The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposed 2017 Operating Budget of $1.81 billion with a 10 to 7 vote margin Monday.
The 2017 Capital Budget and the Special Districts Budget were also approved by the same margin.
While the County Executive’s office touted no property tax increase for seven consecutive years and no personnel cuts, the budget relies in part on $15 million in revenues from a lease agreement for the Westchester County Airport, which the BOL informed Astorino a week ago it would not approve.
Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) told the Examiner last week that the 40-year, $140 million lease deal for Oaktree Capital Management to operate the county airport next year did not have the required supermajority support of 12 lawmakers without the county putting the item out for a Request for Proposal (RFP).
“We just want to make sure it was the best deal and it was good for Westchester taxpayers,” Kaplowitz said of the desire for an RFP.
While no target date for the RFP was mentioned, the board is replacing the anticipated $15 million in revenue from the airport deal in the $1.81B budget for 2017 with money from the reserve fund, he said.
Astorino raised eyebrows in early November when he announced that he had reached an agreement with Oaktree but wasn’t required to go out to bid.
Other budgetary changes made by the BOL last week included adding $700,000 for public safety to hire three to five additional county police officers and additional hires for the county DPW, Kaplowitz said.
In a press statement after the vote, Legislator Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) who voted against the proposed budget said, “The 2017 Operating Budget is not balanced and is not sustainable. While we have had many questionable “balanced” budgets over the past seven years, this budget puts the County’s finances at the edge of the cliff without any financial flexibility. The 2017 Operating Budget is constructed on uncertain revenues and borrowings to “balance” the budget without a property tax increase.”
Boykin stressed that the projected 3 percent growth in sales tax based on the 2016 estimate when many surrounding counties are including only 1 percent to 2 percent sales tax growth, is too high. “The County’s sales tax budgets, due to aggressive growth assumptions, have fallen short in each of the last several years,” he said.
Boykin was concerned about other stated revenue sources including $2.9 million from State Aid for indigent defendants, which is uncertain because the legislation has been approved by the NY State Legislature but has not been signed by the Governor; $8.5 million of borrowings to cover real estate tax certiorari which are usually treated as operating expenses; $4.2 million of borrowings for pension obligations through the New York State Pension Fund Stabilization Program.
“No monies are included in the budget to cover the cost of union contracts, all of which are expired, and will need to be funded once settlements are reached by the County Executive and the various unions and approved by the Board of Legislators,” Boykin said.
He added, “The County’s unrestricted fund balance (rainy day funds that are to be used for emergency situations) could be significantly adversely impacted by the deficit that is forecast for the current year of 2016 and the major funding gaps for the 2017 Operating Budget.”
There will be no reduction in funding next year for any of the nonprofit organizations.