WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER. From the Westchester County Department of Communications. December 10, 2018 (EDITED):
The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed the $1.94 billion operating budget by a vote of 13-4, Monday morning. The vote, according to the Board, begins the process of restoring the County perhaps to financial stability, and is the first step in a long-term process of resolving structural imbalances, rebuilding the County’s fund balance. Previous votes by the very same legislators voting for the budget were responsible for creating the “imbalances” through 7 years of approving former County Executive Robert Astorino’s budgets. The budget increases funding for essential social services.
After two years of deficits that resulted in the County drawing down rainy day funds by more than $70 million, the 2019 operating budget does not require the use of the fund balance.
(Editor’s Observation: It is unclear at this time whether the $25 Million surplus in sales tax revenues (through October), which presently if November December numbers rebound to the 6% increase they had shown the first six months of this year, the county will have a $555 Million sales tax handle, $30 Million more than last year. It is unclear in the Board of Legislators news release on the budget where that sales tax revenue surplus is going.)
The budget provides increased funding for nonprofits, whose work saves the County money by providing services that keep people working, keep people in their homes and train the next generation of businesses leaders. The budget restores funding for additional daycare slots that help parents keep working and give youngsters access to important early childhood development programs.
Importantly, the budget ensures that the County will continue to provide crucial funding for public safety, health and mental health, consumer protection, parks, seniors and youth; and the 2019 capital budget makes sure we continue to invest in upgrading our infrastructure, which is so important to the quality of life for Westchester residents and helps make Westchester attractive to businesses.
The County number of employees remains essentially flat in the new budget, and the County now has contracts with all its unions for the first time in seven years.
In order to address structural imbalances, the County must increase its recurring revenue. This budget includes a 2% property tax increase. Although no one wants to have their taxes increased, we have tried to minimize the impact on taxpayers.
Some one-shot revenues are used to balance the operating budget. In the past, legislators have criticized the use of one-shots as not sustainable, but given the County’s short term financial position — including the need to pay for contract settlements that were not budgeted for over seven years – the County must resort to some one-shots now.
The biggest one-shot is the transfer of the County Center parking lots from one government entity to another. This $23 million deal will allow the County to monetize in 2019 future revenue at the lots. It will not change the use of the land in any way.
The Board of Legislators will continue to work with the County Executive to seek new revenue sources from the state legislature and the governor as we build a bridge to a better financial future for Westchester County.
Board Chair Ben Boykin, (D- White Plains, Scarsdale, Harrison), said, “This begins the process of stabilizing our finances and lays the groundwork for a brighter financial future for Westchester County. With the budgets we passed today – operating, capital and special districts — we are able to protect the health and safety of our residents and provide funding to rebuild our aging infrastructure.”
Legislator Catherine Borgia (D – Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill), chair of the Board’s Budget and Appropriations Committee, said, “This budget is not perfect, but it begins to turn the ship around after years of short-sighted financial decisions by the prior administration. I’m especially happy that we could budget more money for not-for-profits and daycare – these things save the County money in the long term, and make Westchester more livable.”
Board Vice Chair Alfreda Williams (D – Elmsford, Greenburgh, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown) said, “This 2019 budget allows us to continue to provide the important health, public safety, child care, consumer protection and other services for Westchester families, seniors and youth while we begin to address structural financial problems inherited from the administration of the prior County Executive. I’m particularly pleased that the budget process has moved forward with a new spirit of transparency and cooperation.”
Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D – Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Rye) said, “I’m proud that our new leadership has begun putting the County’s finances back on track. I’m also particularly happy that we’ve been able to reduce the aggregate sewer district tax levy to 2% from 2.9% after a thoughtful analysis by Citizens Budget Advisory Committee member Rodman Reef.”
Majority Whip MaryJane Shimsky (D – Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont, Hartsdale, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington), chair of the Board’s Public Works Committee, said, “We have much to do in this County to put things right after years of irresponsible decisions left us with extensive maintenance needs for which money had never been budgeted; and with a backlog of capital projects the County desperately needs. I’m happy to say that with our 2019 budgets we’re able to begin climbing out of our fiscal and operational hole. While there’s more to be done, this is a start.”
To see the County budget documents and records of the Board’s budget deliberations, visit the FY2019 Budget Dashboard on our website: https://www.westchesterlegislators.com/fy-2019-budget-dashboard.