The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed a $1.8 billion operating budget for 2017 on Monday – marking the seventh consecutive year with no tax increases – though some Democrats criticize the budget for stretching the county’s operations too thin.
The budget was passed by a vote of 10-7, with all Democrats opposing the budget except Chairman Michael Kaplowitz and Legislator Virginia Perez.
“The 2017 budget not only protects taxpayers by not raising taxes for a seventh consecutive year, it strengthens social programs that many Westchester County residents rely on as well as adding critical positions to our county police and engineering positions in the Department of Public Works to help address a major backlog of capital projects,” Kaplowitz said.
The budget includes $15 million in revenue from a plan that would lease the Westchester County Airport to Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management. The full lease agreement proposal was sent to the board on Nov. 4 following the public announcement of the deal one day prior. The plan was met with skepticism from legislators.
Prior to the budget vote, the Board of Legislators voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to issue a request for proposals to find a private operator for the airport. The final budget agreement includes a commitment to use $15 million of reserve funds if no airport deal is reached in the coming year.
“The county executive proposed a very promising deal with a private operator for the airport, and I am hopeful that following the bidding process we will act quickly to select a partner to help us monetize that important county asset for general county operational costs.” said Minority Leader John Testa
In a statement following the budget vote, Democratic caucus members of the board said they voted against the budget because of continuing structural imbalance and fiscal irresponsibility.
“Westchester taxpayers are being faced with the reality that this county executive has put the county’s financial future at risk through seven years of structurally unsound and unsustainable budgets that will cost taxpayers greatly in future years,” Majority Leader Catherine Borgia said.
“We are pleased that we were able to compromise with our Republican colleagues to add vital services that will wind up saving taxpayers money, such as money to community-based organizations and an increase in child care funding. However, we realize that the county is charting a dangerous course by continuing to rely on one-shot revenues, especially ones that might not come to fruition during the calendar year for which they are budgeted.”
Democratic Legislator Ben Boykin called the budget “the worst accounting gimmick this county has ever taken part in.”
The budget also contains no reductions to the county workforce, adds six positions to the county police and four engineering positions to the Department of Public Works. The budget carries a reduction in funding to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, while other nonprofit partners kept the same level of funding as the 2016 budget. There was an addition of $210,000 for other community-based organizations.