By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
When the people of Rockland County put their faith in me to be County Executive nearly three years ago, I made a promise: I said I would fix this county’s financial mess.
And what a mess it was. Rockland had earned the shameful distinction of most fiscally stressed municipality in New York. On my first day in office on Jan. 1, 2014, the county’s deficit was $138 million.
Three weeks later we were only $42,000 from default.
I am happy to report that now, as I present my budget for 2017, I have kept my promises. I have come up with a budget that stays within the state property tax cap, cuts spending and increases our fiscal health.
Rockland’s deficit is now just over $16 million. Our finances are improving every day.
And, most importantly, I have stopped the endless cycle of tax-and-spend government. No more double digit tax increase which has sadly become the norm prior to my taking office.
My budget stays within the 1.17 percent tax cap. That means an average increase of only about $1 month in county taxes.
For residents who live in Sewer District No. 1, people in Clarkstown, Ramapo and parts of Orangetown, even better news: your sewer user fees are going down by about $12 a year.
That means you will have essentially NO tax increase.
It took a lot of hard work from many people to turn this county around.
But the basic idea is very simple: don’t spend what you don’t have.
That concept is normal for you and me but somehow novel for government.
My proposed budget reduces spending by 3.5 percent. That cut comes a year after I cut spending nearly 6 percent – the largest cut in recent Rockland history.
In two years I have cut spending 9 percent. That is $67 million of your money.
We have accomplished this savings without compromising services.
The proposed 2017 budget contains more than $16 million for contract agencies that provide important services to the people of Rockland.
These agencies include Meals on Wheels, which will receive $1.8 million, the Mental Health Association, which will get $2.3 million, along with many other organizations that serve our seniors, young people and others.
They include VCS, Venture, Catholic Charities, JCC and the Jewish Federation, People to People, SHARE, Head Start, the Martin Luther King Center, and many more.
We have also improved oversight of how these groups spend your money and set a clear list of performance expectations.
The budget does not contain $1.3 million in funding for some smaller agencies under the control of the Legislature. We could not fund those organization without breaking the tax cap – a possible option we submitted to the Legislature to consider in August and they chose to ignore.
It is now up to the Legislature to decide if and how it will fund those groups.
My budget continues to reorganize county government to make it more efficient.
We are eliminating redundancies – county programs that provide services that you pay for elsewhere.
My administration has worked with department heads and commissions to abolish some jobs – mostly vacant – and reclassify others.
We will have 11 fewer positons in 2017, resulting in nine layoffs. On Jan.1, 2017, there will be 1,690 county positions, down from 2,161 when I took office in 2014.
That’s a 22 percent reduction since I began reorganizing county government to improve efficiency.
We thank our very talented workforce, which has admirably adjusted.
My budget calls for the creation of an Inspector General who will oversee county contracts to make sure taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. This person will also be on the lookout for any kind of fraud.
We all know how much of a burden taxes are and that was made even more clear last week when the Rockland Business Association and Patterns for Progress released a report detailing how much taxes cost property and business owners.
Remember, county taxes account for approximately 9 percent of a typical tax bill, with the rest coming from schools, municipalities and special districts.
Unfunded mandates from Albany continue to challenge Rockland’s finances.
Despite these challenges, I have kept my promise to you the taxpayer by presenting a budget that is within the tax cap, cuts spending and reduces our deficit.
I have done my part. We can only hope the Legislature does theirs.
The 2017 proposed budget is available on the county’s website, Rocklandgov.com. Please feel free to submit questions to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.