Much attention has focused lately on the budget process and the tough choices that affect the 320,000 residents of Rockland County. In the past, this government has spent too much and borrowed too much. I was elected to bring about change and restore fiscal responsibility. While this year’s path toward a budget has been particularly bruising, I remain confident that we will deliver a conservative plan that carefully manages limited county resources and protects Rockland’s bond rating,
While I’ve directed county commissioners to do more with less, several have achieved sizeable savings this year by thinking “outside the box.” The push to save money has generated fresh ideas and innovative thinking necessary for us to ensure that we have provided our residents with the best possible services. Here are a few examples of our efforts to reduce costs by being more efficient and creative:
On November 13th, our Finance Department conducted a public auction of 75 county-owned tax delinquent properties. In the weeks leading up to the auction, we collected $2.5 million owed on several delinquent parcels, which were removed from the block. Auction night generated another $2.1 million for the county coffers.
In past years, our Finance staff would advertise property auctions in a handful of local newspapers. Promotion of the event this year involved “The New York Times” and social media. By posting photos and other details of each house or parcel that owed taxes on the County’s website and official Facebook and Twitter pages, the information hit new audiences and grew the field of bidders. Ads in The Times led to interest from real estate brokers and other parties from across the New York City metropolitan area. The decision to utilize digital and regional media undoubtedly raised awareness of the auction and increased the amount of revenue generated for taxpayers.
This year’s real property auction was the county’s first since 2011. And, please know our Finance Department worked closely with our Department of Social Services to avoid displacing anyone from their home due to unpaid tax bills. Foreclosure is always the final option for the county. Our first response is to help those struggling residents facing significant hardships.
Creative thinking by our Purchasing Department has also yielded tremendous taxpayer savings in 2014. A contract with Resolution Energy Group has yielded $727,000 in savings on the county’s electric bills in the first seven months of this year.
Buying electricity and natural gas used to be relatively simple. One company (Orange and Rockland Utilities locally) sold electric and gas and delivered it to your meter. In today’s restructured utilities industry, customers can shop around, compare prices and services and purchase power from the supplier who best meets their needs. The ability to purchase gas and electric from other suppliers rather than from your traditional utility is called direct access. Authorizing Resolution Energy to seek affordable energy bids on the open market has greatly reduced county spending on less competitive electric rates.
Inside our Highway Department garage on New Hempstead Road, workers are quietly testing a new type of road salt designed to save money… and, equipment. A product called “ClearLane” will be rolled out on two specific plow routes this winter on a trial basis.
“ClearLane” differs from traditional rock salt because it contains a pre-wetting agent, which helps to clear icy surfaces by providing a faster reaction time and longer residual effects. The EPA-approved deicer is expected to eliminate the need to apply several layers of salt, brine and liquid deicer product, which means no expensive application equipment and no additional fuel costs. If the product works as advertised, it’s possible the county could get rid of its liquid storage tanks, pumps, hoses, hydraulics, in addition to saving an estimated $9,000 in annual maintenance expenses per truck.
By exploring more unconventional areas where money can be generated, our commissioners have saved taxpayers nearly $6 million in real money. By improving how government does business, we’re avoiding a potential six-percent hike in county property taxes.
To my all of my commissioners, I would like to express my gratitude for all of your hard work, creativity, and cooperation as we work to reduce spending and stabilize our financial situation. Although we have much to be optimistic about, we remain in challenging fiscal times. We must continue to innovate in county government in order to save taxpayer dollars and improve our essential services.
The overall budget includes a two-percent property tax levy increase, reduced from worst-case scenario projections of more than 13 percent earlier this year. Under my proposal, the average tax bill in 2015 will increase by a mere $1.67 per month.
Rockland County at an economic crossroads and the decisions we make today will affect us for years to come. Through innovation and cooperation, we are demonstrating that we are finding new ways for government to live within its means.