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Rockland to sell 2 buildings for $8M to help cut deficit

The building at 2 New Hempstead Rd at

The building at 2 New Hempstead Rd at the corner of North Main St. in New City. Rockland County is selling this building and others around the county. (July 9, 2012) Credit: Jim Alcorn

Rockland County could get more than $8 million from the sale of two publicly owned buildings, money that will be used to plug holes in the budget and keep the cash-strapped county afloat through the end of the year.

The sale of the properties is the final revenue-generating proposal pitched by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef as part of his effort to put a dent in the deficit, estimated at more than $21 million this year.

Both proposed sales go before the county Legislature for approval Tuesday night.

One property, at 2 New Hempstead Road, will be sold to JPMorgan Chase for $4 million. The financial giant, which has been renting the building for $95,000 a year for several years, will use it for banking and back office operations.

The other property, at 185 North Main St. in Spring Valley, will be sold to Congregation Khal Bais Shmiel for use as a private school for $4.2 million. The property, a former Rockland Community College site, has been vacant for years.

"We're getting a lot more than we expected," said Stephen DeGroat, the county's revenue and finance commissioner.

DeGroat said it's likely the congregation buying the Spring Valley building will seek tax-exempt status for its use as a religious school, but he pointed out that the property had generated no tax revenues while in use as a community college.

In the past month, the county has laid off more than 100 employees, approved a new 4 percent residential energy tax and motor vehicle registration fee, and shifted more costs to the towns, including costs associated with running elections and educating college students.

County officials say that both cuts and revenue-generating measures are necessary because the state Legislature refused to back a proposal that would have allowed the county to increase the sales tax by 0.375 percentage points and to borrow $80 million against expected revenues.

Under Vanderhoef's deficit-reduction plan, which has been approved by the Legislature, county workers will bear the brunt, with the layoffs and the elimination of 45 vacant positions expected to save more than $8 million.

Rockland's five towns will be forced to deal with a sizable chunk of the shortfall. Billing towns for election costs is expected to generate an estimated $1.4 million combined for county coffers, and the community college charge-back fee would net about $1.8 million.

County residents also will share in the fiscal pain. The residential energy tax is expected to generate more than $12 million a year once the county begins collecting it in mid-October, and the motor vehicle fee increase of $10-$20 is projected to generate more than $1 million a year.

Finally, the elimination of funding from the sheriff's office intelligence unit will save about $585,000.

Meanwhile, the county Legislature is expected to vote Tuesday night to give Vanderhoef the authority to come up with a plan for the Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center -- another drain on county coffers -- by the end of the year.

A study by the Buffalo-based consulting firm Toski, Schaefer & Co. determined that Summit Park is operating at a loss of more than $25 million a year when pension costs, union contracts and other financial obligations are taken into account.

The study, released in May, proposed a range of possible solutions that included closing the facility, selling it to a private company and creating a public corporation like the New York State Thruway Authority. The study suggested that those options might be combined into a hybrid solution.

The county also is seeking state approval to transfer the facility's 23 psychiatric beds and prenatal program to Nyack Hospital, a move that could save the county an estimated $1.4 million in fiscal 2013, county officials said.

Summit Park, located near the county's Yeager Health Complex in Pomona, is a 441-bed facility that features a nursing unit, a hospital and a mental health unit. The facility accepts patients who don't have insurance or can't afford care.

Last year, state auditors attributed the county's chronic fiscal woes in large part to the financial burden of operating Summit Park. The report pointed out that the county had pumped more than $19 million into the money-losing facility in the past five years.

Vanderhoef's proposed fiscal 2012 budget included a proposal to lay off about 550 workers at Summit Park and sell the facility to a private company. But the Democratic-controlled Legislature rejected that proposal.

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