by John Jordan
CONGERS, NY—While he admitted there’s still a long way to go before Rockland returns to solid economic footing, County Executive Ed Day told a group of construction executives and officials of organized labor last month that the county’s economy has definitely turned the corner from its near-collapse two years ago.
Some 50 construction contractors, union officials and trade association executives met with Mr. Day at Restaurant X in Congers, NY on Oct. 28 to learn about opportunities within the county budget, local participation on county government contracts, major developments on the horizon and the county’s infrastructure program. Sponsored by the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc., and the Construction Contractors Association based in Newburgh, the session was also attended by Rockland County Highway Superintendent Charles “Skip” Vezzetti.
County Executive Day, who took office nearly two years ago, recounted that in his first days in office he learned the county was just $42,000 from defaulting on its debt.
“I inherited a mess, there is no getting around that,” he admitted. When he first took office the county was facing a $135-million de cit. The county later negotiated and issued a $96-million deficit bond, which it is now paying down.
He said that in the first two years of his administration, county government is running in the black. The county, which was labeled as the most distressed
county in New York State in 2012 and 2013, is now almost off the state’s most distressed list. In addition, the county has received a number of debt rating upgrades, the most recent by Moody’s Investors Service, which upgraded Rockland County’s general obligation bond rating from Baa2 to Baa1 with a positive outlook.
Mr. Day told the group that the county is running a “more lean, more efficient” operation with a $723-million 2016 proposed budget that would reduce government spending by $43 million compared to last year’s budget.
“It is the largest decrease in the history of Rockland County,” he said. The last two years the county has been able to assemble a “modest surplus,” which he
said shows that the county is beginning to turn the corner on its fiscal woes.
His budget for 2016 calls for no funding for the Summit Park Nursing Care Center and Hospital. The county had hoped to sell the facility for $36 million but shelved the sale after the prospective buyer contacted the LDC to say that it had terminated the agreement. The county is now in the process of closing the facility. The CSEA, which represents union workers at the Summit complex, recently led suit to prevent the closure by year’s-end.
The County Executive complained that state mandates are driving up the cost of government in Rockland County and throughout the state. Despite that,
county government would have come in under the two-percent tax cap were it not for the failed Summit Park sales deal. The county will now have to spend approximately $7 million in connection with the Summit closure, he said.
He said his administration believes in maintaining and upgrading its infrastructure. “As a taxpayer you deserve to have good roads. I don’t think that is asking too much…Without that (well-maintained infrastructure) we are going to have issues. We should invest in our own county.”
Mr. Day recalled back in 2014 when he first took office he sat down with Highway Superintendent Vezzetti and engaged in a process of “attacking the infrastructure in Rockland County to make it better.”
He said the county has completed a number of major projects this year, including the New Hempstead road project, the Oak Tree Road bridge, the Montebello Road bridge, while the Union Road project is nearly complete. He adds that work on Forshay Road (approximately $10 million) in Ramapo is now under construction and the Orangeburg Road bridge project went out to bid and is projected to be about a $12-million project.
In addition, the River Road reconstruction project in Haverstraw is in the
planning stages as is another major infrastructure project. He related that the county has also completed about 20 county road repaving projects.
“This is an across-the-board approach to make our roadway and infrastructure better,” Mr. Day said.
He said that because of the low cost of borrowing, it makes sense to undertake infrastructure improvements now so that it doesn’t cost three or four times the amount in years to come when costs and interest rates are higher.
He also stressed that his administration is working hard to ensure that local rms secure county contracts. “We have had complaints about outsourcing to other states, this is unacceptable,” he said.
The recent decision by Haverstraw to walk away from the proposed $250-million Legoland project due to some neighborhood opposition was premature, according to the County Executive. He said that an opportunity was lost by government leaders to
have the developer fully vet his project and explain its bene ts and how it would mitigate issues of concern, such as traffic and water use.
The County Executive also addressed the new Tappan Zee Bridge. He said he was pleased the state was awarded a $10-million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund bus station, intersection and pedestrian facilities upgrades in connection with the creation of the $81.6-millon Hudson Links bus rapid transit network in Rockland and Westchester counties that will connect to the BRT service on the new Tappan Zee Bridge. However, further federal funding for the project will be necessary, he noted.