Westchester Board of Legislators Approves $1.8 Billion 2016 Budget

For the sixth straight year there will be no tax hike. The budget also restores funds to several controversial proposed cuts.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators approved a $1.8 billion budget for 2016 on Monday that will not raise property taxes, but still avoid proposed cuts that had become controversial

It’s the sixth straight year that the county has avoided raising taxes, continuing a pledge County Executive Rob Astorino made to avoid any tax increase while he’s in office.

“Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to knowing exactly how every dollar of the budget should be spent,” Astorino said in a statement. “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.”

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The previous budget proposal from Astorino called for the elimination of funds for various Westchester non-profits, including a 20 percent decrease ArtsWestchster and the Hudson River Museum, and to a Muscoot Farms manager position.

As reported by The Journal News, members of the Board of Legislators announced a revised budget Friday which included an additional $8.4 million to avoid those cuts, mainly by eliminating staff positions that are vacant or will become vacant in 2016. The budget also anticipates a 4 percent sales tax revenue increase. 

The revised budget includes the restorations of the Muscoot Farm manager’s salary, as well as all six full-time curators in county parks. The Hudson River Museum has $100,000 restored to its budget, but will still see a subsidy decrease of about $40,000. The Greenburgh Nature Center has $35,000 restored of the $50,000 cut it faced. Still, six county employees will be laid off and 64 vacant positions eliminated in the budget passed Monday.

And some legislators are questioning whether the budget, which was passed by a 10-7 vote at Monday’s session, could put the county’s finances in jeopardy by drawing down on the county’s fund balance.

“We saw diminished sales tax revenue this year because of plummeting fuel costs, which will leave us short of what we anticipated,” said Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) in a statement. “As a result we will likely have to use dollars from our fund balance to make up that shortfall.  I am afraid that we may find ourselves in a similar position next year.”

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Kaplowitz added that if the county did draw down funds from its fund balance, it could jeopardize its AAA bond rating. “My colleagues and I are going to be watching revenues and spending very closely throughout this fiscal year,” Kaplowitz said.

In a separate statement, several members of the Board’s Democratic Caucus used harsher terms, calling the budget “structurally unbalanced.”

“While I’m happy to see that there were some service restorations, I cannot endorse a budget that spends money based on fictitious revenues,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining).  “I believe that we are going to have to revisit this budget in the coming months because of the indefensible budget practices of this administration.”

Legislator Sheila Marcotte (R-Tuckahoe) said she was happy to see that to a large extent the budget was able to restore several programs and positions.

“I am most happy that for the sixth straight year, we stood with taxpayers with a no tax increase budget,” said Marcotte, the chair of the Board of Legislator’s Budget and Appropriations Committee. “An accomplishment that is, frankly, unheard of in these economic times.”

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