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WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER. From the Westchester County Department of Communications. November 8, 2019:

Westchester County Executive George Latimer unveiled his 2020 proposed Operating Budget at the County Office building before County leadership, staff, the Westchester County Board of Legislators, non-profit leaders and municipal officials.  The $2.1 billion dollar budget includes a $1 million dollar cut to the Westchester County Property Tax Levy.

Latimer said:

“We made a commitment to freeze County property taxes, and now we can go a bit 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, and 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.

The share-back is directly responsible for the 0% increase to the Greenburgh property tax rate.  Greenburgh expects to receive $3.2 million in unanticipated revenues in 2019 and 2020.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said: “The reason why the town was able to have a 0% tax increase is because of the decision of Westchester County Executive George Latimer to share revenues from the sales tax with local governments.  This shared revenue will make it easier for all local governments to comply with the tax cap and work to end Westchester’s distinction of having the highest property taxes in the United States.”

Additionally, Lewisboro was able to keep their property tax rate under the New York State cap as a result of the additional sales tax dollars. Lewisboro was also able to spend:

  • $200,000 to cover likely shortfall in mortgage tax receipts,
  • $150,000 to cover retirement cost of Parks Superintendent,
  • $70,000 to cover additional hours for Police Chief and promotion of one patrolman to Sergeant caused in part by NYS Pre-Trial Discovery law reform, and
  • $40,000 in balance restoration.

Lewisboro Town Supervisor Peter Parsons said: “The additional funding from the sales tax will help the Town spread the tax burden more evenly, and is a first step toward being fairer to our senior citizens who tend to be property rich.”

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.  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.

Greater Ossining Chamber of Commerce President Dr. Gayle Marchica said: “It has been incumbent upon County Executive Latimer to restore fiscal order to a budget that had been pushed past a reasonable threshold. Latimer’s proposal of no ‘one-shot deals’ to restore fiscal credibility, the replenishing of the County reserves, and zero-borrowing, exhibit a well thought out and sustainable approach to a longer-range plan. Ongoing small business growth is contingent upon our fiscal health and economic promise. As a small business leader, I am hopeful for further economic growth, workforce development and profitability in our County’s business vista.”

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. 

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. 
    • The last plan was developed in 2000. 
    • 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.

Maintaining his commitment to the environment, Latimer has earmarked $400k for additional funding for environmental initiatives including storm water gaugesand 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.

Westchester County Climate Crisis Task Force Chair and the President of the Westchester Chapter of The Climate Reality Project Janet Harckham said: “The allocation of funds to the office of Energy Conservation and Sustainability demonstrates the commitment by the County to make meaningful strides to combat the climate crisis.  This investment enables the department to create a tree planting initiative, significantly reduce greenhouse gasses and save money through energy efficiency, and invest in renewable power. This is a win, win, win.”

County Director of Energy Conservation and Sustainability Peter McCartt said:  “Implementing these various programs shows a further commitment by this administration that we are up to the task of battling back against the forces that are exacerbating this climate crisis.”

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 7 day Curator coverage.  Additionally, a maintenance employee will be added at Hilltop Hanover Farm.  

Non-profits are also slated to receive an overall 3% increase, 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.

Additionally, 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% to 25%, eliminating hourly billing and granting a 3% 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.

Latimer has handed the budget to the Westchester County Board of Legislators.  They are charged with passing the budget before December 27, 2019 as ordered by the Charter.

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