The County Executive’s Corner: Crafting A Responsible Budget

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

I’m pleased to report more good news this week regarding our ongoing efforts to restore fiscal health to Rockland County government.  Recognizing that my administration has made significant strides to improve operations, save money and chip away at debt, the Office of the State Comptroller announced plans to lower the county’s “fiscal stress score.”

The statewide Fiscal Stress Monitoring System was established by the Comptroller in 2013 as an early warning of fiscal strain in municipalities and school districts. Using financial indicators that include year-end fund balance, short-term borrowing and patterns of operating deficits, the system creates an overall score and provides feedback to help local leaders prioritize the needs of their community and make decisions.

The lowering of our stress score will mark the first improvement under the monitoring system since it was implemented. I am delighted that our wise and prudent actions have been noticed by the Comptroller. As we enter budget season, I have directed my commissioners and department heads to continue working diligently to trim their budgets and properly manage taxpayer resources.

Honestly facing our money problems and tackling them head-on has been my philosophy since “day one” as county your executive. When dollars are scarce, you cut expenses. Just like many families and businesses that must be smart with their budgets and spending, it is only fitting for the county to do the same.  This is your money, after all.

Despite our successful efforts to slash spending and sharply improve the productivity and efficiency of county operations, our 2016 budget will include an estimated payment of $17 million to pay for “the sins of the past.” Regrettably, Rockland County remains $138 million in the hole because of the reckless spending and decision-avoidance that devastated our economic health under the previous administration, and which was embodied in the budget process.

Going forward, we must acknowledge the progress made over the last eighteen months to right our fiscal course over the long term. We have already saved millions of dollars by consolidating departments and improving operational capabilities through reengineering work processes. Competent management and proper budgeting will even generate a modest surplus this year.  Frustratingly, these “leftover” dollars will go directly toward the deficit – two-thirds of which is borrowed money that must be repaid.

Our 2015 budget came in under the state’s 2% property tax cap and was a successful, first year “transition budget.”  The 2016 fiscal plan I will propose in October places Rockland County in “correction mode.”  It will be an historic budget that pays down our debt, while reinforcing my commitment to protecting taxpayer dollars, safeguarding critical priorities like infrastructure and promoting economic expansion and job creation.

Think of Rockland County as a battleship that has endured years of enemy fire. Under my leadership, we’ve changed course and continue to make critical repairs, as we struggle toward a safe port.  Our turnaround began with clear and realistic goals, and we’re making progress every day.

While I didn’t create Rockland’s financial mess, you elected me to fix it.  During the upcoming budget process, my administration expects full Legislative cooperation to ensure that all the progress that has been made to improve the county’s long-term fiscal health is not undone No more kicking the can down the road – we owe this to our children and grandchildren!

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