Rockland County Legislative Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack, said much more detailed information about the county executive’s budget reduction proposals is needed. C. Scott Vanderhoef is seeking program cuts and eliminations in non-mandated services to help close a . On Tuesday, Vanderhoef recommended eliminating the Sheriff’s Transport Unit, Pre-Natal Program at Nyack Hospital, Cancer & Chronic Illness Prevention Program, Adult Home, Mosquito Control Program and Narcotics Task Force and in addition to other measures.
Although Vanderhoef briefed Cornell and Legislative Budget & Finance Chair Ilan Schoenberger (D-Ramapo) before his announcement, he had not spoken with county department commissioners. Next Tuesday, he has a cabinet meeting and will discuss the fiscal issues and get feedback from the group. County Director of Communications Ron Levine said Vanderhoef will then schedule individual meetings.
“He’s going to be talking in a comprehensive way with the department heads,” said Levine.
Vanderhoef plans to send his proposed revenue enhancements to the legislature also by next week. Levine said the proposals are being prepared and Schoenberger will receive them within a few days.
Cornell said all the recommendations will be scrutinized.
“I think that a number of the things he mentioned may be things he can do himself without legislative input,” said Cornell. “It’s hard to tell at this point what he’s going to send to the legislature. Until we get a specific proposal, the legislature is in a wait-and-see mode.”
She said Vanderhoef can curtail spending within departments but legislative action is required in order for funds to be moved from one department to another, to institute tax increases or to sell any county property. If the legislature did approve a tax increase, it would then be sent to the state legislature for a vote. Vanderhoef suggested selling the Rockland Community College satellite campus in Spring Valley and increasing the hotel/motel and mortgage taxes.
Cornell said legislators will have real questions about whether the recommendations actually mean real savings. She brought up the Pre-Natal Program, which she said has saved the county a considerable amount of money over the years. Cornell said the County Department of Health’s early intervention program reduces the number of low-weight and premature babies born in Rockland.
The department says the Prenatal Clinic provides comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care (including family planning) to pregnant and newly delivered women residing in Rockland County. Services include all necessary physical and laboratory examinations, as well as nutritional counseling and access to nutrition programs.
“The cost for ill babies exceeds the cost for well babies,” Cornell noted. She said the proposed elimination of the pre-natal program would have to include discussions with experts about the potential impact.
A spokeswoman for Health Department Commissioner Joan Facelle said the commissioner had no comment about the county executive's proposed cuts. She said Facelle will be discussing them with Vanderhoef.
County Sheriff James Kralik has concerns with the proposals targeting his department specifically elimination of the transport unit, which moves prisoners between the jails and courts, and doing away with the Narcotics Task Force and merging it with the Sheriff’s Intelligence Unit and BCI.
“The transport squad has saved millions of dollars over the years,” said Kralik. “I’ve always considered that one of the great successes of the sheriff’s department.”
Kralik said the transport unit officers work part time on an hourly basis and are experienced law enforcement officers retired from the New York City Police Department and other police agencies. Replacing them with full-time sheriff’s deputies would be costly. He said his department is working on the budget numbers for the transport squad to do a comparison of personnel costs.
Kralik said several of the other programs named, as possibilities for removal from the county budget, are service units. His department is the only one in the county with a bomb squad, computer crime unit and mounted patrol and those services are available for use by all police departments in Rockland. If his department does not provide the services, the towns may have to thus raising costs for taxpayers.
“It’s much cheaper for one entity to do it all,” said Kralik.
The police chiefs, district attorney and sheriff jointly run the task forces and academies in the county although the budgets are under the sheriff’s department. He said any changes to those programs would require lots of discussion.
Kralik, who is at a sheriffs’ convention in Buffalo, said he did not have any meaningful discussions with Vanderhoef about program cuts before the announcement and as of now does not have a meeting scheduled with him. But he will be preparing for one.
“I would like to find some areas where we can save money but not necessarily the sane areas as the county executive has named,” said Kralik.
And when deliberations about improving the county’s financial situation begin between the legislature and county executive, Cornell hopes they will be collaborative without partisan fighting.