County Executive George Latimer made a passionate case for his proposed 2019 budget during the BCW Key Bank Speaker Series speech at Tarrytown’s Tappan Hill on November 28.
Pointing to a $39 million shortfall in funds over the coming year, Latimer emphasized the tremendous need for fiscal reorganization as reflected in a proposed 2% property tax increase which, according the County Executive, won’t fully cover future county expenses alone.
Latimer stressed his propensity to reach across the aisle and retain members of the prior county administration to resolve Westchester’s budget woes, noting, “we saw talent in place and we did not let politics get in the way of recognizing that talent.” He also pointed to a number of ways in which shortfalls can be resolved, including selling the Westchester County Center parking lot for $22 million, retirement savings, taxing local Airbnb purchases, and IDA recoveries.
“The message I tried to deliver a year ago as well as today is that while I am certainly a member of a party and have certain philosophical beliefs, right now what I am trying to do is shape the direction of the government in a practical way,” Latimer tells 914INC. “Ideology only gets you so far in these things. We have financial realities that we can’t wish away, and we have a practical reality within an electorate of people that will tolerate up to a certain point certain things, and beyond that they won’t. I am trying to navigate between those realities…and trying to lay out for those in the room today what my thinking is as well as the style in which I operate, which is very open, very participative and very open to listen to differing points of view.”
During his remarks, Latimer noted that his administration could have raised taxes by as much as 5.7 percent due to a formula related to state tax caps.
“We kept it at 2 percent in this budget because we know that people are frustrated by their property taxes and we also know the county supports a very small portion of their tax burden,” said Latimer.
Latimer also insisted that the expenses that constitute demands on the 2019 budget are fundamentally vital to the wellbeing of Westchester County as well as its thousands of citizens under extreme financial duress. “Let me tell you what I believe to be true: You cannot run this county government every year on a 2% property tax increase only. You cannot do it,” he said.
“We are tasked by the state and federal government to run social services for needy people in this county. Those people, for one reason or another, will be on the streets of Peekskill, or Yonkers, or New Rochelle on a cold winter night. We must run a correctional institution for those people that have been adjudicated as having broken the law and are going to be housed there, and when they get out of that institution they will be on probation and you must have a probation department.”
Latimer continued to point to a fleet of needs stretching from waste removal to law enforcement. Additionally, Latimer expressed his intention to bring Westchester’s qualms to Albany in the coming year, to continue to renegotiate deals regarding Standard Amusement’s potential control of Playland in Rye, and to reduce the environmental impacts of Westchester County Airport while respecting its role as an economic engine.
For BCW CEO Marsha Gordon, Latimer’s speech also represented the ongoing partnership between the businesses of Westchester and the county executive’s administration in general. “The Business Council of Westchester works very closely with the county executive’s team and the perspective he is giving us today on the budget and on his economic development priorities will show the way for our agenda in 2019,” she says. “We appreciate the partnership we have with him and going forward we will work together to create a pro-business environment in Westchester County.”