The Rockland County Legislature voted to override vetoes made to the proposed 2013 budget by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The override passed by a vote of 13-3 with one legislator, Legislator Ed Day absent from the meeting. To override the veto, the legislature needed 12 votes. The legislature’s proposed budget passed by a vote of 10-7 on Dec. 4, but on Tuesday, Legislators Joseph Meyers, Aron Wieder and Patrick Moroney all voted in favor of the override after voting against the budget earlier this month. Legislators Frank Sparaco, Chris Carey and Nancy Low-Hogan voted against the override Tuesday night.
At Tuesday’s meeting, when the 12th “yes” vote was read out loud, a large cheer broke out from the crowd, many wearing CSEA t-shirts. Close to 70 jobs were eliminated in the county executive’s original budget, and while all were put back in by the legislators in their budget, some of the positions were re-cut by the veto. With the override, all the positions were restored.
“We’ve very thankful,” said Robyn Richi, whose job was reinstated with the override. “We’re relieved more than anything. There’s 18 of us, and this is just great.”
Richi works security at Summit Park Hospital in Pomona. Included in the 18 is Richi herself, as well as her husband. When the override passed, Richi and her family hugged as she wiped away tears.
While he voted in favor of the override, Meyers said Tuesday night wasn’t one that should necessarily call for celebration.
“This is not a moment to rejoice in the fact that we’re saving these jobs or that job,” he said. “It’s just been a complete failure of county government to address the fiscal needs of this county, which has led us to the point where people who are members of unions, who do important work for the county, have to lose their jobs or have to worry about losing their jobs in droves just because the county could not make modest reductions four years ago, three years ago, five years ago, and just was hoping that sales tax revenue would come back. You can’t run a budget on a hope.”
Meyers had harsh words for both the county executive and county legislature for what he called “budgetary ineptitude” in recent years. Still, he voted in favor of the override because he didn’t understand the veto message.
Items vetoed that Meyers mentioned included cuts to the Highway Department, which he said he feels should be thought of as public safety. He also said he didn’t agree with the veto that restored between 22-24 fully funded vacant positions that the legislators eliminated from their budget.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Meyers said. “This veto is garbage.”
Meyers also noted that he didn’t support the legislature’s budget either, and he wasn’t the only legislator conflicted when faced with overriding the veto. Legislator Low-Hogan said Tuesday’s was the most difficult vote in her first year as a legislator. She said she was looking at which budget would take a step to reduce the county’s baseline expenditures. Low-Hogan said the county legislature’s budget kept the baseline expenditures too close to where it was for her to vote in favor of the override.
Wieder said he voted against the legislature’s budget earlier this month as a form of protest against unfunded state mandates and because of the trouble they put the county in. Moroney said he didn’t agree with cutting the positions of workers in the veto.
Eliminating positions was probably the most talked about issue with the county executive’s veto Tuesday night, and that’s because of the new union contracts signed earlier this year. In the contracts, there was an agreement that there’d be no layoffs for budgetary reasons for the duration of the contract, which runs through 2013.
Many legislators felt the positions layoffs were for budgetary reasons, as the jobs were going to be outsourced to outside companies.
“His own department heads told us this was purely budgetary,” said Legislator Ilan Schoenberger. “We ratified and approved that contract with the unions. We gave our word, our government gave its word, and we must keep that word tonight.”
After the meeting, Rockland County CSEA President P.T. Thomas also spoke about government officials keeping their word.
“I’m very happy this happened,” he said. “This would’ve been devastating to the families. But it wouldn’t have just been devastating to the families, but also to the people’s ability to trust the government.”
Another reason legislators cited for why they wanted to override the veto was because, according to Schoenberger, the vetoed budget would’ve added $12 million to the deficit. Schoenberger pointed to a report from consulting firm O’Connor Davies, in which the consultants said the $12 million expected to come in to reduce the deficit from the transfer of assets of Summit Park to a Local Development Corporation would take too long to help the county next year. Legislator Alden Wolfe also mentioned the $12 million as a reason to vote for the override, along with saving the positions.
“It’s not, ‘maybe the revenue’s going to come in.’ The revenue will not come in and it will be not be booked as a revenue,” said Wolfe. “To me, that’s reason enough to override the veto, but the treatment of the county employees is something that really disgusts me. We have a decision by the county executive, he chooses to keep employees who aren’t protected by contract and then layoff employees that are protected by contract, and that doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Legislator Doug Jobson also talked about sticking up for the county worker. Jobson, a history major, referenced learning about the French Revolution.
“Things really haven’t changed,” he said. “It’s funny, all the fat cats get covered and all the fat cats get taken care of, but the little people, when push comes to shove, the little people are the first ones to get kicked out of the door or to get told, ‘sorry, we don’t have the money for that.’ We could’ve cut 100 six-digit jobs out of that county budget and not a soul that resides in this county would’ve said, ‘boo,’ because they would’ve never even noticed it.”