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McKinstry: Rockland looking at a big budget gap in 2013

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef speaks at

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef speaks at the New York State Republican convention in 2006. Credit: AP

It will be one of Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef’s last budget proposals. And it may also be one of his toughest.

Ugly, painful and drastic are also words that come to mind in a spending plan that is due to the Board of Legislators by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The Republican, who has served at the helm in Rockland since 1994, has announced that he won’t seek re-election next year. His term will be complete at the end of 2013. He said it will be time for new leadership with a fresh perspective.

It may also be time for a Hail Mary if he is to balance this budget for 2013. Or a miracle. In Las Vegas, odds would probably favor tax hikes and program cuts.

Rockland County is one of those governments that is really tiptoeing along a fiscal cliff.

Although not alone, the county is facing a $40-million gap in its $714 million budget, according to the county executive, and its entire property tax levy of $81 million is gobbled up by one state-mandated program –- Medicaid. That program’s costs to the county are expected to go up by $3 million next year.

Other county spending mandated by the state for pensions and prison expenses is set to increase a few dozen million or so, by some estimates.

So taxpayers hoping that a 2 percent cap on property tax increases will control costs can kiss that idea goodbye. As well, they can expect to lose some services now provided at parks, and by police and social services.

In fact, if the plan is anything like this year’s budget, the tax hike could again be in the ballpark of 30 percent. Vanderhoef has said costs are rising so fast that it would take a 50 percent tax hike to address them.

That, fortunately, seems to be off the table. As are layoffs for some county workers -- notable roughly 2,200 members of the Civil Service Employees Association, who have a no-layoff clause in their contract in exchange for salary freezes and two weeks of deferred pay, among other concessions.

Programs cuts, furloughs and early retirements likely won’t be taboo. They can’t be.
Counties and municipalities across the state are facing a confounding math problem -- expenditures far exceeding revenues. In Rockland, it looks like residents are going to be paying more for less.
 

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