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Rockland lawmakers debate budget late into night

County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef discusses the Rockland

County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef discusses the Rockland County budget crunch during a press conference at the Allison-Parris County Office Building in New City. (Oct. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

Rockland County legislators were still discussing the 2013 budget late into the night Tuesday, the last possible night to vote.

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

The legislators spent hours debating the fiscal issues of the county, from its $96 million budget shortfall to the $33 million it faces in state mandates.

Monday night, the Budget and Finance Committee voted 7-2 against a number of job and program cuts that were set forth in County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef's budget proposal that was handed to the panel in late October.

Vanderhoef -- standing by his original $736 million budget proposal that calls for slashing 125 positions from the county workforce -- has the next five days after the Legislature's vote to exercise his veto power, whether partially or in full, his spokesman Ron Levine told Newsday.

"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 with how the final budget will affect Rockland's bond rating, which is hovering just above junk status as the county is looking at a $43 million gap for next year and an overall estimated $95 million shortfall due to years of operating in the red.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature has criticized Vanderhoef's budget proposal, saying that it is reluctant to lay off county workers. Vanderhoef, a Republican, also doesn't have the full support of his party members in the Legislature.

Legis. Edwin Day (R-New City) said he has been working with two other GOP legislators to reverse proposed cuts to vital services and lower the executive's proposed 18.4 percent tax hike.

"We want to lighten the property tax burden for the people of Rockland County," Day said. "The three of us will be putting forth a proposal at tonight's meeting and if it works out the way I think it will, we'll restore jobs in public safety, highway and mosquito control."

Vanderhoef's budget, as well as the Budget and Finance Committee and Day's plans, all would require a supermajority override of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent property tax cap. This year, county taxes were increased by about 30 percent.

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