By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
When I took office less than three years ago, Rockland’s bonds were rated just one step above junk as the extent of the county’s financial meltdown became all too apparent.
We were $138 million in the hole and it investors were rightly reluctant to take a risk lending us money.
We had to pay a premium in the form of higher interest rates to borrow funds to pay for capital projects.
I’m happy to say we have reversed that trend.
Last week, Rockland County received its fourth credit-rating upgrade since I took office. Our bonds are now BBB+ with a positive outlook. That’s just one notch below an “A” rank.
Good news for the taxpayer: we can get a better interest rate to finance our capital projects, which means a lower cost.
The credit rating agency predicted continued improvements to the county’s finances and said there was a one-in-three chance that it will make further upgrades in the next year.
By assigning Rockland a “positive outlook” the credit analysts also affirmed that the county is on the right track financially.
We already know that.
We have halted the endless tax-and-spend cycle that helped turn Rockland into the most fiscally stressed municipality in New York.
That cycle burdened taxpayers with increases of 30 percent, 18 percent and 11 percent in the three years before I took office and shook the county to its core.
Now I have presented a budget for 2017 that cuts spending – again – and stays within the 1.17 percent state property tax cap.
We have whittled our deficit down to less than $17 million. Even more amazingly, we are paying down the deficit bond out of our operating expenses, taking further steps to pay what we owe with income generated by conservative budgeting practices.
The credit agency found many good reasons to be positive about Rockland’s economic future.
The closing of the Summit Park nursing home was one of the most difficult and painful decisions I have had to make as County Executive.
But the credit analysts reaffirmed what we already knew: financially it was the right decision. Summit Park was losing more than $1 million every month – leaving taxpayers on the hook to make up the difference.
In its report, the agency noted that closure of Summit Park is leading to greater stability in county finances.
And the credit analysts also stated a fact that has been inexplicably difficult for some of our county legislators to understand: the sale of the Sain Building in 2017 “would further improve the county’s financial position.”
We’re still hopeful about the sale of the county-owned Sain Building in New City as our legislators work on a local law that would allow the sole company that has bid on it to purchase the property.
The financial experts pointed to a widespread improvement in our local economy, which we have encouraged by our economic development efforts.
“We consider the county’s economy very strong,” they wrote in their report.
They predicted further growth when the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in 2018.
These signs point to great days ahead for Rockland: lower taxes, less government spending, financially responsible budget and economic growth for our county.
Another promise kept.