BY CAROL MCILMURRAY
NEW CITY- Rockland County Executive Edwin J. Day stood before a crowd of over 100 persons-mostly supporters-as he delivered his annual State of the County address Tuesday evening in the Rockland Legislature’s Chamber.
“We have been working for three years to transform this county from near bankruptcy with an unsustainable tax-and-spend cycle to what it is today – a county that stayed within a very strict 1.17 tax increase, a county that cut spending nearly 10 percent, a county with four consecutive bond-rating increases, a county government that is getting smaller and more efficient, a county that works to make sure that all of our diverse residents have a voice and a county where the laws apply to all,” he told the Legislature.
Day, who is up for reelection this year, sounded like a confident incumbent as he outlined the promises he says he has kept three years and one month into his first term. He also revealed new information about the county’s deficit and outlined other initiatives.
The deficit is now projected to be $10 million, which he boasted is more than a 90 percent reduction from $138 million when Day took office.
For the first time in at over five years, the county was able to pay its $32 million pension bill to the state without financing it. The 7.5 percent interest on financing has cost the county millions in the past.
The Rental Registry will begin March 2017. This is a program created by Day’s administration to ensure that all landlords are following the rules. It requires owners of rental units to pay a one-time $25 fee to register and will allow the county Department of Health to keep track of these housing units.
In 2016, the Rockland Codes Initiative received almost 1,200 complaints, Day said. A total of 6,574 violations – a third of them critical, life-threatening safety violations were cited by county inspectors and now are being enforced heavily for the safety of first responders and residents alike. The county has assessed nearly $1.15 million in fines since starting this program in 2015.
Sunday service on the Tappan Zee Express buses will begin next month. This service improves transportation and addresses the value gap that still exists between what Rockland residents pay to the MTA and what they get in return. Also, new bus service from Blue Hill Plaza in Pearl River, the heart of the county’s business community, into mid-town Manhattan began this week.
In the last three years, Day said the county identified $3.5 million in Medicaid and other benefit costs that were received by ineligible people. The county also avoided an additional $3.4 million in costs by identifying ineligible people at initial application and by finding and removing ineligible people who were already receiving benefits for a total of nearly $7 million in savings.
Day outlined the county’s return from the fiscal abyss of 2010 and 11, buoyed by efforts such as the collection of nearly $3 million in back taxes owed on non-residential properties and new business coming to Rockland. He spoke of his effort to get the state to consider North Rockland as the site for clean, affordable power plants once Indian Point closes.
Day also mentioned the success his administration has had attracting grants, including state and federal funds for improvements at Haverstraw Bay Park, a very selective grants to encourage breastfeeding and funds to improve mental health services for youth.
CE Day concluded his address by recognizing the employees and volunteers who make Rockland a wonderful place. The three award recipients for 2017 were:
– Ramona Jaime, a 22-year employee in the Department of Social Service who, along with Spring Valley police Detective Eugene Suarez, helped save a family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
– Stuart Gates of Stony Point, who has been volunteering for the fire service for more than 70 years.
– Al Magnatta of Congers, the grandfather of Ken and Kristen Zebrowski, also received an award for his heroism during World War Two and beyond. Both Assemblyman Zebrowski and his sister Kristen were in the crowd to support their distinguished grandfather.
Day received a standing ovation when he left the podium. Democrats have yet to announce who they will run against the county executive. Rumors are swirling that a river village mayor will step up to the plate.