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Gov. would keep staffing flat at most state agencies in the Adirondacks

Except for prison hiring, staffing levels wouldn’t change much at state agencies especially active in the Adirondacks, if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive branch budget passes through the Legislature unchanged.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision would add 153 staff members costing $14.25 million, plus $70 million in capital spending, to meet the terms of a legal settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union over treatment of inmates in solitary confinement. It is not clear where in New York those hires and construction would be. Of the hires, 116 would be for supervising inmates and 37 would be for program services. Overall, DOCCS’ budget would see a 2.6 percent increase to almost $3.4 billion.

“Since peaking at nearly 72,600 in 1999, the under-custody prison population is projected to decline by over 25,000 inmates to approximately 47,400 inmates by the end of the current fiscal year,” the Division of Budget wrote.

Department of Environmental Conservation staffing would remain flat statewide except to add five operations workers, according to the governor’s budget proposal announced Tuesday.

In the Adirondack Park, where the DEC is a major player in day-to-day life, the department’s forest rangers have been asking the state to hire more rangers, and municipal boards have passed resolutions in support of this. The number of hikers on mountain trails has increased in recent years, and the state has added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve by buying large tracts of land, without adding staff to the DEC, which manages the preserve. Rangers are conducting more search-and-rescue missions than they used to, and some have said they are stretched too thin to educate hikers before they get in trouble.

Overall, the governor proposes to spend nearly $1.8 billion on the DEC this coming fiscal year. That’s a 4 percent, $512 million budget boost, $500 million of which is for the first installment of a five-year, $2.5 billion plan to upgrade water infrastructure.

The new spending would include $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund, which is used to buy land, improve water quality, stop invasive species, enhance recreational access, protect farmland and seek environmental justice. That ties last year’s record amount.

As for other executive branch agencies involved in the Adirondacks, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities — which employs hundreds of people through the Sunmount hub based in Tupper Lake — would get a 2.6 percent budget boost to $4.8 billion. It would not add staff positions and would get $99.4 million in capital spending, up $3 million from this year.

The New York State Police, whose Troop B is based in Ray Brook, would see its budget cut by $38 million overall, due to a loss of $49 million in federal revenue and an $11 million increase in capital spending. It would not add or subtract jobs and would have a $956.6 total budget.

The Adirondack Park Agency, which oversees private and public land use in the 6 million acre park, would keep staffing flat and would get almost $4.7 million, adding $140,000 or 3 percent for staff compensation.

The Department of Transportation would keep staffing flat statewide and would see a 5.7 percent overall budget cut to $9.5 billion.

The Olympic Regional Development Authority would keep staff costs flat but would see a 53 percent overall budget increase from this year, with operations adding $18 million in contractual expenses and capital spending increasing from $60 million to $80 million. More on that is reported in a separate article.

The state Assembly and Senate will soon draft their 2019-20 budgets and negotiate with the governor for a final version, due April 1.

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