By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
It’s crunch time. With less than a month before I unveil my proposed fiscal plan for 2016, the closed-door budget discussions continue daily between our Finance Department staff and department heads. Crafting a budget that keeps property tax rates low and maintains essential county services is shaping up to be a real challenge.
It’s true that Rockland County is far healthier than when I took office twenty months ago. We slashed wasteful spending. We shrunk county government. We consolidated key functions. (Our operational efficiencies have reduced our bi-weekly payroll by nearly $5 million.) We saved additional millions with the transfer our mental health services to Nyack Hospital. And, we’re on track to end 2015 with a modest surplus – something that hasn’t happened in nearly a decade.
Our strong fiscal management, our careful financial stewardship and our resolve to make tough budget decisions are the reasons Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s gave us an upgrade, a “positive” outlook and a credit-positive report. This positive reaction to our prudence and efforts to pay down debt has led to even greater savings in the form of reduced borrowing.
While we’ve taken giant steps toward putting our fiscal house in order, we still have a major hurdle that must be cleared: a $138 million “mortgage” taken on “the sins of the past.” While we’ve reduced the cost of operating county government by record amounts, we are saddled with the heavy price of past mismanagement and inaction. Part of Rockland County’s renaissance involves paying down our debt. Unfortunately, and just like the reality of your household budget, there is no other way forward.
The budget I present October first will be painful, but it will be an honest budget. The items of spending will be matched with available tax revenues. Specific proposals will be offered to realign key functions following the transfer of Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center to private owners. It will include key investments that support our County as we continue on the path to prosperity. Regrettably, it will also include workforce reductions.
When I was elected last year, I promised to restore fiscal responsibility to our government and put Rockland County on a sustainable path. For too long, this county governed from budget crisis to budget crisis. For too long, this county spent more than it had. For too long, our deficit grew. Not anymore.
Difficult choices must be made and difficult decisions taken. At this stage of my life, I am not here to embrace delay or denial. I was not elected to do what’s easy. I was elected to do what’s right. Our residents entrusted me with doing what’s right for them, for their families, and for our community. The budget that we’re putting together does what’s right for Rockland County.