Construction Begins on New Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office

Construction Begins on New Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus speaks at a press conference to kick off the construction of a new medical examiner's building in Goshen, N.Y., on Aug. 3, 2023. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)
Cara Ding

The construction of a $24 million new building for the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office broke ground on the county’s public safety campus in Goshen on Aug. 3.

Almost all building costs are funded by federal money made available to the county through the pandemic-era American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA.

Currently, medical examiner’s office personnel are spread across five locations, with the administrative unit operating out of the basement of the Emergency Services Center.

The autopsy room is now housed in a temporary modular structure, with an overflow body storage cooler in a nearby refrigerated tractor-trailer and an additional morgue trailer for mass casualty.

The new 18,175-square-foot building will bring all personnel and functions under one roof, with added spaces for storage, viewing areas for family members, and accommodation for local religious sects, according to the latest county ARPA spending plan.

“I think the public deserves something better, and I think the employees deserve something better,” County Executive Steve Neuhaus said at the ground-breaking ceremony. “We are going to have a beautiful medical examiner’s office that they deserve.”

County Health Commissioner Dr. Alicia Pointer said the new building will provide professional working spaces for her team, who do hard work behind the scenes, as well as a dignified experience for family members visiting the facility.

“It gives our residents a comfortable space to interact with our medical examiner’s office on what may be one of the hardest days of their lives,” Dr. Pointer said at the ceremony.

Last year, her team investigated 1,081 deaths and conducted 514 autopsies and external examinations.

Orange County Commissioner of Public Works Erik Denega said pre-construction work took about two years, aided by two knowledgeable legislators, Barry Cheney and Joseph Minuta.

The building is estimated to be finished in the fall of next year.

ARPA Spending Plan

The medical examiner’s office building is the most expensive item in Orange County’s ARPA spending plan, taking up 30 percent of the total funding.

Another $16 million is spent on hiring and keeping county employees, including sign-on bonuses, overtime payments, and salaries.

Regarding technology infrastructure, $6 million is set aside for new advanced antennas in school buildings for emergency radio coverage, $4.5 million for laptops and docking stations for remote work by county employees, and $6 million for enhanced security systems at county buildings.

Another $5 million is earmarked to remove the asbestos from the former Webb Horton House in Middletown, which houses the administrative offices of Orange County Community College.

Equipment purchases for the Department of Public Works cost about $6 million, including big-ticket items such as plow trucks, mowing tractors, and excavators.

Under the federal guidelines, the $75 million ARPA funds allocated to the county could be spent in four major ways to alleviate the negative impacts of COVID-19.

They can be used to replace lost revenue, mitigate the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, pay a premium to essential workers, and invest in infrastructure such as water, sewer, and broadband.

For Orange County, government revenues, particularly sales taxes, dipped slightly in 2020 but quickly picked up to surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and 2022.

Sales taxes are the largest revenue source, accounting for nearly half of county expenditures.

The booming revenue led Mr. Neuhaus to cut $7.6 million in property taxes in this year’s budget.

Mr. Neuhaus said in an earlier video address that the county overall didn’t suffer much financial loss during the pandemic, and the federal money was mainly used to fund new items on the to-do list.

The ARPA spending plan—devised by senior legislators, department heads, and third-party consultants—was passed unanimously in March by the county Legislature. However, some legislators commented that some money could be better spent on tackling the housing crisis.

Before casting his yes vote, Democratic Minority Leader Michael Paduch said more could have been done to get the community involved in the spending plan.

He cited several counties that had assembled advisory committees and hosted community town halls to seek public input.