It’s budget proposal time across New York as COVID-19 has wreaked fiscal havoc on both state and local governments. Rockland and Orange Counties are seeing some sales-tax recovery and hope for a continued upswing. The proposals don’t include layoffs, but there are property tax increases.
Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day is blaming the need for a 2.84 percent property-tax hike in his $721.7 million proposed budget on the county legislature’s Democratic majority.
“The fiscal plan that I revealed to the legislature early would have contained a zero-percent property-tax increase” Day says. “The legislative majority also recommended and then took action to ensure that you would get hit with a property-tax increase. Don’t forget that.”
Day says he went to the legislature over the summer with a proposal for a temporary sales-tax hike that could have warded off any hike in property taxes.
“As well, I asked the county legislature to begin a multi-step process to temporarily add one-half of 1 percent to our local sales-tax rate. This would have put us in line with Yonkers,” says Day. “This temporary measure would have added $0.05 to a $10 purchase. Yes, only a nickel.”
Day says the legislature would have had to vote in favor of the temporary sales-tax hike by September 1, to allow time to send the measure to the state legislature for consideration.
“They had the opportunity to take action and instead did nothing. Most of what I heard that evening from the meetings was, we need more information, we’re not sure how, what’s going to happen, we need to wait awhile. No, you didn’t have time to wait awhile. This is exactly where the problem lies,” Day says. “When you have to make a decision, you have to make that decision. You just cannot waver around and wonder what’s going to happen. That is what we ran into.”
Some Democrats on the county legislature who voted no expressed concern about the impacts of additional sales tax on people struggling to make ends meet, particularly in light of job losses and increased food prices during the pandemic. Democratic Rockland County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe issued a statement criticizing Day for pointing fingers saying sales tax is but one item in the budget and there are many opportunities to address shortfalls and other issues.
Day says program funding cuts also come from the Democratic side and he criticized more of their proposals. Wolfe says the Democrats NEVER, all in caps, suggested cutting a penny of funding to certain programs like Meals on Wheels. And Wolfe says the Democrats NEVER, again in caps, floated a plan for furloughs or layoffs. Day’s proposed budget contains no layoffs but does continue a hiring freeze. Day says the 2020 and 2021 expected revenue shortfall is between $58 million and $108 million. Rockland County’s budget director will deliver a livestreamed presentation on October 8.
Meantime, Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus delivered his 2021 budget proposal on Wednesday.
“So, one thing that we’re doing in this budget that I’m proposing to the legislature for 2021 is cutting your tax rate. It’ll be lower than 2014. It also stays under the mandated tax cap,” Neuhuas says. “So we’re not clobbering the taxpayers — you — with a bad economy and a bad economic situation. We understand that everybody’s suffering right now.”
The county tax rate will be $3.56, Last year, the rate was about $3.74. His proposed $813 million budget is about $3 million less than for 2020 and contains no layoffs. Neuhaus is hopeful that several construction projects in Orange will bode well for both economic development and the sales-tax base. Both Day and Neuhaus, like many county executives, implemented austerity measures several months ago to mitigate COVID’s financial impacts.