As another year draws to a close, it is important that we all pause and reflect on the things we did well or not so well throughout the year. It is also important to thank those who may have helped you stay on the right track during the past 12 months.
I am thankful to the Minority members of the Rockland County Legislature for helping me keep Rockland County Government on the right fiscal track this year. Their support for the vetoes I issued to the Legislative Majority’s amended 2019 Proposed County Budget was critical to our continued success.
The Majority’s amended budget would have been 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 theirs could have led us back down the path of deficits and double-digit tax increases; a return to the sins of the past.
The vetoes included Legislative amendments that:
• Included $3.5 million in speculative revenue and appropriations to ostensibly fund employee contract settlements.
• Removed the new deed verification program designed to verify deeds and protect new home buyers.
• Increased estimated sales tax revenue by $647,500, well beyond any responsible recommendation.
• Eliminated much needed new positions in multiple departments, despite the total number of employees being down 21% since I took office.
• Bypassed the County’s legally mandated process for procuring contracts.
With the failure of this override vote my proposed $709 million spending plan becomes the County’s 2019 Budget. The Budget includes a small 2.9 percent property tax levy increase, which is UNDER the state mandated property tax cap.
For the average Rockland residential property owner, taxes will increase just over $3 a month or about $37 a year. This is all while we continue to make a roughly $13 million payment every year until 2024 to pay down the deficit bond and face down other challenges. Staying under the cap is a near miraculous feat under these circumstances.
For the 2019 Budget we had to contend with a $13 million budget gap. The four largest drivers for this gap were:
1. The NY State Health Insurance Plan increased their premiums by 7.1% – nearly $5 million more to pay for the Empire Plan.
2. Salary costs for contractual increases such an incremental longevity steps and cost of living increases went up over $3 million and compound annually.
3. Our debt service, the payments we make on our bonds, went up nearly $3 million due to increasing interest rates and our commitment to rebuild and revitalize Rockland County’s infrastructure.
4. The costs for the state’s mandated programs have increased by nearly $1.7 million. Programs such as Early Intervention, Pre-K and several social service programs.
These four issues alone would translate to a roughly 10% County property tax increase. This is on top of other mandated costs like Medicaid which costs $66 million a year or roughly the equivalent of 55% of our property tax levy.
I want to thank those in the Legislative Minority for refusing to accept poor fiscal policy and for standing up to help me protect Rockland’s financial recovery. 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 should be commended. We will not allow the Legislative Majority to return the County to the days of reckless, deficit spending that nearly led us into receivership.
Last month the New York State Comptroller’s Office found that in respect to my 2019 Proposed Budget, “the significant revenue and expenditure projections in the proposed budget are reasonable.”
The fact is that the Comptroller recognized that this is a budget that continues Rockland on the path to long-term fiscal health. We will not veer from our conservative budgetary practices and we will keep looking for ways to restructure and modernize your County government to more efficiently serve the public.