Rockland County Legislature Minority Leader Christopher Carey addressed his fellow legislators at Tuesday’s meeting, discussing how the county can get back on track from its current fiscal crisis and the need to form a local development corporation (LDC) to sell Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center.
In regards to the county’s financial state, Carey said the problems didn’t start overnight and thus can’t be fixed overnight. He also said the county executive and legislature need to work together better than they have in the past.
“Until we begin to make headway in alleviating the issue, our taxpayers and our employees will bear a disproportionate amount of pain as we diligently work to right our financial ship,” he said. “I will not dwell on how we got into this mess, but rather, how we can get on a working path during the next four to eight years to get out of the mess. Both the legislature and the county executive, working together, must concentrate over the next two full terms to resolve and restore financial stability.”
Carey said the county’s response to the recession of 2008 was slow, and instead of small incremental cuts to the size of the county’s workforce they waited for the economy to recover, a recovery that they are still waiting for five years later.
He continued to say his multi-year plan calls for strategic cuts and small targeted revenue increases combined with working alongside state officials for relief from the state’s unfunded mandates.
“I understand that state mandate relief is not something that we can depend upon,” he said. “However, I also believe that state inaction does not justify inaction on our part. I also believe we need to look at ways of streamlining how we deliver these state-mandated services. As stated previously, this problem was many years in the making and it will take many years to fix.”
Carey said before coming up with a plan, the legislators must ask themselves one question: “In light of the new fiscal realities the county now faces, what is the revised role of Rockland County government?”
The legislature can’t just wait for the county executive to come up with a plan, Carey said, adding he feels the legislature and county executive “are co-equals when it comes to running county government.” He also said the days of spreading cuts equally amongst departments must come to an end, and they need to start looking at what services are essential, what they can afford, where is there duplication of services, and what services is county government uniquely qualified to provide compared to what services could be provided via private industry at the same quality but at a better price.
In reference to Summit Park, Carey supported forming an LDC for a variety of reasons, including that it would put in place a board of directors.
“The directors will be industry experts and will determine the best way to sell off the building and transfer the license for the hospital and nursing home to a third party,” Carey said. “The importance of forming the LDC is that it takes the decision out of the hands of the county and puts it in the hands of an appointed board that has professional expertise in the health care industry. Potential buyers want the control placed in the hands of an LDC and not in the hands of county government.”
The selling of Summit Park won’t cure all the county’s issues, though, Carey said. He noted there’s still the $8.2 million in annual allocated costs that are attributed to Summit Park.
“Direct costs may actually be more or less than $8.2 million, but in either case there needs to be an elimination of the vast majority of these allocated costs or the county will not realize any long term savings,” Carey said. “If the county decides to shift this $8.2 million in allocated costs across the remaining departments in the county, we have achieved nothing. I am seriously concerned about this possibility.”
Legislator Michael Grant also pointed out that figure after the meeting when talking about Carey’s speech. Grant is the chair of the Budget & Finance Committee, which will take up the issue of the LDC at Thursday’s meeting at 7:15 p.m. at the county office building. Still, Grant, a Democrat, thought Carey made a lot of good points in his speech.
“Legislator Carey is someone who takes time to study and prepare for each meeting,” Grant said. “He’s right; we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight, and our problems don’t all go away with the LDC. I’m looking forward to working more with him.”
Legislator Ed Day, a former minority leader, also praised Carey’s speech after the meeting. Day said he felt Carey presented the Republican Party’s ideas eloquently.
“A lot of points he hit on are points we’ve been talking about since 2008 and I think that shows a consistent party message,” Day said. “He brought up things like restructuring county government and moving forward quickly. These are things we’ve talked about for a few years now, and hopefully this time around we’ll see some action and can get the county on the road to recovery.”