By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school or gotten a grade on a test.
I nearly forgot the satisfaction you feel when you work hard and then see your hard work recognized by an objective set of standards.
I felt that satisfaction last week when Rockland County was informed that Fitch, a highly regarded bond rating agency, had awarded the county an A- rating.
All of our hard work has been recognized in a way that benefits every taxpayer in Rockland County.
This is the first time in a decade that our bonds were rated in the A category – that we earned a top grade.
Remember, our bonds were rated just above junk when I took office in 2014.
At the same time, we had a $138 million deficit. We were just $42,000 away from default.
I vowed I would restore this county to a position of fiscal responsibility and strength – that I would right our financial ship.
Today we have bonds in the A category – our fifth upgrade since I took office. That translates into savings when we borrow money to fund capital projects.
For a $30 million new issue 20-year-bond the difference between an A rating and a B rating is between $350,000 and $500,000.
We have saved between $3 to $5 million in debt service since 2014.
That is equivalent to a 3 to 5 percent property tax increase that did not happen due to our fiscal responsibility.
Think about it – that is 3 to 5 percent a year that your property taxes did not go up. And our deficit is $10 million and shrinking.
How did we do it?
We treat the taxpayer with respect – spending their money carefully and responsibly.
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 we are seeing the payoff in terms of greater financial stability and an improved bond rating.
It’s the culmination of a plan that I put in place as soon as I became County Executive.
I along with Deputy County Executive Guillermo Rosa met with our rating agencies during my first month in office.
We told them that it was the beginning of a new day in Rockland County. That there was a new plan, a new principle of fiscal responsibility in place.
We told them that we had begun an era of renewal in Rockland County. We told them they could count on us. That we had a plan of action.
We have made good on that promise.
Our last tax increase was a minimal 1.17 percent. We have cut spending 9 percent and reduced the size of government by 22 percent.
I thank every one of our talented and hardworking county employees, who have learned to do things differently, often more efficiently.
We have earned the trust of the financial markets and now they are willing to pay a premium to invest in us.
We earned $11 million in premiums from our $96 million deficit reduction bond sale and $20 million in total premiums on all bond sales since 2014. This is how we are driving the deficit down without raising your property taxes.
We have also managed to pay down the deficit by an average of $10 million a year since I took office.
For the most part, we have had to go it alone: the Legislature amended the Deficit Reduction Act, gutting the amount of money required to be put toward reducing the deficit from $10 million to $4 million.
The Fitch analysts rated our bonds as A minus with a stable outlook.
They made the rating with the expectation that that the county will eliminate its deficit and build up reserves.
I hear what they are saying very clearly and I hope that the Legislature hears it too: If we do not bring down our deficit we risk all of the hard-won gains we have made. We could see our bond rating trend down again.
That means money lost and higher taxes. Remember those double-digit tax increases? We don’t want to go backward.
How can we reduce by 40 percent the remaining $10 million deficit in one step?
Sell the Sain Building for $4.51 million.
Just about everyone understands that the sale of the deteriorating Sain Building is crucial to the county’s future.
Everyone but a certain group of 5 legislators. We know who they are and the voters of Rockland County know who they are.
We remain hopeful that they will put their petty political games aside and do the right thing for the future of Rockland County.
We are not waiting. We are moving ahead with our plans to relocate employees from the Sain Building into the Pomona complex that formerly housed the Summit Park nursing home.
We have already moved key departments and more are on the way.
Soon the Sain Building will be vacant.
And Building A will be a centerpiece of our reinvigorated county government – a hub of both public and rent-paying not-for-profit agencies all with one goal in mind: to serve the people of Rockland County.