Public/private partnerships, the creation of a bio-tech/life sciences sector in Westchester and keeping taxes under control by using creative strategies, were among the top initiatives highlighted by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino last night during his 2017 State of the County address.
The one-hour speech at the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains reviewed some of the major accomplishments that are driving economic development and prosperity in this county. The County Executive also pledged once again not to increase county taxes.
“In his 2017 State of the County Address, the County Executive laid out a case that the Business Council of Westchester has been making for many years: That economic development, lower taxes and creative initiatives such as public/private partnerships are the way to keep Westchester County thriving,’’ said Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester. “BCW was standing alongside the County Executive when many of these achievements were announced and we will continue to stand beside him to promote initiatives we believe will strengthen our local economy and keep taxes low.”
Gordon added, “We applaud his bold action on public/private partnerships and hope that our state lawmakers will follow his example by adopting legislation that we have promoted in our Legislative Agenda which would empower public/private partnerships, creating new jobs and tax revenues statewide.”
The centerpiece of Astorino’s speech focused on public/private partnerships that “unlock county assets,” helping to finance other needed services in the budget. These partnerships include leasing agreements for Playland, the County Airport and county-owned property adjacent to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla to help create the Westchester BioScience & Technology Center as part of a bio-tech/life sciences sector in Westchester.
Chief among these accomplishments was the leasing of 60 acres of land in Valhalla known as the “North 60.” The bi-partisan, unanimous vote to approve the 99-year lease to create the $2.1 billion Westchester BioScience & Technology Center was also a victory for the BCW, which for more than six years has worked to create high-paying, high-tech jobs by making Westchester a center for the bio-tech and bioscience industries.
When finished, the new center will feature more than 2 million square feet of biotechnology and research facilities, alongside space for medical offices, shopping, a hotel and a Children’s Living Science Center. The North 60 project is estimated to generate $9 million in new real estate taxes; $7 million in new annual rent to Westchester County and 12,000 jobs.
WESTCHESTER COUNTY AIRPORT
Another “out of the box” initiative that will have a major positive impact on the county is the proposed a plan for an innovative public/private partnership to operate the County Airport. Astorino’s proposal to lease the airport to a private operator would not only provide a long-term revenue stream for the county, but capital improvements to the airport, which is without question one of Westchester’s most important economic assets. Bids are due back in 90 days, and the concept has bi-partisan support from the Board of Legislators. The plan is expected to generate revenues of about $140 million for the County.
A solution for Playland which has long been a source of pride and frustration for the county is right around the corner, Astorino announced. In March, New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plan that allows the County and its partner, Standard Amusements, to invest $60 million into the world-famous park. The result will be new rides, new restaurants and new attractions in 2018. The BCW has long endorsed the plan which would be a win-win for the county and the management company.
“Overall, we commend the County Executive for once again proposing a fiscally responsible budget that includes no tax increase, keeps spending flat, protects essential services and reaffirms the County’s triple A bond rating. It is critically important that we keep our county’s fiscal house in order to continue to attract and retain businesses in the county,’’ said Gordon.