of the timeline for when that will take place.
Hein said he loves where he has had the privilege to serve as the County Executive.
“I love the people, I love the place, its where I’ve chosen to live. It’s where I was born and raised and its where I’ve chosen, along with my wonderful wife Christine, to raise our son. This is a very special place for me and I consider it an honor and privilege to serve, as the Executive,” he said. “I hope that we leave a legacy of real success for the people. I want to make sure it’s clear that all of this was done in conjunction with others that I’ve had the privilege of working with; an extraordinary staff and as a result I’d like to think that we built a model county government that others can replicate.”
Hein has a long record of achievements: issuing an Executive Order to help address social injustice and discrimination in hiring, creating a suicide prevention tool using smartphone technology, expanding the Empire state Trail system to reach the Catskills, constructing a monument to the fallen soldiers of Ulster County, securing a change in the NYS Film Tax Credit Program that resulted in a significant increase in film projects in the county and secured sweeping regulatory changes that protected the county’s waterways and expanded public access to open spaces, parks and trails and reservoirs.
Ulster County Legislator Richard Gerentine [R-Marlborough] is happy for Hein and the opportunity for him to move up in Albany.
“I think he will do a great job there and as the County Executive he did a very good job. He and I worked very closely together on a lot of financial matters, especially the budget. We had our differences but overall I think we both did what we thought was right for the taxpayers of Ulster County and in the last five years they’ve had tax decreases.”
Gerentine said Hein directed the county “in a very positive direction” and he will be remembered as a progressive “for acknowledging what the county’s needs were and for implementing those programs. He also did a lot of capital projects, the new [Family] courthouse and the new Restorative Justice Center is a very innovative program that he implemented. He was ahead of the curve on a lot of different issues and a lot of different programs.”
Legislator Herb Litts [R-Lloyd/Plattekill] said he was surprised to learn about Hein’s future plans.
“I’ve had a good working relationship with Mike and even if we weren’t on the same page on an issue, we respected each other’s opinion,” Litts said.
Litts said Hein always had, “the betterment of the people of the county in mind as he governed. He’s done a lot in the way of a cleaner and greener environment for the county. In this day and age it’s difficult not to raise taxes and to also keep it below the tax cap.
With the cooperation of the Legislature and the Executive branch, taxes haven’t risen since 2010 and that speaks for itself. He worked hard to make government more efficient.”
The outgoing Chairman of the Legislature Kenneth Ronk [R-Shawangunk] said he was disappointed for the county because Hein has done a really great job as Executive.
“Mike and I had a unique relationship because I think we both approached each other from a reasonable place. He and I worked very well together because we both listened to each other,” Ronk said. “I’m going to miss working with him, that was my first reaction and that’s my continued reaction. I know we haven’t seen the last of him and I’m excited to see what he can do working for the state.”