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Finances on Rock Co Legislative Radar

Rockland County, Jan 8 — This week a Republican Rockland County Legislator renewed his call for a state audit of Rockland County finances to dissect the budgets of a fellow Republican. And the Democratic chairwoman of the legislature announced she is forming an outside advisory committee to study budget reductions.

Rockland Legislator Ed Day repeated his request for a full audit of county government by the NYS Comptroller following an announcement by Moody’s Investors Service that it was lowering Rockland County’s bond rating. Moody’s believes “the county’s financial position is likely to continue to deteriorate over the near term.” Both Day and Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef are Republicans.

In her annual address, Rockland County Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell also focused on county finances. “I am calling upon legislative committees to start immediate reviews of early retirement positions in every department.” Cornell said she is forming an advisory committee with private sector experts who have public sector experience to develop a county deficit reduction plan. “We will start immediately to create a budget deficit reduction fund into which savings from cost-cutting measures can be transferred to reduce the deficit,” she said.

‘€œThis downgrade should be a clarion call as to why we need this audit,’€ said Day. ‘€œWe need to get 2011 right.” Days said the county needs real time information on the fiscal progress of the county which a state comptroller’s audit can provide. ‘€We need outside help, and that help has to have some teeth,” he says. If the county continues on its current path, Day believes the state will eventually need to create a financial control board to oversee county finances.

Insiders say another bond downgrade is possible if the county can’t sell the Summit Park Nursing Home. Legislators were caught off guard last Fall when Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef announced a controversial proposal to sell the facility to a yet unnamed public benefit corporation for $18 million to close a gap in county operating revenues. “In October the Legislature was surprised by a proposal in the County Executive’s budget to sell the hospital to a public benefit corporation,” said Cornell. “We are proceeding with caution, care and transparency and have agreed to work with the Executive Branch to explore whether such a proposal is viable.” Cornell says she will work with Vanderhoef to form a task force which to study the proposal.

If the bond rating continues to fall, the state might be forced into taking over county finances and put a Financial Control Board in place to oversee the county, a move that is equivalent to being in receivership. In addition to increased taxes to pay for a higher interest rates on future bonds, businesses might think twice about relocating to Rockland if they don’t have confidence in the county’s ability to maintain infrastructure and hold down taxes.

The NYS Constitution gives the state comptroller the responsibility of overseeing the fiscal affairs of local government. Audits may be requested by local officials to ensure that public resources are being obtained and used properly, to assess program efficiencies and to identify potential cost savings.

See also: Moody’s Lower Boom On Rock Co Finances, 1/5/11

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