Standing with small business owner Ronnie Ram at his business Inspiria Outdoor Advertising, his employees and not-for-profit and business leaders throughout Westchester, County Executive George Latimer said: “This is good, positive progressive policy coupled with good fiscal policy done in a bi-partisan fashion.”
The $2.1 billion dollar budget includes a $1 million dollar cut to the Westchester County Property Tax Levy.
Latimer said: “While we committed to at least a freeze of County property taxes, we went even further and cut the County’s property tax levy by $1 million. This budget is about the people who live in Westchester County, it is about giving them some property tax relief while at the same time working to make their County the best it can be – by providing services and programs taxpayers rely on while placing the County back onto solid financial ground.”
This is the first time, in almost a decade that a County Executive has proposed a budget that reduces the County property tax levy. The cut to the tax levy is due in large part to the Westchester County Property Taxpayer Protection Act which shares back 20% to municipalities and 10% to school districts. The 30% amounts to over $40 million helping to provide additional property tax relief.
For the 2020 Budget, the County will also have no “one-shot” deals, a step in the right direction to restore the County’s once sterling Triple A Bond rating. On this, Standard & Poor’s has already revised the County’s credit outlook from “negative” to “stable” – citing recent budgetary actions.
Further, the Budget memorializes Latimer’s commitment to rebuild the County’s reserves – reserves that were nearly depleted by the last administration. Latimer has directed that $10 million dollars be added to the County’s “rainy day fund” – bringing it up to $79 Million - a 23% increase from just one year ago.
The 2020 budget also features zero borrowing for operating expenses. All ongoing expenses, including pension obligations and tax certioraris, will be paid through the operating budget - not borrowed. In the long term this move saves taxpayer dollars.
The 2020 budget also allocates $1 million dollars in Economic Development. The money will be used for:
- A comprehensive long-term economic development strategy and implementation plan.
o The last plan was developed in 2000.
o This will provide a roadmap for economic development for the next 1-5 years and beyond.
- Workforce development initiatives to promote economic development in Westchester County by bringing more wage earners into the workforce.
- Building a pipeline of talent that will enable Westchester County businesses to grow, through a mentorship program.
- Initiatives to develop a more vibrant ecosystem for entrepreneurship in Westchester County, including the expansion of our Element 46 Incubator Program.
Latimer continued: “Let me give a cautionary note to everything in this budget – there are storm clouds out there and we must be prudent people. We do not know how the State will close its budget gap, we will work the State Delegation and the Governor, but there is no guarantee what happens a year from now.”
Additional highlights of the 2020 Operating Budget include:
- The Budget invests $1.5 million dollars in new Housing and Community Development initiatives, focusing on not only building affordable housing, but also education initiatives to enable more Westchester families to move toward homeownership.
- Maintaining his commitment to the environment, Latimer has earmarked $400k for additional funding for environmental initiatives including storm water gauges and Planting Westchester, a program that will plant trees, greenery and add community gardens for food security and carbon sequestration. The County’s program is modeled after New York City’s successful Million Tree Campaign. Additionally included:
- Refrigerant Disposal Program – Awareness campaign to ensure proper disposal of refrigerants as well as solid waste enforcement and subsidies for municipalities to insure proper collection and disposal.
- Real-Time Meters – Placed in all County facilities to track energy usage to increase energy savings and the Demand Response Program (earnings).
- Food Scrap Recycling –Phase 1 of the Implementation of recommendations from the “Food Scrap Recycling Study.”
- Fleet Electrification – Increase purchasing of electric vehicles and build-out of charging infrastructure.
- Working towards a complete count, Latimer has allocated $150k for Census 2020 initiatives to ensure that every resident in Westchester is counted so the County does not lose out on both federal representation and federal funding. Specifically:
- Capacity building – helping organizations increase awareness about the census,
- Volunteer recruitment and
- Creation of local census hubs.
- Latimer has also set money aside to meet the new state mandates for criminal justice reform and election reform.
- After the rash of hate crimes in the County, Latimer is also refocusing on the County’s Human Rights Commission and adding the position of a Hate Crime Specialist to the department. Additionally, dollars have been set aside for Anti-Bias Educational Programs for Schools and College Campuses.
- In our nationally accredited Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, on the heels of a banner year at Playland, with the highest attendance for the past four years, Latimer is continuing to invest in the Park this time by increasing Playland’s marketing budget by $250K, bringing the total amount now to $1.2 million in 2020. Three curators will also be added to the Parks Department to be rotated among facilities to have seven-day Curator coverage. Additionally, a maintenance employee will be added at Hilltop Hanover Farm.
- Our non-porfit partner will receive additional financial support in order to enhance community programming, and the budget includes the creation of a non-profit contracting position to improve the procurement process. The Chief Non-Profit Contract Officer will serve as County-wide liaison to non-profit agencies contracting with the County to assist with the processing of contracts, provides training with the Department of Information Technology for departments and vendors on modules of the Vendor Portal, and ensure all of the administrative processes involved in the development, awarding and monitoring of contracts are handled in a timely and efficient manner.
- The Invest in Kids programs will be expanded to include pilot programs that will allow innovation, and will not be limited to geography or socioeconomic patterns. Invest in Kids was established under the Westchester County Youth Bureau Charter as a mechanism for provision of local tax levy financial resource for expanded use of the positive youth development model in addressing the needs of at-risk youth under the age of 21.
- Additionally, the budget is making significant changes to how the County administers its daycare program by reducing the parent contribution for childcare from 27 percent to 25 percent, eliminating hourly billing and granting a 6 percent provider increase.
- Moreover the 2020 budget also earmarks money for:
- Stepping-up County customer service initiatives for Bee-Line and Paratransit,
- Streamlining the capital project process (DPW & Parks),
- Takes a holistic approach to community development and sustainability (DPW & Planning) and
- Studying fire response and prevention at Valhalla Grasslands Campus.
The full press conference can be seen HERE.