Delivering his final State of the Count address Tuesday night, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef looked back on his 20 years in office, as well as beyond his relinquishing of the position later this November.
Vanderhoef touched on the successes and failures of his tenure Tuesday night at the county office building in New City. He noted that county government is in a relatively new place, one where it’s not in a position to do all its officials and residents want.
“We’ve tried to respond to the failure of revenues to be generated, the sales tax and property tax and mortgage tax,” he said. “We’ve tried to find ways to continue to do things that are important to our residents. We cannot do all that we want to do. We’ve now reached that point, but we must do and we must provide for those who are most in need in our county. This is where county government is going. This is the challenge, not just for 2013. This is the challenge that remains after these decades for the next five years and next decade.”
He said he thinks he and the county legislators will be remembered for things like the various taxes.
“We had to make decisions that were not popular,” he said. “We are not popular.”
Still, Vanderhoef was optimistic about the financial situation moving forward.
“We’ve come through the worst of it, as has the county,” he said. “We are now moving in a new era, where the county can fully recover and stabilize, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re stabilizing. We’ve done it slowly, it’s been difficult, but the nightmare of the financial stress, I think, is now behind us. But there’s more work that needs to be done. Economic development — the driver that drives employment, that drives money that comes into the county — needs to be continued.”
He said the way to stabilize is through a deficit bond.
“We need the $96 million deficit bond to eliminate that deficit, which occurred over five and a half years, and to provide us an opportunity to move forward to build our surplus to allow us that emergency money so we do not have to constantly refinance to run the government,” Vanderhoef said. “We are not broke, we are not bankrupt. It’s a cash issue, and by taking that five years and eliminating the deficit, we in fact start fresh.”
Vanderhoef also used his State of the County to again throw his support behind a local development corporation (LDC) for the Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center. He said getting those items out of the county’s control isn’t because of the service, which he said remains terrific. It’s because they aren’t funded programs.
“It’s not a mandated cost,” he said. “County government can’t be in that business any longer, but we can preserve the idea and suggest we do. But those who are most in need of nursing home services get it, even in a transfer.”
Vanderhoef also touched on some accomplishments the county has seen in the last 20 years. Vanderhoef mentioned that the county has purchased more than 1,200 acres of open space and created 10 new county parks, as well as created more than 2,000 units of affordable housing and brought a Veterans Affairs clinic to Rockland.
With various family members in the audience, Vanderhoef briefly got choked up a few times during his speech while reflecting on his two decades as the county executive. He also drew a big laugh from the packed crowd when talking about what the county needs to do between 2013-2018.
“Number one, we need to finish this doggone road outside this building,” Vanderhoef said, talking about New Hempstead Rd.
He added the road should be completed this year.
Vanderhoef was also hopeful about future projects within the county, including Raymour & Flanigan expanding its operations in the county. He also said he recently spoke with Dr. Cliff Wood, president of Rockland Community College, and the two discussed constructing residency halls for the college. Vanderhoef said Wood is going to start exploring the possibility of putting in possibly 250-300 rooms, which could increase enrollment. Vanderhoef also said they discussed having the halls built by contractors and perhaps leased by county, so the county does not have to actually add money into it.
Vanderhoef also announced a few award winners toward the end of his speech. He named the Office of Fire and Emergency Services as the department of the year for its work throughout the year, especially after Superstorm Sandy.
The Al DeFlumere Medal of Valor, which is given to emergency responders who risk their lives to help others, was awarded to members of the Pearl River Volunteer Fire Department, the Pearl River Ambulance Corps, the South Orangetown Ambulance Corps, Rockland Paramedics, the Orangetown Police Department, and the Rockland County Technical Rescue Team. They were honored for saving Lise Chanin and her two daughters after a tree fell on their house during Sandy, killing Lise Chanin’s husband, Jeffrey Chanin.