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No Tax Hike In County Budget Approved By Westchester Legislators

Westchester Legislator John Testa of Peekskill speaks Monday in White Plains just before the county's Board of Legislators approved a $1.8 billion budget for 2017. The spending plan does not raise taxes.
Westchester Legislator John Testa of Peekskill speaks Monday in White Plains just before the county's Board of Legislators approved a $1.8 billion budget for 2017. The spending plan does not raise taxes. Photo Credit: Provided

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- One little bit of good news for Westchesterites in 2017: County taxes won’t be going up and its workforce won’t be reduced.

The Board of Legislators voted 10-7 Monday to pass a $1.8 billion operating plan. It needed nine votes to pass.

It was the seventh budget in a row that didn’t raise taxes, the county said.

No county jobs will be cut under the plan. In fact, it actually adds six positions to the Westchester County Police Department and four engineering positions to the Department of Public Works.

The coalition of 10 legislators that voted for the budget consisted of Republicans Gordon A. Burrows, Francis T. Corcoran, David B. Gelfarb, James Maisano, Sheila Marcotte, John G. Testa and David J. Tubiolo; Democrats Michael B. Kaplowitz, the board’s chairman, and Virginia Perez; and Conservative Margaret A. Cunzio

According to the county, funding for Cornell Cooperative Extension was slightly reduced while other non-profit partners were kept at the same level of funding as they had this year. The budget also contained an additional $210,000 for other community organizations.

During the budget process, it was learned that the Title XX subsidized child care program was struggling financially and was planning to turn away new applicants starting next August.

Legislators then allocated $1 million to the program so low-income families wouldn’t lose access to safe and affordable child care.

Before voting on the spending plan, legislators voted unanimously in favor of a resolution asking County Executive Rob Astorino to undertake an open bidding process for a private operator at the Westchester County Airport.

According to Astorino, the county hopes to attract outside investors who would operate the airport under a Federal Aviation Administration program that allows airport revenues to also be used for general county purposes, such as police, roads and parks.

“This budget does what we set out to do: it protects taxpayers, preserves essential services and promotes economic growth,” said Astorino. “What’s critically important is that it continues to change the mindset that the only way to pay for services is through tax increases. With the public-private partnership at the airport we are showing that county assets can also be unlocked as revenue sources to help pay for services.”

The board also approved a $300 million capital budget of which more than a third will be dedicated to improving county parks.

Legislators plan to vote by late January or early February on the Astorino's proposal to build an outdoor ice rink at the Kensico Dam Plaza. The plan is designed to turn the Valhalla park into a year-round destination.

Money has already been set aside to restore fountains in the park’s reflecting pool.

The Westchester Parks Foundation supports the ice rink, Astorino said.

Kaplowitz, D-Somers,  said the budget protects taxpayers, strengthens social programs and adds critical DPW positions that will “help address a major backlog of capital projects."

He promised that legislators and the county executive will work together to “find alternative forms of revenue and savings."

A private airport operator could, Kaplowitz added, “unlock as much as $15 million in funds that have accrued from airport operations.”

Minority leader Testa, R-Peekskill, said Astorino has “proposed a very promising deal with a private operator for the airport.”

Testa said he hoped the arrangement will help the county financially, and that the extra money could be used to cover other operating costs.

Meanwhile, the board's vice chairman, Jim Maisano, R-New Rochelle, said the county is still “facing serious issues” as it heads into 2017.

“We need to keep working together through bipartisan cooperation to ensure that our county is run in a fiscally responsible manner,” Maisano added.

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