The Rockland County Legislature met Tuesday, July 24 to receive news that despite tax hikes and 100 layoffs, the county is an additional $15 million in debt so far during this budget year, bringing the grand debt total to an estimated $95 million.
Acting County Finance Director Stephen DeGroat brought the bad news during the mid-year report. Legislators also worked on updating the county’s multi-year plan at the meeting. This is the first time the legislature is approaching the county’s budget with a mid-year review and a multi-year plan that projects five years ahead.
Chairwoman Harriet D. Cornell had pushed for this new system in the hopes that it would keep legislature and the county aware of progress and not allow another $95-plus million deficit to occur in the future.
“This is new for us too,” she reminded the legislators and residents.
At the 7 p.m. meeting, where less than 20 people were present at the Allison-Parris County Office Building in New City, the legislature struggled to understand what exactly was included in the snapshot of the county’s finances they were looking at.
Legislator Alden H. Wolfe was outspoken. “The plan should be how we’re going to fix this $15 million deficit,” he said. “What’s the plan?”
Wolfe, along with Cornell, said they plan on creating a Joint Task Force where they will work to “solve these problems.”
Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee Legislator Ilan S. Schoenberger was quick to point out that this report is a snapshot of the finances right now and not all-inclusive for the year. “It’s a fluid thing and there’s still a possibility of things to happen that’ll have an impact on the year.”
“We won’t know what the 2012’s budget is until this time next year,” said Schoenberger. “That’s the way it is everywhere.”
Rockland is still waiting on official audits to get the exact number of its debt and legislators complained that the county’s auditors are currently behind schedule and also noted contracts with the civil servant unions are not solidified yet.
Cornell agreed with Schoenberger that this was just a mid-year glance, but also said some items in DeGroat’s report are unclear. She said assumptions were made about what will or might occur in the future and these need to be clarified.
“We’re collecting money from hotel, motel, energy taxes and all the unfortunate layoffs. All these are helping,” said DeGroat. “But the bleeding stops when we break even.” And right now there is a remaining $15 million deficit even after all the increased taxes and cost cutting over the past months.
Legislator Michael M. Grant agreed with Wolfe that the main problem to focus on is “How can we fix this?”
According to Grant, contracts with the unions have been in the works for almost a year now and he’s feeling impatient.
“I’ve been hearing nothing but promises since before Christmas,” he said. “I’m not blaming one side, but something needs to be done. We need a laundry list of things that we’re going to do.”