BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – County Executive Ed Day stood before a gathering of guests at the Rockland County Legislature on Tuesday to deliver his first State of the County, a speech which discussed his activities during his first month in office and elaborated on his future goals and ambitions. At the top of the list: tackling the county’s deficit and correcting its financial habits.
Day’s tone was serious, but optimistic. He described himself as a realist and explained the county’ problems were the product of years of bad financial decisions. The problem, he said, is “impossible to ignore.”
“I want to reassure you and each resident of Rockland County that we are focused every day on putting the county’s fiscal house back in order,” Day said. “We will blaze our own path to a healthy future by making hard choices.”
Day broke his intentions down into three goals: Restoration of proper budgeting practices, job creation and economic growth and preserving Rockland’s unique character as a county.
The bulk of Day’s attention was focused on the first two goals. Day expressed optimism regarding the upcoming sale of the Summit Park Nursing Care facility and the $96 billion deficit bond which was passed the same night, but warned they were only meant to buy “extremely limited time.”
“While these efforts are a good beginning, they do not solve our problem of spending too much money,” Day stated.
To demonstrate his desire to alter the way the county does business, Day touted his first actions as County Executive, which included a 10 percent cut to salaries in his own office and the beginning of an overhaul of government departments. More specifically, Day argued he has acted by putting a stop to routine hirings, unnecessary overtime, reviewing all county contracts, and empowering department heads to wok with employees to eliminate waste.
“Each member of my team is doing more than less,” Day said.
Day also announced that former Commissioner of Budget & Finance Robert Bergman had been chosen for the position of county auditor. The position, which oversees expenditures, debt, short-term and long-term liabilities, condition of tax base, financial policies and practices transparency, has been vacant for several years. Day described it as a “watchdog” role which entails a review and investigation of county offices to identify and root out financial issues. “Bob’s vast experience with budgets and cash management will help us realize the true extent of the crisis and rapidly respond to it,” Day said. “His stellar record with the county means there’s no learning curve.”
Regarding jobs and economic growth, Day was quick to address the decision by pharmaceuticcal giant Novartis to shut its doors in Suffern. He sought to alleviate fears by explaining he joined the Rockland Economic Development Corporation to personally met with Novartis and concluded patent expiration on a major drug, not local fiscal troubles, were the major reason, not the condition of the county.
However, Day explained the move was not a nail in Suffern’s coffin and presented an opportunity to explore options, including a possible repurposing of the Novartis facility.
“The departure of Novartis is a reality,” Day said. “I believe it may also be an opportunity.”
Through collaborative work between state and local officials to rein in taxes and the hiring of a new director of Economic Development to improve Rockland’s image and attract investors, Day also hopes to improve the cost of living and availability of jobs in the county. On matters unrelated to the county’s fiscal condition, Day was intent on improving transparency through social media outreach, including a redesigned county website. He also explained a new director of Community Relations would be appointed “within a few days” to serve as a liaison with the public.
“Now, more than ever before, we must communicate with our public,” Day stated.
Though Day has not been in office for long, he was able to point out other major progress as well, including fare collection improvements on county buses and joint investigations conducted by the DA’s office and the Department of Public Services into fraud and abuse of public benefits. He also praised the Highway Department for their continued work to keep roads clear in the face of repeated, severe winter storms.
Day was not shy about showing his dedication to his voter base either. In his discussion on “preserving Rockland,” he included a subtle reference to the voting bloc which helped elect him to office and vowed to push back against overdevelopment, specifically mentioning the Patrick Farm Development in Suffern and a proposed poultry slaughterhouse in New Square.
Following his list of goals and accomplishments, Day also took time to recognizes and presents awards to Jerry Knapp, a West Haverstraw firefighter seriously injured by a natural gas explosion in 2012 who moved on to research and draft new training for first responders statewide, and Skye Maisel, a Rockland teen who travelled to California to assist the homeless in Los Angeles.