Former army captain Pat Ryan will take charge of county government as its second elected executive on or about June 15. As such he has that once-in-a-career opportunity to make positive first impressions, to hit the road running, to take the county to new heights.
Will he dare? He’ll have had six weeks of fairly intensive closeup, hands-on orientation by then. And while a minefield of budget issues will consume the executive over the next few months, there is at least one ready-made, ready to go opportunity he should seize upon.
Cutting to the chase, Ryan should commit a goodly portion of the political capital he accumulated in the landslide win at a special election to a long-festering and over-ripe public safety issue.
In case nobody’s guessed by now, I’m talking about the proposed county fire training center in the town of Ulster. It won’t be easy, but it must be done. Here, Ryan has the opportunity to lead the parade – with dozens of fire trucks following – and establishing himself as an activist who understands priorities.
The history of this undertaking goes back further than Ryan, 37 in March. On the back burner for two generations, former executive Mike Hein promised fire chiefs a training center at a meeting in Highland during campaign-15, “within two years,” attendees reported.
Hein, after a few hiccups, at least got the project through the planning stage before departing for greener pastures in February. But, bid openings held at the county office building two weeks ago proved disappointing, almost 40 percent over the $4.5 million budget. Give or take a few options. The decisions now are to commit to the additional funding to what seemed to be a well-vetted project with broad support among the volunteer fire community and the public, or redesign and rebid it.
The lame excuses spoon-fed the Freeman by administration deputy executive spokesman Marc Rider suggested mostly that the people putting together these bid documents must have been throwing darts against the wall. And where was acting executive Adele Reiter when this one hit the fan? Waiting for the incoming executive to make a decision, apparently. Maybe she’s right; a new broom could sweep out some of the cobwebs on the 6th floor.
Ryan, who indicated support at a recent meeting of the county Supervisor’s Association in Kingston, needs to put his (our) money where his mouth is. With a fund balance in excess of $25 million, $6.5 million spread over 30 years (the projected life of the training center) is certainly manageable.
It’s a win-win, for the firefighters and the people and property they protect and for the county executive should he have the guts to carry this one across the finish line.