Orange County is not a sinking ship

By Jeffrey D. Berkman, Orange County Minority Leader

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  • Jeffrey Berkman

Orange County is not the sinking ship Titanic, as County Executive Steve Neuhaus indicated. Rather, we are a county blessed with many attributes. Our geography places us in favorable proximity to the downstate and interstate markets, with industries knocking on our door. Current serious economic challenges must be confidently addressed with responsible actions by forward-thinking decision makers. It is imperative that Orange County government strive to work together in a cooperative way and leave dissension, disunity and partisanship as a legacy of the past. The Democratic Caucus suggests the following considerations:

1. Steady nerves and bipartisan leadership are necessary. The county executive should refrain from hyperbolic rhetoric. Suggesting a 34 percent property tax increase for county homeowners must be utterly rejected. His discussion of 570 layoffs of county government workers must also be discarded.

2. In order to have effective decision making, objective budgetary analysis with agreed-upon terms are required. Without sufficient elaboration or legislative consultation, the county executive announced his view that Orange County has a $60 million budget deficit. This strategy is reminiscent of the prior administration’s behavior. The Democratic Caucus does not accept unverified statistics and recommends that we work closely with the New York State Comptroller’s Office to achieve reliable financial data that all policymakers agree on.

3. Immediate cost-cutting measures must be implemented. Many non-essential government services may be eliminated, downsized or postponed. Current economic realities compel us to consider making unpopular and painful choices. All county employees should be required to contribute toward health care payments, a realistic and common business standard.

4. The county executive seeks to transfer title of Valley View, the county-owned and -operated facility, to a Local Development Corporation, LDC. This far-reaching alternative is not accompanied with explanations of money saved, impact on services, employee contractual rights and, most importantly, quality of care. The Democratic Caucus does not oppose analyzing any proposal, but more information is needed and the public deserves opportunities to be heard. Inviting one expert voicing a single point of view is insufficient.

We have many questions and legitimate concerns needing comprehensive answers. Additionally, there has been remarkably little discussion of compromise or middle ground alternatives. Can the future of Valley View be protected by partnering or cooperating with existing educational or medical care related facilities? Reforming the existing structure and obtaining promised employee contract concessions are vitally important. Perhaps Orange County’s leasing portions of Valley View with known, limited and predetermined county financial commitments can be considered. If these concepts are implemented, prospects for bipartisan cooperation should be greatly enhanced.

The Democratic Caucus is ready, willing and able to work with all branches of government and other interested parties in facing our county’s fiscal challenges. We must energize efforts to save tax dollars by reducing redundant services, merge departments and work with other local governments to make effective use of public resources in this time of fiscal austerity. We embrace the opportunity to serve.

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