County Executive’s Corner: Responsible governance or phony budgeting?

BY ROCKLAND COUNTY EXECUTIVE ED DAY

It would have been so easy to return to the Legislature a 2017 budget unchanged – with all of their many amendments and the promise of a 50 cent per month tax cut.

But Rockland residents elected me to do the right thing, which is not necessarily the easy thing.

That’s why I had no choice but to veto just about all of the amendments proposed by the Legislative majority.

I will, however, work with the Legislature to possibly amend the 2017 if and when the Sain Bulding is sold.

There is nothing I want more for this county than to sell the Sain Building. But I cannot allow that $4.5 million in revenue to be counted in the 2017 budget until the sale is realized.

This cautious approach is necessary because some in the Legislative majority have been blocking the sale of the Sain Building for 14 months.

The buyer who has offered $4.51 million –  $510,000 over its appraised value –  has warned us that after trying unsuccessfully for nine months to complete the purchase without even the smallest sign of progress he is getting ready to pull out of the deal.

I note that the Legislative chairman failed to act on a motion earlier this month to declare the building surplus – the first step in a sale.

If the building is sold, I will work with the Legislature to see if that revenue can be used to fund some non-profit agencies that are not now being funded, including the 224s.

We can also explore the potential of  using some revenue from the sale of the Sain Building for legitimate needs, such as funding contract settlements, primarily if back pay is awarded.

Revenue from the sale will go primarily toward deficit reduction.

I vetoed all but four of the remaining amendments proposed by the Legislature. Those four amendments involve restoring one position each in the departments of Highway, Consumer Protection, Sheriff and the District Attorney.

I respect the Legislature’s input, but I cannot in good conscience allow amendments from the Democratic majority, which are funded by phantom revenue, to go forward. We have worked too hard to climb out of a fiscal hole to travel down the same road that led this county to a staggering $138 million deficit and near insolvency.

We cannot rely on  make-believe money and unrealistic projections to pay for things that we cannot afford and to promise residents a miniscule 50 cents per month tax cut. Playing fast and loose with the numbers kicks the can down the road, the same tactic that earned Rockland a shameful $138 million deficit.

I will not let this county go down the road to fiscal disaster again.

The $138 million deficit I inherited is now down to $16 million. I have cut spending 9 percent, or $67 million, over the last two years. My budget once again cuts spending, maintains top-quality services and stays within the state-mandated 1.17 percent property tax cap.

Under this plan, county taxes will increase about $1 per month, an increase that is cancelled out by a decrease in sewer fees for two-thirds of Rockland residents in Sewer District No. 1.

The plan proposed by the Legislative majority repeats the sins of Rockland’s recent financial past by relying on unrealistic sales tax projections and phantom revenue. The budget proposed by the Legislative majority counts on more than $7 million in money that does not exist.

It’s easy to make promised without a way to pay for them. It’s harder to create a solid tax plan that forces us to live within our means and plan for the future without creating deficits for someone else to fix.

That’s called conservative and balanced budgeting. Or, in other words, responsible government.