by Rick Pezzullo
A bipartisan coalition of Westchester County Board of Legislators passed a 2016 budget in mid-December that freezes taxes for the sixth straight year.
In a 10-7 vote on December 14, legislators approved a $1.8 billion spending plan that restored some proposed cuts to non-profit organizations, parks and public safety. Eight Republicans and two Democrats, including board Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (Somers), joined forces to support the budget. County taxes represent about 15% of a property owner’s annual tax bill.
“This budget is not perfect but it is sound,” Kaplowitz said. “I remain concerned about the level of our reserve funds, but I am confident that through cooperation and smart financial management we will maintain Westchester County’s financial health.”
County Executive Rob Astorino said he was pleased the approved budget maintained his two main goals of no increase in the tax levy and not raiding the “rainy day” fund to pay for operational expenses.
“Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to knowing exactly how every dollar of the budget should be spent,” Astorino remarked. “I had priorities and the Republicans and Democrats on the board had their priorities as well. We worked out our differences and came to an agreement that protects taxpayers and preserves essential services in a way that has majority support.”
The budget includes four layoffs and the elimination of 64 vacancies that were funded. Overall, the county has 4,160 funded positions.
“We added back as many of the jobs and service programs that we could, but our colleagues in the Democratic caucus ultimately voted against the budget which restored funding for the social safety net but did not offer any realistic alternatives,” said Minority Leader John Testa (R/Peekskill). “While collaborating on the budget with County Executive Rob Astorino, he assured us that he can manage Westchester County on the budget that we passed today, and I believe him.”
The Democrats who voted against the budget maintained it was “structurally unbalanced” and relies too much on “one shot revenues and suspect revenue projections.”
“While I’m happy to see that there were some service restorations, I cannot endorse a budget that spends money based on fictitious revenues,” said Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D/Ossining). “I believe that we are going to have to revisit this budget in the coming months because of the indefensible budget practices of this administration.”
“I am concerned that many of our non-profits who provide critical, often mandated human services in an efficient and cost saving manner for the present and future, are not going to be funded at sustainable levels,” said Legislator Alfreda Williams (D/Greenburgh). “We have been facing this problem for several years and failed to adopt efficiencies that would help pay for these things in a responsible manner.”