THERE’S A NEW “SHERIFF” IN TOWN

County executive continues aggressive leadership; proposes sweeping cuts to Sheriff’s Dept. in taxpayer-friendly budget proposal

BY BILL DEMAREST

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NEW CITY – Rockland County Executive Ed Day, a former police commander, has proposed cutting 37 police jobs by eliminating the Police Division of the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department, saying the county can’t afford the duplication of services that exists with this unit.

The plan, part of Day’s proposed $772 million 2015 budget proposal, would also eliminate the Sheriff’s Mounted Unit, which provides mounted police officers for special events and for enhanced late-night enforcement efforts in Nyack, Spring Valley and Haverstraw. The budget, however, keeps the Sheriff’s Marine Unit, which operates on the Hudson River, and maintains the county’s emergency helicopter. The proposal does not hit the other areas of the Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the Rockland County Correctional Facility in New City and operates specialized criminal investigation units and a civil action enforcement unit.

“While public safety continues to be a priority for my administration, tough choices had to be made across all departments and agencies,” Day said in announcing his budget plan today at a public gathering at the New City Library. “As a former New York City police officer, I regret that law enforcement layoffs are necessary to balance this budget, but there are no sacred cows. I was elected to reduce expenses, and that’s what I will do.”

While the Sheriff’s Department provides services that the county is required to offer, such as running the county jail and enforcing civil court orders, the county is not legally required to operate the Police Division – long known as the Sheriff’s patrol. On average, the Police Division has two police officers on patrol throughout Rockland County per shift, according to county officials.

County government-level lawmakers have long debated whether Rockland taxpayers can afford the extra police services provided through the Sheriff’s patrol and units such as the mounted police and the river patrol. Sheriffs, including Falco and former Sheriff James Kralik, have argued that these units provide essential services to the public.

The proposed 37 job cuts are part of a total reduction of 111 full-time positions ($6.8 million worth), which now goes to the Rockland County Legislature for consideration. In the plan, 33 positions in security, hospital radiology and laundry and the Department of Social Services managed care unit would be outsourced to private firms. Day said he believes his budget plan puts the county on a path toward long-term financial stability, and includes a $10 million payment to reduce the county government deficit.

Day said the plan holds the local taxpayer supported spending on county operations to an increase of 2 percent for 2015. Staying within the tax cap means Rockland is eligible to receive further state budget relief and tax rebate checks.

Day’s plan would increase the county portion of the average Rockland taxpayer’s property tax bill by about $20. The county portion of the property tax bill is one of the smallest items, with local school and town taxes making up the largest items.

Compared to recent years, in which tax hikes of 10, 18 and 32 percent were the norm, this year’s 2 percent increase will hardly feel like one at all.

“This is not a political budget,” Day said. “Our plan achieves real, year-to-year savings, the result of a top to bottom restructuring of government operations. We inherited the most fiscally stressed county in the state, and this budget is a key step in strengthening the extremely fragile financial situation we remain in today.”

Many Democrats came out against the budget cuts, including all town supervisors.

Legislator Jay Hood. Jr. (D-Haverstraw) said, “I am disappointed that the county executive decided to cut the entire Sheriff’s Patrol Division. People argue that it is duplication of service but it really is not. The Sheriff’s Department handles certain specialized ares of law enforcement that other departments can’t…I know for a fact the Sheriff’s Patrol Division helped the Town of Haverstraw Police hundreds of times in the past year…Do you know how many drunk drivers the Sheriff’s Patrol has taken off our streets?  291 drunk drivers over the past fouryears!   It also sounds good [to say] ‘I am cutting taxes,’ but in actuality you are only shifting taxes from the county to the towns and villages.”

Said Legislator Joseph Meyers (D-Airmont), the only Democratic legislator guaranteed to join Republicans in supporting Day’s budget cuts, “[Day’s budget] contains what I have supported and advocated for the last seven years. I’m on record as wanting to eliminate the mounted and patrol parts of the Sheriff’s Department and we cannot afford to fund the contract agencies at this time. The agencies must learn better the art of fundraising and the community needs to support these organizations, not the government with tax dollars at a time when taxes are so high and our financial position is so precarious.”

There are five Republicans in the Rockland Legislature: Frank Sparaco, Chris Carey, Pat Moroney, Douglas Jobson Jr. and John Murphy. Sparaco confirmed he supports Day’s budget cuts. Carey and Jobson are reliable Day partisans. There has yet to be any sign of Murphy or Moroney breaking ranks.

If Day can hold six votes, it will give him enough to veto line item legislative changes to his budget. A final budget will then be presented. By law, the county executive’s proposed budget is implemented by default if legislators cannot override his veto.

Day’s budget also proposes a $30,000 reduction in the personnel budget of the Office of the County Executive for 2015.  A Day press release said, “By aligning existing functions with current industry standards, the redesigned footprint of the County Executive’s operations will provide superior coordination throughout the organization.”

The Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center remains fully funded through 2015 as the contract of sale on the facility has yet to be closed and some legal challenges remain.

Most agencies that contract with Rockland County for services will see an across the board reduction in funding of 100 percent in the proposed 2015 budget.

“Everyone is sharing in the pain,” said Day. “As we look to make deep cuts to our workforce, I must consider the millions paid each year to the many outside agencies doing business with the County.  In the future, performance indicators will be used to evaluate service delivery and program benefits.”

Originally published by Nyack Free Press. Republished with permission and content added by the Rockland County Times