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County Executive Says Rockland Is Fiscally Healthy In Part Due To Influx of Federal Dollars From American Rescue Plan
Saying the county is committed to “conservative spending,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day on Monday announced a proposed $870.7 million budget for 2024. This proposed budget amounts to a 2 percent reduction in the county property tax.
In 2022 and 2023, the county property tax remained flat. But due to rising state mandates, Day is projecting significant property tax increases over the next four years.
The county announced no layoffs in the 2024 budget, but 19 vacancies have been abolished. In the meantime, 56 new positions have been added.
For now, the county will benefit greatly from federal dollars.
“As we focus on being strategic with spending, we are utilizing the federal funding we received under the American Rescue Plan to supplement department costs and save local tax dollars,” said Day, who delivered the budget address at the Robert Yeager Health Center in Pomona.
Some of that supplementation includes funding a new 911 system to enhance and improve mental health response. The county is proposing to add six radio operator positions. Last year’s budget proposed the elimination of 15 county jobs but also added 43 positions to shore up operations, health, and safety.
By the end of 2023, Rockland will have completed nine highway and bridge capital projects totaling $30 million. Only 5 percent, or $1.5 million, comes directly from county tax dollars. The additional 95 percent is covered by state and federal funding. Day said the county plans to add three positions for bridge maintenance.
The county plans to expand its Youth Bureau’s Youth Employment Program to operate year-round. It plans to invest $5 million in the Open Space Acquisition program to preserve more land from development.
Day also talked about augmenting professional development of county employees, adding $1 million to boost staffing for social services, a $600,000 spend on the Office for the Aging, and adding resources for Veterans.
The county executive said his staff is working to distribute “every single penny of the $63 million in federal funding we received under the American Rescue Plan,” dispersing more than a million dollars in grants to small businesses and restaurants, as well as nearly $10 million to municipalities and nonprofits for green spaces.
The county is proposing to invest nearly $1 million into the Department of Social Services “to increase staffing to tackle the ever-increasing need and demand we’re seeing in the county.”
Medicaid, the County Executive said, has increased over 30 percent since before the pandemic. “We also handle the largest caseload of Section 8 in the region. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides low-income families with financial assistance for groceries. The county has experienced a 100 percent increase in applications since the pandemic that has yet to decrease.”
Apart from these details, Day’s speech focused on past accomplishments as well as complaints over reduced state spending. His frustration and umbrage toward state government was on full display.
Day said the county is “one of the fiscally strongest counties in New York with top tier bond credit ratings.” He said his administration eliminated a $138 million deficit he inherited a decade ago and has built back a robust fund balance.
“Over the last several years we eliminated several taxes for residents such as the residential energy tax and the auto registration tax,” said Day. “And next year, we make our final deficit bond payment.”
On a more sobering note, Day talked about unprecedented challenges from the pandemic to “sky-high inflation and gas prices that have affected families and businesses across our county.”
He went on to say: “the budget proposal I present today embodies aims to bring further reprieve to residents from this costly economic climate, in a responsible and balanced manner.” He did not offer specifics as to how county residents would feel relief other than the 2 percent reduction in county property taxes.
The county executive said his government was facing challenges due to declining mortgage tax and film revenue due to the recent union strikes. The county in the past several years has enjoyed a burgeoning film industry.
But Day also took aim at state mandates.
“Social service programs are continuing to face ever increasing demand as new state mandates drive up costs,” he said. “We were recently informed that next year’s pension costs are projected to increase 15 percent.”
New York State is also phasing out the federal reimbursement to municipalities for Medicaid costs, known as enhanced Federal Medical Assistance or eFMAP, according to Day. Once fully phased out, this will result in an estimated $9 million loss for Rockland County property taxpayers annually, the equivalent of a 6.8 percent county property tax increase. Over a four-year period, this will shift an estimated $3 billion in costs to local taxpayers statewide.
“The State of New York, which is continuing to balloon the budget and make no dent in their own deficit, continues to pass off more costs to local municipalities,” said Day, referring to the Democrat-led state legislature. “In fact, many of the larger costs within our budget are from state regulations and federal requirements. The state and federal government are without a doubt not on track fiscally and, unlike us here in Rockland, do not care about protecting your tax dollars.”
The Emerging Leaders Program, a management enrichment program to prepare county employees for potential advancement opportunities and hone the management and talent development skills of employees, graduated 90 employees from the Emerging Leaders Training program.
The county has wrapped up its fifth LEAD Academy classes, which provides professional development to employees on everything from civil service and county operations to leadership skills.
On a happier note, Day cooed about the county’s positive bond rating. When Day took office nearly eight years ago, the New York State Comptroller’s Office listed Rockland as the most fiscally stressed county in the state and its bond rating was one step above junk status.
“This enables us to secure the lowest interest rates on borrowing, ultimately saving money for residents,” he said. “To save even more money, we are generally not borrowing by issuing bonds for capital projects. We will be using our own money thus avoiding sky-high interest costs. We avoid accumulating debt that gets kicked down the road. Instead, we are investing in our county, and ourselves.”
Day did not field questions after his speech, but he left the audience with this thought: “This is more than a budget for 2024; this is a blueprint for the future of Rockland County.”