By County Executive Ed Day
I have good news to share with you in respect to the 2021 Proposed Budget. The New York State Comptroller’s Office reviewed the proposed $721.7 million 2021 spending plan, which matches the New York State property tax cap while avoiding layoffs and found that, “the significant revenue and expenditure projections in the 2021 proposed budget are reasonable.”
What this means to you and me is that there are no smoke and mirrors in this budget. This budget holds the line on expenses and continues to conservatively estimate revenues as we work to maintain the surplus in our general fund or savings account while protecting the jobs of our dedicated employees who are part of a workforce that has already been reduced by 22% since 2014.
The Comptroller’s Office reviews salary schedules, debt payment schedules and other pertinent information. They also examined our revenue and spending estimates, made inquiries, and reviewed supporting documents and verified and corroborated trend data estimates.
A review and analysis of the Proposed 2021 Budget was also performed by CGR Inc., the outside auditing firm retained by the Rockland County Legislature.
CGR Inc. Project Director Paul Bishop wrote that with a forecast of reduced sales tax revenue, “The County Executive has presented a balanced spending plan for 2021 that considers the challenges being faced by governments everywhere and makes reasonable adjustments from prior years’ practices … The budget includes reduced expenditures, but avoids laying off personnel. The budget also continues to reduce the debt and does not anticipate using any of the fund balance.”
I appreciate both the Comptroller’s Office and CGR for their thorough reviews of this proposed budget. While we have faced some difficult budgets since I took office, this year was like nothing I have experienced. Since March with the onset of the pandemic, it has been common knowledge that we are facing a fiscal tsunami from reduced sales tax and state aid revenue as well as increased expenditures fighting the pandemic.
That is why we began taking action very early on to help mitigate the fiscal impact as a result of the pandemic. We implemented austerity measures, instituted a hiring freeze, applied for FEMA Disaster Assistance, abolished vacant positions, and drastically reduced our 2020 capital borrowing.
All of these actions led to Moody’s upgrading the County’s bond rating to A1 in August. As one of the reasons for the upgrade, Moody’s wrote, “given management’s conservative budgeting in recent years, particularly for sales tax revenues, reserves have improved significantly over the past five years ending fiscal 2019 at its highest level in nearly 20 years.”
We have made it through all while continuing to pay down the massive deficit we inherited while staying under the New York State Property Tax Cap, something that most said was impossible without double-digit tax increases every year. We will not veer from our conservative budgetary practices which have brought us back from the brink of bankruptcy because we understand that this is your money. We are dutybound to protect it while serving all of you as efficiently as possible.