Westchester County ended the 2017 fiscal year with an about $32 million deficit. It’s a figure Democratic County Executive George Latimer says his administration inherited from the previous one — under Republican Rob Astorino.
County Executive George Latimer released Westchester’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2017 on June 26. The report shows that the county ended 2017 with a $32.2 million deficit, and faces a projected deficit for 2018 of $28.7 million before any money is budgeted for a settlement with the county's largest union, CSEA, whose members have been working without a contract for seven years. Democrat Ben Boykin is chair of the Board of Legislators.
“For years, I’ve warned about the structural fiscal imbalance in county budgets that has led us to where we stand today. I alone with a lot of other colleagues on the Board of Legislators repeatedly voted against budgets put forward by the prior county executive. I did vote for the 2018 budget,” Boykin says. “The budgets that I voted against were balanced with one-shot revenues, by borrowings to pay for short-term operating expenses and other one-time items.”
Boykin says unsustainable budgets left large deficits and substantial reductions in the county’s rainy-day funds. Here’s Latimer.
“We’re in the process right now as an executive branch working through our effort to look at every single contract that we have to determine if there’s any cost control benefit in them,” Latimer says. “That’s Liberty Lines, that’s Playland, that’s every single contract we have.”
Latimer says the county is creating a plan to save money, which includes developing a shared services plan; consolidating office space and looking to move county employees from rented office space into county-owned office space; exploring energy reduction initiatives, and enforcing and collecting fines and fees.
“For crying out loud, we went on to the site for unclaimed funds for New York state; we found $20,000 that came to the county,” Latimer says. “That’s not going to close the gap but it shows the intent of this government to do everything we can.”
And to do it, he says, openly and transparently.
“Let’s be clear. Nowhere in here have we discussed a significant property tax increase,” Latimer says. “Anyone who asserts that is playing politics with our finance, and we’ve had politics played for far too long with our finance.”
Democrat Catherine Borgia is chair of the Board’s Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“It was not a surprise. It was not a surprise. We have many, many reports form our Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, the League of Women Voters and several legislative responses that told us we were always going to be in this situation,” Borgia says. “However, now that we know, we can turn it around and working together that’s what we’re going to do.”
Borgia says her committee will look for cost savings in a number of areas.
“Many subcommittees that are looking at things like sharing services not only with municipalities, where the county executive taken a leadership role, but also looking at school districts because a big chunk of people’s property taxes is the cost of their schools,” says Borgia.
Nicholas DeSantis is a partner with independent auditor PKF O'Connor Davies who reviewed the fiscal report.
“Over the years that I’ve been involved in looking at the budgets and participating in the audits, we haven’t found the county to have this much in challenges, even back in 2008 when there was a recession that hit; but, nevertheless, here they are,” DeSantis says.
Latimer says there was an uptick in sales tax revenue for the first quarter, but it is too early to translate this into year-end projections. John Testa, the Republican minority leader of the Board of Legislators, was unable to respond in time for this broadcast.