Democratic Rockland County Executive candidate David Fried proposed on Monday reducing the number of county legislators from 17 to 11. Fried, who announced his proposal in front of the county office building where the legislature meets, said the merits of his plan include bringing the number of legislators and the size of the population they represent more in line with other counties in New York. Fried's idea got backing from one of his rivals for the county executive's job.
Rockland’s 17 legislators each represent about 18,300 residents and under Fried’s proposal that number would increase by about 10,000. Even if the size of the legislative districts were increased, Fried pointed out Rockland’s legislators would still be representing a smaller part of the population than in Westchester where each of its 17 legislators represents 55,800 residents.
“An increase of 10,000 still keeps us below the norm in other counties,” said the former Spring Valley justice and county legislator.
Fried's idea got an quick endorsement from Republican County Executive Candidate and Legislator Ed Day.
"Wherever the source, no matter the party, if I come across a good idea to help the taxpayer, then I will always act on it and pursue it if it is at all feasible, and I will continue to do so,” said Day, “Kudos to Mr. Fried for his independent thinking on this issue.”
Day said he would submit the proposal for review this week, which would move it up from Fried's timeline.
“If the size of the legislature can be reduced while both complying with the previous court decisions that govern the composition of the County Legislature and maintaining the proportional representation of each town, then we should absolutely do it,” Day continued.
Fried welcomed Day's support.
"I thank Legislator Day for supporting my plan," said Fried. "I have sent Mr. Day an e-mail to meet so that I can explain the steps that need to be taken on this important topic and develop a bi-partisan strategy together to approve this measure now. Bi-partisan cooperation will be a constant endeavor of my administration."
Rockland Legislative Chair Harriet Cornell welcomed Fried's suggestion.
“It’s a very valid discussion to have,” she said.
Cornell noted the legislature has been larger in the past and at one time had up to 21 members.
“I think there are pros and cons to larger districts and smaller districts,” said Cornell.
Chestnut Ridge Trustee Howard Cohen said there is validity to having a larger cohesive district. He pointed out the village has been divided into two and even three legislative districts over the years. Fried noted that Nanuet has also been separated into different districts.
“Our current district goes from Chestnut Ridge up to Pomona,” said Cohen, who attended the press conference. “It looks like a kangaroo.”
Fried discussed the other merits of his proposal. He said fewer legislators would cut expenses. Legislators earn a base salary of $40,000 plus benefits and pensions. Fried said it would result in a savings of at least $250,000.
At his press conference, Fried said if he was elected county executive, he introduce the legislation on his first day in office. That timing could be moved up now with Day's intention to introduce the proposal. In either case, it would be up to the legislature to review it in committee and decide if it should go to the full legislature for a vote. Fried said if approved, a referendum would be on the ballot for November 2014 but it is possible that it could happen sooner.
If the legislature did not move the proposal forward, Fried pledged to start a petition and get it signed by county residents so it would be a referendum on the November ballot.
Fried said the proposal is just one of his cost cutting measures.
“Rockland County can no longer afford to live beyond its means,” he said and referred to the county’s $100 million plus budget deficit.
Fried explained he has been reviewing all parts of county government to determine where savings can be realized. He promised to cut executive branch wages by $250,000 and said the county executive’s salary would not be immune to the reductions.
The other candidates seeking the county executive's seat are Democrats Legislator Ilan Schoenberger and Suffern Mayor Dagan Lacorte