County Executive Day Discusses Sain Building, Deed Verification Fee

John Jordan | December 2018

Rockland County Executive Ed Day

NEW CITY—Real Estate In-Depth recently sat down with Rockland County Executive Ed Day to discuss some of the pressing issues facing the county as it enters 2019.

Day, who was re-elected to a second term of office in November 2017, spoke frankly on ongoing fiscal reform. the failed Sain Building sale and the proposed $200 deed verification fee that was part of his budget for 2019. Earlier this month, Day issued a host of vetoes of the County Legislature’s approved budget, and reinstituted the deed verification fee the county board had eliminated.

Q: Rockland County has come a long way since the early days of your administration when county government teetered with default. Please give us the latest on the county’s financials and what measures you plan on implementing to continue the fiscal turnaround?

Day: It has been well documented that we had a $138-million deficit at the same time when the deficit was increasing three years prior to my coming into office in 2014, our tax rate was going up 30%, 18% and 11%. So, essentially we had a bucket with big holes in it. We were bringing more money in and losing even more than that. We took a number of steps including accountability, responsibility and having department heads be responsible for their budgets. We made the tough decision after we could not sell the Summit Park Nursing Home and Hospital to close it. That was not an easy decision. The downside was that many people lost their jobs. The upside was that two-thirds of our workers and two-thirds of our patients ended up locally. Because of the increased demand, people got jobs, which was good.

We got skunked by the potential buyer at the time. But, I was not going to sink this county over someone trying to get one over on this county. So, I made a decision I had to make. We were losing nearly $1 million a month there at one point and we just couldn’t afford it. We could not allow this facility to bring us under…

We continued to downsize government in a very methodical manner without having massive layoffs. We did it by attrition, (not filling) job vacancies. We have reduced county government by about 22% since I came into office. Right now, we are at about 1,700 employees, we were about 3,000 at one time. We were at approximately 2,200 workers when I came into office if I remember correctly. In any event we have downsized government and have higher expectations of our managers. We did have some changes in 2014 and early 2015 when we brought in some very talented people.

We look to bring revenue to Rockland County. The government now works for the people, which is the way it is supposed to be…Another big piece of this was bringing wealth to Rockland County. We have about $5 billion worth of ratables that have been added from 2015 to 2018. When we bring more taxpayers here, we don’t need more money from others. But the key here is that when you bring wealth and money into the county you don’t automatically spend it. Too many in politics when they see extra money, if they smell extra money, if they think there is extra money, they will spend it. I don’t work that way…

Editor’s Note: The County Executive touted the county’s 3.2% unemployment rate, higher sales tax revenues and a current $6.2-million positive fund balance. However, he cautioned that fiscal reform “is a marathon, not a race.”

Q: Can you provide us with any update on the proposed ($4.5-million) Sain Building sale and is this project dead?

Day: I kind of chuckled at a comment from one of the legislators after the potential buyer pulled out that Ed Day should have known that deal was dead months ago. This represents the small-mindedness of some legislators. The deal is not dead until the potential buyer says it is dead. The potential buyer was still trying to get them to understand what he was encountering in order to make that sale successful. But when one legislator says it was dead because we deem it to be dead because we don’t want to talk about it anymore in the room, that is an abdication of fiduciary responsibility in my view.

Editor’s Note: The County Executive said the potential buyer National Development has decided to pull its bid due to a host of issues, including increased costs and a lack of a good faith commitment in the form of deeming the vacant Sain Building as surplus from the County Legislature.

Q: There is a proposal before the County Legislature to impose a deed verification fee on residential sales in Rockland County. From what I understand the program would raise approximately $1.2 million in revenue for the county each year. Do you have a position on the bill?

Day: I am supporting it because our County Clerk is supporting it and all five town assessors are supporting it. What is not understood with this bill, which has been brought out in the hearings, is that we have some very significant problems on deed verification. We already had an instance where a gentlemen’s backyard was almost inadvertently sold out from under him. This is necessary and needs to be done. It takes time to do it and it will be done professionally.

It will also address, which unfortunately happens in some sections of the county, some transactions that don’t pass the ‘smell test’ I guess. I will put it that way. It will cut back on parcels being illegitimately carved up and then conveyed. That is important for a variety of reasons beyond the fact that you should know what you are buying. We also have to deal with overdevelopment not being done under the rule of law. Corners are being cut and that is what has got this county into trouble already. We have a limited amount of resources, environmental and otherwise, and things should be done the proper way.

Editor’s Note: The County Executive has included the revenue from the deed verification fee in his budget, but does not expect the program to be up and running until April. The Rockland County Legislature failed to override vetoes by the county executive, including the deed verification fee so the revenue from the program is now included in the budget. However, the County Legislature must approve a Local Law for the program to go into effect.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth