Rockland Legislature narrowly adopts amended budget

BY JOE KUHN

The Rockland County Legislature narrowly approved the adaptation of the 2019 County Budget on Tuesday during their first meeting of the month.  The government’s operating budget was approved by a vote of 10-7 with most of the county Republicans voting against the proposal due to amendments added by the Democratic majority.

The county’s tax levy is set to rise 2.9 percent under the amended budget. “We are not as good as we could or should be,” lamented Minority Leader Lon Hofstein, referring to the troubles faced in adopting this year’s budget. 

The Legislature had great difficulty compromising on many budgetary issues, chief among them the sale of the Sain Building.  Hofstein had previously vowed not to approve any new measures until the building had been sold, a threat he made good on by voting against the new budget.

Both legislators Hofstein and Christopher Carey have alleged that the sale of the Sain building has become a political issue and that those legislators voting against it are doing so solely to spite County Executive Ed Day. “This is the hill they chose to die on,”  Carey said, accusing his colleagues of allowing their personal feelings toward the county executive to affect their decision making.

Legislator Jay Hood, Jr. shot back, claiming Carey’s comments were “a gross misstatement.” Hood, Jr. – the only Democrat consistently behind the sale of the Sain Building – said that the sale of the building wasn’t even an issue that should have been discussed during the budget meeting.  “It didn’t really come up until I went to negotiate with the minority and Lon Hofstein said I’m not going to deal with any of your lines until we get the Sain a building sold.”

A representative of the Civil Service Employees Association also protested the new budget, claiming the budget contains a pay cut for government employees who “earned and deserve a raise.”

Day blasted several of the amendments the Democrats placed in their version of the budget. Day still has the opportunity to line-item veto many of the changes.

Read the full contents of Day’s statement:

“Here we go again. The amended budget passed by the Majority members of the Rockland County Legislature is a return to the days of speculative revenue, over-estimating sales tax revenue and a refusal to modernize county government.

“In short, a budget like this could lead us back down the path of deficits and double-digit tax increases; a return to the sins of the past. Shockingly, the Majority’s amended budget adds $3.5 million of money we don’t have into a reserve fund to ostensibly help with employee contract settlements. This $3.5 million is from the possible settlement of the ongoing Summit Park court case, which is currently undergoing an appeal. I fully support a fair and equitable deal for our hard-working union employees. Over the past two years, I have included $5.8 million in recurring revenue for union contracts. Including this $3.5 million is purely speculative and it would be unfair to our unions; creating false hope and sabotaging contract negotiations. It is also poor fiscal policy and against the New York State Comptroller’s recommendations to use “one-shot” revenues for a recurring expense like a raise.

“The elimination of the deed verification service, which the County Clerk and all five Town Assessors strongly supported, will continue to lead to incorrect property descriptions that have caused many problems. The tax maps need to reflect the deed information as accurately as possible to ensure that the land a taxpayer owns is the parcel the taxpayer is assessed and billed for. It would ensure fairness in property taxes and would also have allowed us to better watch for illegal subdivisions and housing.

“By refusing to pass the deed verification law they created a $1.2 million deficit in their amended budget and are engaging in fiscal gimmickry to cover it up. The Majority increased the estimated sales tax revenue by $647,500, almost 30 percent beyond the limit proposed by their own financial consultant. They also eliminated new positions in multiple departments; further burdening our hardworking employees.

“In another return to the failed and improper procedures of the past, the Majority is ignoring the recommendations of the New York State Comptroller’s Office by allocating specific sums to specific agencies. Nonprofits provide vital services to our community but must comply with procurement procedures and the professional approach the Comptroller recommends through contracting their services. My proposed budget allocated the same amount for these contracts as last year. But allocating money directly to these agencies is nothing more than an attempt by the Legislative majority to score political points and buy the votes of these nonprofits’ supporters.

“The Comptroller’s Office agreed that the “significant revenue and expenditure projections” in my proposed budget were reasonable. It continued us on the path to long-term fiscal health through conservative budgetary practices and restructuring and modernizing county government.

“ The Legislative Majority’s amended budget is an insult to all the work we have done the past five years to improve Rockland’s financial well-being. I refuse to allow us to return to the practices that led to the $138 million deficit that we had when I first took office.

“I want to thank the Legislative Minority for standing against this amended budget and working to protect the financial recovery of Rockland County. Specifically, Minority Leader Lon Hofstein, Deputy Minority Leader Vince Tyer, Legislator Chris Carey, Legislator Charles Falciglia, Legislator Doug Jobson, Legislator Pat Moroney and Legislator Laurie Santulli.”