By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
I had the privilege last week of delivering my fourth State of the County Address.
It was a pleasure to recount the promises I made and the promises I kept to you, the people who elected me.
We have accomplished much, but, as I told the Legislature, we still have a ways to go.
You will remember that I came into office, this county was just about underwater financially.
The deficit I inherited was a staggering $138 million.
The county was only $42,000 away from insolvency.
We could barely make payroll, we were under the threat of state takeover and our bonds were rated as junk.
What a difference three years makes.
Today Rockland County is healthy, energized and invigorated. We are ready and eager to meet the coming year and thereafter.
Here’s how we did it:
We have focused on cutting spending, reorganizing our government and keeping our hands out of the taxpayers’ wallet – all promises I made and promises I kept.
We have been working for three years to transform this county from near bankruptcy with an unsustainable tax-and-spend cycle to what it is today.
We have cut spending 9 percent during the last three years. That’s $67 million of your money. For comparison, the 2017 budget is numerically comparable to our 2008 budget.
And, amazingly, our deficit now stands at a projected $10 million – a 90 percent reduction from when I took office. We are paying down our $96 million deficit finance bond without raising taxes.
By making tough, disciplined decisions about spending we have been able to pay that bill within the structure of our annual operating budget, and avoided imposing a ten year surcharge of an equivalent to a 12 percent tax increase.
If the Legislature approves the sale of the Sain Building to the buyer who has been waiting patiently to pay $4.51 million, we can use that money to reduce our deficit by another 40 percent.
This year we stayed within a stringent state property tax cap of 1.17 percent this year – miraculous when you consider that state mandates, including Medicaid, make up almost all of our budget.
We have reorganized our county government for maximum efficiency — abolishing jobs that are no longer relevant and creating new ones that are. Along the way we have reduced the size of our county government 22 percent.
Imagine that – government getting smaller. And more efficient.
Residents of Rockland County still enjoyed top-rate services, even as we, like all counties in the state, transition from being a direct provider of many services to more of an overseer – contracting with agencies and facilities that can do the work more efficiently and for less money.
We are doing all of this as we right our financial ship.
We are on the right path financially. This past year we came within 8/10ths of one percent of being off the state most fiscally stressed list.
My goal for this year is to get off this list entirely.
We will do that by watching every dime that we spend.
Rockland County is still in deficit – a much smaller deficit than we started with. But a deficit nonetheless.
In other words, our checking account is still overdrawn.
We cannot and will not keep writing checks on an overdrawn account.
That is why we will continue to watch every dime that goes in and out of our county treasury.
We will continue to fight vehemently against the urge to overestimate sales tax revenue projections or relying on non-existent revenue – to make the books look balanced.
Those tactics are precisely how we ran up a $138 million deficit.
That cannot happen again. Not on my watch. And I ask our legislators join me in that endeavor.
Let’s work together to hire an Inspector General to make sure that every cent of taxpayer’s money is spent appropriately.
Let’s finally sell the Sain Building.
And let’s work together to settle our contracts and to safeguard our finances.
The future of Rockland depends on it.