Rockland's Ride to Fiscal Disaster

"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it." — George W. Bush


Over the weekend I was not surprised to see that both the NY Times and the Journal News were commenting on Rockland County's ride towards fiscal disaster.

The Journal News stated that:

Rockland leaders have cooked up elaborate but familiar plans, including added taxes and more borrowing, to address a projected $80 million deficit. As alarming as that figure is, the harsher reality is this: There are scant assurances that the contemplated remedies will get the county out of its bind.

Still a mystery is how the county will wean itself from a longstanding pattern of overestimating revenue, virtually ensuring overspending. Lacking better budget forecasting, the county could quickly end up where it started — on shaky fiscal ground.

The hole being dug for taxpayers keeps getting deeper.

This theme was continued on the front page of the New York Times in an article entitled Deficits Push N.Y. Cities and Counties to Desperation.

In it we read:

C. Scott Vanderhoef, the Rockland County executive who was the Republican Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, said his county’s $52 million deficit had accumulated over the past four or five years. The county legislature rejected proposed layoffs and service cuts in the budget, so the county is seeking to issue bonds to help bridge its budget gap.

“We don’t want to become Erie County or Nassau County,” he said, referring to two counties whose finances are overseen by control boards. “I think you’ll see a dropping off of the programs that many counties now view as important — law enforcement, economic development, parks and recreation. Those kinds of programs will disappear. Counties will become welfare and Medicaid managers.”

Even as there are glimmers of a national economic recovery, cities and counties increasingly find themselves in the middle of a financial crisis. The problems are spreading as municipalities face a toxic mix of stresses that has been brewing for years, including soaring pension, Medicaid and retiree health care costs. And many have exhausted creative accounting maneuvers and one-time spending cuts or revenue-raisers to bail themselves out.

Pension costs are a particular problem. The stock market collapse of 2008 decimated public pension fund investments, and municipalities are now being asked for greater contributions to make up for the losses. The impact has been drastic: Three percent of New York property tax collections were used to pay pension costs in 2001; by 2015, pension costs are expected to eat up 35 percent of property tax collections.

Things are so bad that our County government doesn't even know what its deficit is.  Vanderhoef says its about $50 million while the legislature has asked Albany for about $80 million.  All of this reminds me of Will Rodgers' observation that:

 "A government's budget is like a mythical bean bag. The politicians vote mythical beans into it, then reach in and try to pull real ones out."

Rockland County has a population of just over 300,000 yet it is governed by one County Executive and five Town Supervisors whose combined salaries and benefits exceed that of the President of the United States who governs a population of over 300 million. Further, they are kept in power by block voting and the manipulation of party lines by patronage appointments.

Further, these 'Governors' do not seem to know the basics about budgeting, controlling unions, controlling tax increases or stopping patronage.  My view is that we need to demand that the State Oversight Board takes control of Rockland County's finances now and remove decision making power over the county's budget from those who have brought this crisis situation down on our tax heads.  Longer term we  need to get rid of all of the Towns, Villages and other petty fiefdoms that duplicate services with salaries, pension costs and patronage and replace this failed set of local systems with a single Rockland County streamlined government run like a modern business corporation.

The present bunch of 'fiefdom chiefs' are "people who, if they saw light at the end of the tunnel, would go out and buy some more tunnel."  

That's my view!   What's yours?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Hirsch March 12, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Well said as usual, Michael. The sad part is that until our fellow citizens get off the couch and start participating in the political process, we are in store for more of the same.
Robin Traum (Editor) March 12, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Mike Voter turnout has been low in recent elections in this county. Residents need to realize their vote means they are participating in their future.
Mike Hirsch March 12, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Thank you Robin, but low voter turnout is just part of this tragedy. What is actually more troubling to me is that most people choose not to be informed because it is too difficult. Let's say you're sitting at home watching tv and someone is mugged outside your front door. If you don't hear anything, then you've done nothing wrong. If you hear something and see the crime being committed and do nothing, then you're a coward. If you hear something and see the crime being committed and call the police, then you've done the safe thing and fulfilled your civic duty. If your hear something and see the crime committed and go to help the victim, then you either wind up as a hero or getting hurt. Most people find it easier to ignore what goes on in our local politics rather than to learn the facts, which will take them out of their comfort zone. As far as voters are concerned, 70% of those that bother to vote at all, simply vote the party line (which in the example I have given is like calling the police) - they've fulfilled their civic responsibility, but have not moved out of their comfort zone. When the party lines are controlled by the machine politicians, their continued re-elections are virtually assured.
Watchdog March 19, 2012 at 03:10 PM
There is NO HOPE. The BLOC and the UNIONS vote for the same people. North Rockland Controls all of Rockland. Nothing will change. There is NO HOPE. The demise of Rockland as we know it is set in stone by the BLOC and the UNIONS.
Watchdog March 19, 2012 at 03:48 PM
The BLOC fleeces the County with exorbitant amountsoftaxpayer money going to them for Medicaid, Early Learning etc. while the Unions fleece the Taxpayer with gilt edge pensions and benefits not available to the taxpayers who pay for these benefits. There is NO HOPE. Taxpayers who do not have an escape program in place when this all blows up are very foolish.
Watchdog March 19, 2012 at 03:59 PM
The BLOC supports the new Desalinization Program because the water is needed for their 6 bedroom homes and the UNION wants it for jobs and benefits. The BLOC and the UNIONS work in tandem. Unless this changes there is NO HOPE for Rockland County. And when you sell your home the new transfer tax will soak you for more on the way out.
Watchdog March 19, 2012 at 04:00 PM
UNLESS the State takes over Rockland is DOOMED!
Watchdog March 19, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Michael Hull writes and excellent article on the County and gets responses from just two people while hundreds responded AND VOTED on the Blog about who has the best pizza, Now can you understand why there is NO HOPE. and we are DOOMED?


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