WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER. By John F. Bailey. December 11, 2017:
Westchester Legislators passed the Westchester County 2018 budget by a vote of 12 to 5. The margin included a switchover of two Democrats who had previously voted for Astorino budgets in the last two years, and were the margin of victory for the previous two years (Mike Kaplowitz and Virginia Perez) giving the Democrats a veto-proof budget, if the margin holds.
It is the first County budget increase in 7 years. Budgets had previously been passed when not enough Democrats voted for the budget to deny County Executive Robert Astorino vetos, allowing Astorino’s refusal to increase the budgets and taxes to stand.
The Democrats voted to raise the budget this year on the rising tide of the George Latimer victory over Mr. Astorino in the November county executive election.
The budget includes funding for social programs as well as adding back into the budget, 7 parks curator at a cost of $441,000, 12 engineers ( legislators said to take care of $1.6 Billion in infrastructure needs). Those engineers were on the county staff in 2016, and apparently will have to work a lot harder to get those $1.6 Billion in infrastructure projects rolling. The Board of Legislators did not mention the list of $1.6 billion in infrastructure the Astorino Public Works Department with the 12 engineers restored on the payroll had neglected, apparently according to the Board.
Other County staff positions that were restored were 10 positions Mr. Astorino removed from the County Executive’s office at a cost of $782,000 according to the Journal News. The Democrats also added 14 persons to the Board of Elections.
The Board of Legislators said they needed to keep government running at the level depended upon by Westchester residents.
The increase in budget adds additional jobs restored by the legislature as well as a series of increases in allotments to mostly non-profit community service organizations.
The new budget raises taxes 2% – half of the allotted tax cap of 4.4%. These funds are, the legislature said, to help cover the over $30M of fictitious revenue included by the Astorino Administration budget proposal which the County’s independent auditors advised the Board of Legislators to delete. The $30 Million consisted of the Astorino plan for leasing the Westchester County Airport to balance the budget he had submitted, that was rejected by the legislature.
There is the possibility the legislature may approve such a lease of the airport because they will examine it in January when the incoming George Latimer administration takes over. The legislature is also waiting a first payment by Standard Amusements due December 31, to start the Standard Amusements Playland lease that has been dragging on for two years. If Standard does not make the payment, Mr. Latimer has said he will reexamine that Playland deal, too.
“Our financial situation is not a pretty one, but I am proud this legislature was able to come together in a bi-partisan manner to pass a budget that manages the County’s finances responsibly for the people of Westchester,” said Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining). “We just received another negative outlook from the credit rating agencies; we needed to get real with our finances…”