Candidates: Rockland needs to boost economic development efforts

Day, Fried differ on ways new county exec can improve business climate

county executive debate 2013 RBANEW CITY – Ed Day and David Fried differ on how to get the job done, but they both agree that Rockland’s next county executive must do a better job at bolstering the county’s business climate and improving its image as a shopping and tourism destination.

When the top candidates in the November race to succeed County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef spoke at the Paramount Country Club in New City on Thursday, they knew their economic plans would be under scrutiny. The audience: About 130 representatives of local businesses and non-profit organizations who belong to the Rockland Business Association.

“I intend to really work with whoever takes over that office on the right side of 11 New Hempstead Road,” said Al Samuels, president of the Pearl River-based RBA, making reference to the county executive’s office on the first floor of the Allison-Parris County Office Building.

Samuels said he is taking pains not to endorse a candidate in the race – to the point that he’s not even attending campaign fundraisers. Samuels said his group is hoping to have a closer relationship with the new administration to improve the local economic climate.

Samuels served as the moderator Thursday for a “conversation” style debate among the county executive candidates – Day, a New City Republican who is a member of the Rockland County Legislature, and Fried, a Democrat from Spring Valley who is a former Legislature member and is a former Spring Valley village judge.

From the outset, both candidates agreed that a shake up in county government is needed to tackle major problems, starting with its financial woes. However, it’s in the details that the two veteran Rockland politicians differ.

For example, Day told the RBA members that, if elected, he would hire a full-time economic development director – who has experience from the business community – to help the county government in its business growth efforts. Day contends he can add the post without boosting the budget by making cuts elsewhere.

“I will also have an economic growth council,” Day said. “As county executive, I would also show the people every day that something is being done to fix the problems.”

Fried said he is opposed to adding another job to the county administration and that he would help change the business climate in Rockland through his leadership as county executive, if elected.

“All of the pieces are there already,” Fried said. “What we need is leadership, not administration.”

Samuels led the debate with a series of questions for the candidates on issues ranging from how their transition teams would work with the business community to how they would cope with poverty and boost Rockland’s image, especially as a shopping and tourism destination.

 

Issue: The transition team

Fried said he plans on having a transition team that will have political, economic and social diversity. “We need to be as inclusive as possible as we organize our plans for county government,” he said.

Day said he wants to have a “corporate turnaround specialist” on his team right away and that he would invite county workers to be part of the effort of determining how to change government structures for the better.

 

What would you do on Day 1?

Day said the immediate focus of the new county executive must be the county’s financial condition. Day explained he would institute a “zero-based” budget process.

“We need to have clarity and honesty in our budget,” Day said. “People know our financial situation is bad, but it’s worse than people realize.”

Fried said he believe Rockland’s county government has grown too top-heavy and he would not fill any positions until those jobs are audited to determine their need. Additionally, Fried said that if he were elected he would cut his salary as county executive by 20 percent.

 

Issue: Tourism

Day said the county government has a very “static” approach to tourism, and that efforts to boost tourism need to be moved out of county government to local agencies that can do a better job.

“It’s an investment we have to make,” Day said about promoting Rockland as a tourism spot for its recreational, shopping and historic features. “ We also have to think regionally about tourism. Drop the borders, get out of the box.”

Fried contends Rockland needs to take advantage of technology to boost tourism. He wants a mobile phone application that would make it easy for people traveling and shopping in the region to find a wide variety of features and facilities in Rockland County.

Both Day and Fried agree that funds from the 3 percent so-called “bed tax” on hotel rooms in Rockland County should be used for tourism and promotional efforts.

 

Issue: Regional economic development planning

Fried and Day agreed Rockland County is not doing enough to bring local projects to the attention of the regional economic development panel created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While neighboring counties have received the panel’s support for multiple projects, only one has received support in Rockland County – the expansion of the Nyack Hospital Emergency Room.

 

Issue: Supporting Rockland’s downtowns – its “mom and pop” businesses

Day, who lives in New City, said he believes the experience of the recent downtown New City renovation project can be repeated in downtowns throughout Rockland. He said that by bringing government and the business community together in a coordinated effort, public and private resources can be focused on fixing problems and making improvements that make downtowns more vibrant.

Fried said he wants to make it easier for small businesses in Rockland to do business with government. As an example, Friend cited the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) program of the Rockland Economic Development Corp. in Pearl River. PTAC is a resource for small businesses seeking to market and sell products or services to government agencies.

 

Issue: Poverty

Day said that to ensure Rockland’s resources for helping those in need are used correctly, the county must be tough on those who try to “game” the system – obtaining benefits to which they are not entitled.

Fried contends Rockland needs to do a better job of administering programs that help the needy and must improve the technology used in running those efforts. Fried wants to create a “report card” system to access the way funds are used by local non-profit organizations receiving county money to provide services to the needy.

 

Issue: Political corruption

Here, too, Fried and Day agree that political corruption scandals that continue to be in the headlines have given Rockland County’s image a black eye. They both said the next county executive must set the tone for Rockland that corruption will not be tolerated.

Fried said he supports efforts to reform campaign financing laws as a way of rooting out political corruption. Day pointed to term limits as a key for fighting corruption. He said that, if elected, he would not serve more than two terms in office.

Want to hear the candidates yourself? Here are upcoming debates:

–       Sept. 26, Congers Community Center, Gilchrest Road, 7:30 p.m.

–       Sept. 27, Rockland Community College, 145 College Road, Ramapo, an afternoon debate sponsored by the senior citizens club.

–       Oct. 3, Gracepoint Gospel Fellowship, 384 New Hempstead Road, New City, 7 p.m.

–       Oct. 10, Louis Kurtz Civic Center, 9 N. Main St., Spring Valley, 6:30 p.m.

–       Oct. 16, Dominican College, 470 Western Highway, Orangeburg, 7 p.m.

–       Oct. 27, JCC Rockland, 450 West Nyack Road, West Nyack, 2 p.m.

–       Nov. 3, New City Jewish Center, 47 Old Schoolhouse Road, New City, 9 a.m.

Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 5.