BY KATHY KAHN
The phoenix hasn’t risen from the ashes yet, but County Executive Ed Day feels he is leading Rockland in the right direction.
“There is no way to fix where we are in a flash, despite what some others in government might think,” Day told Rockland Business Association members on September 10, speaking at The Crowne Plaza in Suffern.
“I liken Rockland County to the battleship that’s gotten into a couple of skirmishes, got holes in its hull, got repaired and is slowly returning back safely to water. The goal is not to get a little better or to get out of the deficit…the goal is to get us back to surplus, keep us there and to make Rockland a strong, viable county once more– and not just when it comes to finances.”
Day said the cost of immediately closing the county’s $17.5 million deficit, which translates into increase in a 16 percent increase property taxes, is not a viable option for taxpayers. To close the gap immediately would mean eliminating the entire
Sheriff’s patrol to save $5 million, approximately one-third of the deficit, he said, in addition to looking at cuts in the County Clerk, District Attorney, Probation. Aging, Youth Bureau and Highway Departments. “It’s just not feasible. I was put in office to make difficult choices and difficult decisions. We are working in cooperation and collaboration with Department heads. They are being held accountable to get the goal they need to meet. We are re-visiting early retirement as a way to cut down expenses. We are working through an RFP (request for proposals) process with our 28 contract agencies to make sure they are doing their work at a price that makes sense for us and for them.”
Day is ready, able and “willing to take care of my ship, but the State needs to stop increasing mandates and making it impossible to function and provide services for residents.” Unfunded mandates from Albany now equal 98 percent of Rockland’s annual budget.
The buyer for Summit Park is anxious to be in and operational by October 1, 2015. The Civil Service Employees Association has been working with the county, said Day, “and we are doing training for employees for to help with resumes and interviews to take a situation they had no control over and make sure these folks are placed. “They are our friends, our neighbors…we owe it to them to make the best we can out of a bad situation.”
The best situation for any county is not to be dependent on residential property tax owners; in that regard, Rocklandis working on getting companies into its borders, as well as getting local municipalities to work with potential incoming rateables to make the process smoother. “Legoland is working through some issues with the Town of Haverstraw, but it is going to be a huge boon to our county.” Other projects are also coming down the pike that will put Rockland in better financial shape, said Day. “And we’re not going to take the extra income and spend it all. Yes, we’ll use some, but we’ll use it sensibly and pay down our deficit.”
The County Legislature will soon face putting the 2016 county budget together with the added stress of staying within the State’s two percent tax cap mandate. “I know we are going to get to financial stability but it isn’t going to happen overnight. I promised I was only going to serve two terms. If I can’t fix this in eight years, get someone else. If we aren’t prosperous then, the next person will be positioned to put us over the top.”
A recent story in the media concerning non-union workers getting raises that ranked some left Day unflustered. “Many of the 73 people (out of 170 plus non union workers in the county) who got raises are secretaries or in similar positions and make $30,000 a year, and they’ve gone without a raise for five years….unlike the CSEA, there is no ‘step’ program for them. It’s only fair they received an increase.”
The County Legislature will hold a public hearing on September 16 to approve some of salary increases being given to those in management positions.