Where’s the Shame?

RCT Staff Editorial

There have been far too few sweating brows and not nearly enough hypertensive outbursts in the halls of New City in the last few years.

That’s an odd comment you might think, but the point is, the county has been dying a slow fiscal death for going on at least three years now, and it hasn’t seemed to fully register with most legislators or with County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef that they are ultimately responsible for this situation.

Sure, a tanking economy and lower sales tax receipts could not have been predicted, not even by Moody’s, who in their own sphere failed to see the sub-prime mortgage debacle coming. But while events can’t always be controlled, how you react to events can be controlled. Rockland isn’t the only county facing difficult times.

The aforementioned Moody’s Rating Agency put the cherry on top of Rockland’s budget crisis, as they reacted to Senator David Carlucci’s refusal to support a hike in the county sales tax rate by dropping the county’s credit rating to Baa3, the lowest level of any county in New York State, and just one level above “junk” status.

The county had been counting on the 0.375% sales tax hike to pay back, over a 10 year period, an $80 million deficit bond county leaders asked the state permission to float. When Carlucci rejected the plan (and word was the GOP-controlled state Senate as well as the Governor’s Office were not eager to pass the hike either), it led to Moody’s downgrade, as Rockland now stands with no deficit reduction plan and a spiraling-upward deficit.

This is not coming out of left-field folks. Leaders in the GOP minority in the county legislature Frank Sparaco and Ed Day were warning of this problem for at least two years and it was plain to see to anyone observing. The buck has to stop at the County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, first, and the leadership of the County Legislature, second.

As the deficit problem intensified, Vanderhoef put forth an austerity budget in October of 2011, but the biggest item in that plan was an untenable plan to close or sell the County Hospital and Summit Park Nursing Home facility. This an entire year after Vanderhoef first proposed selling those facilities to a Public Benefit Corporation, only to see it go nowhere in the state approval process due to lack of a concrete plan.

So the legislature got rid of that idea and the majority then proceeded to not even pretend to be interested in cutting government spending further, instead opting for an unfathomable 30% increase in property taxes and the equivalent in other new taxes, including the sales tax, which Senator Carlucci ultimately rejected.

In his reasoning for rejecting the increased sales tax, Carlucci pointed out in spite of the deficit bond and sales tax increase, the county leaders still could not confidently predict whether the deficit problem had been fixed. Carlucci did the right thing, even if Moody’s reacted the way they did.

Someone needs to get a firm grasp on the numbers in Rockland County. Now, after Carlucci’s action, finally, it does seem that everyone is starting to pay close attention. That is worth more than a Moody’s rating.

And just in time, finally, this week consultants hired by the county over six months ago presented their study into how to achieve efficiencies and sell off parts of the County Hospital and Summit Park. County Executive Vanderhoef said he will be presenting his recommended revisions to the budget and what he’d like to do with the county hospital and Summit Park, today, Thursday.

Let’s hope that Vanderhoef and the county legislature can get themselves together and hammer this situation out before the state rides in on a black horse and takes the process over, as they have the right to do.

Where’s the shame? This is the last thing anybody should want to happen, and it should be a frightening thought, as well as one that insults the pride of all our county officials.

Perhaps Vanderhoef has been constrained by the demands of the CSEA union who has hundreds of workers at the county hospital and Summit Park. It is in the nature of unions not to make major compromises until they have no other choice, sometimes in fairness to them, because they do not know when management is telling them the truth.

Well in this case, the CSEA has no other choice. Even as the unions stage a rally condemning Senator Carlucci today, they must look themselves in the mirror and understand taxpayer money doesn’t grow on trees.

They are public sector employees and their boss, the taxpayer, is broke. Management, which is in actuality the people of Rockland County, will not tolerate the current situation for much longer.

The shame of it all is in spite of all the cutting and cutting, we still know that Rockland County government and most governments across this land have redundancies, inefficiencies and positions that only exist to give an inside friend a job.

In our lifetimes let’s work to make the functioning of government truly better. That is something that can only be achieved through the vigilance of the citizenry, as the nature of politics itself, is to degenerate into cronyism.

We’ll know more by this time next week about the county’s fiscal future. Stay tuned.