County Budget Passes

The Westchester County Board of Legislatorsvoted to approve the Fiscal Year (FY)2010 county operating budget Monday night. 


From the Board of Legislators Press office:

" The $1.8billion dollar budget includes 3.3% estimate of sales tax growth in 2010,eliminates a combination of twelve filled and vacant staff positions and took avacancy factor in almost all county departments for added savings,includes a consolidation of the county’s departments of health and mentalhealth and continues the transfer of non-mandated programs."

The 9-8 vote did not split on party lines.  

Loop area-Legislators Judy Myers (D-Majority Whip) and James Maisano (R-Minority Whip) both voted against adoption of this budget.

Says Myers:  "This budget, while providing the many valuable safety and support services, could have been reduced further.  It anticipates revenue that is risky at best, includes too much money in county employee overtime and continues the administrative duplication that could and should be eliminated through consolidation and streamlining."



Meanwhile, here are the two sides relating to the current proposal for consolidation.



The Journal News: against the current proposal.


These days itseems there is barely anyone left in Westchester County who hasn’t puttogether a plan on how to cut the 2010 budget and restructure countygovernment. There have been so many competing plans formulated andpresented during this budget season that it’s hard to keep track. Someof the plans are well thought-out, others quickly jerry-rigged tomirror the times. One thing is for sure: Republican Rob Astorino’ssurprising victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic county has evendie-hard advocates of government services pulling out their scalpels.

Suddenly,those who rarely complained about the expanding reach of countygovernment have jumped on the restructure-the-beast bandwagon. Forsome, the motivation is surely political (there’s more jockeying inWhite Plains than at Yonkers Raceway), but there is also good reason:the $1.8 billion budget that outgoing Westchester County ExecutiveAndrew Spano proposed last month is short on revenue and long onspending. And the projected 4.9 percent tax levy increase could risemuch higher if sales and other tax revenues fall short of projections.

Astorino,a former county legislator who campaigned on cutting taxes, may inheritan already downsized county government when he takes office Jan. 1.First, the county executive’s office was stripped to bare-bonesstaffing under Spano’s budget proposal, and now a cadre of Democraticlegislators is rushing to consolidate county departments. Theseill-considered moves would hamstring the new county executive in a waythat is hardly fair — to Astorino, to the voters or to the taxpayers.

Indeed,there’s plenty of reason to streamline county government; that surelyis a key reason why Astorino was elected in a romp. But the new countyexecutive should certainly have a hand in any dramatic restructuring;moreover, there should be serious consideration of all costs involved,not just the monetary savings. There is little evidence of such studiedinquiry so far, certainly very little public discussion. And there isscant prospect of conducting such inquiry prior to Monday’s plannedbudget vote.




Legislator Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers), Vice-Chairman, Westchester CountyBoard of Legislators: In favor of the current plan.


This proposal is just that, a proposal and a stake in theground.  First, it is an appropriate response to what all citizens know,the economic times are challenging.  Unemployment in Westchester is over7% and many are fearful of losing their jobs, stores are closing, home valuesare down and foreclosures up, investment and retirement accounts are well offtheir highs, and consumer sentiment as measured by sales tax is off more than11% year to year.  By all accounts, an economic disaster not seen since1981 and even back to the 1930’s.


Second,this consolidation proposal is also the best way to get the proposed 4.88% taxincrease down to zero. Last week the county auditors reported on ourfinances.  While county government will finish 2009 off in good shapethanks to federal stimulus money and measures that lowered spending by $1.5million, the bad economy will severely affect county finances in 2010. That isunless serious and structural cost-cutting occurs. Without cuts, the countywill actually run out of operating money for one week in May 2010 necessitatingshort-term borrowing at high interest rates.  At the same time, thevaunted reserves the county so prudently put away in good times will be down toalmost nothing and the annual surplus that runs at least $31 million each yearwill be halved.  Sales tax for 2009 is running over $45 million less thanlast year and our investment income is projected to fall from $10 million lastyear to only $350,000 this coming year. 


Itis in this environment that we have introduced this proposed consolidationplan. Called for by the League of Women Voters, the Board’s Citizens BudgetAdvisory Committee, the Fiscal Club of Scarsdale and the Westchester CountyAssociation, this plan would recognize the dire economic times by providingsystemic financial relief for the county.  Not simply one-shot revenues orexpense cuts, true consolidation would combine 36 departments down to aproposed 19, cut costly commissionerships and provide for additional andsignificant future cuts of administrative services through eliminatingduplication. All while not affecting the actual government service itself, onlythe cost of delivering the service.  And this consolidation proposal isthe best tool we have to reduce the 2010 tax increase to zero given thepotential savings.


Ourproposal has already worked brilliantly, for commissioners in fear of losingtheir positions have already offered up significant budget cuts that they werepreviously reluctant to offer up. It has stirred discussion and awakened astatus-quo dedicated administration, legislature and media to the fact thatchange is necessary in the face of an unsustainable present.  Onecommissioner who recently retired even had the courage to suggest the possiblemerging of his former department with another.  Finally, it has offered tothe new county executive the signal that many legislators intend to work withhim to find budgetary savings. 


Hispledge and mandate is to cut taxes and reducing administrative expenses is thefirst place to start.  If he misses this opportunity, he will fail in hismission.


Tothe criticism that more time is needed, our plan allows for careful, importantstudy and discussion to take place in January while realizing important taxrelief for taxpayers now. The actual details of consolidation will benegotiated. But why wait to cut taxes when we can do it now?  When is thebest time to plant an oak tree?  Twenty years ago, but the next best timeis now.


Theoutgoing county executive put in the 2010 budget the elimination after sixmonths of either the Health or Community Mental Health commissioner. Our plansimply multiplies this good idea across the entire county government.  Andto the criticism that these suggestions have been made before, it thereforeconcedes that this plan is valuable and should go forward; that concern seemsmore a pride of authorship rather than substance.  If taxes can belowered, there will be plenty of credit to go around.


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