100 Days of Day: County exec touts Rockland recovery

Sale of Summit Park on front burner

BY KATHY KAHN

Ed Day talks turkey to business and non-profit leaders
Ed Day talks turkey to business and non-profit leaders

If Rocklanders have been in a daze over the state of the county’s finances, their new county executive has been working his way through the daze and the haze to get the county on a positive track.

Former Legislator Ed Day, who won by a significant margin in the November, 2013 elections, said his first priority is to put the county’s finances in order. “How did I like a job I come into that is $145 million in the hole? Believe me, it is not a lot to smile about,” Day told over 130 members of the Rockland Business Association on Thursday.

Getting rid of red ink top priority for Day

Getting Rockland out of the red and into the black is Day’s top priority, starting with his own office, where he’s taken a ten percent pay cut, as has his staff. “When I was elected, I told every company contracting with Rockland to give us a 60-day grace period to review the contracts—most of them have stayed with us and worked with us, others didn’t and we now have new ones. I also asked every department head to hand in their resignation and apply to be re-hired. Most were re-hired, some weren’t, some were moved to jobs better suited to them.  Every department knows we are keeping budgets tight and that we all have to work together to get the county out of the whole it’s been in.”

County department heads have also been given the ability to make decisions—and be held accountable for them—rather than having to ask Day for permission to make a change first. “They need to have the ability to make choices and for each department to work as a team,” said Day. Others are merging together to cut costs and streamline systems that worked in silos rather than cooperatively.

Rockland, which was $42,000 away from default when Day took over, made the former legislator “think out of the box” when it came to getting the county back on track.   The county took out a $96 million bond at 2.7 percent interest, with premiums going back to pay down the debt, Day told his audience.

He’s also filled the office of county auditor, which had been vacant since 2006, with former Commissioner of Finance Bob Bergman, “who knows what we need done and is going to get it done,” said Day. The county also has a new economic development director, Catherbe Monel, working with the Rockland Economic Development Corporation, the Industrial Development Agency and the County Executive’s office to bring new business to the state’s smallest county—and to retain the  ones which  currently call Rockland home.

While Day is working with his mid-Hudson neighboring counties, he is also working with Bergen, New Jersey County Executive Kathleen Donovan. “We share a border and are talking about sharing services, including sharing sports facilities. It just makes sense.”

Day is also pleased, as are mid-Hudson manufacturers, that the state has included all 62 counties in the elimination of the manufacturing tax credit beginning this year.  “We have a solid base of manufacturing here….this is a huge boost for business attraction.”

Day addresses Summit Park controversy

An LDC (Local Development Corporation), a separate entity from both the Legislator and the county administration, was formed to oversee the sale of the Summit Pak Nursing home.  (Rockland is not the only county seeking to sell its nursing home. Orange is trying to sell its own, Valley View, while Ulster has already sold its nursing facility to a private healthcare firm.)

“As much as I understand how the employees and our  people feel about our county nursing facility, it is costing $2 million a month to operate and we just cannot afford to do it anymore,” said Day.

“The LDC bidding process ended with four potential choices,” continued Day, “and we signed a letter of intent with the top bidder, who agreed every employee would be kept on and the facility would be maintained and upgraded. That was very important to us and to the employees, who are naturally concerned about their jobs, as well as their clients.”  The Letter of Intent was signed—and the brouhaha began.

First came lawsuits—one from the CSEA (Civil Service Employee Association) and from another bidder. “We even had rabbinical court step in that favored of the first bidder,” added Day.” What killed the deal were outside threats that overwhelmed the selected bidder and made him pull out.”  Day did not allude what kind of threats were made, “but they were enough for the buyer to back out.”

Now, the second lowest bidder has signed a Letter of Intent and Day hopes this will go through without outside threats.  “We need to disentangle the Summit Park Nursing Home and Hospital—recreate a new scenario so we can look back 15 years from now and know we got it right.  We are going to get the job done,” said Day. “What we don’t need are buyers being threatened.”

What is troubling to Day is that a rabbinical court was consulted about the Summit Park sale and rendered a decision—although the decisions are not binding, they are recognized by state and federal agencies.  “I don’t think a Catholic synod or a Jewish court should be involved in what is a public entity—there is a separation of church and state in this country, and it was designed to be separate for a reason—so no religious group could be favored over another.”

Putting a positive spin on Rockland a priority

Rockland has had its fair share of “bad publicity,” said Day. “In addition to our deficit, our junk bond rating, poor management and decision making n the past, if you ‘Google’ Rockland, you don’t see much positive press.  We need to change that. We need to work together, encourage local businesses help each other and for each county employee to pitch in. We’re working to bring in more tourism and highlight Rockland’s positives. I know we can get it done. There must be a willingness to dream again—by doing this, we’ll move the county into a new day.” (No pun intended, we’re sure, Mr. Day!)