Future Shock for Rockland

Overall population increases while public school populations shrink

BY KATHY KAHN
Special to the Rockland Times

Town of Clarkstown Justice Howard Gerber and Jonathan Drapkin, president of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progres
Town of Clarkstown Justice Howard Gerber and Jonathan Drapkin, president of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progres

It really came as no shock to members of the Rockland Business Association what the county will look like as they listened to the numbers being rolled out at the Bear Mountain Inn on April 25 presented by Jonathan Drapkin, president and CEO of Pattern for Progress.

With nearly 345,000 residents projected to live in the state’s smallest county by 2020, the think-tank used census figures from 2000 and 2010 to project where Rockland now stands–the town of Ramapo had the most dramatic increase, nearly 21 percent, while Clarkstown saw a .78 percent increase—as well as predicting where those numbers are going.

The villages of Montebello, Monsey, Kaser and New Square’s populations increased by 22.72, 27, 42.46 and 50.17 percent respectively, while Piermont, Sloatsburg and Suffern saw theirs decrease by an average of 2.75 percent over the past 10 years.

Likewise, the village of Spring Valley’s large Latino population has also increased significantly. From 2000 to 2010, it increased by 19,601, or 67.2 percent.

Using the Census numbers to predict the growth of the town of Ramapo by 2020, Pattern for Progress estimated a 21 percent growth rate. Along with the growth of its ethnic population, the county’s aging population continues to grow at a staggering rate.

Pattern saluted the county for creating a LDC (local development corporation) to sell off the hospital/nursing home, an action being taken across the state as counties can no longer carry the cost of care of its aging population. School populations are on the decline, with the exception of Nyack, which is increasing. Clarkstown is facing the biggest decimation of its student population, with Pattern’s report projecting an 11 percent decrease in the school population.

Rockland has the lowest unemployment in the region at 6.4 percent and has one of the most comprehensive health care systems in place for its population. “I could argue the county is on the verge of bankruptcy,” said Drapkin. “In 2011, 22 percent of its residents were Medicaid eligible. But Rockland also has the benefit of being in close proximity to one of the biggest financial cities in the world and has the ability to bounce back under proactive and fiscally realistic and disciplined leadership.”

Drapkin encouraged RBA members to read the county’s comprehensive plan—“It is 300 pages long, so at least, try to read the executive summary…it has very solid suggestions on how to get Rockland back on the upswing.” Drapkin also expressed concern that younger Rocklandites –Milennials – would seek to live in more affordable places with more opportunity. “In order to keep them here, Rockland needs to create the jobs and a tax structure to make it attractive,” Drapkin said.

While HUD’s area median income is projected at $105,400 and Rockland boasts the lowest unemployment rate, based on NYS Dept. of Labor statistics, at 6.4 percent, 22 percent of Rockland’s residents are Medicaid eligible.

Drapkin said the county needs to “spend precious tax dollars wisely, fix its finances—and the next county executive must…find common ground in the county’s multi-cultured community.”

Pattern is creating an examination of each county’s demographics to project what to expect by 2030. It prepared a “White Paper” for Rockland in July, 2011, outlining many of the same issues its demographic projections touched upon during the April 24 presentation. The White Paper can be found on the RBA’s website, rocklandbusiness.org.

“Jonathan gave us an outline of what to expect in the future; while the county’s comprehensive plan has good ideas, they are not mandates…..the White Paper that Pattern prepared for us is right on target,” said Al Samuels, RBA president. “We need to prepare for what’s to come before it gets here.”