Has Rockland come out of the Great Recession?

Survey says “NO”

BY KATHY KAHN

Pattern for Progress, the Hudson Valley’s regional think tank, last Thursday asked Rockland Business Association members how they rated some key challenges in Rockland.

At the Paramount Country Club, Pattern’s executive director, Jonathan Drapkin, asked 125 RBA members to rate a number of issues—from “How long have your lived in Rockland?” to “Which issue concerns you most?” –then asked for feedback.

Economic Development-Job creation, property taxes high on the list. The nuts and bolts:

“There’s no way to sugarcoat this—Rockland is near bankruptcy,” said Drapkin, “but now we have a new county executive, Ed Day, and his team bringing in a new perspective to crack into the county’s deficit, which must be solved before it becomes worse.”

Al Samuels added a new wrinkle for Rockland manufacturers: While the county pays the MTA surcharge but gets little, if anything, in return for its multi-million dollar payout, the Senate, in working on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 budget, voted to include Orange and Dutchess in the counties which will get the manufacturing tax credit. “Rockland isn’t getting it, despite our base of manufacturing that has strong ties to the manufacturing association here in the Hudson Valley. Why are we being left out? The only Assembly Democrat who voted against this was split was Ken Zebrowski, and I commend him for it.”

While New York City enjoys its rebound, Pattern reports the rest of the state is still waiting to recover. Economic recovery is measured by the Department of Labor’s unemployment statistics, considered to be “the gold standard.”

The reality is the Federal Reserve doesn’t count the jobs lost. “For example, Orange may have seen a dip in its unemployment figures, but it also lost 6,500 jobs,” said Drapkin. New Fed Reserve chair Janet Yellen says the DOL gives data on how many people are working, but not how many have lost jobs, and Rockland is not at the level it was in 2008.

2-PIC OF HAVERSTRW

Quality of life/housing

Fifty six percent of the audience lived in the county more than 20 years. While 37 percent said their own lifestyle had not changed in the past five years, 64 percent predicted their children will have it worse than their parents do.

More than 54 percent of the group said they are paying more than 30 percent of their gross family income for private homes, while Pattern reported 55 percent of renters are paying nearly 41 percent of their income for housing.

Healthcare—Is the region preparing for the future?

“Too many hospital beds, too few nursing home beds and not enough long term health care are some of the issues we are tackling and will present to the Hudson Valley within the next month or so,” said Pattern’s March Gallagher.

Rockland had a hospital bed occupancy rate of 54 percent, with Hudson Valley overall showing a 61 percent average. “We don’t need that many beds,” said Gallagher, “but what we are seeing is a shortage of nursing home beds and home health care providers. People want to age in their own homes—I know I do—but there aren’t going to be enough people to help them accomplish that in the next 20 years.”  Careers in healthcare are spiking as the region grow older.

Public Education—Continuing Controversy over cost and Common Core

The most troubling problem for many in the room was education. Teachers’ salaries and benefits have been the crux of angst among taxpayers, adding New York’s Common Core Curriculum as coal to the fire. up to

Pattern’s Barbara Gref said, “Many schools are closing in the Hudson Valley because of the demographic shift and the loss of younger families—30 have closed in the past 14 years.”

Rockland’s schools were rated by NYS Education Department and See Through NY—Clarkstown, Ramapo, South Orangetown, Pearl River and Nanuet were categorized as “low needs” districts; Haverstraw-Stony Point and Nyack were rated as “average needs,” with  the East Ramapo as a “high need” district. Clarkstown had the lowest median teacher’s salary was $85,226.00 while Haverstraw-Stony Point’s median teacher’s salary was $111,766.00.

“Teachers’ salaries make up 70 percent of the school budget,
added Gref. “At the end of the day, our schools are like government: People have said not too much can be done about public education in New York State.”

Getting there getting better?—in the air or on the ground

While 54 percent of respondents consider Stewart International “Orange County’s Airport,” they strongly approved the construction—as well as the design of the new span, one that former Gov. George  Pataki called for 14 years ago, noted Pattern.

Drapkin commended Rockland and Westchester having a solid transit system in place and collaborating on creating one that would intertwine both counties’ systems to work in tandem. Drapkin said it was a wonderful example of counties working together to do things regionally, not parochially, as in the past.

5-Al and Jonathan Drapkin (1)Pattern, Rockland: Ties that bind

At the end of the luncheon, Samuels commended both Drapkin and Pattern for Progress, saying the organization has worked hand in hand with Rockland and the eight other counties on the Mid-Hudson Regional Development Council. March Gallagher, one-time director of economic development for Ulster and now a member of the Pattern team, said she really learned to appreciate Samuels’ dedication to Rockland now that she’s visited it and met its business owners and residents. “I live in Ulster, but after meeting Rockland’s community and seeing the different climate here, he’s an unbelievably strong advocate for his county.”