15-2. That was the vote by the Rockland County Legislature in favor of the amended 2020 Budget. To put your mind at ease, their amendments did not result in ANY additional increase in taxes from the Proposed 2020 Budget I submitted in October.
This is a budget that holds the line on spending, keeping under the NYS property tax cap, while we continue to invest in the County’s critical infrastructure needs and meet the demands of an additional $4.5 million in New York State mandates. These mandates would have been the equivalent of a 3.5% property tax increase all on their own.
The $729.9 million budget is under the NYS property tax cap and calls for a 2.879% property tax increase. On average this increase is approximately $3 per month for the average property tax owner.
One of the major cost drivers of this Budget was the so-called “Justice Reform” passed in Albany this year. The Amendments made by the Legislature include three new positions in the District Attorney’s Office, First Assistant DA, Crime Prevention Aide and an ITS Specialist, which are necessary to meet the new state requirements. All told, implementing these new laws could cost as much as $1.2 million in local taxpayer funds.
Another cost driver is the $13.2 million payment we must make every year until 2024 to pay down the deficit bond we took out when I first took office and were facing a $138 million deficit. If not for this annual bill, we would be speaking of significant property tax decreases. This budget keeps us on schedule to pay off that bond and reminds us that we must not revert to the tax and spend policies of the past that led us into that massive hole. That I will not allow.
Despite those challenges this Budget sets the stage for the continued renewal and revitalization of County government with significant money set aside to invest in the Pomona Health Complex and in a new Animal Care Facility for Hi Tor.
The Budget provides an additional $5.7 million in funding in the 2020 Capital Project Budget for Hi Tor bringing the total project cost to $8.25 million which includes significant funding from State grants and donations.
Having the County take the leadership role on this shared service with the Towns means the Towns will not have the burden of building their own shelters or finding alternative plans at a significant cost. This is a clear savings for residents and a great thing for the animals we all care about.
Our finances continue to improve with the County’s surplus growing to just over $32 million in 2018. The difficult decisions made over the last 6 years that I have been in office are paying dividends having just received our tenth consecutive bond upgrade to A from A- from Fitch Ratings. Our improving fiscal health has allowed us to recently settle outstanding contracts with Rockland’s largest unions. In short, we are making progress.
It is thanks to the people here in County government that we have achieved this near-miraculous financial recovery. I want to commend all the Legislators for their efforts and particularly wish to acknowledge Budget and Finance Chairman Jay Hood and Minority Leader Lon Hofstein. I look forward to working closely with them in 2020 and beyond.
Together we will continue to work towards building our fund balance to the approximately $56 million recommended by the NYS Comptroller through careful budgeting and smart compromises that will help Rockland County prosper.