BY JENNA HUTCHINS
Since taking office in January 2014, Day said his administration has labored to reduce the county’s deficit and to restore fiscal responsibility. In only two years under Day’s leadership, he boasted the county has reduced its $138 million inherited deficit by close to 30 percent. This, he said, was accomplished without burdening residents with significant tax increases and by reining in “out of control spending.” County taxes did increase 9 percent in the 2016 budget, but after holding taxes steady the prior year, that number appeared a pittance compared to the multiple double digit tax increases in the final years of the C. Scott Vanderhoef administration.
The low unemployment rate is also a huge achievement for the county. Day said, “In December, Rockland County reported the lowest unemployment rate among all seven counties in the Hudson Valley region at 3.8 percent.”
One of the first projects on the executive’s list for 2016 is to complete the closure of Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center. He said this was one of the hardest decisions he he had to make as executive after the planned buyer backed out of the deal. Although the closure was devastating for many patients and employees, Day said, “The facility was bleeding red ink, drowning in debt and was taking us down with it.” Many of the former residents were able to stay in Rockland at their preferred nursing homes and former employees also found opportunities to remain local, he noted.
The county executive said he plans to make a bad situation into a great opportunity by re-purposing Summit Park to be a “‘one-stop’ location for essential county health and human services and programs.” The 365,000 square foot, Building “A” will be occupied by county departments—Personnel, Health and Social Services—and other independent and nonprofit groups working in related areas. Leasing space to outside agencies will generate revenue for the county and help to organize services for Rockland residents.
Another plan for 2016 is to continue cracking down on fraud within the county’s welfare system. Around 100,000 Rockland County residents receive Medicaid, which is about one-third of the community. The Department of Social Services (DSS) in Rockland has saved the county millions of dollars in recent years by investigating potential recipients at the application stage and denying benefits to those who are ineligible. The DSS will continue to crack down on those exploiting the system to keep more money in taxpayers’ pockets.
The Day Administration has also been tough on illegal housing in Rockland. The Rockland Codes Initiative (RCI) that began nine months ago has made it easier to file confidential housing complaints and has increased necessary inspections. “Electrical outlets are being repaired; smoke detectors are being installed; jerry-built rooms are being dismantled.” And although the Health Department inspects unsafe living environments and does see problems with overcrowding, “To date, not one resident has been evicted by an RCI complaint,” Day said. The point of RCI is to foster safe living conditions and not kick people out of their homes.
Day plans to continue fighting for residents in these housing situations by enacting the second phase of the Rockland Codes Initiative. Every property with more than three renters needs to be registered with the Health Department and prove that the building is safe to inhabit. Landlords who fail to comply would be facing hefty fines.
While the county has made great strides already with Day, he acknowledged that there is still room to move forward by continuing to create jobs and save taxpayers money. Day’s improved future for Rockland also comes with its own brand—a new logo with five green cubes to represent the towns and one black cube to represent a united Rockland. The new logo will be popping up around the county to promote tourism, mark county vehicles, and be on signs and business cards.