Facts And Fiction About Rockland County’s Budget

Letter to the Editor of Rockland Voice
From: Jim Flynn – Nanuet, New York

‘The Contracts and the Sheriff’

After the proposed 2015 Rockland County budget was presented to the Legislature by County Executive Day, the public was bombarded with ‘sky-is-falling‘ and ‘doom-is-imminent‘ assertions from those whose hands are firmly entrenched in the taxpayers’ pockets. Several charitable ‘contract agencies‘ claim that they are being bitten by the hand that is feeding them while Sheriff Falco threatens to chop off any hand that doesn’t feed him.

It is time to separate spending facts from recipient fictions.

We have heard much about what are termed the ‘contract agencies‘ but let us be clear that the entities whose funding it is proposed to reduce are NOT in any way shape or form ‘Contract Agencies’. The County neither hires nor enters into any agreements with them; the County does not even supervise the spending of the funds they provide to these organizations. These ‘contract agencies are simply ‘those organizations to which individual legislators like to give taxpayers’ money’.

Certainly, many of these groups do nice things for everyone or for a select small group. Yet, there does not appear to be any defined process as to how they got on to the County’s balooning charitable giving list or any rational justification of the amount that is doled out to them by you, the taxpayers, each year.

For example, the Community Development Council is set to receive $171,000 from the County if the Legislature reinstates its cut. Yet, the only nonprofit with the words ‘community development’ in its name that reports in GuideStar, an organization that connects donors and grant-makers to non-profit organizations, is the New Square Community Development Council which the County’s taxpayers have funded to the tune of several million dollars over the past few years through the largesse of the County Legislature.

Then there is United Hospice of Rockland which is an outstanding organization. It is waging a very aggressive campaign to get $95,000 of funding restored but did you know that as of 2012 it had $14.9 million in gross receipts, $16 million in net assets of which $8 million was cash on hand and salaries increased from $5.58 million to $6.67 million in ONE year, an increase of 19.5%?

May I mention the Center for Safety and Change which was highlighted by the Journal News? It missed one of its grant filing deadlines and was not considered for sexual-assault and comprehensive services (covering all crimes) of $178,000 for 2015, after receiving $117,000 in 2014. It left that money behind through its own negligence. That was money available to be disbursed. Why should it now ask for money the County does not have? While the proposed 2015 budget cuts discretionary funding by $66,000 funding for sexual-assault services in 2015, the center will still get $590,346 for domestic violence and child-abuse victims, $57,161 more than 2014!  Essentially, the Center for Safety and Change, a multi million dollar organization will get only $8,939 less than it received last year; it will still get County funding to the tune of nearly $600,000. The 2013 financial report for this organization shows it has $3.4 million in assets of which its Net Assets/Fund Balances are $1.8 million. It has $3 Million in revenues and spends $2 million on salaries.

Another couple of examples – JCC of Rockland is set to receive $16,815 out of its $6-7 million income stream from fees and donations and clearly the ¼ of 1% they receive from the County will not cause it to shut down if this funding is not restored. Hatzoloh EMS is set to receive $5,770 out of the $1 million plus they receive from specific Town tax levies to pay for ambulance service. Why is this organization so special that the Legislature does not give every volunteer ambulance company the same?

Of the $3.3 million the Legislature ‘donated‘ last year without your direct assent, thirteen(13) organizations received over $100,000 for a total amount of $1,723,130, forty-seven (47) organizations received between $10,000 and $100,000 for a total amount of $1,441,942, thirty (30) organizations received under $10,000 for a total of $150,321 and five (5) organizations received neither grace nor funding from this arbitrary legislature for their charitable work.

Perhaps if one of the key legislature’s functions is to give taxpayers’ money away it might be easier just to allocate $25,000 to each Legislator to waft out to Non-Profits in their Districts depending on the political winds of a particular election year and their own particular political aspirations. One might also take another $50,000 per Legislator and allow them to select organizations that are vetted and placed under contract with the County to provide specific services to all eligible residents?

Why is the legislature handing out these massive amounts of money when it has nearly $100 million in debt, is running a multi-million dollar deficit, and earlier this year was within $50,000 dollars of not being able to pay its bills?  All of the above verges on political madness!

How can one justify laying off county employees when the legislators are giving away millions of our dollars to numerous supplicants simply on a hand shake? It is time for this lunacy to stop. The amount that the legislature is donating is more than 3% of our tax levy yet in many cases is less than 1% of the income stream of these organizations. If we are to permit our legislators to make charitable gifts on our behalf they should be doing so under strict rules and guidelines and not on the whims of the their political moments.

Supplicant organizations, while doing good things for many of our citizens, cannot be put ahead of the County’s employees. To cut an employee while providing charitable funds to organizations that will clearly survive the proposed cuts is both amoral and immoral.

Turning now to Sheriff Falco and the department which he claims can not be operated without numerous layers of overpaid brass, horses and a helicopter. The Sheriff’s budget before the 10% cut was scheduled to be $60,000,000 or 56% of the Tax Levy; after the proposed cut it will still consume 50% of the tax levy. About $35 million of the proposed 2015 $54 million dollar budget will be for constitutionally mandated functions such running the Civil Division and Correction Division.

The remaining $19 million will be spent on the areas that have developed from ‘mission creep’ to serve perceived needs and are not mandated by the State Constitution. One paragraph from the Anemone Report explains the Sheriff’s ‘mission creep’:

“In the case of the Police Division, it currently has thirty-four (34) officers, detectives and supervisors performing administrative, clerical, and investigative duties. It has thirty-three (33) patrol officers and sergeants on patrol in the County which includes the mounted and marine patrols and 2 officers in Field Training). This, in an agency with twenty-three (23)) reported Part 1 Index Crimes (crimes involving murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft) for 2013 and as small a criminal caseload as any the consultant has seen in over 50 years of law enforcement and consulting. It begs the questions, how can these detectives and supervisors be best employed, and how many are needed.”

