On Tuesday night, I made my annual visit to the Legislative Chambers to deliver my third State of the County message. The 40-minute speech allowed me to update residents on how far we’ve come in the past two years, and what lies ahead this year and beyond.
Because of our ability to make difficult choices, we have overcome complicated problems with innovative solutions, and our taxpayers have benefited. Through prudent budgeting, investing in our community’s well-being and focusing on improving our county’s infrastructure, we have laid the groundwork for a healthier, stronger Rockland County.
I came into office on January 1, 2014 facing a $138 million deficit which had ballooned from a surplus in just seven years. Rockland County was on the brink of default with only $42,000 in the bank. Since then, we have worked every day to build a strong platform of responsible growth that will lessen the demands on taxpayers.
Through a series of operational reforms, we’ve reduced our bi-weekly payroll by several million dollars a year. We recorded a healthy budget surplus in 2014 and we’re expecting the same for 2015. We’ve cut our inherited deficit by nearly 30% in just two years.
For too many years, we were living with a “credit card” mentality. But, today, my administration has successfully put our county on a payment plan to whittle down the inherited “sins of the past.” And, we have done so without the predicted double digit tax increases.
We’re doing it a little at a time, just like most of us pay off our mortgage. In this time of financial recovery, prudence and paying down debt is the best policy. We will stay the course.
Today, Rockland County government is smaller, smarter and healthier. What I find most gratifying is the fact that we have successfully tackled the kinds of challenges that have driven other governments into bankruptcy. And, thanks to our highly-skilled and dedicated workforce, we made these tremendous gains while still providing more services for those in need than ever before.
While we still face serious and significant challenges, the “state” of Rockland County is strong and getting stronger, because it is built on a foundation of progress and good government.
My bold agenda for 2016 includes major initiatives:
Summit Park Transformation
Our vision for the former Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center (Building “A”) involves a mixed-use complex that houses county departments, like Personnel, Health and Social Services, along with independent, nonprofit health and human service agencies currently scattered across Rockland County.
With the cooperation of the Legislature, the County would locate physical health, behavioral health and human services providers under one roof. Our proposal to re-think Summit Park will help ensure access to a full spectrum of high-quality programs and providers for all of our residents, including our most vulnerable populations.
Rockland Codes Initiative “Phase Two” – The Rental Certification and Registry Initiative
The new effort requires that every property in the County, at which there are more than three renters, must register with the Rockland County Department of Health in order to be allowed to offer those units for rent. Failure to obey the requirements of the regulation may lead to significant fines. For the sake of our residents who are tenants and first responders, the County is supporting their dignity by taking up the gauntlet against slumlords who risk lives and just don’t give a damn.
Economic Growth and Jobs
Working closely with strong partners like the Rockland Economic Development Corporation, the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency and the Rockland Business Association, my administration’s economic strategy is creating jobs and opportunities for residents across the county. The fact that unemployment is at its lowest December level (3.8%) since 2006 is a good sign the County’s efforts are paying off.
Public Assistance Front End Detection
The problem of fraud is becoming increasingly important as the number of local residents who receive some form of assistance from the County grows. Currently, nearly one-third of Rockland’s entire population is receiving Medicaid, requiring a closer look. To that end, the Rockland County Department of Social Services has made it a priority to target fraud, waste, and abuse of our programs and services. Since coming into office two short years ago, our Front End Detection System has saved millions in taxpayer dollars – nearly $4 million worth.
Continued Conservative Budgeting
Under my leadership, Rockland County has seen its credit rating increased by both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, which will lead to lower borrowing costs in the future. We also recently finished successful negotiations with the CSEA and RAM labor unions, working out contracts that reward our workers for their service without breaking the backs of the taxpayers.
In the months ahead, let’s re-commit ourselves to working together to continue to build on the foundation before us. When we’re pulling the oars in the same direction, we can truly make this an even better community for our kids and grandkids.
Whether the issue is providing stable property taxes, stopping overdevelopment and downzoning, or enhancing our quality of life, we must all take on these challenges side by side.