Ulster County lawmakers, Ryan at odds over grant intended to fight opioid addiction

Daily Freeman-7 months before

Members of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday expressed concerns that the positions to be funded by the grant were being filled without their approval.

“This is a ... serious issue for the Legislature,” said its chairman, David Donaldson, D-Kingston. “[Ryan[ arbitrarily sent in salaries, and it’s a serious encroachment on the Legislature’s power and the ability to put a check on the executive.”

The grant was to fund a project manager (salary and benefits totaling $84,357), a data surveillance coordinator ($79,388.40) and a community engagement...facilitator and technical assistance specialist ($76,185.20).

The people hired for the positions were to help Columbia University track opioid cases and identify where gaps in related county services, such as mental health and treatment programs.

Donaldson said the positions were posted in December even though it is the Legislature's job to set salaries and hire.

“It’s done very simply by giving me a call, [or] you could call the chair of Ways and Means, you could have spoken about it in a leadership meeting,” he said.

“We can’t throw out the charter every time there’s a crucial need,” said Archer, D-Accord. “We have to sit down and talk about how ... [to] move forward collectively. We’re all concerned about the same issues.”

The $500,000 from Columbia is an installment of a three-year grant totaling $2.5 million that Ulster County lawmakers approved last year.

Ryan said after Tuesday's Ways and Means meeting that delaying acceptance of the money is “completely indefensible” because the program is desperately needed.

Ryan said the specifics of how the grant money was to be used have been discussed publicly over the past year but that details about the next phase of the process were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said the pandemic is increasing the numbers of opioid overdoses and deaths.

COVID-19 pandemic Ulster County has had 29 opioid overdose deaths already this year compared to 33 in all of 2019, according to Assistant Deputy County Executive Dan Torres.

“The reality is we all agree we need to urgently address the opioid epidemic, even before COVID, and now it’s worse,” Ryan said.

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