Now that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed the Westchester County Property Taxpayer Protection Act, the county executive is rolling out a plan to implement it. The measure allows for a sales-tax increase, bringing Westchester’s rate in line with nearby counties and cities within the county.
Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer says the idea is to take the burden off property taxpayers and help combat the loss of much of the federal state and local tax deduction, or SALT. The recently-signed legislation permits raising the county’s sales tax by 1 percent to 8 3/8 percent. Latimer says of the nearly $70 million that will be collected, local municipalities will collect 20 percent and local school districts will collect 10 percent.
“This is additional revenue this year that will go into the budgets of every village in this county, every town in this county, the cities of Rye City and Peekskill, and the school district in this county that are short of the four major school districts,” Latimer says. “And the reason why they’re not included is they have in their municipalities their own sales taxes levied by their local governments, and they get that authority from the state independent — Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and White Plains.”
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, is from Westchester County:
“It is not usual for a bunch of elected officials to stand together to applaud themselves about increased taxes unless, and I think we all get this, we understand that to make government work it takes resources, and these resources come from a variety of ways,” Stewart-Cousins says.
Latimer, announcing his response plan flanked by numerous state and local lawmakers in Greenburgh, used the town as an example of how the sales-tax increase will help.
“Greenburgh Town will receive an additional $1 million of revenue, $1,057,111 of additional revenue for the Town of Greenburgh that they did not budget for, that they can put in their reserve fund. They can use it to deal with unexpected costs. They can use it for capital projects. They can roll it over and deal with the tax issues,” says Latimer. “And next year for a full year, Greenburgh will receive an additional $2,292,529.”
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner:
“But just because we’re getting more revenue doesn’t mean we have to spend the revenue,” Feiner says. “And I think that the challenge for all elected officials is not to overspend but to use the money prudently and wisely to look for ways for additional cost sharing of services.”
Westchester has the highest property taxes in the nation. State assemblyman Tom Abinanti:
“The sales tax is an alternative revenue source,” Abinanti says. “This constitutes a homeowner’s protection act, a homeowner’s protection act for all property taxpayers in Westchester County.”
State Senator Shelley Mayer succeeded Latimer in representing the 37th District.
“This is a good move for Westchester, a good move, I would say as the chair of the Education Committee, for every child in our school districts and for our municipalities,” Mayer says.
Latimer’s plan includes introducing budget amendments.
“Delete revenue of $23 million from the proposed sale of county center parking lots to the county LDC to be replaced by added sales tax revenue,” Latimer says. “The second element of the budget amendment for this year is to add an additional $5 million to the county reserve fund based on additional sales tax. That’s the first addition to our county reserve fund that we have had in any recent number of years, $5 million this year for this year.”
And putting $5 million into this year’s fund balance is something Westchester County Board of Legislators Chair Ben Boykin supports.
“And when you have a $1,940,000,000 budget, and you only have $65 million in your rainy day fund, you can do the math, that’s not a lot of money. So we’ve got to rebuild our fund balance,” Boykin says. “And after we do that, we must continue to deliver the essential services that the taxpayers and the residents of Westchester County expect. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Latimer signed an executive order to prohibit the county from independently selling county parkland that exceeds 2 acres as such a sale is allowable via a state loophole.
“This states categorically that we will not use that loophole in order to work around the state legislature. We respect the authority of the Assembly and the Senate and the governor to make decisions about parkland alienation,” Latimer says. “That was what was intended in the state constitution, and that is what will be the policy of Westchester County.”
The bill expires November 30, 2020, and is subject to reauthorization by the state legislature.