Rockland County has been facing an ever-growing deficit since 2008. Since then, it has ballooned to an estimated $125 million annually. There are innumerable reasons for the deficit – one of which is a moribund local economy (and therefore tax base). I addressed this underlying cause in my plan released in July entitled “Making Rockland Work Again: A Plan for Economic Growth” by putting forward pro-taxpayer and pro-growth common sense solutions.
This plan deals with the other side of the equation – the County’s government’s internal dysfunction and structure that, rather than adapting to a challenging economic situation, has pulled us ever faster into a debt spiral. The proposals put forth in this plan are a starting point, one that will save millions of dollars to the County while reforming the way it does budgeting and protecting the taxpayer’s money and homeowners’ property values.
We must make hard choices when it comes to our budget and our government, not just because we are at near-junk bond status and are running out of money, but because it is simply immoral to continue to spend on the backs of our children and grandchildren. If we continue the path we are on, there will be no vibrant future to preserve for them, Rockland will continue to slide downward into unaffordability and yet total lack of value to residents.
This plan cannot be implemented by a minority member of the legislature, no matter how hard one is willing to fight and how much effort and attention they bring to the matter. This plan requires an experienced executive in a position of authority to drive it through a resistant political system. And as County Executive, that is exactly what I will do in order to ensure that we balance our budget so we can stabilize our finances and, once done, deliver much needed tax relief to Rocklanders.
- Institute Zero-Based Budgeting
- What it is: Each department starts with an assumption of zero funding (except where mandated), with department heads required to justify each dollar they need to receive in the budget.
- Why to have it: This approach has been widely used throughout the public and private sector in order to ensure both an in-depth review of where money is going and a detailed review of governmental efficiency at the lowest level by the people most familiar with it. By requiring department heads to justify every dollar, waste that normally skates by year-to-year in traditional baseline budgeting is easily rooted out and eliminated.
- Identify and Cut All Patronage Jobs
- What it is: A thorough review of all appointed positions in the County to determine both a) the need for their existence, and b) if they are needed, the qualifications of the person filling the role.
- Why to have it: Government should only have jobs that serve its taxpayers. There is no room for unnecessary positions, and there is no room for necessary jobs to be filled by unqualified appointees. Highly paid but unnecessary positions such as various deputy department heads, the “tourism director” (without a tourism department), and others waste money that could otherwise go towards necessary services or back to the taxpayer.
- Ten Percent Pay Cut for all Elected Officials & Highest Paid Appointees
- What it is: An across the board pay cut for all County-level elected officials, to include the County Executive, and the highest paid appointees, with appointee salaries for those earning over $100,000 cut by 10% or, if the cut would bring them below that mark, by the difference between their current salary and $100,000.
- Why to have it: The salaries of our elected officials and the highest paid appointees have grown even as the County has plunged into deficit and both cut lower paying jobs that actually deliver services and reduced salaries of these workers. No one should get rich on the taxpayer dime, and there is no excuse to overpay anyone in government, doubly so when the government is in such desperate financial straits.
- Identify and Implement Cost-Saving Synergies and Consolidations Across County, Town, & Village Governments
- What it is: Across all departments and across all levels of government, locate items for consolidation, cooperation, and possible synergies and initiate them with a focus on saving on the taxpayer’s total tax bill.
- Why to have it: There are many examples of the various towns and villages working with the County and each other to save money and create efficiencies, with examples Academy and Drug Task Force serving as strong examples. One such possible example would be street plowing routes patrolled by the various highway departments, with their uncoordinated crisscrossing of County and Town roads, where contracting through town departments, or vice versa, might result in greater efficiency and cost savings than the current system.
- Conduct a Thorough Review of All County and Employee Expenditure Items to Include Overtime
- What it is: Detailed top-down review of expenses charged to the County by employees, expenditures by departments, and charged overtime in all departments in order to identify potential waste and any need to adjust approval and allocation procedures.
- Why to have it: Discretionary items such as office supplies, mileage reimbursements, and overtime often add substantial amounts to approved budgets. By clamping down on such discretionary items and instituting tight review and approval processes, the slow drain of excess and undirected spending can be shut off effectively.
- Contract with a Private Sector Turnaround Specialist to Increase Overall Efficiencies
- What it is: A one-time contract with a turnaround management specialist to review the County government and identify cost saving and output-maximizing procedures and adjustments that can be implemented to further bring deep cost savings to the taxpayer while not sacrificing services.
- Why to have it: The private sector has dealt with contractions and the need to run on a budget through the tremors of the Great Recession of the past few years. A private sector specialist, with years of experience in applying best practices, can locate key areas on which to focus and justify them with specific cost savings based on previous experience. This process has been used to save collapsing corporations with excess debt and massive annual losses all across the globe, and the savings derived from implementing it will outweigh the cost of contracting the specialist by many times over.
- Eliminate all Non-Essential Vehicles in County Fleet
- What it is: Sell all vehicles in the County fleet that are not regularly needed for specific functions such as maintenance, policing, and highway repair.
- Why to have it: The cost of maintaining a vehicle of any type is such that having unnecessary ones can have a substantial impact on an organization’s budget. There is no reason for any official, to include the County Executive, to have a government car for their own use. All such vehicles will be sold, and fleet vehicles that are excess or that can be shared based on shift work will be sold as well, with the resulting savings going back to the deficit and the taxpayer.
- Require that Each Budget be Balanced Based on Previous Year’s Actual Revenue and with No “Windfall” Items to Plug Gaps
- What it is: Every year’s projected budget will be balanced based on actual revenue received the previous year, not an inevitably higher estimate of potential revenue for the next year.
- Why to have it: Year after year since the budget crisis first began, the next year’s budget has been balanced on an artificially inflated estimate of “projected” tax revenue. And year after year, the actual tax revenue has fallen short, leaving gaping holes in the budget that need to be haphazardly plugged with debt. By balancing the budget only on previous tax revenue, the hard decisions on spending can be made rationally and openly, and not kicked down the road for an inevitable deficit.
- Lobby for State Legislation Requiring that All Future and Current Mandates have Funding Attached to them
- What it is: Work with State representatives to end unfunded mandates, such that Albany is required to provide funding for any initiative they mandate at the County level or lower.
- Why to have it: An enormous percentage of the County’s budget is taken up by state-mandated spending. By putting forth proposals but choosing not to fund them, Albany has create a situation where they get to implement every bright idea in the book without ever having to face the wrath of the taxpayer – leaving that instead to the local governments, on whom they then impose a tax cap. When just one unfunded mandate can force a local government to have to break that tax cap, it is simply an untenable situation that must be corrected.
- Demand equal value in services for each dollar paid to the MTA or withdraw & contract directly for mass transit services
- What it is: Insist upon a fair allocation of MTA resources to Rockland that would either reduce the amount of money paid to equal the current amount of services received, increase the amount of services to bring it in line with the amount paid, or some combination thereof.
- Why to have it: Rockland County currently only receives approximately 50 cents of services for every dollar it sends to the MTA. In total, the gap in services is approximately equal to the entire amount of property tax that the County collects annually. This would save tens of millions of dollars to the County while maintaining the exact level of public transportation service it currently receives. Though the goal would not be withdrawal, if that occurred Rockland would be free to contract with New Jersey Transit for train service – and since that contract would be direct and not go into a pot shared with other counties, every dollar would buy one dollar of actual services.
This plan, when implemented by a focused, competent, and experienced leader who is not beholden to the political system, will set Rockland on course for the fiscal stability that such a vibrant County in such close proximity to the world’s economic hub should rightly have.