After three years in office it is safe to assess County Executive Ed Day as a surprisingly effective budget hawk, a manager who appreciates the value of a pre-quantitative easing dollar (that was an economics joke) and a common sense leader of “the organization” known as the county government.
Day has worked to change the way departments do business, basing their annual budget and marching orders on what their mission is and needs are, not on a predetermined, ever-increasing, often arbitrary figure. He has made department heads answerable to reality instead of turning them into figureheads.
You can see the results in plain numbers. Day’s proposed 2017 county budget is $674 million. The 2015 county budget was $732 million. That’s down 8 percent. That kind of reduction rarely happens in government. A large chunk of the reduction in budget is due to the closure of Summit Park Hospital, but not all of it.
Not all the news is good. State reimbursements are down and other mitigating factors mean county property taxes still will go up 1 percent this year, or $1 per month in Day’s budget. The Legislature can still make amendments to their heart’s content, as well, and it figures to be an interesting budget season again. Day has slashed most non-mandated contract agencies and brought some others under the county government umbrella. That is one decision likely to be a battleground.
The budget season will partly consist of Democrats aping Ed Day’s style. Day has brought action and energy to the government. For the most part the right kind: reform-minded and thrifty.
His most aggressive adversary these days is Chairman of the Legislature Alden Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe is also making sure to be active, but every action he takes seems to be in response to Day, as if he is afraid of getting left behind.
Wolfe warns in his column this week that Rockland must be very careful not to project revenues that do not exist, but for years the only three legislators who warned that the Legislature was doing just that went by the names of Day, Sparaco and Meyers. Led by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef and Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, most of the lawmakers, including Wolfe, went along for the ride. Sleepily.
Many acolytes amongst the Democratic Party these days speak in similar tones to those times. An increase in sales tax is seen as a reason for increased spending.
Day response to this notion is, “That’s nonsense. Because one source of revenue goes up does not mean you can spend money you do not have.”
Throwing money away is never intelligent, Day said.
A big part of Day’s economic philosophy is “don’t spend money you don’t have.” Not a bad thought for a politician or for anyone else.
As retired NYPD brass Day and the movement that is associated with him has targeted even the sacred cow of bloated Rockland budget spending-police.
Sometimes it takes a cop to make a fair deal with other cops. Makes sense.
Day took a shot at reducing the Sheriff’s Dept. budget significantly, but was dealt his only real political setback since winning office. The community rallied around Sheriff Louis Falco and his squad of very busy officers.
Now, two years later, Falco is without shame using his police powers to arrest enemies on spurious charges. Falco-ists owe Day an apology for blindly defending him.
Day is going to win reelection next year in a landslide. Let’s hope more legislators begin to work with him.
DETAILS OF DAY’S PROPOSED BUDGET
COUNTY PRESS RELEASE
The $674 million spending plan will result in a tax increase of $1 every month for the average resident. That small increase will be reduced further for two-thirds of Rockland residents in Sewer District No. 1. They will see a $12 annual reduction in their user fees because of a careful review of operations to find efficiencies, essentially establishing a zero percent tax increase.
“We have reversed the unsustainable tax-and-spend policies of the past,” Day said. “The budget we are proposing is a solid, fiscally prudent plan that keeps taxes under the tax cap, lowers spending, increases efficiency.
Spending is reduced 3.5 percent, a reduction that comes a year after Day cut spending nearly 6 percent – the largest cut in recent Rockland history. Under Day’s regime spending has been cut by more than 9 percent, or $67 million, over the last two years.
Day has complained often and publicly that Rockland was on track to have its third consecutive budget surplus, but was forced to impose austerity measures due to the failure of the Legislative majority to sell the Sain Building for the $4 million that it included in this year’s budget. Because negotiations continue and a deal has yet to be closed, the county will report a small deficit this year, Day says.
The budget also reflects continuing restructuring of county government, which Day says will make it more responsive and efficient.
On Jan.1, 2017, there will be 1,690 county positions, down from 2,161 when Day took office in 2014. The budget calls for a reduction of 11 positions which will translate into nine layoffs. There has been a 22 percent reduction in positions since Day began reorganizing county government to improve efficiency.
“A big thank you to our very talented workforce, which has admirably adjusted,” he said. “We also thank our department heads, commissioners for their hard work.”
Day also stated that the county deficit is now down to less than $18 million.
Credit agencies have upgraded Rockland’s rating three times since Day took office and the county executive said he hopes that the fiscal restraint and responsible budgeting in next year’s spending plan prompts another upgrade.
Highlights of the 2017 proposed budget:
Creation of an Inspector General position, an independent person reporting to the County Attorney. This person will oversee county contracts and to make sure taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. The IG will perform audits and conduct investigations as necessary. The position will be funded by a small charge on private contractors, not by taxpayers. Legislator Charles Falciglia helped develop this initiative, as did County Attorney Tom Humbach and Stephen Powers, intergovernmental relations director.
Other new positions include:
– A network administrator to beef up cyber security.
– A Veterans Burial Coordinator to assist the families of Rockland’s heroes.
– An associate planner to help evaluate proposals before the Planning Board to preserve the quality of life in this county.
– Three armed guards to make sure public buildings are safe. They will be under the direction of Rockland County Sheriff Lou Falco, who worked with the county executive to develop the plan.
Phase out of services now being provided by the county that duplicate public services available elsewhere.
– This includes a clinic in the Rockland Department of Health that treats patients with AIDS and HIV. Those patients will be transferred to services that are available at other taxpayer-supported agencies, like federally qualified health care centers in Rockland. No one will be left without care.
– The county is also ending the petroleum bulk storage program run by the Rockland Department of Health. That function will be taken over by the state Department of Health, which performs petroleum bulk storage inspections for most counties in New York.
– Positions will also be eliminated in the Department of Community Development as Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Penny Jennings undertakes a complete reorganization.
Over the past year, Day has continued to improve oversight of the funding given to some nonprofit agencies and community-based organizations. This enable the county to get an additional $1 million in reimbursement. Many community groups that had to wait every year to see if they would get funding are now part of the county budget and their funding is assured along with oversight and a set of performance expectations. This group includes many senior citizen clubs as well as VCS, Venture, Catholic Charities, JCC and the Jewish Federation, People to People, SHARE, Head Start, the Martin Luther King Center, and many others.
By necessity, this is a very tight budget, Day said.
The County Executive in in August submitted a proposal to the Legislature to consider an over-ride of the property tax cap if necessary. The Legislature did not act upon this request. A total of $1.6 million in cuts to non-mandated community organizations has been included in Day’s budget.
The budget plan is a prudent and fiscally conservative plan to provide high-quality services without large tax increases, Day said.
County taxes account for approximately 9 percent of a typical property tax bill. The remaining taxes are levied by schools, municipal governments and special districts. The exact impact of the county tax levy on a property owner varies from community to community, due to different local assessments.