In what Legislator Alden Wolfe called the start of a six-week process, the Rockland County Legislature began its annual budget review process at the Budget & Finance Committee’s meeting Wednesday.
County Commissioner of Finance Stephen DeGroat presented the legislature with an overview of the proposed 2013 budget, which Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef recently proposed. DeGroat said there’s a $43 million gap in the 2013 budget.
The proposed $736.9 million budget cuts 69 positions across several county departments and offers early retirement initiatives to 55 other county employees. If all eligible employees take the early retirement, DeGroat said the county would be down 124 employees, or 5.6 percent of the county’s workers. The 69 positions eliminated would save about $4 million.
The budget will also close an employee pharmacy and raise property taxes 18.4 percent, which amounts to roughly $15 million, or $157 per taxpayer. The cuts in the budget total out to about $27.95 million, DeGroat said.
“Where we’re at today in this budget is a very, very conservative budget,” DeGroat said. “We have not increased a dollar of revenue in the items that have been going up and up years and years and years and why we got in this mess. Our sales tax was held last year, it’s held the same this year. Our mortgage recording tax last year is the same this year. We did not put any increases in. What’s going to help us to be in the property tax cap are modest gains in the economy.”
He added that something like the Shops at Nanuet opening late in 2013 could certainly help in that regard.
Wolfe said that the 2013 proposed budget is “probably the most real budget we’ve gotten in a long time.”
Legislator Ed Day questioned DeGroat about savings last year’s budget, saying the budget called for $17.8 million in savings. He asked DeGroat how much of those savings from that total the county actually saw, and DeGroat estimated it was either $3 or $4 million and that $11 or $12 million went into this year’s budget. He added that last year’s gap was somewhere between $26-$28 million.
“A big part of what got us up to the 43 [million gap this year] was what we had to bring back on what we did not get in those savings,” DeGroat said.
Day also noted that the money the county is expecting to come in this year from raised property tax is very close to the number of savings expected last year that didn’t come in.
The legislators didn’t get into too many specifics Wednesday, though, as it was the first time they were going through the proposed budget, which they will vote on at a meeting Dec. 4. Between Wednesday and the vote, the legislators will comb the budget and meet with the heads of different county departments to go over proposed cuts.
Like last year, one big issue that will be discussed during the budget review process will be cutting jobs.
“I am appalled by the lack of compassion in this budget,” said Legislator John Murphy.
Murphy took issue that a lot of jobs cut in the proposed budget are lower paying positions. He asked that instead of cutting three positions, why not look at cutting one position for someone making north of $100,000.
“Seeing some politically connected character, who’s making over $100,000, walking around here with total immunity from being considered, I consider that very, very uncharitable,” Murphy said.
He said they should look for people making six figures who also collects two pensions.
“They tell me we have less employees now than when I came to work here 40 years ago, but we don’t have less managers,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. The smaller the squadron, the fewer the sergeants you need.”
Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell spoke out over cuts in the mental health department, as well as health department. When the budget was explained, the positions dropped were listed as program eliminations opposed to layoffs.
“Mental health is not a program,” Cornell said.
“It’s concerning because public health, public safety, public wellness, that’s what government is all about.”