Rockland County taxes are among the highest in the country. These unreasonable taxes are the primary reason people are moving out of Rockland County and out of New York State. High taxes harm our businesses and residents alike and our government must do all it can to alleviate this tax burden across the board. The best way to accomplish this is to increase the tax base through pro-growth and pro-resident tax policies.
The County Legislature has a responsibility to limit government spending and to spend our tax dollars wisely. I will continue to vote against unnecessary spending, seek ways to pursue cost savings though consolidations and efficiencies, and to speak out on behalf of the taxpayer when I feel that their best interests are not being considered.
Medicaid and Unfunded Mandates
One very important factor to consider is that the largest portion of the county’s budget is allocated to services and programs that are mandated by the state. By far, the largest of these is Medicaid.
Medicaid is a government funded health-care program that was created in 1965 in response to the inability of low-income Americans to buy private health insurance. The funding for this program is split between the federal and state governments. Most states keep the Medicaid funding at the state tax level. However, in the states of New York and Michigan, the state government pushes a portion of these costs directly to the county where Medicaid services are provided. The state calculates the cost of these services and charges the county a portion of the overall bill. Because New York State requires the county to pay these costs and does not help to offset them, this is commonly referred to as an “unfunded mandate.”
On a property tax base of $108M, Rockland County will pay a local share of $73.6M in 2015 to cover the costs of Medicaid services provided to county residents. In other words, the equivalent of close to 70% of the money residents pay in property tax goes to funding Medicaid services. Approximately 22% of the county’s residents are on Medicaid, despite Rockland County’s ranking in the top five wealthiest counties in the state. The percentage is significantly higher in specific villages such as Monsey and Spring Valley (nearly 53% combined).
Unfortunately, the county bears a great deal of the cost of Medicaid but has no say in the details and operation of the program. Because of the incredible cost of Medicaid to an already fiscally stressed county such as Rockland, it is imperative that we lobby the state to ensure Medicaid funding is only going to those recipients who truly qualify for the program and only for uses that are needed and covered by the program.
- I will lobby the state to either empower the county to aggressively pursue fraud and other methods to bring this cost under control, or to step in and improve its current efforts. Under the present regulations, the county is handcuffed with a cost that it cannot control.
- I propose that County Legislature should pass a resolution asking for either the state to take ownership of these costs or to give us the power to control costs at the county level.
Medicaid is a vital social service program to many low income families, but the government has an obligation to ensure the program remains financially viable by ensuring that the right people are receiving the necessary services; no more and no less.
Stopping Overdevelopment and Enforcing Zoning Codes
The true sense of community we share is one of my fondest memories of growing up in Rockland County. The close-knit suburban character of our towns and hamlets is one of the main reasons people choose to move to and reside in Rockland. Increasingly, however, these cherished characteristics of our community are under attack by unscrupulous developers and the complicity of local government officials in altering or not enforcing zoning regulations. Overdevelopment has rapidly become one of the most pressing problems we face in our community.
The people of Rockland County deserve government that will establish responsible comprehensive plans to limit and control growth and development. Protecting our way of life and property values must be a core concern of our elected officials. Our local villages and towns rightly hold the primary right to establish the parameters for growth and development, but when a town or village fails to act in a responsible manner in controlling that growth and development, the county must do all it can to intervene.
Proper Zoning and Code Enforcement
The best way to combat overdevelopment is for the county, towns and villages to work together to create responsible comprehensive plans that map out future development plans and to strictly enforce the zoning and building codes that are put in place. By looking at the larger picture from a development standpoint, we can effectively plan for future population growth while at the same time protecting our natural resources and our quality of life. By enforcing those zoning and building codes, we can ensure the success of these comprehensive plans.
The enforcement of building and zoning codes is an absolute necessity in protecting the lives of our first responders. Rockland County has far too many illegally subdivided properties that are essentially death traps in the event of a fire or emergency. While the landlords get rich, the lives of families and first responders are placed in jeopardy.
Code enforcement, backed by severe penalties for the owners of these properties, must be part of the plan to eliminate this danger. These penalties must go far beyond those in existence now. The current fines, which are rarely levied at all, are so low that they are simply absorbed by the landlords as a cost of doing business. New fines and penalties must be enacted that will send a clear message that landlords who engage in this practice will no longer be in business.
New York State has now concluded that the Towns of Ramapo and Spring Valley have not met even the minimum standards to protect the lives of their residents and first responders. It is time for the county and state to make every effort to take over the role of enforcing these codes when the towns cannot or will not do so. Currently, zoning and building code violations can only be addressed at the village, town or state level. This must change.
The solutions I will pursue include:
- Lobbying the state to grant the county power to enforce zoning and building codes.
- Proposing a local law establishing a special court for zoning and building code violations.
- High fines that are true deterrent to landlords and builders who violate the law.
Ethics and Integrity
Integrity is the foundation upon which good government is built. When a representative government for the people, by the people is comprised of men and women of integrity, the role and importance of political party and philosophies becomes secondary to the cooperative effort of individuals working toward common goals. This is how I believe government should operate.
The single most important question a voter should ask in considering a candidate for public office is “Does this person have integrity?’ The character of the candidate will be the driving force behind the actions of the candidate. Unfortunately, Rockland has not been immune to the growing plague of government corruption. The recent arrests of several elected and appointed officials is an important reminder that we must elect principled candidates who are seeking office out of a true desire to improve our community and not for their own personal gains.
I believe there are specific safeguards that should be enacted to help keep corruption at bay. Some of the items I will seek to address in the legislature include:
- Term limits
- The “two-hat rule” which will prevent elected officials from being hired into other government jobs while in office.
- Public disclosure of outside income for elected officials.
The East Ramapo School District
“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” –Horace Mann
Every child in our great country has a basic human and civil right to have access to a quality public education. The tremendous reputation of our local schools is perhaps the most important reason people look to buy homes in Rockland County. Quality schools are the foundations of thriving communities and the future of Rockland County is dependent upon the continued success of our school systems. With all this in mind, it is imperative that we work together to fix the East Ramapo School District.
The current situation in the East Ramapo School District is unacceptable on every level. The current board has failed miserably in its responsibility to provide a quality education and an equitable distribution of resources to meet the basic rights of all students. Far too many of our neediest students are being denied access to programs and curriculums that are vital to overcoming the economical and sociological disadvantages they face. The problems in East Ramapo must be addressed, and they must be addressed immediately. I strongly support the appointment of a state monitor on the school board as a welcome first step in this process.
- I will continue to lobby for the appointment of a state monitor
- I will continue to speak out on behalf of the educational rights of the students in the district/li>
- I will support a complete state takeover if all else fails