Westchester CE Latimer Proposes Tax Cut Despite COVID Pandemic
John Jordan | November 2020
WHITE PLAINS—With a backdrop of rising coronavirus cases in Westchester County and New York State, Westchester County Executive George Latimer has proposed a tax cut in his 2021 Operating Budget plan.
The County Executive has proposed a $1-million tax cut for the second year in a row. The budget, thanks to $168 million in COVID-19 CARES Act funding and Families First Funding, offset lower sales tax revenues due to the pandemic. The budget maintains all county services. The $2.091 billion county operating budget is $15.7 million below the 2020 budget.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “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.”
Among the highlights of the 2021 Budget include an additional $5 million for economic development programs, $5 million for housing assistance programs and $2 million for food insecurity.
Before entering 2021, the 2020 budget year is slated to end with no layoffs, no furloughs, no service cuts and no borrowing for pension costs. Latimer did acknowledge that no further federal assistance may be forthcoming, which could result in a 20% reduction in state aid as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has previously warned. In 2020, the county engaged in a volunteer separation incentive that resulted in 226 employees leaving county service effective Aug. 1, 2020. Latimer also noted that the county government held vacant a large number of county positions that generated savings.
This 2021 proposed operating budget does not assume any additional extraordinary federal assistance and also anticipates a 20% reduction in its state aid. As a result, the county must rely on drawing all of its projected increase in 2020 reserves to make up for the funding shortfall.
While the economy has rebounded, Latimer noted that the county is still not back to the level of economic activity it experienced prior to the pandemic. Sales tax collections for this year are anticipated to be $662 million or $80 million below the $742 million budgeted.
For 2021 the county has projected that sales tax will grow to $695 million, which is still $46 million below the 2020 Budget. The county also anticipates reduced revenues in some of its parks in 2021 as certain facilities are still being utilized for COVID purposes.
The 2021 operating budget fully funds all county parks and recreational facilities which have remained open and available to residents during the pandemic. The 2021 operating budget does not propose to raise any fees for its parks.
The business community offered support for the proposed county operating plan proposal.
The Business Council of Westchester Executive Vice President/COO John Ravitz said, “With Westchester County facing the most serious fiscal challenge since World War 2, The Business Council of Westchester 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. There are still many unknowns, not the least of which are the state’s own extremely serious budget challenges, which will impact the county’s budget. The BCW looks forward to working with the County Executive and the Board of Legislators as they seek to find the best fiscal path in this difficult time, and help send a clear and positive message that Westchester is economically stable and welcomes businesses and investment.”
Westchester County Association President and CEO Michael N. Romita added, “Westchester’s businesses and nonprofits need the county to maintain financial discipline while continuing to invest in the economy. County Executive Latimer’s proposed budget lowers the tax levy for the second year in a row while putting money towards rebuilding critical infrastructure, business developmentnand affordable housing. Under challenging circumstances, it has the positive hallmarks of responsive and responsible government. The Westchester County Association will continue to work with the county executive and other local leaders to ensure that Westchester remains poised for smart growth.”
On. Oct. 15, County Executive Latimer submitted a 2021 Capital Budget that contained $231.8 million in new appropriations for capital projects. The Capital Budget includes more than $112 million for projects that will provide improvements to the environment, including a food scrap recovery facility, 100 Hybrid replacement buses and electric vehicle charging stations. The Capital Budget, which supports more than 2,000 permanent jobs in Westchester, also includes $80.4 million for the sewer and water districts, $42 million for parkways, roads and bridges; $1 million for the refuse district and $11.6 million for the airport.