After Legislative Defeat, Rockland County Exec. Threatens Hundreds of Layoffs, Property Tax Hike
John Jordan | September 2020
NEW CITY—After the Rockland County Legislature narrowly defeated his proposal to increase local sales taxes and sell a shuttered county office building to offset declines in revenues due to COVID-19, Rockland County Executive Ed Day threatened that in response he may be forced to lay off hundreds of county workers and raise taxes by 10% or more.
Rockland County legislators voted 9-8 on Sept. 1 against the County Executive’s resolutions, which sought to obtain home rule approval from the New York State Legislature granting Rockland the authority to increase its local sales tax by one-half of one percent.
Legislators who rejected the proposal said the call for an increase in the county’s sales tax was premature and that many other options needed to be reviewed before increasing what some described as the most regressive of taxes.
“Many people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, but they still need to make necessary purchases,” Legislature Chairman Alden H. Wolfe said. “Increasing the sales tax on those purchases at this time would serve to make things even harder for these families and for the businesses that could see fewer customers as a result.”
Legislator Wolfe noted that many tools are available to the County Executive as he formulates his proposed 2021 Budget.
A sales tax increase isn’t the only way to bridge a revenue shortfall. Options to the County Executive could include eliminating the 100-plus currently vacant positions in county government, renegotiating vendor contracts, concessions from unions, furloughs, and a property tax increase, Wolfe noted.
The County Executive submitted three resolutions to the Legislature, including the sales tax item. He also wanted the Legislature to allow him to submit his proposed 2021 spending plan by Oct. 23 instead of Oct. 1, the date set by the Rockland County Charter. The budget resolution was deemed not to be legal as the Legislature does not have that authority, Wolfe noted.
The County Executive also wanted the Legislature to declare the Sain property as surplus, deeming it no longer needed for public use and authorizing its sale by public advertisement. Legislator Wolfe said it will be placed on a future agenda. The item had already been scheduled for discussions earlier this year, but the effort was halted by the pandemic. The County Executive has been frustrated by the Legislature’s failure to approve previous sales deals for the county-owned building.
Several legislators who voted against the sales tax resolution said they remained open-minded about the idea, but first wanted to review the County Executive’s proposed financial plan for 2021 and to see what relief may come from the federal government.
“We still have no idea what the federal government will do to help communities across America, but we all hope they will provide some relief,” Legislator Wolfe said. “Like the County Executive, we would prefer to wait until we have more updated financial information before making a decision on increasing the sales tax or any other tax.”
He later added, “It’s provocative to threaten 200 layoffs of county workers as its only one of the myriad options available to the County Executive in preparing his 2021 budget. We all look forward to working collaboratively to ensure all essential services are maintained for our residents and businesses without overburdening anyone.”
County Executive Day in a prepared statement noted that the county has implemented austerity measures, such as a hiring freeze, the elimination of some positions, filed for FEMA reimbursements that have reaped a total of nearly $20 million in year over year savings. However, Day said that the savings fall short in addressing “possibly the worst financial crisis in Rockland’s history.”
“I am extremely disappointed by last night’s complete lack of action by the Democratic Majority members of the Rockland County Legislature. Their vote of disapproval on the financial plan we submitted now puts at risk hundreds of county employees jobs and raises the specter of a double-digit property tax increase,” Day said. “Passage of my plan would have likely resulted in a 2021 County Budget with no layoffs and no property tax increase, but these are the dire alternatives we now face because of their vote and lack of action.”
In his statement, Day concluded, “I am asking that we put aside any further political posturing and work together without delay to the put the people of our county first. We are open to new ideas, alternatives, and conversation; my door is open, but time is in short supply. The time for action is now.”