Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus, back from a military assignment in Europe, has delivered his 2022 State of the County address in which he looks for economic growth without growing taxes on the county’s residents.
Neuhaus had been on active duty since mid-March with the U. S. Navy in Europe.
“I was honored to serve my country in support of the United States military’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Neuhaus said. “I want to thank everyone who sent well wishes during my deployment. Most importantly, I ask that the public join me in keeping all troops throughout the world, as well as the Ukrainian people in your thoughts and prayers.”
Neuhaus served with the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet in response to the crisis in Ukraine. The Sixth Fleet is assigned to cover the waters around Europe and Africa.
Neuhaus serves in the United States Navy Reserves as a Lieutenant Commander, and normally is assigned to the Pacific Fleet. He was previously away from Orange County on active duty from November 2018 to June 2019. During that time, Neuhaus was deployed in various locations throughout Iraq in support of the campaign against ISIS.
He delivered this year’s State of the County Address to an in-person audience at the county’s Emergency Services Center auditorium in Goshen.
In the address, Neuhaus talked about a proposal to clean up the former Camp LaGuardia in the towns of Chester and Blooming Grove and turn it into a county park. It is a 258-acre property with several abandoned buildings on it. At one time, the property had been used as a homeless shelter by New York City.
“County finances are strong and one of my top goals continues to be to maintain and improve property values, a major barometer of our local economic strength,” Neuhaus said. “We do that by enhancing the manufacturing, tourism and transportation sectors of our county. Strengthening those areas, along with supporting our strong local schools and quality health care, will help to maintain and even increase property values in Orange County.”
Neuhaus said that he plans to continue the focus on economic development and tourism, public safety, as well as working to strengthen the county’s infrastructure.
In the address, Neuhaus pointed out that the county tax rate has dropped for the last six consecutive years and has been reduced 11.5% since 2014. He said that the county’s unaudited fund balance was $118.7 million in 2021, whereas in 2013 it was only $21.1 million.
Neuhaus said that the county collected $5.1 million in hotel and motel taxes in 2021. He said that since 2014, county debt has been reduced by $12 million despite having spent $75 million on the Government Center and $20 million on public safety communications upgrades. The county saved $12.3 million by refinancing bonds since 2015, taking advantage of low interest rates.
Neuhaus said that the Heritage Trail has been extended another mile from Palmer Avenue in the city of Middletown to East Main Street and now runs approximately 19.5 miles from Harriman to Middletown. Only about nine miles of the trail had been completed as of 2014.
He said the county successfully initiated a sale of unused county property in the city of Newburgh and that plans call for a hotel and retail facility to be built at the location. Neuhaus also pointed out that the county has been supporting the repurposing of the Newburgh Mall by bringing in a Resorts World casino.
Among the new initiatives announced by Neuhaus during his address were for construction of a new state-of-the-art, 18,175-square-foot County Medical Examiner’s Office. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023. At least $17 million of funding for the project will be federal money coming from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Neuhaus said that the county will be spending $1 million on promoting tourism during the next 12 months and that the county will work even closer with the business community by providing education and training opportunities to help businesses stay up-to-date about what they need to know regarding governmental approvals and permits.
Neuhaus said that in the fall, the County Executive’s Economic Summit will be held, bringing together elected officials, community leaders and the business community to discuss issues such as tourism, the workforce and infrastructure and open space, trends, and the future of economic growth.