Westchester County Executive George Latimer expects to release a tentative 2022 budget next week that reduces the property tax levy by $7 million, the third consecutive year the levy will decline.
In a preview of the $2.2 billion county budget that will officially be unveiled by Nov. 10, Latimer said last Thursday there will be a variety of new initiatives funded in 2022, including $6.4 million to pay for Project Alliance, where specially trained professionals will respond to mental health emergencies alongside the police, and $5.6 million to expand child care subsidies to families earning up to 85 percent of state median income.
Nearly all of the slightly less than $100 million in new spending for next year is from the American Rescue Plan Act that Westchester received from the federal government, he said. However, the sharp property tax levy is a result of saving more than $11 million by trimming the workforce through last year’s voluntary separation incentive program and saving or generating more revenue through reworked contracts.
Latimer said he is proud that he will be proposing the largest tax cut in recent memory for 2022 and maintaining all existing services provided for by the county in addition to adding new initiatives.
“Savings on expenditures, non-property tax revenues and keeping the workforce balanced in size are all factors that help us being able to do this,” Latimer said.
The last time the county presented a declining levy for three consecutive years was 1999 to 2001. After an initial 2 percent cut in his first year on the job, former county executive Rob Astorino kept the levy steady for the remaining seven years that he served.
In each of the last two years the property tax levy fell by $1 million.
Latimer said in the nearly four years since taking office, the number of county employees has declined by just over 200, from 4,608 to 4,399 as of last month.
The new five-year agreement with Liberty Lines, the operator of the county’s Bee-Line buses, will save the county $20 million over the length of the contract while the pact reached in 2019 with Wheelabrator Westchester’s waste-to-energy plant in Peekskill will save another $17 million over 10 years, Latimer said.
There would be $17 million set aside for nonprofit organizations and religious institutions that provide non-religious community services. The money would provide the organizations with technical assistance.
“They provide necessary services in innumerable ways and to maintain those services we believe this program will be helpful, and particularly in the aftermath of COVID,” Latimer said.
An additional program proposed by Latimer for next year will see $6 million go toward health care equity and access. Of that sum, $4 million would fund federally qualified health centers and clinics for equipment, telehealth capacity and outreach improvements. Another $1 million will be for the Health Moms, Healthy Babies Nurse Home Visiting Program and $1 million for a senior telehealth program.
A $1 million initiative to help small landlords called the Rehabilitation Assistance Program would provide qualifying building owners with a 75 percent reimbursement for physical improvements to a property in exchange for keeping rents affordable for at least 10 years.
A pilot program for $500,000 to help pay for college and trade school tuition for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians has also been proposed. To start the program, there would be $2,000 available to 200 recipients.
Another $500,000 could be available next year toward the Youth Uplift Program, a public-nonprofit partnership to help identify 50 to 100 pre-teen and middle school students to focus on health, wellness and fitness and to provide mentoring and training by life coaches.
Once the Board of Legislators receives the proposed budget, it must approve a final spending plan on or before Dec. 27. At least two public hearings will be scheduled around the county for later this month and early December.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/