Molinaro car usage part of countywide audit | Columbia County | – Hudson Valley 360

July 30, 2022 by No Comments

Editor’s Note: The following is the first part of a two-part series looking at the county vehicle usage practices by 19th District congressional candidate and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro. The second part of this series will run Tuesday, Aug. 2.

In early 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic first ravaged the state, the Dutchess County Comptroller’s office flagged and prevented the buying of a new vehicle for County Executive Marcus Molinaro.

Molinaro, the Republican nominee for the 19th Congressional District special election on Aug. 23 and the general Nov. 8 election, had attempted to purchase a new vehicle three years early under the incorrect county department.

The Dutchess County Comptroller’s Office is auditing all assets, policies and procedures about every vehicle in the county’s fleet after the office has received increased questions about officials’ practices and payments with county-issued vehicles, Dutchess Comptroller Robin Lois said.

That and an increased number of questions from constituents and multiple public record requests about Molinaro’s county-issued vehicle recently pushed the office to commence the evaluation. The audit report is expected to be released by the end of 2022, but not before the November election.

“We’ve been looking at some of the payments and had questions from various sources,” Lois said. “We’ve been trying to find particular policies and procedures in place, and some of them seem to either not be existing or be different among different departments.”

A lead auditor, senior auditor, director and the comptroller oversee a county audit. The vehicle audit will involve extensive testing and validating of multiple assets of each vehicle in every county department, and is more labor intensive than other audits the county typically conducts.

A lease of the county executive’s has raised questions among comptroller staff and auditors.

Lois has received various questions about Molinaro’s county-issued vehicle, she said, including why he drives a luxury SUV on Dutchess taxpayers’ dime.

Dutchess County taxpayers have paid more than $17,500 for the car’s monthly payments over the past year to lease a luxury SUV issued to Molinaro, who drives a 2021 black Chevrolet Tahoe Premier — a top-of-the-line sport utility vehicle — for $1,347.10 a month from the county’s coffers.

The base price of the vehicle was $73,625.10, and $80,463.20 after fees, according to the motor vehicle invoice from Ingersoll Auto of Pawling that Johnson Newspaper Corp. obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.

“The county executive is provided an SUV for the purposes of responding 24 hours a day, seven days a week during emergencies and otherwise,” Molinaro said.

“It is customary and common practice for municipalities to issue vehicles to certain administrators.”

A Dutchess County family’s median household income was $81,842 in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A two-bedroom apartment in Dutchess County cost an average of $1,449 per month, and $1,260 for a one-bedroom, according to the county’s 2020 rental housing survey.

The executive’s sport utility vehicle is leased to Dutchess County, with payments coming from the Auto Center, the department that oversees the county’s vehicle fleet, within the county’s $532.7 million adopted 2022 budget. The four-year lease was signed by Dutchess County Department of Public Works Commissioner Robert Balkind on Feb. 24, 2021 when the new vehicle had 309 miles. It expires Feb. 24, 2025, or after 100,000 miles. Balkind and Deputy County Executive William O’Neil also signed an addendum to the lease.

The county executive noted it’s common for municipal leaders to have a county-issued vehicle, …….



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