Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef Wednesday, Dec. 14 notified the Rockland County Legislature that he has approved the it adopted last week, despite some “very serious reservations.”
Vanderhoef explained his decision in a memo delivered to the clerk of the legislature just past 4 p.m.
The $701.8 million budget is now considered adopted according to the county charter.
Vanderhoef wrote that his proposed budget with layoffs, program cuts and reductions “addressed the dire financial situation of our county and sought to reinvent county government. Our goal has been to put the county financial ‘house’ in order and provide for a solid financial future so that we can deliver essential services to our residents.”
That proposal called for layoffs of more than 500 county employees whereas the approved budget reduces the county workforce by 40 positions.
Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, chair of the budget & finance committee, said he had heard of the county executive’s approval but had not read the memo. Schoenberger said he glad the county executive approved the budget and would be working with the legislature to address the deficit and bring financial stability to Rockland.
Vanderhoef noted the two percent property tax increase and one-time property tax assessment he recommended would have cost the average homeowner $175 in 2012. The cost remains the same under the budget he has approved, however, the legislature included the onetime assessment as a property tax increase and voted to override the state’s two percent property tax cap. The property tax increase is now 30 percent.
Vanderhoef criticized the legislature’s approval of a 3/8 of one percent sales tax increase and inclusion of anticipated sale tax revenue of $14 million. The sales tax increase must be approved by the state legislature and governor in early 2012.
“If it were not for the importance of funding law enforcement and my concerns for the admittedly aggressive time schedule to sell or close the Summit Park facility, I would veto the sales tax increase approved by the legislature,” Vanderhoef wrote.
He stated the increase is risky but he will support efforts to gain state approval.
“This administration, of course, will do its part to get approval as well. Without the approval, the County will be thrown into financial disarray again.”
Vanderhoef explained studies must continue to determine Summit Park’s future even though it is funded for operation throughout 2012.
The county executive stated union negotiations must lead to an agreement “that meets our budget objectives. If not, we will be forced to again consider 150 to 200 additional layoffs in 2012.”
According to Vanderhoef, the state comptroller’s internal review aligned with the administration’s position on what led to the county’s current $52 million deficit.
“The Mirant certiorari action, losses at the Summit Park facilities and overly optimistic sales tax revenue projections created our deficit – over expenditure did not. This is not a case of spending too much.”