Happy Days Here Again! Westchester County Exec-Legislature Eliminate 64 Budgeted,Unfilled But Funded Positions to Balance 2016 Budget Before the Holidays–6th Year of No County Property Tax Increase

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WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER. From the Westchester County Department of Communications. (EDITED) December 12, 2015:

Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino Friday thanked the bi-partisan coalition of 10 legislators that has come together to ensure passage of a compromise version of his $1.8 billion budget for 2016 that maintains the two goals he established at the start of the negotiations: no increase in the tax levy and no raiding of the “rainy day” fund to pay for operational expenses.

The coalition budget has the support of two Democrats and eight Republicans, giving it one more vote than the necessary nine to pass.  It was negotiated by the Administration, County Board of Legislators’ Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, Vice Chairman James Maisano, Republican Majority Leader John Testa and Budget Chairperson Sheila Marcotte.

“Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to knowing exactly how every dollar of the budget should be spent,” said Astorino. “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. That’s how the process should work. I want to thank all the members of the coalition for their support and Chairman Kaplowtiz, Vice Chairman Maisano, Republican Leader Testa and Budget Chair Marcotte for their leadership.”

Austin Ave Property Sale a Key Factor

Kaplowitz said the flexibility of the administration was key to building a coalition, particularly the willingness to address funding for not-for-profit agencies and the assurance that if county property on Austin Avenue in Yonkers is sold next year proceeds are intended to be used to build up the county’s reserves and minimize or eliminate the need to borrow for tax certioraris, the money refunded to property owners who successfully prove their tax bills were too high.

“Through bipartisan cooperation we have reached an agreement for a sixth consecutive no tax increase budget,” said Kaplowitz.  “This budget is not perfect but it is sound.  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 fiscal health.”

Maisano added: “I’m pleased our legislature was able to work with the County Executive in a bipartisan manner to reach a compromise budget that holds the line on taxes and protects essential services.”

The formal vote is scheduled for Monday and passage will be Astorino’s sixth consecutive budget without an increase in the tax levy.  Areas of compromise in the coalition budget include headcount restorations  and not-for-profit funding adjustments.

“Once again a bipartisan majority of legislators came together, left politics behind, and compromised to create a responsible budget for 2016 that keeps our critical social safety net in place while also looking out for the taxpayers of Westchester,” said Testa. “I urge all my colleagues to support this effort and vote yes on this budget.”

In addition to Kaplowitz, Maisano, Testa and Marcotte, the legislators supporting the coalition budget are:  Francis Corcoran, Michael Smith, David Gelfarb, Bernice Spreckman, Gordon Burrows and Virginia Perez.

“The budget belongs to everyone,” said Marcotte. “Over the last few weeks, the Budget Committee made an effort to ensure all voices were heard. I want to thank the public and my colleagues for their input. By doing a lot of listening, I think we’ve come up with a budget that serves the county well.”

Highlights from the coalition budget include:

  • Tax Levy: $548 million – no increase from 2015
  • Spending: $1.8 billion – flat to 2015
  • Safety Net: $595 million – no decrease from 2015
  • Unrestricted Reserves (Rainy Day Fund): $140 million – no decrease from 2015
  • Headcount:   4,160 total general fund position count – four layoffs and 64 vacancy eliminations.

(Editor’s Note: It is unclear from this news release whether or not the county has revised downward its optimistic sales tax figures projection for 2016, which was very optimistically calculated in 2015 which has partially caused the $25 Million deficit the 2015 budget faced. The release also does not indicate how that shortfall is being erased.)

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