Among the measures proposed on Thursday to close a $21 million budget gap for 2012 were three that would transfer the expenses to the towns. Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack and Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said this was the wrong approach for the Rockland County executive to take.
“His plan is I’ll just shift costs to anyone I can try,” said Gromack, adding that the theory that the cost of county government can be moved to towns and villages is absurd. “It is the whole purpose of county government to coordinate and provide services.”
“I looked at it and about half of those cost-saving measures are basically passing costs to the town,” said Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart. “It’s very bad thing for the towns.”
Vanderhoef’s announcement included three specific proposals that could potentially affect towns and villages.
Sheriff’s Intelligence Unit: The Sheriff’s Department will stop reimbursing towns and villages for their officers for the Intelligence Unit from July to December of this year. This will save $585,000.
Out of County community college chargeback: Currently, the County reimburses community colleges outside of Rockland for the non-resident tuition of Rockland students who attend there. Under State education law, Rockland can charge back this cost to towns, but never has. This chargeback would be $1.8 million in 2012.
Board of Elections chargeback: The $1.4 million revenue was included in the 2012 budget, but requires a resolution by the County Legislature to charge back towns and villages.
Stewart and Gromack were in agreement that the change in Intelligence Task Force funding would be a bad decision. Gromack said Vanderhoef was going back on his commitment to fund the Task Force.
“He is personally jeopardizing the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of Rockland by closing one of the important law enforcement tools we have,” said Gromack. “Remember it’s a county task force. If he’s going to defund it, he’s going to cancel it. He’s got some choices to make and he’s made a real bad one.”
“Honestly, we’re trying to protect ourselves,” said Stewart. “We were negotiating in good faith about one of the most important things, which was the narcotics and intelligence task force. We did a lot of work trying to reach reasonable terms with county. Now we find out they are wiping out the budget for the intelligence unit, which is a collaborative service which is important to the town.”
Gromack said Clarkstown would pull its officers from the Task Force if the town were not paid for their services. The officers would be reassigned to duties within the town.
The idea of chargebacks for Rocklanders attending community colleges in other counties was also criticized.
“There is a lot that needs to be found out, in particular the question of college tuition,” said Stewart. “Nobody has provided us with any information about that. There has been no real discussion of how much that costs.”
Gromack said the county executive should share the additional revenue that Rockland receives from out-of-county students attending Rockland Community College.
“If he wants Clarkstown to pay all these costs then he shouldn’t charge any county taxes to the residents of Clarkstown,” said Gromack.
The supervisor raised objections to the Board of Elections chargeback and raised questions about the costs and funding.
“But what does it mean to share or transfer the responsibilities for running the elections especially in a year with a lot of elections, more than usual,” asked Stewart? “Those programs have to function for democracy to work. The county has been running it. Are they going to charge us for it? Are we going to run it? Whose staff is going to do it? Or will they give us a bill and how do we know how much it really costs and who is really in control of it?”
Gromack noted the Board of Elections receives state and federal money. He questioned what would happen to that and pointed out that it is the County Board of Elections.
Stewart pointed out the proposals must be discussed and scrutinized before anything comes of them.
“These are proposals, but none of them can become reality without county legislature involved,” he said. There is not a great history of cooperation (between the county executive and legislature). There is a lot of disfunctionality in that relationship.”
Union Officials Concerned For Rank And File
The contingency plan included a notation that $18 million in salary savings is being currently negotiated but is not included as a cost savings for 2012.
PT Thomas, president of the Rockland County Unit of , said the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of county employees. He said of the county’s 2,200 employees, 1800 are CSEA members.
“He knew that that $18 million would never come from union concessions,” said Thomas. “We're in the negotiating process. I offered to take no increase, 0 percent for 2011 and 2012. They are not satisfied with that. They want us to give back more."
Southern Regional CSEA President Billy Riccaldo, also a county employee like Thomas, said there are nine unions whose members work for the county.
“We have always done our share with our contracts,” said Riccaldo. “We'll help them. We will work with the county executive, we will work with the county legislative chair, but we expect to be treated fair and just and the county has always listened to our issues."