GovernmentThe White Plains Examiner

Affordable Housing, Recreation Among Priorities in 2022 Capital Plan

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County Executive George Latimer addresses his priorities for next year’s Westchester capital projects budget.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer proposed a $476.4 million capital projects budget for 2022 last Thursday, with commitments to develop more affordable housing, tackle climate change locally and invest in the parks system.

Latimer, joined by various department heads, has also planned a $28 million commitment to improve potable and fire water suppression systems at Westchester County Airport.

“The capital budget is really a statement of strategic investments,” Latimer said. “This is as much about our future as our present.”

Of the more than $476 million in projects, nearly $292 million will be for general county purposes, $152.4 million for sewer and water projects and $4.1 million toward refuse in addition to the planned expense at the airport.

The county will make the largest investment in affordable housing in its history, Latimer said, with a $50 million commitment for land acquisition and infrastructure improvements in 2022. The effort will help attract and keep a diversified workforce in Westchester.

Planning Commissioner Norma Drummond said Westchester recognizes its need to provide incentives for the construction of housing for people of all income levels. The $50 million far exceeds anything the county has proposed in the past. During the last two years, the county made investments of $10 million toward land acquisition and infrastructure.

“We’ve got developers lined up, we’ve got developers ready to use the funds, so we’re really looking forward to having the ability to provide these funds in the future,” Drummond said.

Several years ago, there had been a report that the county needed about 11,000 additional units of affordable housing to meet the current demand. Latimer estimated that between what has opened this year and other plans in the works accounts for roughly 2,500 units.

Environmental conservation is also high on the list of priorities for the county next year. Proposed is a $31.9 million appropriation for the purchase of electric hybrid buses for the Bee-Line bus fleet, $4.3 million to electrify Westchester’s two bus garages and $1 million for the installation of electric charging stations at county facilities.

In addition, another $1.1 million has been proposed for improvements at Hilltop Hanover Environmental Center in Yorktown.

Nearly $50 million would be appropriated for parks improvements, most of it for structural upgrades to Playland Ice Casino and the neighboring amusement park. The investment is being made as Standard Amusements is set to take over operation of Playland before the end of the year.

There will also be $4 million for significant upgrades for the County Center in White Plains, the first time in nearly 40 years major improvements is planned for that facility.

Parks Commissioner Kathy O’Connor said she and her staff are excited at the county’s pledge to maintain its recreational facilities.

“For many, many years, they’ve been neglected, so we’re playing catch up, but this capital budget for 2022 will really get us off the ground,” she said.

Another $60 million is being invested into the wastewater recovery facilities in Mamaroneck and Yonkers, Latimer said.

Over the past four years, the administration has reduced the backlog of capital project by about $400 million, from just over $1.7 billion to a little more than $1.3 billion, said Larry Soule, the county’s budget director. Westchester has been able to achieve that while upgrading its standing with the ratings agencies.

Soule said Fitch recently removed its negative outlook for Westchester with a current AA+ rating with a stable outlook. That’s the same rating that S&P has given the county while Moody’s reported a AA1 rating, a notch below the coveted AAA. Improved credit ratings lower the county’s borrowing cost for capital projects, he said.

Last week’s unveiling of the capital budget comes about a month before Latimer will release the main portion of Westchester’s spending plan. Latimer said he expects a modest property tax reduction for the third consecutive year when it will be introduced on or about Nov. 10.

During the press conference, Latimer handed the capital projects plan to Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains). Boykin said the investments in critical infrastructure and other assets attracts families to the county.

The Board of Legislators must approve the capital budget and the operating budget by late December.

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