As Autumn approaches we all begin to think of certain things, children returning to school, leaves changing colors on trees, football season or seeing the Yankees make a push into the playoffs. For those of us in government the end of summer means something else; budget season is upon us.
Having a budget is important for each and every one of us in our personal lives. Whether to help you plan your finances for the next month or save for a down payment on a new car. Having a plan and sticking to it is critically important.
The same holds true for good government. We keep close tabs year-round on how we spend your money. Because it is YOUR money and we must pinch every penny so that we can spend it wisely. Our close fiscal management is what prepares us for the budget season.
The Rockland County Charter requires that we present a proposed budget for the following year to the Legislature by October 1st. We’ve been preparing for this date all summer long, meeting with Department heads and Commissioners, laying the groundwork for this new budget. And it is a NEW budget, each year presents challenges from the cost of rising salaries, to health insurance rate hikes and decreasing reimbursements from the State and Federal government.
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. Leaving local taxpayers to pick up the tab. It’s unfair, but it is unfortunately becoming more and more common. Medicaid alone costs $66 million a year or roughly the surreal equivalent of 55% of the property tax levy.
There is one overriding question that we ask in every meeting. What is the most efficient, cost-effective way to deliver services at the lowest cost to you?
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 significant challenge. But those who know me, know that I will never shrink from a challenge.
I truly understand what too many of those in government fail to realize. The residents of the community are the ultimate bosses, not the elected officials, not the employees or anyone else. Government works for you, the taxpayer. And I believe that your money belongs in your pocket.
That has been the guiding philosophy as we continue to reinvent and repurpose County government. Conservative budgeting and financial principles are what have brought us back from the brink of insolvency. They have led to seven consecutive bond rating increases and we will stick to them.
Despite several positive steps towards financial recovery, there is still much to be done to be considered fiscally healthy. We will not revert to the tax and spend policies of the past that led us to a $138 million deficit and tax increases of 30 percent, 18 percent and 11 percent in the three years before I took office.
We will continue restructuring government, redefining positions to get the most from our employees and improve services for you, our residents. But there is only so much my administration can do alone. The next step in our economic recovery requires help, it can only begin when the Legislature declares the Sain building surplus.
Obstruction by some in the Legislature may very well have killed the deal to sell the Sain building for $4.51 million and it has cost more than $1 million in lost tax revenue since 2015. The sale of the building would give us a cushion as we negotiate lapsed union contracts and it could also allow us to increase funding to nonprofits that provide non-mandated services.
There is no good reason to continue denying the sale of this now long empty building. We must move on and continue making all of County government leaner. It’s the only way to continue on our path to Rockland’s renaissance.