Susan Serino delivers her first State of the County

Dutchess County Executive Susan Serino delivered a 7,000-word State of the County address at Red Hook High School Thursday, March 14.

Sean T. McMann/Dutchess County Government

Susan Serino delivers her first State of the County

RED HOOK — Dutchess County Executive Susan Serino delivered her first State of the County address — and slide show — in the darkened auditorium of Red Hook’s High School last Thursday, March 14.

Introduction

Before Serino herself took the stage, Red Hook High School student Nora Callaghan-Jurgens sang “I Have Confidence,” which she had recently performed in the school musical, a teen-friendly “Chicago.”

Attendees were asked to stand to hear Desiree King sing the national anthem and to pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands.

Attendees were asked to remain standing for the prayer, delivered by Apostolic Bishop Debra E. Gause of Holy Light Pentecostal Church, Poughkeepsie. After inviting the Heavenly Father to be the “esteemed honored guest” at the event, Gause prayed that God grant Susan Serino “divine wisdom.”

“Father caused this county of Dutchess to be the leading county of this region,” she said. “Help each of us to do our fair share and find ways to embrace our differences.”

Affordability and youth opportunity

Serino’s address consisted of some 7,000 words spoken over 40 minutes — “Probably longer than I’ve ever spoken,” noted the executive as she closed in on the final sections.

With a paean to cross-aisle cooperation and community outreach, Serino directed her words at what she described as the county’s “affordability crisis,” which she noted has only gotten worse since the pandemic:

“I have to tell you, I talked to so many seniors who are living on this income, a less than $20,000 a year. Just wrap your head around that. It’s those seniors and so many other individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. It’s them I’m thinking about every time I’m faced with a decision in the county,” she said.

“You know, when I think about our children and our grandchildren, my goal is to make Dutchess County a place where they want and can afford to live, not one that they want to leave.”

While the affordablity crisis cropped up throughout the speech, it was only directly addressed by one initiative: the launching of the Dutchess County Food Security Council in partnership with Dutchess Outreach and the United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region. Serino said, of developing children’s opportunities:

“We need to focus on issues outside of the classroom, and at the most basic level. Our children need to be free from hunger to be successful.” Dutchess County pantries have reported a record number of “individuals seeking resources,” she said.

The Council will work by “bringing the right people to the table to provide guidance to policymakers on how best to address hunger,” she said.

Her administration will also be focusing on getting young people to work, through training programs in the trades and by partnering with Wappingers Central School District on a “Career in the Skilled Trades” job fair.

Serino recalled talking with county youth “about careers like plumbing and welding — and wow, just seeing their eyes light up about the possibilities and opportunities that come with a career like that,” she said.

She also asked, “How do we empower our workforce to help parents?”

Mental and behavioral health

In her various roles, Serino, who lost her brother to suicide, has consistently concerned herself with mental health.

In Poughkeepsie, her administration is dividing the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health into two: a community health department to be run by current DBCH Commissioner Dr. Livia Santiago-Rosado, and a separate Mental Health department to be led by Jean-Marie Niebuhr.

Serino announced the county’s support for two treatment centers — the Dutchess County Stabilization Center in Poughkeepsie, a partnership with People USA, which just became the first licensed Supportive Stabilization Center in New York State, and the Empowerment Center, also in Poughkeepsie — and for the Oxford House group, a line of sober houses.

Serino also emphasized her administration’s reliance on law enforcement to deal with mental health and drug-related homelessness as well as the county’s addiction crisis.

The slide illustrating law enforcement pictured a couple small bags of pale powder, a couple guns, and a Drug Task Force Police patch that featured a hooded Grim Reaper.

EMS crisis

Another heavily emphasized topic of the address was the county’s EMS crisis.

“Our team has made it a top priority to create a plan to help solve this crisis, and we’ve developed a multi-pronged approach to tackle this issue and are getting started on the first step now,” she said. “We’re currently looking for interested agencies who can help fill the points of service by offering supplemental coverage.”

She also emphasized recruitment: “We also need to empower a shrinking workforce and think creatively to recruit and retain talent,” she said.

Seniors and conclusion

Fittingly, her discussion of senior living was one of the final segments.

Serino remarked at one point that “by being mindful of the obstacles our neighbors are facing and addressing them head on with practical and common-sense solutions.”

One of her preferred practical solutions is job fairs and job training pipelines — to address EMS shortages, opportunities for young people, mental health issues and increasing accessibility for people with disabilities.

Another preferred solution is volunteer peer-to-peer support programs — for trauma responders, for veterans (Vet2Vet) and, for seniors, the Friendly Calls from within the Office for the Aging (OFA).

She also announced a new grant that will expand ride services offered in partnership with OFA.

“I’ve heard from countless seniors about how difficult it can be when they no longer drive, specifically when it comes to finding rides to medical appointments.”

She went on to announce that her administration “will be working with partners to find additional ways for seniors to enter the workforce again. I want to do with seniors a trade event,” she said. “Isn’t that great?”

She concluded her address, “Our community truly is a great place to live and work, and by working together, I know we can do so much more.”

The full text and video of the speech can be found on the county website: www.dutchessny.gov

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