The ambitious budget reduces property taxes for the second year in a row and avoids cutting many public services — for $15.7 million less than last year.
After unveiling the proposal last week, Westchester County Executive George Latimer has submitted the county’s 2021 operating budget to the Board of Legislators for approval and — despite the devastating effects of the pandemic — touts the proposal for maintaining all county services and reducing property taxes for the second year in a row while coming in under the previous year’s budget.
What It Is
The 712-page document outlines precise breakdowns for government expenditures and expected revenue over the coming year. Altogether, the proposed budget weighs in at $2.091 billion, about $15.7 million less than the 2020 budget.
“All of us didn’t get dealt the hand we wanted, but as a result of swift and aggressive action, a little help, and a little luck, we will end 2020 in a stronger position than we anticipated earlier in the year,” says Latimer.
Where the Money Comes From
“With Westchester County facing the most serious fiscal challenge since World War II, The Business Council of Westchester (BCW) is confident that the County Executive and his team will be adopting a budget that to the degree possible maintains essential services, while at the same time protects the County’s bond rating.”
— John Ravits, EVP/COO of The Business Council of Westchester
Properly balanced, revenue should equally offset expenditures, preventing the county from running on a deficit. Notably, the 2021 budget does not presume any “extraordinary” federal assistance like the CARES Act funding that helped bail out local government and businesses during the height of Westchester’s COVID-19 closures. (It actually anticipates a 20% cut in state aid, or a decrease of about $46 million.)
Sales tax will account for almost a third of the county’s revenue, followed by property taxes and federal/state aid as the second- and third-largest income sources, respectively. The remaining 18.58 percent will come from county reserves, revenue generated by county departments, and various miscellany.
One of the budget’s big selling points: For the second year in a row, the county will decrease its total collected sales tax by $1 million, even amid the pandemic.
What’s Taking a Hit
Much of the county’s budgetary magic has stemmed from streamlining, rather than cutting departments or services. In fact, Latimer is proud to say that the new budget maintains all county services — excluding the few county parks locations currently still being utilized for COVID-19 testing — and does not raise fees for residents.
The county itself was able to avoid lay-offs and furloughs in 2020 by offering employees already close to retirement “voluntary separation” incentives, a plan which saved considerable salary and expenses as 226 employees opted in, and held certain other positions vacant.
What’s Getting a Boost
The new budget does increase funding for certain county services which have become more necessary as the pandemic continues. A total of $1.1 billion — more than half the total operating budget — will be dedicated to human services to better aid Westchesterites during this time.
“We are so grateful to County Executive Latimer for continuing to recognize the need to lift our neighbors up during these challenging times,” says Feeding Westchester President & CEO Karen C. Erren. “More than 300,000 county residents are currently relying on us each month, including many individuals who are facing food insecurity for the first time. Allocating $2 million to address food insecurity in Westchester is a critical investment and one that will both nourish and strengthen our communities.”
An additional $5 million each will also be set aside for economic development programs and housing assistance/eviction prevention programs. On top of that, $2 million will be added for food insecurity assistance, with another $1 million for emergency services and PPE procurement.
“Our office is determined to assist Westchester businesses that have faced a deleterious impact from the Covid-19 pandemic,” Westchester Director of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons says. “This budget, with its $5 million for expanded economic development programs, gives us the tools to tackle this immense challenge.”
When Does the Budget Take Effect?
The Westchester County Board of Legislators is now charged with passing the budget by the end of the year, to begin on January 1, 2021.
Says Latimer, “This year has been extraordinarily challenging. Despite these challenges, we as a county have remained resilient and I have no doubt that working together we will emerge from this crisis stronger than before.”
To learn more, watch County Executive Latimer’s full conference video here: