NEW CITY – Rockland County Executive Ed Day made good on his promise to veto the County Legislature’s approved 2015 budget on Friday, signing a veto to cut a total of 20 separate budget line items for a total of $673,389 in cuts to the budget submitted to his office.
If not overridden, the cuts enacted in the veto would allow the county to push its property tax levy even further down from close to 2 percent to 1.3 percent. This would mean taxpayers would have to pay $13 more than this year. A veto requires 12 votes to be overridden.
Day’s vetoes would reinstate several cuts to the Sheriff’s Department and nonprofit contract agencies, which had been subject to strong criticism from advocates for public employees and reinstated in the Legislature’s budget.
“These vetoes are going to be a first step to a process to restructure our operations,” Day said.
Calling the Sheriff’s Department “overstaffed and top heavy,” Day’s vetoes slashed $220,740 in logistics allocations to the Sheriff’s Mounted Division and a $171,274 cut to a single filled captain’s position. According to Day, his goal is to maintain the Department’s core duties of corrections and support for localities and nix positions with comparably little impact.
“By any measure, this [captain’s position] is an unnecessary position,” Day said. “This is something we feel very strongly should not be there.”
Aside from the single captain position, no other filled positions with the Sheriff’s Department were among the line item vetoes.
Regarding contract agencies, Day left most of the legislature’s restorations alone. However, he did cut $210,045 in funding to Rockland Schools for the 21st Century and $41,965 to the Library Association of Rockland, arguing those items should be picked up by the tax levies of local school and library districts.
Day’s office also slashed smaller allocations from eight “entertainment” organizations, scraping together $29,365 in additional savings. Entertainment spending, Day argued, is not a critical expense and should be self-sustaining rather than taxpayer-supported when finances are tight.
The affected entertainment organizations include:
Rivertown Films – $1,425 cut
Hudson Vagabond Puppets – $4,205 cut
Elmwood Community Playhouse – $8,695 cut
Morning Music Club – $1,140 cut
Rockland Camerata – $1,640 cut
Deborah Weiss Dance Company – $1,195 cut
County Choral Society – $3,350 cut
Friends of the Nyacks – $6,915 cut
Day left open the possibility that during the reorganization process, certain programs might see their funds further altered depending on their assessed value to the county.
“The new system we will implement will be a value and performance-based metric that will reform the county’s funding of contract agencies going forward and carefully evaluate each agency,” Day explained. “Some will be cut and some will be increased, but we are going to have a different way of doing business here in Rockland County as it relates to the Sheriff’s Department and our contract agencies.”
The County Legislature passed its budget last week, restoring all but one vacant position to the Sheriff’s Department and all contract agency funds while reducing the county’s annual deficit finance obligation from $10 million to $4 million, though it allocated $5 million for 2015.
Day strongly criticized the Legislature’s amendments to the deficit obligation, which he argued would risk millions in borrowing costs and harm the county’s fiscal reputation overall.
“This is risking county taxpayers millions of dollars going forward over the next number of years,” Day said. “The actions that have been taken by the legislature, especially in the area of the Deficit Reduction Act where money is not being contributed to our cash flow, will put us in the same position we were in last year when we nearly defaulted by $42,000 early this year.”
The Legislature’s plan substituted the job cuts with reductions to overtime, cuts to new and vacant positions and salary increases, and other adjustments to the contingency fund, utility and general service allocations and insurance costs. In total, their initial plan would have reduced the tax levy to about $2.1 million per year, or about $20 per household.
A compromise plan supported by Day was also pushed by Legislator Christopher Carey. The plan would have restored 75 percent of contract agency funding and 23 of the 37 initially cut Sheriff’s Department positions.
The Legislature voted overwhelmingly against the compromise plan and for their own, with 15 votes for the legislative budget and 2 against, leaving open the strong possibility of a super-majority override of Day’s vetoes at their next scheduled meeting on December 15.
Chairman of the Legislature Alden Wolfe commented on the county executive’s vetoes: “I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the county executive has chosen to accept virtually all of the Legislature’s amendments to his budget. The handful of vetoes seem to nibble around the edges, rather than being the wholesale rejection that his public statements had led me to expect. I stand by the Legislature’s near unanimous, bipartisan improvements to the budget and look forward to concluding the budget process at Monday’s meeting.”