Legislators Ask for $80 Million Deficit Bond on 9-5 Vote

Several legislators fear county will do nothing to achieve efficiencies 
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
On Tuesday the Rockland County Legislature officially requested an $80 million deficit bond on a 11-3 vote, but really the vote was 9-5, with five dissenting lawmakers voting to float a $62 million bond instead, as proposed by Legislator Ed Day.
Legislators John Murphy, Patrick Moroney and Tony Earl were absent. All four Republicans present voted for the $62 million bond as well as dissident Democrat Joseph Meyers. Sparaco and Jobson decided to vote yes after voting no, with Sparaco saying he did not want the state to be called in to run the county’s finances.
The legislature also voted to approve a request for an increase in sales tax by 3/8 percent on an 10-4 vote with Meyers voting for it and the Republicans voting against the sales tax, preferring instead a 1/4 percent sales tax starting in 2013, after one year of a 3/8 percent tax.
These measures passed by the county legislature require approval from the state legislature and that will require the assistance of local assembly members and Senator David Carlucci. So far the state lawmakers have been somewhat cool to the county’s request, although many meetings will be held before any decisions are made.
On February 21 at 6 p.m. public hearings will be set on these measures as well as other new taxes passed in this year’s budget, which raised property taxes 30 percent and also increased an equivalent amount in other taxes.
While high theater is common at the legislature, this particular meeting produced genuine fireworks. Legislator Day’s amendments peeved Budget and Finance Director Ilan Schoenberger, because it questioned his math, and accused him of over-borrowing so as to create more room for spending.
Day and Meyers both said they had no confidence the county was rectifying the spending side of the budget problems as things currently stood, and feared new deficits in the near future. Day also drew ire for drawing an attack on his fellow legislators in an interview the previous day in the Rockland Journal News.
At the center of the debate is whether the deficit is really $62 million or $80 million, except in Meyers’ case, as he believes the deficit to actually be more than $80 million, and voted against the bond because he does not think his colleagues are serious about balancing the budget.
But Day and other Republicans believe it to be $62 million. Schoenberger said the $18 million was needed to balance the budget as it currently stood, but Day blasted that it was a “bait and switch” for an excuse to spend more money in coming years. The county’s bookkeepers said the additional $18 million was needed to compensate for the failure to sell the county hospital to a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). An anticipated $54 million had been projected from that sale.
Day asked, why then is this year’s budget balanced without the additional $18 million?
Legislator Philip Soskin said this year’s budget had “make believe” efficiencies projected into it which the legislature needs to compensate for including $17.7 million in projected givebacks from the workers union. This rankles Day, as he wants the county to go full throttle to realize efficiencies and cuts.
Meyers complained that Schoenberger’s allies on the legislature continually referred to his series of tax hikes and the floating of the bond as a “plan” as if it required great genius for lawmakers to raise taxes.
Day said he believes the additional $18 million in bond will end up costing the county over $30 million over 10 years or more. Schoenberger retorted that if the deficit is less than anticipated the money will automatically go to reducing the bond.
Also being discussed is the concept of the state comptroller taking over the county financing under a control board. Day said he was discouraged enough by what he saw that it might not be a bad thing, while several other lawmakers felt that stance represented an abdication of duties.