BY CHERYL SLAVIN
County executive-elect Ed Day, still a legislator for another few weeks, tried to immediately make good on at least one campaign promise last week when he brought a resolution before the Legislature to reduce county elected officials’ salaries by 10 percent. After vigorous discussion by the entire body, however, he agreed to withdraw his motion with the understanding that the matter would be taken up by the Budget and Finance Committee as part of the on-going 2014 budget deliberations.
Usually any proposed legislative changes, such as new laws or amendments, must be brought up first in committee for discussion and drafting. Thereafter the draft bill must be circulated among the entire legislature at least 10 days before the next meeting at which it is to be discussed. Resolutions brought up to be discussed for the first time as new business, as this one was by Day, can be done so only upon an emergency basis, and require passage of a motion to waive the regular rules before the merits of the resolution can be addressed.
Day maintained that such an emergency existed. He noted that elected officials’ salaries cannot be reduced once their term of service commences; thus legislation to change the salaries, at least of the County Executive and the County Clerk, must pass prior to January 1, 2014 when those new terms begin. Given the shortness of time between then and the meeting of November 6, he explained, time had run out for the lengthy committee process if the legislation were to become law by January 1.
Legislators Frank Sparaco and Joseph Meyers spoke in favor of waiving the rules and considering the proposal right away, with Sparaco adding that he would vote in favor of a 100 percent cut until the county’s deficit was erased. “Making the salary cuts would send a positive message to the public,” Meyers added.
A greater number of law makers, however, including Vice Chairman Alden Wolfe, Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, and legislators Aron Weider, Nancy Low-Hogan and Patrick Moroney, disagreed that this situation rose to the level of an emergency. Specifically, Wolfe pointed out that at most it was an emergency of Day’s own making.
“There is government,” he said, “and then there is politics. Foisting this upon us without warning the day after your election, using only social media to inform the public and not your colleagues, clearly shows this is really political theater.”
Cornell concurred, stating that she was completely taken by surprise by the motion. “You’ve known about this for months,” she chided, “and we have a process.”
Day admitted that he did not adhere to procedure, taking responsibility for what he termed several miscommunications. “I did submit this for the agenda on October 3,” he said, “but apparently I did not follow up properly. Still, the matter must be addressed now since local law will not allow a change in salary once the new terms begin.”
Legislator Ilan Schoenberger responded that the matter was not an emergency as it could still be handled as part of the current budget deliberations. Ultimately, Day agreed to withdraw his motion to waive the rules with the understanding that the resolution on salary cuts would go straight to the Budget and Finance Committee for consideration as part of the coming year’s budget. “The most important thing is that it gets done,” he said.
In other matters, the legislators engaged in a lengthy debate about whether to set a public hearing to discuss amending the Rockland County Deficit Reduction Act. As the Act currently stands, the county is required to include in its budget a minimum of 10 million dollars a year to go toward paying down the over 90 million dollar county deficit.
However, the legislature is currently waiting to hear what action Governor Cuomo would take regarding a deficit reduction bond proposal sent to Albany many months ago. If the bond were approved, the county legislature would consider reducing or eliminating completely the required amount of deficit reduction in the budget. At the time of the November 6 meeting, though, Cuomo still had not taken any action by, leaving the legislature in a state of uncertainty.
Thus, in response to Schoenberger’s complaint that a public hearing was being sought without providing the legislators any documents on which to base their decision, Michael Grant, Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, explained that without knowing what the governor will do, there were actually several possible scenarios. He admitted that it was hard to move forward without all the information, but that time was running out for getting it done since the budget had to be approved by the beginning of December.
Ultimately the legislature passed the motion to set the public hearing with the understanding that by November 8 they would have documents in hand outlining all of the possibilities for amending the Act. The legislature will know by the time of the public hearing on November 19 whether Cuomo had approved, denied or had taken no action on the bond proposal and would be able to proceed accordingly.