The Rockland County Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a resolution asking New York State to enact a Home Rule request, allowing the county to issue up to $80 million in bonds to pay off its deficit for the fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The bill was . It allows the county to issue up to, but no more than, $80 million in bonds to be paid back in 10 years.
The figure and number of years is the same the county asked the state officials for back on Jan. 19 of this year, according to Legislator Ilan Schoenberger. That time, the legislators included a three-eighths of one percent increase in the sales tax to raise money to pay back the bond. With this resolution, money to pay back the bonds will come from a four-percent residential energy tax increase.
Schoenberger said at Tuesday night’s meeting the legislators didn’t want to try and raise the property tax more that it was already raised in the 2012 budget, so the first time they opted for an increase in sales tax, which Schoenberger himself still prefers.
“We felt that was fairer because the residents of Rockland County wouldn’t have to pick up the tax for the financing the deficit bond, and people have a choice and we just came off a large property tax increase,” Schoenberger said. “However, the State Senate would not carry the bill. Assemblywoman Jaffee and Assemblywoman [Annie] Rabitt introduced it bipartisanly. It never got to a vote because our senator, Carlucci, did not introduce it to the State Senate. So we were forced to find an alternate method of financing the deficit bond, and the alternate method that was enacted by this legislature was a residential energy tax.”
After the initial bond resolution failed, the legislators asked for an increase, which would’ve allowed them to issue up to $95 million in bonds and have 20 years to pay that back. That also didn’t go through.
“In the world, what you ask for and what you get is not always the same in many, many areas, including government. Ultimately, what we came to by mutual agreement, mutual agreement from the senate and assembly leadership and with the county executive and this legislature, is the same $80 million for 10 years that we asked for originally,” Schoenberger said. “In that moment where we would’ve had a sales tax increase, it was going to go into a lock box, so that it would be applied toward the deficit bond. Because we’re raising it through home energy bills -- which is a method none of us wanted to do but we had no choice, we had to find a method to finance our deficit bond -- it’s not going into a lock box. I am told by the finance department that your regular sales tax money comes in one check and the one from the home energy tax comes in a second check. That check, the second for the home energy bill, will be segregated and will be applied to the deficit bond.”
The bill voted on Tuesday night also forces the legislature to submit the proposed budget, as well as quarterly revenue reports, to the state comptroller every year until the bonds are paid off, for up to 10 years.
“The state comptroller will come back with determinations and we will be bound by those determinations and have to follow them,” Schoenberger said. “To me, that’s something that I wanted very much because it makes for a healthier government.”
The state comptroller will also make recommendations regarding whether the budget submitted by the county executive to the legislature is in fact balanced, whether it contains overestimations in revenues and whether it contains revenues which may not be achievable.
“I like the fact that we have strict oversight. I feel it’s stronger than it was in previous bills,” said Legislator Ed Day. “Honestly, I really believe, and I agree with Legislator Schoenberger, we need to have someone look over our shoulder.”
Legislator Joseph Meyers said he’s disappointed the bill isn’t for $95 million over 20 years, but added that the bill voted in will help. Legislator Alden Wolfe said it doesn’t save the county, but it helps move them into the future.
“This addresses our deficit. Does it address our deficit completely? We’ll see,” Schoenberger said. “The answer is we think that there’ll be more deficit added from this year because of certain expenditures and costs that were projected in the budget, but have not been met. But at least it addresses the major part of the deficit.”