The Rockland County Legislature voted to adopt a $701.8 million for 2012 Tuesday night by a vote of 12-4.
The Legislature was working through a five-week period where it had to adopt the budget proposed by Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, reject his proposed budget which would put it in place for next year or adopt a revised budget with changes added into it.
The adopted budget passed Tuesday night keeps more than 500 jobs originally cut in the proposed budget while raising property taxes about 30 percent. The adopted budget lays off 40 people while keeping the Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center open for the entire year, whereas it was funded through Aug. 31 in the proposed budget and then expected to close down.
The revised budget now goes to Vanderhoef, who can adopt it or veto it within roughly the next five days. Should he veto it, the budget would then go back to the legislature which can vote to override the veto if 12 of the 17 legislators vote to do so. The budget must be finalized by Dec. 20.
The revised budget increases the county’s portion of the sales tax 3/8 percent in hopes of raising additional revenue.
Before the budget vote, the legislature held two public hearings Tuesday night relating to the budget and then voted 15-2 in favor of both breaking the state’s two percent tax cap and raising property taxes about 30 percent. The legislature room in the Allison-Parris County Office Building was packed Tuesday night with standing room only for much of the meeting, and the first public hearing, which was about overriding the tax cap, featured more than 20 speakers from the crowd.
Many who spoke were against raising taxes for a variety of reasons, including they feel their taxes are high enough, it might drive people out of the county and as one woman said, “you’re telling seniors and new graduates they’re not welcome” because they won’t be able to afford living in the county.
Speaking in favor of nonprofits, who saw some money restored to them with the revised budget, was Robert Maher, executive director of TOUCH, a nonprofit that works with those living with HIV.
“Non-profits bring a great deal of additional resources and jobs into Rockland,” he said.
Maher said that if it takes paying more taxes to keep so many jobs, especially in the non-profit world, and provide services to people who can’t help themselves, then he’s fine paying more taxes. When he said it, a vocal group in the audience disagreed and called out they didn’t want to pay higher taxes.
Another woman said that keeping so many jobs by paying more taxes was “the human thing to do.” One woman said the additional taxes would add about $20 a month to each household’s taxes, and that doesn’t seem to unreasonable to keep more than 500 jobs.
Still, when it came time to vote on the budget, Legislators Joseph Meyers, Ed Day, Frank Sparaco and Patrick Moroney all voted against it. Legislator Gerold Bierker had an excused absence after recently having surgery and was not there for the vote after leaving a bit early, although was at most of the meeting.
“I don’t think we can tax our way out of this,” Meyers said.
Meyers said he would’ve supported breaking the tax cap if there were more cuts left in the budget. A few legislators said it’s courageous to raise taxes, which Meyers disagreed with.
“The courageous thing to do, unfortunately, would be to cut some jobs,” he said, adding he fears the legislature will be back in the same position next year facing another mounting deficit.
Day fears similar issues could be looming.
“Even with the additional monies that have been granted with this new budget, I’m not confident at all that we’ve fixed anything,” he said. “Putting more water in a bucket with holes in it is doomed to failure, and I really believe that we’ll be back here in a year, maybe two tops, with some major major issues to deal with.”
Other legislators felt the revised budget they passed was an improvement over the county executive’s proposed budget.
“We took a bad budget and made it better,” said Legislator Robert Jackson.
Legislator Jay Hood said the county executive's proposed budget “decimates public safety” with all the cuts it made, and so he was pleased to see they were able to restore money to things like the Narcotics Task Force, Intelligence Task Force and Sheriff’s prisoner transport unit.
The revised budget restores $1 million to the Narcotics and Intelligence Task Forces. During one of the public hearings, police chiefs from Grandview, Piermont, Haverstraw and Stony Point all got up and asked to restore funds to the Sheriff’s Department because of the assistance the department gives to the entire county.
Sheriff's Department Capt. William Barbera said the department will have to cut around $750,000 under the revised budget, and will look to make the cuts in areas besides personnel.
Rockland Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) President P.T. Thomas said he was mostly pleased with the revised budget.
“We are happy with the fact these jobs are saved,” he said. “Still, 40 people are getting laid off, which isn’t good, but we did save more than 500 jobs.”