Last Thursday night, the Rockland County Legislature Budget & Finance Committee discussed the with the heads of the County Highway department and Health department as part of the legislature's budget review process.
“Ultimately this is the county’s proposed budget and the department head has to come here and defend it,” said Ilan Schoenberger, county legislator.
Here is what's been discussed so far during this budget process:
- Rocklanders’ Reliance On Social Services Increasing
- Sheriff Makes Case For Restoration Of Budget Cuts
- Proposed County Budget—Public Safety Concerns (Highway Department)
- Proposed County Highway Layoffs May Reduce Service
- Legislature Debates Cuts In General Services
It was an emotional night last week for members of the county health department. Health Commissioner Joan Facelle fought for the 12.5 positions that are being cut in the department and also announced her plans to retire at the end of January.
“These decisions weren’t made lightly; programs that were mandated by the state cannot be touched. Non-mandated programs (are at risk at being cut.). This has nothing to do with their value or their usefulness. I had a job to do that I had to do rather painfully,” said Facelle.
Programs affected include—moquito control, .
The mosquito control program does trapping and identification, larva sighting of catch basins and open breeding areas, responds to community concerns, checks swimming pools (public and private) and standing bodies of water, and much more, said Facelle.
“We will be (doing surveillance). We will not be doing treatment—municipalities could do it, or it would not be done at all,” said Facelle. She added that mosquito control does not operate during the winter so those employees do other work during the winter.
“I’m greatly concerned … if we don’t do this (mosquito control), who will? Maybe one town, Clarkstown will do it,” said Schoenberger, adding that he means no disrespect to any neighboring town.
Facelle’s emotions overwhelmed her and her voice cracked, “It’s hard to see the crumbling of the things we’ve built.”
Barbara Willen of the mosquito control program said that the program is run through the the flu clinics and supports logistics staff. This year, record high numbers of west nile virus in the county was documented and the first Rockland human case occurred this year as well.
“We just came off of our highest WNV numbers. In 1999 we didn’t have WNV. What’s going to happen in the future? With the warming trends we’re having here, it seems very illogical to me (that we would make cuts to this program at this point in time),” said Willen.
“Nothing is written in stone right now,” said Legislator Alden Wolfe. “If there’s some way we can figure out how to minimize the pain, please let us know.”
Facelle added that these programs, once gone, are not likely to be replaced. “You’re going to lose all the passion, experience and hard work.”
Joan Raynor, the Family Resource Center Coordinator at BOCES, came as someone who benefits from the department’s programs.
“I’m a consumer. These are people that I work with on a daily basis,” she said. “These are resources for people and children in the community. I’m concerned and upset. They’re like my right arm. There’s not a week or day that goes by that I don’t call them for support. I’m a consumer and supporter of the department.”
She added that Steindorff brings “invaluable support to our children and families. I’m heartbroken and hope that we as a community can do something to help the health department.”
One woman stood up speaking out against some of the programs in the health department.
Marge Hook of New City put out a reminder that the county cannot afford to keep certain programs, especially the ones that helped only a specific group of people in the community or ones that were not needed by parents of past generations.
“When there are no more tax dollars coming in, What’s going to happen to your pensions? Breast feeding has been going on since the beginning of man. Children suffering from diabetes, obesity … they’re in front of the TVs and cell phones all day. Where’s the responsibility of the parents?” said Hook. “We as parents and grand parents should be responsible for our children. We should not be going to the government—county, local, state or federal—to get help.”
As for the childhood injury prevention program, she added that parents have always raised their kids without help from programs such as this. She also added that people have and can quit smoking on their own without using a program.
She asked the legislators to re-examine the tourism department, but added that they should save the mosquito program because it’s “something the whole county will benefit from … These other programs (breast feeding, childhood injury prevention, tobacco cessation) are social programs and are important to certain people.”
“The county is broke. Unions don’t want to give anything back,” Hook said. “People are moving out by the tons. I have two girlfriends who just put their houses on the market. My pockets are empty. When my dogs pass away, I’m moving out of here as fast of I can.”