By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Something happened in early 2007 that would have far-reaching consequences for Rockland County – consequences that helped lead to near disaster.
In April of that year, the County’s auditor retired.
Normally the retirement of a single employee does not impact the organization as a whole. We say goodbye, thank the employee and someone else is named to that job. Life goes on.
But in the case of the auditor, that didn’t happen for reasons we are still trying to figure out. Given that it was a mandated charter position, one must cast a jaundiced eye on it.
The timing could not have been worse for this County to be without another set of eyes on its finances.
We all know that soon after, Rockland County started a fiscal downslide that would end in near meltdown with a $138 million deficit when I took office in 2014.
Could an auditor have prevented that?
We don’t know for sure but I bet a competent person in that position would have seen the warning signs and raised the alarm before we were almost to the brink of default.
I am happy to announce that as of today we now have a fulltime Rockland County auditor for the first time in more than a decade
Linda Hill was chosen by my office and approved by the Rockland County Legislature to step into that job.
Linda has been in the County Department of Finance for years – working her way up the ranks.
Anyone who has ever worked with her knows that her attention to detail and tenacious nature means that nothing will get by her.
We are fortunate that at the same time as we finally have a full time auditor, former Finance Commissioner Bob Bergman has agreed to stay on as a special advisor to me, continuing to focus on our finances.
When we were deep in the soup with the full extent of our fiscal mess becoming apparent, I was able to bring in Bob on a less-than-fulltime basis – all the County could afford – to help us out.
He is an amazingly qualified person. Bob did a fantastic job and much of our success is due to his efforts.
Now we have additional safeguards in place to make sure that we never go down the path to fiscal ruin again.
Our hard work is paying off. My administration wiped out the $138 million deficit that we inherited four years ago, without the big tax increases that were predicted.
Our bonds were nearly junk back when I took office. They have been upgraded five times and are in the A range now.
We can borrow money at a lower rate to make improvements and investments in our infrastructure that will pay dividends into the future.
That means we will not saddle the cost of an aging infrastructure upon our children and grandchildren at three or four times the cost.
Our improved finances means that Rockland County has 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.
It’s an astonishing record of achievement. And it didn’t happen by accident.
We have now put the final pieces in place to safeguard our hard work and make sure that we continue our record of rebuilding this County.