Reducing property taxes, creating more affordable housing and achieving fiscal stability, were among the goals Westchester County Executive George Latimer says he sought this year when creating his $2.1 billion 2020 spending plan.
In a presentation at the Business Council of Westchester’s Key Bank breakfast on Monday at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown, Latimer said he has sought to run the government as a business, but recognizes that this is not always possible given the demands and constraints of government. He said that new state mandates, sometimes even ones he agreed with, were always upping the ante for local governments. He mentioned the state’s new early voting and laws to separate 16 and 17-year-olds from the general prison population among some of the new costs handed down to counties.
“All those things increase the spending,’’ he said. “So when you hear them say: They’re spending like drunken sailors, know that we are not. We’re trying to figure out how to do the services we are mandated to do, and do it in an appropriate way.”
Latimer said the state’s approval to raise sales tax in the county’s municipalities other than cities, gave the county some breathing room and the ability to get the county’s fiscal house back in order, tackle delayed capital projects, and give residents some property tax relief. Calling it “Tax Equity” Latimer said that since the sales tax was already higher in Westchester cities it made sense to raise it in the towns and villages and use that money to reduce property taxes. He said the county was able to raise $140 million in revenue which it used to reduce the county tax levy and shared with the towns and villages, who in turn, could use it to reduce their own property taxes.
“So it’s a multiplier effect by sharing back that money,’’ he said.
Latimer said he also focused on the need to create affordable housing, which he said was constraining the county’s ability to attract business since workers cannot afford to live here. He said investing in affordable housing was not “softheaded social policy, but hard-headed, economic development policy.’’
Latimer said that he is hopeful that the county’s bond rating will improve with some common-sense steps that were taken this year: eliminating one-shot revenue sources and adding $10 million to the county’s reserve fund, which had dwindled to dangerously low levels.
“The bottom line is that these fiscal policies are intelligent, prudent fiscal policies. I didn’t get them from going to senior citizens with cookies, which I do,’’ he said to some laughter from the audience. “I got them from companies like Nestle and ITT with very strict standards of what you have to do to make things work.’’
Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, thanked Latimer for his partnership with the BCW.
“County Executive Latimer has always been responsive to the business community’s interests,’’ said Gordon. “He has been a wonderful partner and we are thankful to him for his willingness to listen and learn.’’
Gordon also introduced Maggie Peters, the BCW’s new Senior Vice President of Economic Development. Peters brings a strong background in economic development having held leadership positions in both public and private economic development organizations.
READ MORE ABOUT MAGGIE PETERS