Top takeaways from Rockland exec debate


SUFFERN – Incumbent Rockland Executive Ed Day and challenger Maureen Porette traded barbs as they laid out their differing views on the future of the county Wednesday.

Day, a Republican, and Porette, a Democrat, debated about the county’s deficit, taxation and building code enforcement, among other topics, during an hour-long candidates forum hosted by The Journal News/lohud at Rockland Community College.

Day is seeking a second term as county executive, while Porette, a political new comer, vies to unseat him for the elected office that comes with a four-year term and $155,000 annual salary.  

Porette, a Stony Point lawyer, was prosecutorial throughout the debate, continually challenging Day on his record and past statements. 

DEMOCRAT:Stony Point lawyer to run against Day for Rockland exec

REPUBLICAN:Rockland Executive Ed Day to seek re-election

Day stood behind his record, which he said included bolstering the county’s role in enforcing sanitary codes to crack down on slumlords and overdevelopment, and reducing the deficit from more than $130 million to less than $15 million. 

Thomas Sullivan is running on the Conservative line. He was not at the debate because it focused on major-party candidates.

The following are the top takeaways from the forum. 

The deficit

Porette discredited Day’s role in reducing the budget, adding that he played a role in allowing the deficit to climb during his tenure as a Rockland legislator. 

Porette said that the county’s bloated deficit led the Rockland Legislature to bond more than $96 million.

Payments to reduce the deficit, Porette added, were “done by the Legislature, and it is great news, but I wish we could get the facts from politicians who are in office.” 

Day responded: “Anybody who believes the county Legislature did all this work, I have a bridge to sell you.”

Day said his administration pushed forward reductions to the deficit in the face of opposition by the Democrat-controlled Legislature by reducing the county workforce and budget. 

“We were in near bankruptcy. We have turned that around,” Day said. 

Tax-exempt properties 

The two candidates disagreed on how to respond to the growing number of religious tax-exempt properties in the county, which are federally protected.

MORE:New York religious property tax breaks soar heavenward

Porette proposed lobbying state and federal representatives to allow for partial taxation of religious tax-exempt properties to help pay for fire, police and emergency services.

“How do we balance the fiscal interest of a municipality versus religious freedom?” Porette asked. “How can we allow religious freedom, which I am all for, to overweigh and overtake a municipality’s fiscal status? That can’t happen.” 

Day said he did not support changes to the law for allowing taxes to be levied on religious properties or nonprofits and charitable organizations.

“Maybe we should focus on residences,” Day said, “but when I look at the plan laid out to my opponent, which is very broad based without making any differential between the two, I would be concerned when we are looking to tax organizations that are feeding the hungry, dealing with folks with special needs – I think that would be a bit much.”

Building code enforcement 

At a time of rapid residential development in the western part of Rockland, Day said his administration has initiated an approach to work with municipalities to use county sanitary codes to crackdown on slumlords and overdevelopment. 

Day also issued an executive order earlier this year designed to block irresponsible development by withholding permits for services if a municipality hasn’t given adequate reasons why a local project overrides the county planning commissioner’s recommendations.

But Day said there is “one town that by and large just does not get it” — referring to Ramapo without naming it.  

“They allow development that compromises our environment, compromises neighborhoods, and there is no check and balance,” Day said.  

A state monitor continues to oversee building codes and fire safety compliance in Ramapo and Spring Valley. 

RELATED:Ramapo offers embattled school its baseball stadium for temporary classes

Porette applauded Day’s initiative to enforce sanitary codes, but criticized Day’s executive order as “ineffective” and “unenforceable.” 

“A county executive does not have authority to overrule state law unilaterally,” she said. 

Porette said her administration would work with the Rockland Legislature and Albany to change home rule to the county.

Opioid epidemic  

Day said his administration allocated $1.1 million to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, some of which goes toward nonprofit organizations.

He added that his administration has partnered with the Rockland District Attorney and other organizations to support a program to help at-risk youth, among other initiatives.

“Rockland County is doing a lot for this area,” Day said. 

Porette said Rockland needs to allocate more funding to combat the opioid epidemic, suggesting space can be found in the county’s office complex in Pomona for new programs to assist those addicted to drugs.

“The underlying problem with opioids or any other drug-use is the mental health problem, and it needs to be dealt with differently. … These are not criminals, these are sick people, and we as a county need to help the nonprofits deal with this,” Porette said.

Selling the Sain Building

Day said the county must continue to reduce its footprint as its workforce drops and it climbs out of a deficit. 

Day advocated for his plan to sell the county-owned Sain Building in New City to a developer who has offered $4.5 million for the property to build a facility for senior-citizen housing.

Employees working in the six-story building on New Hempstead Road can be relocated to the county’s office complex in Pomona, he added.  

But Day said the plan remains stalled with the Rockland Legislature for two years, which must designate the property as surplus before any sale can be completed. 

“We do not need the space; it is not a place to be working in; it is in horrible condition,” Day said. “We don’t need it.” 

Porette supported selling the Sain Building, but she said the sale remains in a “deadlock” due to Day’s inability to work with the Legislature. 

“If I get into office with a Democrat-majority Legislature, I will make sure that building gets sold,” Porette said. 

Homeless shelter

Both candidates supported the need to have a homeless shelter in the county.

Day said the county has a family shelter for women and children at the health complex in Pomona. He said his administration continues to explore adding a homeless shelter in the Pomona complex. 

“These are things that are moving forward with the cooperation with the Rockland Legislature,” Day said.  

Porette said she will push for establishing a homeless shelter in Rockland.

“I do think it is something that the county absolutely needs to undertake,” Porette said. 

The candidates

Day is a former county legislator and retired New York City police detective commander, who beat out Democrat David Fried for county executive in 2013.

Day also is running on the Reform Party line.

Porette, a Democrat, is a Stony Point lawyer and mother of eight — four biological and four step-children. She is a political outsider who has said the political battles raging at the national level motivated her to run for office. 

Porette has the Working Families and Women’s Equality lines.

Twitter: @mikedonofrio_

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