The County Executive’s Corner: Budget Season

Ed-Day-212x320By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

It’s budget time. Every October, the County Executive delivers a proposed fiscal plan to the Legislature and to the people. The budget reflects a county executive’s priorities for the upcoming year more than any other single act. Just as you can tell what a business or family truly values by how they spend their money, so it is with county executives.

Under the cloud of a $140 million deficit left by the previous administration, this year’s budget-building process has been both promising and difficult. Promising in the light of sweeping changes we’ve made since January to keep county operations functioning in the black. And, difficult because of the huge debt that looms large over this government. As directed by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the County must begin to pay millions toward our deficit bonds issued in 2013. In simple terms, we inherited a massive second mortgage. We are working every day to pay it down responsibly.

For the past several years, the County’s budget has been a gloomy reminder of the negative impacts of a serious economic recession, a disengaged Legislature and poor management. Revenue has been down while the needs have stacked up. But this year, we’re making tough choices to get the County well. We performed a top-to-bottom organizational and salary structure review to restore fiscal responsibility, integrity and professionalism to County government. We announced the pending sale of Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center, completed the transfer of Rockland County’s Mental Health Crisis and Inpatient units to Nyack Hospital, consolidated departments, reduced spending, cut travel expenses, deferred major purchases, limited contract work and restricted hiring. To date, cuts to mid and upper-management positions have yielded $3 million in salary and benefits savings. In the months ahead, we’re looking to establish even more cost savings initiatives.

One of the conditions to the County’s plan to receive $96 million in deficit financing bonds is a requirement by Comptroller DiNapoli to review my proposed budget and make possible recommendations. As a result, our Finance Commissioner and County Auditor have spent months assessing and prioritizing each department’s needs. I’m pleased to report that early feedback provided by the Comptroller’s Office has been extremely positive, due in large part to the efficiencies we have made. Our proposed fiscal plan for 2015 will provide convincing proof that we are using taxpayer dollars wisely!

Now is the time to avoid the budget mistakes of the past and invest in our future so that our economy continues to grow. My proposed budget will be based on the principles of living within our means, tackling a wall of debt, improving our bond ratings and delivering essential services. Following these principles, we have prioritized a 2015 financial plan in line with my administration’s three cornerstones: economic recovery, job growth and preserving Rockland County.

If a homeowner fails to pay down a mortgage or home equity loan, he will eventually lose his home. The same philosophy applies to Rockland County. I will structure a disciplined budget to ensure we pay off the deficit inherited from the previous administration without losing our county.

As your County Executive, I am very hopeful about the direction Rockland is heading. We must continue to move forward. We must be quick, smart and prudent. My first budget will be a responsible, balanced approach to stabilizing our finances, with a focus on paying off debt. It’s a fiscal plan that residents will be proud of and rating agencies and investors will embrace.