The Joint Executive-Legislative Task Force on Fiscal Improvement held its first meeting Wednesday and agreed to focus on four critical issues facing Rockland County – its fiscal status, deficit financing, union contracts and Summit Park Hospital.
Task Force Chairman and County Legislator Alden Wolfe spoke about deficit financing.
“To me I thought deficit financing was the most important, pressing thing,” he said.
Earlier this year, the county asked the state legislature to allow it to bond $80 million to pay off its budget deficit. The request was unsuccessful and a measure permitting the bond only got as far as the state assembly. The county’s budget deficit has since increased to $96 million.
“We can’t trust our fate to Albany,” said Legislator Ilan Schoenberger. “We’re going to have to think about we handle our fate ourselves.”
Schoenberger said he was drafting a local law, “The Deficit Reduction Act of Rockland County.” It would require $10 million of every yearly budget be placed in a separate account and applied to reduce the county’s deficit.
“I want it to be the first appropriation of a budget,” he said.
Schoenberger noted if the state was not willing to give the county the option of borrowing $80 million for 10 years, then the county needed to take steps to address the deficit. He expects to have the proposed local law completed after Columbus Day for introduction to the legislature. He said the proposed law would call for the same revenue source to be used for the $10 million set aside as if the county had been able to obtain the deficit bond.
Legislative staff and members of the county executive’s office are scheduled to meet today to discuss the status of Rockland’s budget deficit.
Additionally, Schoenberger pointed out the several financial issues are linked together. He said he is waiting for the county executive’s report and recommendations for the future of Summit Park. Schoenberger wants to know how Summit Park will fit in with labor contracts, which have no-layoff clauses for budgetary reasons.
“That’s certainly going to have an impact on deficit financing going into 2013,” said Schoenberger.
County Director of Purchasing Paul Brennan said a contract for a consultant to evaluate and possibly broker and market Summit Park was forwarded to the county executive on Wednesday. He said if the county executive agrees with the recommendation to hire the consultant, the firm could begin work next week and complete its report within three to four weeks.
Legislator Michael Grant brought up the need for an overall strategy to improve the county’s bond rating, which is currently just above junk bond status. Wolfe said one goal could be establishing a specific bond rating they want the county to achieve and figuring out how to reach that objective. The County Executive’s Chief of Staff Sean Mathews offered to have the county’s bond rating advisor meet with the 11-member Task Force.
Members of the group also spoke about the high cost of health insurance for employees and the need to develop ways to improve cash flow in the future.
Wolfe said the Task Force would meet again in October, but no date was set. Matthews said they should focus on Summit Park and County Commissioner of Finance Stephen DeGroat added the incoming budget should be reviewed at that session. The proposed 2013 budget is expected from the county executive on October 23.
At the November monthly meeting, Wolfe said deficit financing should be examined. He explained the November to December timeframe could be a window when the state government might take some action. Matthews brought up mandate relief and recommended a representative of the NYS Association of Counties attend a meeting to speak on that subject.