Westchester County Executive George Latimer introduced a $2.091 billion county operating budget for 2021 on Tuesday morning that will again cut the tax levy by $1 million with no layoffs or loss of services.
Despite fears earlier this year that the county could face a severe deficit because of lost revenues due to the pandemic, use of federal CARES Act money for pandemic-related expenses and the voluntary separation program that saw the county cut its workforce by about 225 people helped balance the budget.
Total spending will be reduced by $15.7 million.
Latimer said the county, which received $168 million in CARES Act funding, benefitted by about $80 million from the federal aid. Funds were applied to four key departments that were most impacted by the pandemic – emergency services, the Health Department, public safety and corrections.
“Because of COVID CARES Act money could cover those costs, we were able to drop to the reserve fund for this year as we close it out a significant amount of money – $80 million as a round number,” Latimer said.
“That money carried forward to 2021 helps us balance this budget and that’s an important element,” he added. “We are not dipping into the reserve fund below what it was when we began the 2020 year.”
Last year, Latimer also reduced the tax levy by $1 million and had pledged that with the increase in sales tax in 2019 that property taxes would not increase for at least two years.
Reserves are projected to remain at $75 million at the end of the year, about the same level at the close of 2019.
Latimer said the county did not need to impose layoffs or furloughs, and is expected to refill about 25 percent of the 225 positions that were vacated last summer through the voluntary separation program. There are also no land sells or other “one-shot” revenues designed to bridge the gap.
“Other counties laid people off, other counties had furloughs, and when you furlough somebody, when you lay them off, you hurt the economy, you make it less likely that people will be able to go out and consume, and families become unstable in the way that they’re able to handle their economics,” Latimer said.
In next year’s proposed budget, nonprofit organizations are scheduled to receive a 2 percent increase over the current year’s $14.5 million in funding, he said.
Latimer said the 2021 spending plan assumes no additional federal assistance beyond what the county typically receives each year and the potential 20 percent reduction from the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned that unless New York State and local governments are provided another round of money from Washington, there may be 20 percent across-the-board reductions in state aid.
The budget includes $5 million each for economic development programs and housing assistance programs and $2 million for food insecurity.
Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) said that Latimer’s proposed budget is something that lawmakers can work with and reflects the county’s priorities of providing a social safety net, protection of health and welfare and public safety.
“Over the next month and a few days, we will be doing a deep dive into this budget, wanting to make sure that the limited resources that this county has is appropriately distributed to protect the people of Westchester County,” Boykin said.
The Board of Legislators’ Budget and Appropriations Committee will begin its review of the budget Thursday morning. A live-streamed public input session will be held on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. with a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9.