The County Executive’s Corner: Budget Season Presents Challenges

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

It’s budget season again, the time of year when my administration starts to craft a fiscally responsible spending plan for next year. And, while we’ve done tremendous work to rethink and restructure government operations to achieve millions in cost savings, more work needs to be done.

Despite our incredible efforts to change the direction of our county by setting priorities, cutting bureaucracy, reducing spending and re-positioning government for the future, our 2016 budget will include an estimated payment of $17 million to pay for “the sins of the past.”  This payment toward our inherited $138 million deficit represents more than four times the amount applied to deficit reduction by the Legislature in this year’s budget.

Budgeting provides an opportunity to evaluate where we are, to plan where we want to go and to decide how to finance that plan. Similar to developing a company budget, the county evaluates its current assets: revenues, cash on hand, physical facilities and its workforce. Then we consider our future opportunities and select objectives for the coming year – added revenues, mandated spending, cost reductions and employee levels, to name a few. The process involves our Department of Finance working closely with our commissioners and my executive staff.

But, unlike the crafting of a company budget, the county is beholden to the taxpayers, not shareholders. It’s no secret that county executives and legislators often have competing objectives, and therefore different budgets in mind.  This year, I will not allow politics and ideology to prevail. Facts will not be ignored or distorted to appease some special segments or groups at the expense of the whole county’s fiscal health.

The “wild cards” we face this year include uncertain sales and property tax revenue, potential increases in unfunded state mandates, slower-than-expected job growth and the LDC’s sale of Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center in Pomona. As a result, I have proactively ordered my commissioners to come up with across-the-board budget cuts as part of their proposed 2016 department budgets. After several years of deep cuts to our county services, I recognize this is no easy task. Their suggestions on how to cut up to ten-percent from their budgets must be both practical and consistent with preserving the known priorities or directives of my administration.

I know my commissioners will continue to respond with a concerted effort, taking stock of their departments and coming up with additional, proactive cost-savings that will keep Rockland County moving in the right direction.  While slower revenue growth has the potential to make the task of balancing the budget more difficult, my administration will continue to make the tough, fiscally responsible choices to make government more efficient, while still making critical investments in county services.

We won’t agree on everything this budget season, but know that I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the Legislature to develop a responsible fiscal plan.  I will insist that competing political interests sit down together, negotiate and compromise to produce a budget that addresses our county’s critical needs.  We have the opportunity and the capacity to build a bright future for our people.  But let me be clear: we must end this process with a balanced budget, and I will veto anything else.  We must lead the way and work together to build a stronger, more innovative Rockland County. 

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