In a County known for having many small individual Police Departments the Sheriffs Police Division struggles to be efficient. In order to have one (1) officer in one (1) car patrol on the midnight shift the cost to the taxpayers is $1.2 -$1.6 million dollars a year in salary and benefit costs alone not including overtime. To have this one car on patrol the Sheriff apparently needs one (1) sergeant to supervise it, one (1) officer to man the desk and one (1) officer to actually drive the car and patrol the County.  This certainly begs a question of which taxpayers are sleeping more peacefully in their beds at night with a single million dollar County patrol car wandering the roads of the county at 2 a.m. in the morning.

From other reports it appears that Rockland has the lowest crime rate and lowest jail population per resident compared to all other Counties in the Lower Hudson Valley. That is something for which the taxpayers can be minimally grateful because Rockland County has the highest cost per prisoner; at an average population of 250 prisoners and a cost of approximately $33,000,000 for the jail operations taxpayers are paying $132,000 per year per prisoner or $362 a day.

It should be obvious to all of us who pay taxes that the legislators need to make some radical changes in their spending habits. Chief Falco is facing a huge task and may be hampered by having spent his entire career within the cocoon of a single organization. With a combined annual pension and salary of over $300,000 per year being provided from the taxes of Rocklanders they have a right to demand that he manage the Sheriff’s Department in a fiscally responsible manner. If he refuses to do so then he will be required to explain his department’s obesity in the next election.

County Executive Day proposed a budget that stays within the 2% cap. Due to a legal interpretation of his responsibilities under the Budget Deficit Act he cut all funding to the so-called ‘Contract Agencies’ and cut thirty-seven (37) positions from the Sheriff’s Department. Doing so provided the necessary spending savings to come up with the funds needed to make the $10 million required payment on the deficit. At this time the State Comptroller has completed his mandated review of the proposed budget and given his approval; Moody’s has issued a positive outlook for our credit rating also based upon the proposed budget.

However, the Legislature wants to make changes.

It has promised Sheriff Falco and the favored charities that their hands will remained outstretched AND in the taxpayers’ pockets. How this feat is to be achieved will be explained to Rockland’s taxpayers in a matter of weeks. The ‘word on the street‘ is that some of them want all $3.3 million in ‘charitable gifts‘ restored to the budget including full restoration of the Sheriff’s obese budget. The madness of a plan to modify the Deficit Reduction Act to reduce the required payment from $10 million to $4 million, thus paying off the remaining $40 million non-bonded deficit on the same timetable as the $96 million that has already been bonded, is also being floated. Recent correspondence from financial sources to the County reveals that the rating agencies and financial markets would not look kindly on such changes.

Legislator Carey has recently proposed a compromise Budget reducing this year’s cuts to the Sheriff Department to twelve (12) positions from thirty-seven (37) and he has also proposed reinstating some of the funds to the supplicant agencies. To pay for this he proposes modifying the Deficit Act to require a $7 Million Dollar payment and reinstating the County charge backs to towns of $1.8 million. I applaud him for his efforts to bring this budget brawl to a negotiated finish. I watched Legislator Carey and his other colleagues in the legislature, including the current County Executive, Ed Day when he occupied the seat in District #5, fight to avoid imposing charge backs on the towns in an earlier year’s budget cycle. The facts of the current financial crisis and the genuine concern what will happen if hard choices are not made force him and others to the conclusion that this charge-back option must be included as a possible source of revenue if needed. The Towns will have to tighten their own budgets because in the last analysis it is the same taxpayers that pay both the Town and the County bills.  Further, I am aware that the expected sales tax revenue has increased for the towns, and that should cover these charge back costs.

Sheriff Falco has been intransigent in his opposition to any fiscal efficiencies. It is not up to Legislator Carey to tell Sheriff Falco, as an elected official, how to manage his department. It is up to Legislator Carey solely to vote on the budget Falco is to be given. Falco may bleat all he wishes but if his financial belt is tightened he will be responsible to make fiscally responsible cuts. Sheriff Falco needs to place in to his intransigent thinking elimination of his overpaid brass along with the elimination of the horses and the helicopter. His adamant refusal to even consider a reduced budget for his bloated department is indefensible and should not be excused or accepted.

In addition to all of these issues the future timing of the sale of the Hospital and Nursing Home is still uncertain. The County Executive and the Legislature are doing all they can but in the end it is all up to the buyer, the courts, the State of NY Agencies involved and the LDC that currently owns it. Will pension costs go down? Will the economy continue to improve and provide at least what we are receiving in sales tax this year?

If things do not fall into the expected line the County will not be able to deal with the $12 million payment for the deficit bond, come up with the $20 million in final payments to close the Hospital and Nursing Home or come up with the $8-10 million a year for the health care payments of the terminated employees. And all of this becomes even more complicated if the Legislature’s actions on the 2015 budget results in a credit downgrade.

Things that are under the Legislature’s complete control must be addressed.   It must stop the funding of supplicant madness provided to the non-contract ‘contract agencies’ and it must bring the Sheriff’s budgetary lunacy to an end.  The legislators can then keep their fingers crossed that the rest of the economic stars will align to their advantage in 2015.

On this earth the only thing certain about the economy and the financial markets is uncertainity itself.

About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

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