Rockland lawmakers reject Vanderhoef job cuts

Rockland County Legis. Ed Day (R-New City) speaks Rockland County Legis. Ed Day (R-New City) speaks at the budget vote. (Dec. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Sarah Armaghan

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A revised 2013 budget will land on the desk of Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef as early as Wednesday, starting the clock on the period of five business days during which Vanderhoef can veto the budget in its entirety, veto individual line items or let it sail through.

In a late-night session Tuesday, Rockland County legislators -- eight Democrats and two Republicans -- passed an amended budget that left intact the tax increase of 18 percent, or an average of $157 per household, put forward under Vanderhoef's original $736 million budget proposal. But they restored 70 of the 125 jobs the county executive wants to eliminate.

In the legislators' proposed budget, the money to restore the 70 jobs comes in part from savings on overtime, the canceling of scheduled raises and the reduction of outsourcing costs. The legislators also envision switching an inpatient mental health unit to Nyack Hospital and selling a county nursing home.

When asked about the possibility of a veto Wednesday, Vanderhoef sounded flexible.

"We really haven't had a chance to look thoroughly enough to know," he said. "They've made some changes. There are not a lot of dramatic changes. They've added some folks back on, positions back into the budget, so we'll take a good look."

Should Vanderhoef veto the budget -- or any of its provisions -- the Democratic-controlled Legislature can override with the concurrence of 12 out of 17 legislators. Vanderhoef is a Republican.

The Legislature passed its version of the budget by a 10-7 vote at the tail end of a marathon six-hour session. Legis. Ilan Schoenberger (D-New City), chairman of the Legislature's Budget and Finance Committee, said he expects Vanderhoef to review the revised budget -- which comes in at roughly the same level as Vanderhoef's, $736 million -- line by line.

"If he vetoes it, we have the opportunity to override," Schoenberger said.

As they tackle the budget, Schoenberger, Vanderhoef and Stephen DeGroat, acting county budget director, are keeping an eye on credit agencies such as Moody's, which downgraded Rockland's debt to Baa3, raising its borrowing costs.

Schoenberger said he has received indications that the agencies have been pleased about efforts to cut expenses and increase revenue with the 18 percent tax increase.

Ed Day (R-New City), who voted against the lawmakers' budget Tuesday night, had presented his own budget amendments to the Legislature on Tuesday night, with offers to reduce by one-third the 18.4 percent property tax hike proposed by Vanderhoef. Day withdrew his proposals after other legislators disputed the numbers he brought to the table.

"We're going to try and make things work," Day said of the vote Tuesday night.

Residents had filled the county Legislature room at the Allison-Parris County Office Building in New City for the 6 p.m. meeting, but by the time lawmakers voted, well after 11 p.m., the crowd had dwindled to about three dozen.

Hours were spent debating the county's fiscal situation. Much of the commentary focused on the $96 million budget shortfall Vanderhoef faced in putting together his version of the budget. Legislators also discussed the $33 million in state spending mandates the county faces, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent property tax cap.

The Legislature voted 14-3 to pass a resolution overriding the property tax cap. This year, county taxes were increased by about 30 percent.

"It's shameful, and the truth of the matter is that the county should not be left hanging as they have been by our so-called leadership in Albany," said Legis. Douglas Jobson (R-Stony Point). "The mandates that come down each and every year and increase each year from Albany, the numbers get larger and larger ... I don't know how we can continue like this."

Vanderhoef has defended his original $736 million budget.

"We stand by our budget," Levine said. "Whatever they send us, they send us. In the end, we'll have to review and decide if we can go along with it or if it needs to be vetoed."

Vanderhoef is concerned about how the final budget will affect Rockland's bond rating, which is hovering just above junk status.

Attempting to address the county's long-term budget problems, the Legislature took further action Tuesday night, passing the Rockland County Deficit Reduction Act. The law is designed to chip away at the county's debts at a projected rate of $10 million per year. It would enable the Legislature to create an account for funds that will go solely to the county's debts. A two-thirds vote by the Legislature would be required to remove money from the account.

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