This week we began my 12th and final round of budget hearings as Orange County Executive. With an annual budget of more than $715 million, budget planning is no easy task and takes many months of preparation on the part of the Budget Office, department heads and their fiscal staff before we even get to this point. Ever increasing costs, the growing burden of unfunded mandates, and decreasing state and federal aid have made this another challenging budget process. Again this year, I asked commissioners and department heads to sharpen their pencils, crunch the numbers, and think creatively to yet again find ways to do more with less without disrupting the essential services Orange County residents need and expect. Department heads and commissioners accepted the challenge and tackled it head on.
Each and every department prepares a budget that they present to me, the Director of Budget and his staff, and my senior staff. The hearing process takes many long hours over the course of many weeks. Of those we have already met with, most presented budgets that kept their use of County taxation flat or even under budget. In most cases, the few that presented an increase found it necessary in order to meet a new state or federal requirement or unfunded mandate. And, regardless of how the overall numbers came in, we closely scrutinized all aspects of each proposed budget – reviewing it line item by line item searching for additional opportunities to cut or control expenses.
We’ve faced some real budget challenges over the past few years and it seems when it can’t be any more difficult, the budget process ends up being more daunting than the year before. This year we are again contending with the on-going struggle about how best to deal with Valley View – which is costing $1.6 million each month in County taxation to keep it under County operation. New York State has asked counties to front money to pay providers of early intervention children’s programs while they muddle through implementation of changes they are making to the program. From your County, NYS is essentially looking for an $800,000 line of credit! At a time when we are having to make cuts and drawn down a rapidly dwindling surplus fund just to balance the budget this year, this request is unacceptable and another example of an unfunded mandate. We’re also grappling with indecision about the future of the Government Center, areas affected by storms still waiting for repair, and ongoing economic struggles on a state and national level.
We are fortunate to have an outstanding Budget and Finance team here in Orange County, as well as commissioners and department heads that understand the fiscal challenges we face each and every day. It is thanks to their prudent financial management that we have been able to maintain our financial strength while counties around the state and the nation have wrestled with bankruptcy. It is thanks to their diligence that we received Aaa Bond Rating from Moody’s Investor Services again this year. It is thanks to their commitment to doing what’s right that Orange County has been able to provide the needed programs and services for our residents while other counties have been forced to make cuts and consolidations. I commend them for doing an outstanding job on behalf of the people of Orange County.
Budget hearings are just one phase in the lengthy budget process. It will be a difficult one, and likely even contentious at times, but you can rest assured that as your County Executive, I will do what is right and necessary for the taxpayers of Orange County.
Until next week, I wish you good health and happiness.