” Those Who Fail to Learn from History are DOOMED TO REPEAT IT”
By Legislator Lon Hofstein
Minority Leader – Rockland County Legislature
Just a few short years ago, this county was on the verge of financial ruin. A new administration at the County Executive level, supported by a small minority in the Legislature, came in with a mandate from the voters to implement the necessary changes to turn this situation around. Many difficult decisions needed to be made, not all of them popular; but then again this wasn’t about popularity, it was about survival.
Three years into the Ed Day administration the deficit has been significantly reduced, and the county’s bond rating with financial institutions has improved dramatically. The improvement in the county’s bond rating resulted in reduced interest rates on borrowing, which ultimately would lead to lowering your taxes.
By moving away from the imprudent budgeting and spending practices of the past, Rockland’s financial future was brightening. Yet even with these results, the majority of the Legislature wants to revert to their old ways. Under the political ruse proposing a tax decrease, the Legislative majority altered the County Executive’s proposed budget and passed a flawed and irresponsible version of their own. The County Executive has since vetoed these changes.
On Monday, December 19th the Rockland County legislature will meet to review and vote whether or not to override the County Executive’s vetoes that were issued on the amended budget for the year 2017. Twelve votes are needed to override a veto. Eleven Legislators voted in favor of the Legislature’s amended budget, meaning they are only one vote away from a successful override.
The failed and flawed financial philosophy the majority have embraced in the past is evident in their amendments to the budget. These irresponsible practices can easily lead us back down the road to financial disaster. While we all would like to play the role of the “Good Parent” and provide everything a child requests, we all know that limits have to be set. When you prepare your household budget do you say to yourself, “I’m going to count on getting a pretty big raise” and then go and run your credit card to the limit based on that?
In the past, unrealistic sales tax revenue projections were used as a license to overspend. As a result of these rosy projections, the County was run inefficiently which led to property tax increases of 30%, 18% & 11%. Now, that things are improving, the Legislative majority wants to go right back to the bad habits of the past and count on revenue that doesn’t yet exist, and to double-up on revenue that has already been counted.
Financial experts urge conservatism on revenue projections, yet the members of the majority recommend to raise the sales tax revenue projections. They quote a supposedly supporting statement from the county’s financial auditors on page one but overlook the contradictory footnote on page fifty-one. The bottom line is raising our sales tax revenue projections is risky business.
Another example of an unrealistic approach to financial planning is the majority’s inclusion of an amendment to eliminate the proposed position of an Inspector General. Yes this will eliminate the expense associated with creating that position, but they DID NOT withdraw the income that this position would generate.
Have you heard enough? Well there is more..
The sale of the Sain Building has been included in the majority’s amendments and $510,000 from that sale is to be used toward operations. If you recall, the County Executive was chastised for doing the same thing in last year’s budget. Clearly this has become a case of “Do As I Say and Not As I Do.”
After this amended budget was passed, I felt it was urgent to pass a resolution to consider the Sain Building property ‘surplus’ which is required before county property can be considered for sale. I proposed this motion as ‘New Business,” meaning it was not on the evening’s agenda and therefore requires the matter be of an urgent nature to be considered. In response to my request, Chairman Wolfe stated: “I have a liberal view on urgency, but this isn’t one of those times”. Due to the fact the minority was informed of the proposal to incorporate the revenue from the sale of the Sain Building the Saturday before the legislative session, there was no other alternative but to bring it up under ‘New Business’. How sincere can the members of the majority be to include the revenue from a sale in which they shot down the prerequisite measure needed to sell the property?
At the opening of the last session, Legislator Moroney motioned for the tax cap to be raised to fund a group of nonprofits known as ‘224‘ agencies. This measure would result in an average tax increase to every household of $1 per month or $12 per year.
Chairman Wolfe was clearly unsupportive and the members of the majority voted the motion down. The majority would like you to believe that the members of the minority are cold and uncaring; that they are unconcerned about the future of these contract agencies, yet when an inexpensive solution was presented, the majority considered it a joke.
I urge the citizens of Rockland not to be fooled by the shell game amendments presented by the majority. We need to stay focused and bring this county back to a fiscally strong condition, otherwise “Those Who Fail to Learn from History are DOOMED TO REPEAT IT”.