By Linnet Tse
Addressing a packed audience at the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit’s January 16 breakfast program, new Westchester County Executive George Latimer spoke of “setting a different tone with a different set of philosophies.”
His early actions fulfilled campaign promises and were symbolic of the collegial tone he wants to achieve. In his first day in office, he issued an executive order that will keep his and his predecessor’s names off county signs, sending the message that County assets belong to the people of Westchester, and not to the County Executive. A second executive order, a “good neighbor” policy, will guarantee that local municipalities are consulted on significant projects involving county land. His third executive order banned gun shows from county-owned property.
Latimer’s six issue-based transition committees – health, social services, criminal justice, economic development, operations services, and administrative services – also demonstrates his commitment to listen and work collaboratively. Committees have solicited input from County residents, giving them the opportunity to help shape public policy and identify the new administration’s priorities. He anticipates that the committees’ recommendations will be released by the end of the month.
Contrasting his philosophy with that of his predecessor, Latimer said he strongly believes that “government has a valid role to play in our everyday lives.” Latimer acknowledged the County’s high property taxes, but challenged the audience to consider the value of services we receive: “What is the value of public schools in society? What is the value of local services?”
Latimer anticipates that the tax changes that eliminate the deductibility of state and local taxes will put tremendous pressure on county and local governments and school districts and will require a serious dialogue about the level of the services provided by these entities. After seven years of flat tax levies under his predecessor, Latimer also questions the financial health of the County. He has asked NYS Controller Thomas DiNapoli to send a team to conduct a review of the policies and practices employed in Westchester County finances.
Latimer firmly holds the belief that problems can be solved by working together, across the aisle, and looks forward to a collaborative relationship with the County Legislature.
In response to questions from the audience, Latimer noted that he will be making some staffing changes over the next few months in the County boards and commissions, including the Human Rights Commission.
Latimer reported that the Board of Legislators will be revisiting plans for the privatization of Westchester County Airport, which he believes merits a public policy discussion. Latimer openly questions whether the county should be giving up the decision-making authority for the airport in exchange for financial compensation.
Latimer also noted that the Board of Legislators will be revisiting the immigration protection law they enacted last year. Latimer anticipates that they will come up with a plan that “passes muster with the advocacy community as well as with the law enforcement community.”
Asked about County support of the Army Corp of Engineers’ flood mitigation plan for Mamaroneck, Latimer expressed his view that the County should commit to its piece of the cost in the budget; county commitment is necessary for the state to budget their share.
Latimer pledged 110% effort on behalf of the residents of Westchester County, citing a sense of urgency to use the opportunity he’s been given and to use it well.
This breakfast forum was hosted by the Larchmont/Mamaroneck Local Summit, an informal community council that seeks to make life better for all in the tri-municipal area. Its monthly meetings are held at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck at 7:45 a.m., on the third Tuesday of the month. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, February 13, when the latest plans for Hampshire Country Club will be presented.