It's still subject to review and approval by the county Board of Legislators, but Westchester County Executive George Latimer has proposed his annual spending plan for 2019.
Do you support the proposed increase in the county property tax levy?
The $1.94 billion budget maintains vital county government services, leaves the "rainy day" emergency fund intact and stays within the state-mandated tax cap.
Delivering on last year's promise to "move Westchester," the Democrat from Rye released his first operating budget.
“I am proud to present this budget to Westchester taxpayers and the Board of Legislators – my partner in responsible government," Latimer said in a press statement. "This year, my administration held more true public input sessions on this budget, and other county matters, than any executive had before. These sessions resulted in this budget. It is time to move Westchester forward together and plan not just for the now – but for the future.”
Latimer said the county will pay its newest employees the 2019 State minimum wage of $12 per hour, increase support for daycare and not for profit service providers and implement raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old.
Unlike his Republican predecessor, Rob Astorino, Latimer proposes a 2 percent increase in the property tax levy.
Latimer defeated Astorino last November while claiming that his opponent used budget balancing gimmicks and dipped into reserves to avoid increasing property taxes.
The 2019 budget, for the first time in recent memory, projects "the true cost of running" county government for the year, Latimer said.
Previous budgets, like the 2017 operating budget, ran a $32 million general fund operating deficit.
For 2018, the projected general fund shortfall already totals $39 million.
That adds up to a two-year budget hole of $71 million -- or roughly a 50 percent reduction in the county’s rainy day fund.
In warnings from all three major rating agencies and the state Comptroller's office, continued reliance on these emergency reserves is unsustainable, according to Latimer.
Here are some of Latimer's proposals to "restore order" to county government spending:
- A county hiring freeze;
- Renegotiated labor contracts;
- $4 million annual savings on the Liberty Lines bus contract
- A new request for proposals (RFP) for Corrections Department healthcare
- Improved risk assessment
- An increase in shared services;
- First time ever, CSEA union contribution to healthcare premiums.
- County space assessment/consolidation; and
- Streamlining capital spending program.
“This budget strikes a balance between providing the services all of the residents of Westchester expect and deserve, and keeping property taxes at a level they can afford," Latimer said. "The modest increase included in the budget is within the state property tax cap, and acknowledges the hardship the federal government has imposed on the people of Westchester through the loss of the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction in the American Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.“
The Board of Legislators can propose additions or deletions to the budget, vote to move it out of the Budget and Appropriations Committee for final review and end with a vote by the full Board.
The final budget is then sent to Latimer for his signature or veto.
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