This week I presented the proposed 2014 budget to the Orange County Legislature. The 2014 budget was the 12th and final budget I have presented to the Orange County Legislature during my tenure as County Executive. Throughout my career, I am proud to have maintained a track record of balanced and on-time budgets - no easy feat as the challenging economic climate lingers on.
An incredible amount of work goes into preparing the budget each year. Departments start planning in May and in August each and every County office, department, and division presents their budget and makes their case to me, my staff, Budget Director Neil Blair and his budget team. Again this year the planning directions were clear – find ways to do more with less – a tough challenge when they’ve been given the same direction the last few years in a row.
I’m proud to report that the proposed 2014 budget of $731 million represents a spending decrease of 3% from last year’s approved budget. However, in order to make the budget balance, it was necessary to use nearly $40 million in general fund surplus for the third year in a row and the County’s long-term financial outlook is shaky if we continue on the current financial path.
It is my responsibility as County Executive and Chief Financial Officer for this County to prepare and present the budget each year. Unlike our elected officials in Washington DC, I do not have the luxury of kicking the can down the road, much less making a decision to shut down the government. Our employees expect timely paychecks. Our vendors need to be paid. Our residents expect to have access to the programs and services they require. It is time for our legislators to make the tough decisions that will get government running again.
We did, however, receive some good news this week from Governor Cuomo’s office that could have a positive impact on our County’s finances if his plans come to fruition. The New York State Division of Budget detailed the fiscal impact that the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act could have on Orange County if it becomes law. If approved by voters in November, the Act will be of great benefit to our County and the entire mid-Hudson region. Through the anticipated revenue of the Act, Orange County could see an additional $10.4 million in property tax, school, and local government aid. As we look at the development of upstate casinos it’s important that we not lose sight of the need for a third lane on Route 17. It’s critical for the safety and security of our residents and the visitors who will travel through our area.
As counties across New York continue to struggle to balance budgets and deal with the rising costs of delivering essential services, this additional aid would be a tremendous help to communities like ours. I encourage residents to take time to familiarize themselves with the Act before Election Day and be sure to get out and vote on November 5.
Until next week, I wish you all health and happiness.