In a reflection of the progress being made in recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, Westchester County Executive George Latimer last night delivered his State of the County address to an in-person audience at the Board of Legislators’ chamber in the county’s White Plains office building.
The legislators and a small number of invited guests generally sat further apart than was the case for prepandemic State of the County speeches, some wearing masks. The address was streamed on the internet.
Latimer emphasized the positive in reporting on the recovery being made from the impacts of the virus. He reported that the county started vaccinating against the virus on Jan. 5 with just 10 members of the Department of Health staff, growing to nearly 1,000 county employees volunteering their time to help out at vaccination clinics that had opened in the county.
Latimer said if projections hold true, his administration will be able to cut the county property taxes in the 2022 budget, making the third straight year of cuts. He did not provide an estimate of the size of the projected cut, which came to $1 million for each of the past two years.
He also reported that the 2021 budget was just shy of $2.1 billion, and that it cut expenditures by $15.7 million while increasing the county’s fund balance to more than $200 million.
Latimer said that the recently-formed Moving Westchester Forward Working Group will explore the best ways for the county to use the coronavirus-related state and local fiscal recovery funds.
“The group will focus on various topics including providing economic opportunity, addressing health and mental health care needs and inequities and local and small business development,” Latimer said.
The county executive devoted a section of his speech to a status report on the Westchester County Airport. He said work is continuing to ensure that all de-icing fluids are diverted into tanks and upgrades have been made for collecting storm water runoff in detention basins.
He explained that chemicals used in past years that seeped into the ground water are what pose a threat to drinking water in a reservoir adjacent to the airport, not anything currently being done.
He further noted that under his administration new noise monitors were installed, and the Airport Advisory Board has been overhauled. For the first time, members who serve on the board were recommended by the communities that they represent.
“The Westchester County Airport is a major economic driver for our region,” Latimer said while pointing out that planning the future of the airport is continuing. “It is a source of jobs and it is a major reason why corporations are headquartered here.
“But, at the very same time,” he continued, “it is a presence that impacts surrounding neighbors who seek legitimate protection from its environmental impact. These two realities are the basis for the discussions ahead.”
Latimer said legislation is due to be introduced that will require the county to purchase electric vehicles that will essentially convert the majority of its fleet to electric. Legislation will be introduced to reinforce so-called “complete streets” policies by encouraging multiple use of roadways by widening shoulders for pedestrians and bicyclists, he added.
“In the Covid world we now live in, we are choosing to focus on growing the economy — and workers, startups and small businesses are going to play a big role because the spirit of innovation is there,” Latimer said. “It always was there and now it’s our job to help them grow and succeed.
“The Westchester County Industrial Development Agency provided financial incentives and tax exempt bond financing to a variety of developments representing $370 million in private investment in the county,” he added.
Latimer said that the county provided $14 million in grants to more than 400 businesses that were struggling during the pandemic.
“We also launched Launch 1000, a program to provide 1,000 Westchester residents with the opportunity to launch a new business,” Latimer said in providing a rundown of programs aimed at businesses development.
“I am here to tell you tonight the state of our county, Westchester County, is strong and getting stronger. Yes, we have more work to do … together, united, we will do the job at hand,” Latimer concluded.
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