Can you imagine putting a bunch of politicians in a room and they have nothing to argue about?
That’s the happy position we find ourselves in as the Rockland County Legislature prepares to vote this Tuesday on the 2018 County budget that we submitted in October.
We worked so hard on this budget to make sure it is responsible, realistic and allows us the county to provide services without overburdening taxpayers.
In the end we came up with a $684.25 million spending plan that once again stays within the state property tax cap, avoids layoffs, puts money aside for union contract settlements, fully funds our nonprofits and allows us to continue providing the top-rate services that the people of Rockland County expect and deserve.
Most importantly we have a budget equivalent to the 2009 budget. Yes, we rolled back spending 9 years and by nearly $70 million!
The budget has already gotten the stamp of approval from three important sources.
The first was from the Office of State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. His staff reviewed the proposed budget to look for potential issues.
They found none.
They had no recommendations for any changes. Their only comment was “Based on the results of our review, we found that the significant revenue and expenditure projections in the proposed budget are reasonable.”
The second thumbs up came from an auditor hired by the Rockland County Legislature to review the proposed budget. Their own auditors told them that it was a solid and realistic budget.
The third came from the Center for Government Research, also hired by the Legislature – another thumbs up.
Now as politicians we all love to argue.
But in this case even my friend Rockland County Legislator Jay Hood Jr., head of the Budget and Finance Committee, was quoted as joking that as a lawyer he was disappointed there’s nothing to argue about.
We feel your pain, Jay!
We like a good argument as much as anyone but we’ll have to find something else to argue about.
Even the residents of Rockland County, whose opinion is really the only one that counts, had little to say at a public hearing held by the Legislature.
There’s no reason not to approve this budget.
It contains realistic and conservative budget revenue projects. No smoke and mirrors. No dangerous games, like overestimating sales tax revenues.
We all saw where that got us – $138 million in the red and a place on the state’s most fiscally stressed list.
As long as I’m County Executive we will not go down that road again.
The budget continues our sweeping reforms of County government. We are abolishing some vacant positions that are no longer relevant. And we’re creating new positions that better meet our needs.
One of the key positions that we are calling for in this budget is a much needed County auditor.
We haven’t had a full-time County auditor since March, 2007.
Rockland County, along with the rest of the nation, entered into a severe economic recession months later that same year.
And we all know what happened next – an era in Rockland County that we call the dark days.
Those dark days culminated with the $138 million deficit that brought this county to the brink of bankruptcy.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that all those years of the tax-and-spend cycle fueled by unrealistic sales tax projections happened at exactly the same time that we had no auditor looking over our shoulders.
When I took office with just $42,000 standing between the County and default, I was able to hire a former Finance Commissioner, Robert Bergman, who agreed to come out of retirement to work on a less than full time basis as another set of eyes on our budget.
Bob has done a yeoman’s job.
But there’s no getting around the fact that we need a full-time auditor. After all, that independent professional will ensure that the “tricks” that nearly sunk us will never be played upon us again.
We have worked so hard to turnaround this county. That $138 million deficit is just about gone. Let’s make sure that we do everything we can so we never experience those dark days again.