We know summer is really over when our kids go back to school and we see yellow buses on the streets of Rockland every morning and afternoon.
But for those of us in government, the end of summer signals something else: Budget season.
The Rockland County Charter requires us to present to the Legislature a proposed budget for the following year by Oct. 1.
We keep close tabs year-round on how we spend your money. That close fiscal management prepares us for budget season.
Throughout the summer and into September, we hold meetings with all of our Department heads and to lay the groundwork for the new budget.
There is one overriding question that we ask in every meeting with every person in County government: What is the most efficient, cost-effective way to deliver services at the lowest cost to you, the taxpayer.
It’s a tough question.
There are so many services that County government is called upon to provide. Many of those services are in the form of mandates that are handed down to us from the state without any funding.
Not to mention Medicaid, which costs Rockland County taxpayers $66 million every year.
Crafting a responsible budget that provides the high level of services that people in Rockland County have come to expect at a price that residents and businesses can afford is a challenge.
I am not one to run from a challenge, as I have shown over the past three years. Even if I have to go it alone as the Legislative majority led by the Ramapo 5 continue to block fiscal progress.
When I took office, Rockland County’s finances were a train wreck. A budget deficit of $138 million, three double-digit tax increases in a row, out of control spending and bonds rated near junk.
Though hard work, belt-tightening and better management, we have reversed those trends over the past four years since I took office.
Our budget deficit is down to less than $10 million. Our bonds have been upgraded five times and are now in the A category.
We stopped the tax-and-spend cycle that burdened taxpayers with increases of 30 percent, 18 percent and 11 percent in the three years before I took office.
Our last tax increase was a minimal 1.17 percent. We have cut spending 9 percent and reduced the size of government by 22 percent.
In other words, we turned back the budget clock and the 2017 budget was roughly the same as the 2008 budget.
All this with little help from the Legislative majority, which, led by the Ramapo 5, has blocked the sale of Sain building for reasons known only to them.
Selling the Sain building to a buyer who has been offering $4.51 million which is above the asking the price would enable us to pay off nearly half of the remaining deficit.
It would also allow us a cushion as we negotiate lapsed union contracts and it would also allow us to fund nonprofits that provide non-mandated services.
There are still challenges ahead as we craft the 2018 budget.
We are constantly looking at ways to make our government more efficient and cost-effective. We are constantly reevaluating how we provide services and how we spend your money.
The state has set a tax cap of 2.37 percent for Rockland County this year.
That’s a tough goal given the crisis we are coming out of. But I’ve never run from a challenge – especially when it comes to your money.