WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino presented a $1.8 billion budget for 2017 that will preserve essential services, maintains a “safety net” for some of the region’s neediest resident and will not result in a property tax increase while avoiding cuts.
On Thursday, Astorino formally proposed the budget, which will include no layoffs, cuts to non-profit organizations or reductions in services. It represents a .4 percent increase over last year’s spending plan.
Astorino said that the budget operates within two goals he set for his administration: no increase in the tax levy and no dipping into the county’s fund balance to pay for day-to-day expenses. The county’s “rainy day fund” will remain just under $140 million.
“This is a budget that says ‘yes’ to the diverse needs of Westchester by calling for no reductions in services, no tuition hike at Westchester Community College for the fourth straight year, no raiding of our reserves and no increases in taxes,” he stated. “It shows we can meet our dual commitment to providing essential services, while keeping Westchester affordable for our seniors, young people, families and businesses.”
The County Executive added that if they had raised the tax levy 2 percent - the level allowable under the state’s tax cap - it would have cost taxpayers an average of $1,325 annually.
“Not increasing taxes is not an abstract slogan. It’s real money in the pocket of real people - young people, families, seniors on fixed income and entrepreneurs trying to scrape together enough money to start a business or stay in business,” Astorino said. “By saying ‘no’ to raising taxes, we are saying no to the broken political model of asking taxpayers for more money every time revenues run short.”
In a statement, the Westchester County Legislative Majority Leader Catherine Borgia was less optimistic, saying the budget “relies on one-shot revenue streams and borrowing for operating expenses to make up for the mismanagement of the county as a whole.”
“Since this budget continues to rely on one-shot revenues and other gimmicks, I think it is a reasonable conclusion that the county budget remains out of balance and does not present a sustainable financial future for the county.”
Unfunded mandates continue to be the county’s biggest financial burden, with 75 cents of every dollar on the 2017 budget being sent directly to Washington and Albany. Mandates made up $1.35 billion of the budget, leaving just $460 million for discretionary spending on things such as law enforcement, parks, infrastructure, libraries and the arts.
“Up until now, the deal from Albany and Washington has been two dollars from us, one dollar from them, and a contract you can never change or get out of,” Astorino said. “With the new administration in the White House, some constructive conversations can begin around how all levels of government can work together to build, deliver and pay for programs that are more efficient and affordable.”
Additionally, Astorino added that both Standard and Poor’s and Fitch reaffirmed Westchester’s AAA credit rating - the highest ranking.
“We believe that Westchester has historically maintained strong operating flexibility and we expect management will continue to strive to maintain its reserves over the next two years,” Standard and Poor’s said in a statement. “Our opinion of the county’s finances are also based on management’s recognition of its budgetary pressures - including rising fixed costs, ongoing negation and sales tax event weakness - and recent efforts to mitigate those concerns.”