BOARD OF LEGISLATORS CROSS THEIR FINGERS, PASS 2017 COUNTY BUDGET, 10-7, THAT HAS BUILT-IN SHORTFALLS

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WPCNR COUNTYCLARION-LEDGER. From County Legislator Benjamin Boykin. December 12, 2016:

I voted against the 2017 Operating Budget of $1.81 billion that was approved by a 10 to 7 today.  The 2017 Capital Budget and the Special Districts Budget were also approved by the same margin.

The 2017 Operating Budget is not balanced and is not sustainable. While we have had many questionable “balanced” budgets over the past seven years, this budget puts the County’s finances at the edge of the cliff without any financial flexibility.

The 2017 Operating Budget is constructed on uncertain revenues and borrowings to “balance” the budget without a property tax increase:

  • $15 million is included in revenues for a “proposed” deal to enter into a public-private partnership for the Westchester County Airport. This deal was proposed by the County Executive without a competitive bid process. The Board has rejected this approach and will initiate a competitive procurement process through a Request for Proposal process (RFP) in 2017.  There are no assurances that such an RFP process will result in a transaction that is in the best interests for the taxpayers of Westchester County. In addition, if such a transaction is approved by the Board of Legislators, it must then be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Only two FAA Privatization Pilot Programs (which allow for airport funds to be used for Operating Budgets) have ever been approved and executed since this program was put in place in 1996
  • A 3% growth in sales tax based on the 2016 estimate when many surrounding counties are including only 1% to 2% sales tax growth. The County’s sales tax budgets, due to aggressive growth assumptions, have fallen short in each of the last several years
  • $2.9 million of revenue from State Aid for indigent defendants – this legislation has been approved by the NY State Legislature but has not been signed by the Governor
  • $8.5 million of borrowings to cover real estate tax certiorari which are usually treated as operating expenses
  • $4.2 million of borrowings for pension obligations through the New York State Pension Fund Stabilization Program
  • No monies are included in the budget to cover the cost of union contracts, all of which are expired, and will need to be funded once settlements are reached by the County Executive and the various unions and approved by the Board of Legislators

While the 2017 Operating Budget does protect our nonprofit organizations, I remain very concerned regarding our Public Safety Department. The protection and safety of our residents and visitors is of paramount importance and a primary function of government. Therefore, the Board of Legislators has included funds in the budget for additional public safety staffing.

The County’s unrestricted fund balance (rainy day funds that are to be used for emergency situations) could be significantly adversely impacted by the deficit that is forecast for the current year of 2016 and the major funding gaps for the 2017 Operating Budget.

The 2017 Operating Budget is a ticking time bomb that will explode resulting in large property tax increases for Westchester residents in future years.

I thank the many individuals and organizations that provided comments on the 2017 Operating Budget. The League of Women Voters of Westchester, Inc., the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) and the Scarsdale Forum all state that the 2017 Operating Budget is not balanced. Please click on the links below to read their statements.

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