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Rockland on the road to financial recovery, says Vanderhoef

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NEW CITY – Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef delivered his final state of the county address to the County Legislature Tuesday night taking aim at budget and financial challenges and the county’s experiences with Hurricane Sandy.

Vanderhoef, who is retiring at the end of the year, spent a significant amount of time discussing the county’s budget woes, assuring county residents the worst of the recession was over but more structural changes were necessary.

“We cannot do all that we want to do,” he said. “We’ve reached that point, but we must do and we must provide for those who are most in need in our county.”

Vanderhoef pointed to difficult cuts and privatization of profitable programs such as the county’s methadone clinic, prenatal program, and psychiatric inpatient units as examples of painful and unpopular cuts that were necessary to stabilize county finances. He also praised the legislature and others for working to control the deficit and maintain the county’s credit rating.

“We are now on the road to financial recovery and it’s very important today that those of you who stood up to help do what had to be done in the most difficult time can see this turnaround,” Vanderhoef said.

The executive blamed budget troubles partly on the burden of state mandates, which he referred to as “not sustainable.” At the same time, he emphasized that debt can be handled with state-approved deficit bonds totaling $96 million.

Though there was no discussion of specific action on Summit Park’s nursing home, Vanderhoef urged county legislators to pursue the full or partial sale of the facility, explaining that Rockland could no longer afford the facility. At the same time, he assured attendees that nursing home residents would receive needed care regardless of ownership.

Hurricane Sandy was an ever-present backdrop for 2013, with Vanderhoef describing the response as “one of the proudest moments” of his time as executive. He lauded the work of emergency personnel, private citizens, county and municipal services, and particularly Office of Emergency Services for what he characterized as swift and dedicated service.

“Ninety percent of the folks in Rockland County lost power. Seventy-five percent of the roads were blocked. Five hundred blockages as a result of Sandy’s winds and people came to the fore,” Vanderhoef explained. “Everywhere you looked, Rockland County folks stepped up.”

Future suggestions for the 2013-2014 included a new highway garage for county trucks, an agreement with Hi-Tor Animal Care regarding the location of their new facility, residency halls for out-of-county and foreign students at Rockland Community College, and continued monitoring and action on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

In addition, Vanderhoef called for other future initiatives which included tuition fixes and employer incentives to accommodate returning vets, and an end to division in the troubled East Ramapo Central School District.