BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – Workers and volunteers with Rockland’s various non-profits gathered at the Rockland County Office Building on November 18 to protest service cuts included in the county executive’s 2015 budget.
Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of picket sign-waving demonstrators, Nyack Center Director Kim Cross proclaimed non-profits provide necessary services and are not as disposable as they are portrayed in the budget.
“Rockland non-profits protect our most vulnerable citizens from harm. Rockland nonprofits will fight for those who cannot fight. Rockland non-profits provide food, shelter and education. Rockland non-profits hold our most precious babes, teens, elderly and dying in our arms every day.”
The cuts, which slash $3.3 million and effectively eliminate funding to all Rockland nonprofits, are part of a larger trim of county jobs and services in the $772 million budget. Alongside the elimination of 111 county jobs-including 37 positions with the Sheriff’s mounted and patrol units-these eliminations have received a chilly reception from a plethora of county and local representatives.
Representatives of several dozen non-profits pled their cases to the County Legislature after the rally and further argued for the indispensability of nonprofits. Rob Tyrrell of Cornell Cooperative Extension emphasized that services provided by the extension are so integral to the county’s well-being that the efficacy of county agencies-which often work directly with the Extension on issues related to public health, education and the environment-might be affected as well.
“As I’ve stated, our work touches many different areas of life in Rockland County,”
Rockland’s law enforcement community, though most vocal and visible in their presence at a November 6 budget hearing on the Sheriff’s Department cuts, also turned out to offer support to nonprofits. According to Charlie Lowther with the Sheriff’s Department’s Police Division, non-profits often provide social services which supplement police work and keep taxes down.
“We need you,” Lowther stated in a gesture of support to non-profits. “We’re with you. If you cut these services, you’re going to see a whole different side of Rockland that you don’t want to see.”
Other speakers discussed the cost savings non-profits provide for the county, which they argued tally up to a net gain. Patti Romanello, whose position in the employment unit of the Department of Social Service is up for abolishment, supported her allies in non-profits by arguing they serve a similar role, saving the county money by ensuring residents’ financial independence and helping them to rely less on government assistance.
Larry Sparber, who represented the CSEA at the public comment, argued that though non-profit services are not always quantifiable, they would still be missed when they are gone.
“You see it but you don’t see it,” Sparber said. “They’re invisible because you expect them to be there.”
Others spoke of more tangible benefits to the county, particularly the leg-up county funds often give in further fundraising efforts. Arts Center of Rockland Executive Director Janey Tannenbaum argued the funds often qualify the Center for public grants, which multiply the money used to fund independent artists, programs and events.
“We use this support as leverage to raise five times the support that is given,” Tannenbaum said.
Sue Rutledge, a volunteer with several non-profits, focused on the human side of the equation by discussing services her family received from the United Hospice of Rockland. According to Rutledge, her parents required UHR services several times in their lives and were often financially relieved by the service’s alternative to expensive hospital care.
“You all have friends who have used these services,” Rutledge said. “What happens to members of our community who have nowhere to turn in that time?”
State Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee also made an appearance to support the non-profits and argued the safety net they provide often cannot be efficiently replicated by government agencies. If the legislature went ahead with the cuts, she argued, the loss of support would economically and culturally diminish the county.
“The county executive’s all-or-nothing approach to our non-profit agencies is not the way to sustain a thriving community,” Jaffee stated.
Rockland Business Association President Al Samuels struck a more neutral tone, reminding legislators that bond markets, rating agencies and the state comptroller are all looking at the budget with great interest. While he did not advocate the elimination of non-profit funding, he did state that one way or another, $10 million in savings had to be set aside each year to pay down the deficit and alleviate market concerns.
“You’ve got to show that that’s continuous,” Samuels said. “There must be provisions in the budget to pay down the deficit and stay below the tax cap.”
The legislature is set to vote on a final version of the budget on December 4.