After more than an hour of debate, the Rockland County Legislature voted to approve a resolution requesting that the state legislature authorize the county to finance its deficit by issuing bonds and raising sales and compensating use taxes by three-eighths of one percent to fund those bonds.
The plan would bring in no more than $80 million to pay off the deficit, but the amount of the actual deficit led to a lengthy discussion amongst the legislators.
Legislators Ed Day (R-New City) and Chris Carey (R-Bardonia) proposed two amendments to the resolution, one being that the county receive $18 million less because they think the deficit is only around $62 million. The other was to leave the three-eighths increase in sales tax for this year, then reduce that to one-fourth next year and leave it at that level until everything is paid off.
“The property tax increase of 2012, or what could better be described as property tax being dedicated to deficit reduction by paying deficiency note is the deficit reduction and not an expense,” Day said. “The conclusion was simple: the rejected deficit is 62 million, not 80 million.”
Day also said there’s a deficit reduction cushion in the 2012 budget.
“In the budget, there is $5 million set aside toward deficit reduction for the sale of two buildings,” he said. “That would reduce the deficit legitimately and specifically to $57 million.”
Carey said that in the numbers he’s reviewed and the information available to him, he also believes the deficit to be closer to $62 million.
“In a business and to working families struggling to balance a budget, numbers mean something,” he said. “It has be the same here. Numbers must be real and based upon reasonable assumptions and the available facts. According to the information provided to me at recent meetings and the additional clarification received from fiscal staff, it appears that the numbers are much closer to $62 million rather than $80 million.”
The first amendment was voted against 9-5, with three legislators being absent from the meeting and thus not voting. The second was voted against 10-4.
The disagreement over the $18 million comes from whether it not that is being covered by an increase in property tax in the 2012 budget. Day said it’s being covered in the increase and thus it shouldn’t be included in the deficit. Budget & Finance Committee Chairman Ilan Schoenberger (D-Ramapo) said the $18 million was originally proposed by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef as a one-time surcharge, but the legislature was told by auditors that would result in them having to do it again the following year.
“What the legislature Budget & Finance Committee did and the legislature approved -- and the legislature voted for it and some legislators voted against it -- was to take that $18 million one-time surcharge and recognize it for what it really was, which was a real property tax increase, and make it a real property tax increase, not a one-time surcharge,” he said. “That $18 million was raised to run Rockland county’s expenses and finances for calendar-year 2012. What we did was raise your property taxes to balance the budget.”
For those reasons, Schoenberger said the deficit should include that extra $18 million, which is also where the county’s consultants, O’Connor, Davies, Munns and Dobbins, had the deficit pegged in their analysis of the Rockland 2012 budget, as read during Tuesday night’s meeting by Schoenberger.
“We have an $80 million deficit no matter how you slice it,” he said. “We have to deal with that deficit.”
If the state allows Rockland to follow the plan approved Tuesday night, they would sell the bonds and pay the money back over 10 years.
Schoenberger added that if when the deficit is certified, it turns out to be less than $80 million, the county would be obligated to immediately pay back the difference, so if the deficit is $75 million, they’d have to pay back that $5 million right away. Then the deficit bond would have to be sold at the price of the actual deficit, opposed to the price of the original amount.
“So if Legislator Day is correct, it will automatically be reduced,” Schoenberger said. “Let’s take the other side. Let’s say after the certification’s made that the deficit is not 80 million, but 85 million. We cannot sell above 80 million because that’s all the state authorized us, if this whole new request is enacted.”
Legislator Joseph Meyers (D-Airmont) wasn’t sure if this was the right move for the county, and said “it doesn’t work when you keep doing the same dumb thing over again.” He added he’d like to wait for all the reports to come in to get some more solid figures opposed to just trying to get money as quickly as possible. Schoenberger said the quicker they get a resolution into the state, the quicker they’ll get an answer, and this way if the state rejects the proposal, they’ll have more time to think about the county’s next step.
Nancy Low-Hogan (D-Nyack) said she sees this as a “critical first step” and “just a piece of what we must do to help fix our county.”