County Executive Latimer Signs 2021 Operating Budget
For the second year in a row, Westchester County Executive George Latimer has cut the Westchester County tax levy by $1 million dollars. Latimer signed the budget on December 16, flanked by nurses at the Westchester County Health Department Clinic highlighting the unprecedented year that 2020 has been, and the extraordinary work of our healthcare professionals.
In the midst of a crippling pandemic and an economic downtown, Latimer kept his promise to the people of Westchester and signed the 2021 budget not only cutting taxes, but also maintaining all County services, and cutting expenditures by $15.7 million dollars in the $2.091 billion dollar budget.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “2020 has tested us like never before. We have seen things this year that I pray we never see again. However, I knew despite all the economic challenges – the last thing I could do right now is raise taxes. I know many people are hurting, and I want them to know I am fighting for them. I want to thank the people of this County for having faith in your County government.”
The 2021 Budget includes an additional: $5 million for Economic Development Programs; $5 million for Housing Assistance Programs; $2 million for Food Insecurity; $1 million for Emergency Services Response / PPE.
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.
Business Council of Westchester President & CEO Dr. Marsha Gordon said,“The BCW congratulates County Executive George Latimer and the Board of Legislators on the passage of the 2021 budget. We are confident in knowing that the 2021 budget is solid and maintains essential services while protecting the County’s AAA bond rating. There are many unknowns in the future - and we stand ready to work with the County Executive and Board of Legislators as they continue to navigate the best fiscal path in these difficult times. At the same time, we must continue to convey that Westchester is economically stable and welcomes business and investment.”
The parent portion of childcare costs has also dropped from 25% to 23%, Child Care Council of Westchester, Inc. Executive Director Kathy Halas noted, “There will be no economic recovery without childcare. The County Executive and the Board of Legislators responded to this need by raising the subsidy reimbursement rate to help childcare businesses meet rising operating costs and reducing the parent contribution to put more money in the households of hard working, often essential, workers. Westchester County has long been a leader on child care, and the support for child care in this budget, adopted under the most challenging of conditions, is further evidence.”
Nonprofit Westchester Executive Director Jan Fisher said, “Like other businesses, our organizations have been stretched financially and in need of government investments to meet the ever-growing demands on our services. A budget reflects the values of its community - and the 2021 budget brought forth by County Executive Latimer demonstrates both the value he places on the people and communities served by the nonprofit sector and an understanding of the overwhelming needs our agencies are uniquely and expertly addressing.”
Due to the Latimer Administration’s strong relationship with Westchester’s Federal Delegation in Washington, the County was able to secure direct Federal assistance under both the Families First and CARES Acts. This has allowed the County to fund the additional costs that have arisen due to the pandemic as well as maintain essential County services. However, this 2021 proposed Budget does not assume any additional extraordinary federal assistance, and anticipates a 20% reduction in Westchester County’s state aid. As a result, this Budget must rely on drawing all projected increase in 2020 reserves.
Latimer said, “At the onset of the pandemic our revenue projections were revised downward by nearly $200 million and we took immediate actions to address the financial downturn. We submitted legislation, passed by the County Board of Legislators, allowing the county to borrow for tax certioraris as well as pension payments and we amended the Budget to reverse the $10 million budgeted addition to fund balance. We implemented a voluntary separation incentive that resulted in 226 employees leaving County service effective Aug. 1. We also held vacant a large number of County positions to generate needed savings.”
For 2021, the County has projected that sales tax will grow to $695 million, which is $46 million below the 2020 Budget.
Director of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons said, “Our office is determined to assist Westchester businesses that have faced a deleterious impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. This Budget, with its $5M for expanded economic development programs, gives us the tools to tackle this immense challenge. We are grateful to the Board of Legislators and the County Executive for their support for these initiatives.”
Social Justice was also a theme in this year’s budget by focusing on: Human Rights Commission fair housing investigations; Countywide community dialogue on race relations; Department of Correction programs and partnerships; Implementation of implicit bias trainings in Departments of Probation and Corrections; Implementation of access to justice program with the NYS Unified Court System.
The 2021 Budget also prioritizes women by: Enhancing MWBE participation ; Increasing funding to WEDC for MWBE through CARES Act;
Funding specialized domestic violence training for police ; Office for Women funding for immigrant legal services, Domestic Violence legal assistance, and child care capacity development; Creating Economic Development entrepreneurship program for women; Creating a women’s mentoring network partnership to assist women in finding employment.
Westchester County Office for Women Director Robi Schlaff said, “This is a great budget for Westchester women strengthening support for child care, domestic violence prevention, and women-owned business programs. Women in Westchester continue to be supported by County Executive George Latimer and the 2021 budget proves it. This budget protects women and families, through funding of domestic violence services, child care, economic opportunities and eviction prevention.”
Latimer also submitted a Capital Budget that contained $231.8 million in new appropriations for capital projects. The Capital Budget includes over $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 County’s Capital Program also supports over 2,000 permanent jobs within the County.
Chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators Ben Boykin concluded, “Building back from this once-in-a-century pandemic is going to be a multi-year process, but we have taken an important step with this budget. At a time when the people are turning to government for help, we are proving for people who are hungry, or who may be facing domestic violence or eviction, aiding students who need educational support and strengthening support for childcare to help our working families. We’ve also added millions for business development to help the Westchester economy recover from the pandemic. At the same time, we’ve been able to cut overall spending and lower the tax levy on property owners. The County budgets passed unanimously, which is extremely rare, but that’s a reflection of the creativity and leadership of the County Executive, our County Budget Department and my fellow legislators all pulling in the same direction in a time of crisis to protect the people of Westchester.”