The County Executive’s Corner: The Historic Freeze

Ed-Day-212x320By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

Just last week, my Deputy Commissioner of Finance did something historic. He successfully submitted Rockland County’s tax freeze certification to the New York State Comptroller’s Office. This paperwork proves that the county meets the necessary criteria for Governor Cuomo’s property tax credit rebate program and ensures that STAR eligible taxpayers in Rockland receive a rebate check in October.

Rockland County received this certification because of our 2015 Budget property tax levy of 1.9%. This modest increase marks the first time Rockland County has not exceeded the state-mandated property tax cap introduced by the Governor in 2011. Local governments must have an adopted budget that doesn’t exceed the tax levy limit and certify that they’re “freeze compliant” by January 21st.

What does qualifying for tax cap certification mean to you? The difference between what you paid in property taxes last year as compared to this year will be refunded to you, resulting in a net 0% tax increase in 2015. Yes, you read that correctly – a zero percent tax increase for this year.

Following three consecutive years of double-digit tax hikes – and, hobbled by a $138 million deficit – securing the Comptroller’s “freeze compliant” status was no small feat. This designation validates my administration’s hard work to deliver a responsible fiscal plan that recognizes that local taxpayers have suffered long enough. Today, we’re making the tough decisions to hold spending below inflation and to restructure this organization. I am proud to set the bar for future budgets.

Rockland County’s $107.9 million property tax levy this year is about $2 million more than the 2014 tax levy of $105.9 million. This 1.9% increase is the direct result of an increase in costs mandated by New York State and the federal government, including Medicaid. In fact, the single largest portion of Rockland County’s 2015 Budget is mandated spending, which accounts for a staggering 80% of the County’s total spending for the coming year.

So, how did we stay under Governor Cuomo’s tax cap? Strong, effective management. My administration set aggressive internal budget targets to control costs and do more with less. By embracing my commitment to fiscal discipline, all commissioners and department heads worked to identify and secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in operational efficiencies for the coming year.

In addition, the 2015 Budget holds non-mandated spending – or the spending that the County can control on a local level – below the rate of inflation. Our efforts to reduce costs within our local purview is a shining example of just how much a government can do when it strives to live within its means.

Going forward, please know that I maintain a steadfast commitment to protect local taxpayers, while continuing to drive-down our mandate-fueled deficit. While my first budget wasn’t well-received by all legislators, I am gratified that lawmakers took my lead to hold to the state’s two-percent tax cap. In the days and weeks ahead, I hope to work with ALL legislators on finding solutions to achieve balanced spending and fiscal restraint.

*According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance’s website, the property tax freeze credit will be the greater of the actual increase in the homeowner’s tax bill or the previous year’s tax bill multiplied by an inflation factor (the lesser of 2% or inflation).