When I first took office in January of 2014, this county was on the verge of a financial disaster. We faced a $138 million deficit and were $42,000 away from insolvency. When we took out a bond to pay the deficit, everyone said we would need double digit tax increases to make our payments. We proved them wrong.
We managed to avoid that fate with strict budgeting and conservative fiscal management; making the hard choices when some in the legislature wanted to bury their heads in the sand and continue with the same practices that got us into trouble in the first place. To pay back the bond we have to make a roughly $13 million payment every year until 2024. We have managed to make these payments while staying under the property tax cap; a near miraculous feat.
We have only been able to accomplish this through the hard work of our dedicated employees. They have helped us find ways to make county government leaner and more efficient. Still providing quality service to our residents but doing it for less.
This week, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the 2017 Fiscal Stress Monitoring System report which listed Rockland County as having “Moderate Stress” an improvement from being in the “Significant Stress” category for a number of years.
Moving from the New York State Comptrollers “Significant Fiscal Stress” list to the “Moderate Fiscal Stress” list is yet another affirmation that our finances are improving. We made the hard choices and it is rewarding to see them recognized by the Comptroller’s Office.
When I took office, we were the most fiscally stressed county in the state with a score of 86.7% on the Comptroller’s scale. This year our score came in at 64.2%, an incredible turn around. The score is based on assessments of fund balance, cash-on-hand, short-term borrowing, fixed costs and patterns of operating deficits.
This year’s list designated 25 municipalities across the state as fiscally stressed. The list is made up of 10 counties, six cities and nine towns from across New York. The overall number of municipalities listed has declined for the third straight year however, the number of governments considered to have “significant stress” more than doubled over last year. This makes Rockland County’s improvement even more remarkable.
We owe this turn around to our employees who have helped implement strict budgeting, careful cost-benefit analysis and responsible long-term planning. And while we have made significant progress, we still have a long way to go until we reach full financial strength.
As we prepare to release the 2019 proposed operating budget on October 1st, we must remember that we still face serious challenges. Our financial health is improving, but our problems will not disappear overnight. Each year is a fresh start. The success of the past four years does not carry over to a new proposed budget plan.
When a new season begins in the National Football League, each team starts with 0 wins and 0 losses. Even if your team won the Super Bowl last year, it doesn’t mean you get a head start on anyone else. Each budget is a new challenge, we all start from scratch.
To continue the football analogy, this year we face an extremely difficult schedule. Our toughest opponents are rising healthcare costs, decreasing reimbursements from the State and Federal governments and the increasing costs for mandated State programs.
But here in Rockland we are blessed with a talented team and innovative coaches. As part of the preparation for the budget, we examine each and every county department from top to bottom for cost savings. We apply cost benefit analysis, professional accounting practices and strict fiscal accountability.
While there have been many recent positive steps, we haven’t crossed the goal line yet. We cannot sit back and relax. On the contrary, we must continue to be frugal and keep our spending under control. I will not allow us to return to the days of deficit spending, no reserves and poor bond ratings. We must continue to work hard and strengthen the foundation of our economy. I promise that I will continue to make the tough decisions necessary to keep Rockland County on a strong fiscal track.