We did it again! Earlier this week I unveiled the proposed 2019 Budget for Rockland County that comes in under the state-mandated property tax cap.
We managed this, despite significant challenges. As we began the 2019 Budget process, we faced a budget gap of over $13 million which would have translated to a roughly 10% county property tax increase. That’s in addition to a roughly $13 million payment we must make every year until 2024 to pay off the deficit bond. This is the situation I inherited, what I call the sins of the past. Without these challenges, you likely would have seen a double-digit tax DECREASE.
We have been able to share positive financial news with you throughout the year such as our 7th consecutive bond rating increase and a $6.3 million surplus, we still have further to go to complete our financial recovery. We cannot sit back and relax. We must continue to be frugal and keep our spending under control. I will not allow us to return to the days of deficit spending, no reserves and poor bond ratings.
To balance the 2019 Budget, we examined each and every county department from top to bottom for cost savings. We applied cost benefit analysis, professional accounting practices and strict fiscal accountability. There is one overriding question that we asked in every meeting. What is the most efficient, cost-effective way to deliver services at the lowest cost to you, the taxpayer?
Since personnel costs make up a considerable share of our budget, we began eliminating vacant positions to drive down the $13 million budget gap. There are NO LAYOFFS to existing staff in this proposed budget. However, we are abolishing approximately 28 positions. The total number of County employees is down roughly 21% since I took office. This is part of our push to restructure and modernize Rockland County government to better serve the public and mention must be made of our dedicated workforce who are not only doing more with less, but doing it better than ever before.
A concern each year by many is funding of our valued community based organizations (CBOs), our not for profits that contribute to our economy and enhance desired services at a cost far less than government can provide. As you know we worked diligently to ensure that conveyance of taxpayer dollars was done in a manner that fixed accountability for expenditures, provided for strict oversight and complied with the rules of procurement as detailed by the New York State Comptroller.
The good news is that due in large part to our doing things differently here in Rockland, these CBO’s will not only be fully funded but done so at a lower cost to local taxpayers. In many cases they will see increased funding due to our tapping into State and Federal funding designed to support these efforts for the people.
We are thinking outside the box, transforming and redefining County government; refocusing on the needs of our residents so we can grow in the ways that the people of Rockland need us to. This year we faced down our financial challenges and found ways to meet them; all while staying under the state property tax cap.
The proposed $709 million Operating Budget calls for a small 2.9% county property tax increase for 2019. This translates to just over $3 a month or $37 a year for the average homeowner. Imagine what this budget could be without the $13 million deficit bond payment and the $13 million budget gap we had to contend with. That is the reality I inherited and the challenge I will not back down from.
I promise to continue making the tough decisions necessary to keep Rockland County on a strong fiscal track. I look forward to working with the County Legislature to pass this budget that delivers essential services to our residents and sets the stage for a bright future for all of Rockland.