With a few weeks to go before the Rockland County Legislature has to adopt the proposed 2012 budget by Dec. 7, it has been holding budget reviews to go over the proposed cuts to various departments.
On Monday night, the Budget & Financial Committee met with representatives from Environmental Control, Veterans Services and the Department of Health, who spoke about their respective departments and what would be cut if the proposed budgets go through.
In the proposed cuts, Environmental Control would have to eliminate two positions and downgrade one from full- to part-time, giving them 16 employees.
“Obviously, I don’t want to see anyone on our staff leave,” said R. Allan Beers, coordinator of environmental resources. “It’s been very emotional in the office.”
One service that Beers said is likely to be cut is goose control, where dogs are brought into parks to keep geese off walking paths and other areas of parks.
“There are some parks where without that it might really hard to walk around because of all the geese,” Beers said.
When Legislator Connie Coker asked Beers if any of the parks would be in danger of closing in the proposed budget, Beers said he doesn’t think any of the parks will have to close.
“No closings, just further reductions in maintenance of the parks,” Beers said. “It’ll probably be something noticeable to residents, but we shouldn’t have to close any parks.”
Some maintenance cutbacks could be things like cutting the grass fewer times, less frequent cleanings of bathrooms, etc.
In the proposed cuts, Veterans Services would have to cut its staff from four down to two. Outside the two positions, one of the bigger cuts to the Veterans Services Department talked about was the actual office it’s located in. Right now, and since 2000, the department has been located at 20 Squadron Boulevard in New City. The proposed budget reduces the department’s funding to stay in that office, and has iy moving back to the county offices in the Sain Building on New Hempstead Road in New City.
“The reason we moved out of that office originally was because sometimes when soldiers come back home after serving, they don’t want to go to government buildings, they don’t want to ask the government for help,” said Jerry Donnellan, director of Veterans Services. “And sometimes people get very uncomfortable when they have to walk by an armed security guard. It’s all about making the veterans comfortable. I think putting the department back in a government building could be counterproductive.”
Perhaps the most passionate any speaker got Monday night wasn’t a department head, but instead was a legislator, as Legislator Ed Day said it’s “completely unacceptable” to cut the Veterans Services budget by as much as the proposed budget calls for. Day said the VA budget for 2010 was $315,000 and the proposed budget for this year is $154,000.
“I can’t think of a greater insult to those who have put their lives on the line for this country than what I’m looking at right now, ” Day said. “And I’m trying to be kind about it.”
Day also noted the issue is a bit personal for him because he has a son who recently returned home after serving. Legislator Frank Sparaco, a veteran himself, said from his experience, a lot of veterans are just happy to come home and don’t pay attention to all their options once they actually get home.
“I can’t stress how important your office is,” Sparaco said to Donnellan.
The final department to speak Monday night was the Department of Health, which under the proposed budget would have to eliminate 14 jobs. The divisions in the department that get no funding under the proposed budget include chronic disease, the Cancer Care Institute and the Prenatal Clinic based out of Nyack Hospital.
“I think it’s important to note that these are the proposed budgets,” said Dr. Joan Facelle, commissioner of the Rockland Department of Health. “Talks are still ongoing.”
Facelle said the department is still trying to figure out ways to fund those divisions, including retaining staff from them to offer those services in a more limited capacity. She also added the department will not continue its dental clinical program.
Earlier Monday afternoon, the committee held another budget review meeting with the Arts Council, Rivertown and the Department of Tourism.
On Tuesday, the Rockland County Legislature will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2012 budget starting at 7 p.m. at the Rockland County Legislature at 11 New Hempstead Road in New City.
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