THIRTY PERCENT!! (AND THEN SOME)

Rockland County government will be vastly increasing its tax collection in 2012, as the Budget and Finance committee convened on Monday night to approve a 30 percent county property tax increase, as well as a 1/4 percent increase in the county portion of the sales tax, and new taxes on hotel/motel occupancy and real estate sales. Final authorization of the revised county budget will be put before the full legislature 7 p.m. Tuesday evening.

An over $50 million budget deficit has made drastic spending cuts or tax hikes (or both) necessary, especially as the state comptroller’s office has begun to hang over Rockland ominously, reminding lawmakers that the state has the authority to take over derelict governments and straighten out their finances if they won’t do it themselves.

Many of the original proposed budget cuts in County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef’s budget have been restored under the legislature’s plan, including over $1 million for the Narcotics Task Force and Sheriff’s Transport Unit respectively.

The centerpiece of Vanderhoef’s budget: the closing or sale of Summit Park Hospital by August, and the laying off of over 500 employees, was declared invalid by legal consultants. They said the facility would need at least 18 months to be closed down. As a result a majority of legislators feel they must hike taxes and take a loan against the deficit.

Payments on the loan would count against the budget for several years into the future and be taken at 3 to 4 percent interest.

The legislators indicated they would most likely downsize and increase the efficiency of the Summit Park Hospital within the next few years, although selling it to a PBC, a private company or closing it is still possible.

Vanderhoef’s spokesman Ron Levine pointed out that the county executive had tried to keep the 30 percent tax hike as a one-time tax surcharge specifically to pay for an $18 million hole in the budget left by the failure to sell the hospital to a PBC in the past year.

Instead Legislator Ilan Schoenberger said without a permanent 30 percent tax hike, the legislature would be playing the same game next year.

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