State Comptroller says Rockland still faces fiscal stress, particularly in Town of Ramapo

By Kathy Kahn

NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, County Executive Ed Day and Rockland
Business Assn. President Al Samuels (Photo courtesy of OSC)

NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, guest speaker at the Rockland Business Assn. May 18 luncheon, praised its Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council’s two members, President of Rockland Community College, Dr. Cliff Wood (retiring June 30) and RBA President/CEO, Al Samuels. With credited courses and apprenticeships/internships geared toward creating a viable education/employment program, theirs has been a successful collaboration. DiNapoli spoke to more than 200 guests at the Crowne Plaza in Suffern.

When it comes to Rockland, DiNapoli is no stranger to its strengths and weaknesses. “The good news is Rockland continues to see better economic times since 2008. In 2017, we saw the unemployment rate drop to four percent, the lowest in the Mid-Hudson. New York City, Long Island and the lower Mid-Hudson (Westchester, Rockland and Orange) saw the lion’s share of new jobs. Overall, the 3.7 percent sales tax growth in this county in 2016 is the best we’ve seen in New York State. Rockland’s median price for a home is $387,000; and while the mid-Hudson’s population has risen nearly five percent, Rockland is growing faster than the entire region as a whole.”

DiNapoli talks to RC Legislator Harriet Cornell while NYS Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe listens. (Photo courtesy of OSC)

The down side? Affordable housing and too many municipalities with separate services. “51 percent of renters and 49 percent of homeowners pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing,” said DiNapoli. “Shared services are needed and outright consolidation are needed and makes sense.”

DiNapoli also addressed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017-2018 budget. “It includes lump sum appropriations and reduces transparency. There’s more spending going on and new debt authorizations…we need to look ahead and seek more accountability and transparency. Fiscal stress is mostly at the local level. State and federal aid has been flat– Rockland County, particularly the Town of Ramapo, is fiscally stressed due to the property tax cap, making it a formidable challenge to bring the county budget in at less than two percent. (County Executive Ed Day brought the 2017-2018 budget in under the tax cap.) We don’t want what happened in Detroit to happen here.”

Phillip Goldstein, managing partner of Goldstein, Lieberman and Associates, CPAS, asked DiNapoli about New Yorkers moving south. “A tremendous amount of Baby Boomers are leaving the state for warmer climates. How can we handle it fiscally?”

DiNapoli acknowledged losing older residents leaving the state but said the loss of Boomers is compensated by incoming Millennials and Gen-Xrs. “The Mid-Hudson’s strength is its location and a well-educated population,” said the Comptroller.

He reassured listeners the NYS Pension fund remains healthy, with an 11.34 percent return on investment for the fiscal year ending 2016. The $192 billion fund, which covers one million state pensions, is managed by the DiNapoli’s office.

According to a report released on the heels of the Comptroller’s visit to Rockland, Empire State Development (ESD), New York State’s chief economic development agency, failed to meet more than half of the reporting requirements for tax credit and job creation programs, diminishing transparency and accountability.

“Too often Empire State Development Corporation is either late or not reporting on the results of economic development programs,” DiNapoli said in a prepared statement. “We need better reporting to ensure transparency in economic development spending and to promote an informed analysis on the return of the investments state taxpayers make in these programs.”

In most cases, auditors were not provided an explanation by ESD officials for why they had not completed required reports. Auditors also had difficulty obtaining information and feedback from ESD during fieldwork. The Comptroller’s report can be found on http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093017/16s40.pdf

One issue that DiNapoli and RBA President Al Samuels differed on is the prospect of a state constitutional convention. While the RBA leader Samuels believes a convention could benefit the state, DiNapoli does not believe opening a convention would be wise a course of action.

[Correction– An earlier version of this article said DiNapoli supported a state constitutional convention. The comptroller has actually been outspoken against the convention for many months]