While nine of my colleagues on Monday [December 14] approved Westchester County’s $1.8 billion 2010 budget, I was one of the eight County Legislators who voted against it.
My reasons for doing so were many. Though budgeting for 2010 was one of the most challenging tasks of my tenure to date in the County Legislature, I could not in good conscience approve a plan that raised taxes and increased spending without pursuing all the reductions I believed were possible.
The facts are these: The budget that was approved is actually $11 million less than the one originally proposed in November. In addition, the tax levy increase of 2.9 percent is also down from the original 4.88 percent proposal.
In addition, a large portion of the increase in county spending — $48 million – is due to circumstances beyond county control. For example, the county has experienced a dramatic increase in social services and children with special needs spending, payments to the state retirement system and higher employee health insurance costs.
Westchester County also is expecting in 2010 to receive $45 million less in sales tax money than it did in 2009 – another blow to an already bleak financial picture.
Nonetheless, I could not in good faith ask taxpayers to pay even slightly more in county property taxes, which represent 17 percent of your property tax bill, without paring down the budget as much as possible
Before Monday’s vote, I had backed a resolution to cut costs by overhauling county departments, consolidating those that would be appropriate and streamlining operations in the process. I still hope to reach that goal next year, working with my fellow legislators and incoming administration to achieve it.
I had other qualms about the budget, too. There are $1 million in “legislator earmarks” for “pet projects” I believe are inappropriate. I also believe that the budget’s revenue projections are, unfortunately, too optimistic. The hope that there will be more revenue from Playland next year is great, but we can’t bank on something that is so weather dependent.
That said, there are merits to this budget, too. The arts, children’s and environmental programs that district residents lobbied hard for are, in fact, preserved. Even in tough times, I believe such programs must be maintained as an asset to our county and our quality of life.
I sincerely hope that we are on the brink of better times when the county can once again tap sources of revenue other than its residents to preserve and even improve the quality of life we strive to enjoy. I will remain true to my commitment to doing that – and weighing very heavily the best options for our district — as we embark on a new year.