County Legislator Chris Carey proposes budget compromise

Deal could save 23 sheriff’s department jobs, three quarters of nonprofit funds

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – As the County Legislature continues to deliberate on proposed changes to County Executive Ed Day’s controversial draft budget, a proposed deal between the two branches could shift the tone of talks in the direction of a compromise.

Legislator Chris Carey proposed a series of alterations at a legislative budget meeting on November 24 which would keep the county under the state’s two percent tax cap while restoring 23 positions in the Sheriff’s Department’s Patrol Unit and 75 percent of funding to nonprofit contract agencies.

Day’s budget has been criticized by town and county officials for slashing 37 positions from the Sheriff’s Department and virtually all county contracts with nonprofit agencies. According to Carey, his proposal would consider public services and safety while also upholding pledges to continue working the county out of its financial troubles.

“My feeling is that we as a county are not out of this [crisis,]” Carey said. “I think that this is probably a better way of going about it. I think it achieves both goals.”

Carey also proposed options to fund the restorations, including a reinstatement of $1.8 million in town charge backs and the reduction of required annual deficit financing from $10 million to a number as low as $7 million.

The reduction of the $10 million appropriation, which was laid down in the 2012 Rockland County Deficit Reduction Act, might prove difficult. The act was looked upon positively by credit markets and contributed to a positive outlook and the county’s recent credit upgrades.

Several legislators, while not opposed to a reduction, warned that any cuts should be measured against a potential negative reception among credit rating agencies and markets. Legislator Michael Grant agreed that the act should remain in place in some form, but is not necessarily set in stone.

“We want to do at least what will keep us on target to pay [the deficit] off, and apparently there are some considerations for what’s in-between,” Grant said.

Legislator Ilan Schoenberger explained that with the state’s agreement to permit $96 million in county bond financing, the deficit now stands somewhere between $35 and $40 million. Schoenberger added that while a higher annual dedication will obviously look better, an expedient sale of the Summit Park hospital and nursing care center could leave some breathing room for a reduction to the $10 million annual allocation.

“In my mind the most important thing the ratings agencies want to see is an end to the hemorrhaging,” Schoenberger said.

The Rockland County Health Facilities Corp., which was formed to facilitate the Summit Park sale, and Sympaticare LLC, the purchaser, appear poised to move forward with a final agreement in 2015. Still, the sale is not expected until Summer 2015 at the earliest, necessitating another year’s worth of Summit Park funding in the draft budget.

The question of which positions would be restored also prompted inquiries from legislators. Legislator Alden Wolfe openly wondered why a promised analysis of the agencies resulted in a total cut rather than consolidations or a more limited trim.

“If the change was a last minute change, then what was the county executive’s plan before that?” Wolfe asked.

Wolfe kept open the possibility that pending a more detailed review of operations, cuts to services or spending might partly replace the proposed layoffs.

Legislator Patrick Moroney took a more hard line and stated he did not want to “pick and choose” between different agencies.

“If you don’t restore them all, then I will be in opposition to whatever happens after that,” Moroney urged.

Carey considered the proposal to be the “opening of a conversation” and welcomed further ideas for not only Sheriff’s Department and nonprofit contract restoration but also the avoidance of prolonged disagreement which could lead to a veto by the county executive and a subsequent legislative override.

The potential deal has already resounded positively with the county executive, who applauded Carey for his interest in a compromise which considers both fiscal integrity and taxpayer considerations.

“It’s a positive compromise to ensure we do not wreck our own fiscal condition,” Day said. “It’s positive both in approach and in substance.”

At the same time, Sheriff Louis Falco expressed disappointment in any deal which does not include a complete restoration of all cut positions and promised to continue his push to preserve his department in full.

“All the positions being restored is what I’m shooting for and what I’ll settle for,” Falco said. “I’m not willing to compromise for anything but a full restoration.”

The legislature is set to wrap up their initial talks and recommendations on Tuesday before a full legislative session on Thursday when changes to the RCDRA and the budget itself-along with a possible final legislative vote on the budget-will be the subject of a public hearing.