Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef unveiled Thursday a comprehensive plan aimed at closing the $21.1 million gap in the county's 2012 budget.
The plan bundles tentative cuts with possible new forms of revenue, all which would not require state legislation to enact. Vanderhoef said work on "Plan B" has been underway for about a month and has included meetings with legislative leaders. The decision to move forward was based on expectations that the county's Home Rule request for an increased sales tax and other measures would not get state approval.
"We are taking quick and decisive action to get Rockland County back on solid financial footing," Vanderhoef said Thursday afternoon. "The leadership of the county legislature has been briefed on our plan and will consider the proposals in the next few weeks."
Vanderhoef said the financial shortfall developed over a five year period.
"The county isn't bankrupt," he added. "We're facing a budget gap."
Vanderhoef noted the $21 million hole and financial drain caused by the Summit Park Hospital & Nursing Home was responsible for Moody's downgrading Rockland's bond rating last week.
The plan calls for $8.8 million in salary savings, or the elimination of about 150 employees. However, that amount would be offset by the $2.1 million the county would have to pay in unemployment benefits, an average of $405 per week.
"We'll do this by department," Vanderhoef said, noting department leaders will determine which jobs can be cut by determining which ones are mandated and which are non mandated. All county services–from cleaning to potholes to foodstamps—could suffer as a result, he added.
"Most positions have been identified but we are not ready to release it," he said. "This goes to the heart of services in Rockland County. We need to make up $8.8 million so we need to take people who are working hard and remove them."
Further, Vanderhoef expects the sale of two county buildings—Chase on New Hempstead Road, and a Spring Valley structure—to bring in an additional $2.5 million more than the $5 million originally anticipated.
"We have two buildings that are for sale," he said. "The bids are coming in today by coincidence."
Vanderhoef is also looking to stop the Sheriff's Department from reimbursing towns and villages for their Intelligence Unit officers from July to December of this year, which would put $585,000 back in Rockland's pocket.
The plan is equally centered on new forms of revenue—the strategy would enact a four-percent surcharge on energy sources and services for residential dwellings, raising $5.8 million in the remainder of 2012.
Other fixes include a new motor vehicle fee of $10 or $20 every two years depending upon the type of vehicle and a $300,000 reduction to to funding to contract agencies.
"Of all the things least favored are layoffs and contract agencies," he said. "In every area the county will not be as efficient or speedy in delivering services."
Two of the measures, Vanderhoef said are in place in other counties. The county would end its payment of non-resident tuition reimbursment for residents attending community colleges outside the county. That burden would be shifted to the towns, which have not been notified of this possible additional $1.8 million expense.
Another revenue source would be a Board of Elections chargeback. That would enable the legislature to charge the towns and villages $1.4 million for Board of Elections services. Vanderhoef noted 38 counties currently charge this fee to their municipalities. He pointed out the additional revenue figures proposed are for a six month period, if enacted the amounts would double for 2013.
The county executive said one alternative that was not pursued was reclaiming all the sales tax raised in the county instead of sharing it with the towns. That would need state approval.
"We feel including legislative leaders feel that is not the right thing to do," he said.
Within the next few days, each of the proposed measures will be submitted to the county legislature. The legislature has scheduled a special meeting for May 29.
"None of these issues require state approval," he said. "There will certainly be debate about this."
As a result of the report on Summit Park submitted to the legislature on Tuesday, Vanderhoef said the county will move forward.
"So dual track on Summit Park Hospital to determine what needs to be done," he said.
Summit Park has cost the county $5 to $10 million annually. The report will be sent to the county's state legislators along with a request to sponsor bills to create a Public Benefit Corporation or PBC. The second avenue will be to send out Requests for Proposal for private groups to submit bids to purchase the nursing home hospital. Vanderhoef said those responses will help the county determine whether Summit Park should become a PBC or be sold.
Other possible service cutbacks brought up the press conference were transferring 23 psychiatric beds from Summit Park to Nyack Hospital and shifting the Prentatal Program to Nyack Hospital for a savings of $700,000.
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