The beat of the drum was strong and consistent as department heads from Recreation and Parks, Public Works, and General Services came before the county legislature and expressed grave concerns about their ability to maintain services if County Executive Thomas Gulotta's proposed 2001 budget were to be implemented. Their testimony confirmed what we on the legislature had already speculated; the Gulotta budget falls way short of the mark.
According to the testimony, the "Nassau County" that is being proposed by the county executive would be incapable to properly plow snow-covered streets, would have closed pools and parks, and would have difficulty maintaining roadways. I did not become presiding officer to oversee the dismantling of this county, and that is what would happen if the legislature were to accept the county executive's proposed 2001 budget.
Presently, we are in the process of turning all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle face up before we try to put this picture of the budget and financial plan together. What we want to make sure is that we don't "leap before we look." We saw too much of that in the county executive's budget, where he proposed decimating the workforce without giving us an action plan to keep this county whole.
First of all, let me say that it's also clear that we cannot and should not just try to put together a budget that raises taxes to pay for a government that is hooked on the same old spending habits.
That is why one of the first things we did was to cut the non-work related use of county cars. Furthermore, it is clear that through various incentives, the county workforce is going to be reduced by at least 700 from what it was last year, and that is not including any of the county executive's proposed layoffs.
Having said that, let me say this clearly, keeping this county whole so that it can meet its mission of protecting the health and safety of its residents at the same time that we retain the core quality of life services for its residents will require higher taxes than the county executive has proposed. How much more, I am not yet prepared to say, but it is clear from my talks with residents that they want this problem fixed. And we are prepared to take the actions necessary to do that, even if that means raising taxes.
I believe that the message of last year's election was that the residents of this county were tired of arrogant government that acted like it could do anything, such as raise taxes, without having to explain why or change its way of doing business.
People do not want a county that is just a higher taxed version of what used to be, and that will require us to rethink what is essential and what is excessive in county government. For example, residents should never again be asked to pay more in taxes so that a bureaucrat can drive his or her county car to and from work. If there were seven dirty words that I could wash out of the mouth of county government, they would be "But it's always been done that way."
By the same token, I think people are willing to pay more in taxes if that's what it takes to make sure the roads are plowed during a snowstorm, potholes are fixed in a timely manner, and the parks are open for their children to play safely in.
In the final analysis, I am optimistic that this county will not only endure its current situation; it will prevail over it. I am willing to move Heaven and Earth and even a little bit more to help bring that about.