By Linnet Tse
At the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit’s December 11 breakfast program, Westchester County Executive George Latimer shared highlights of his first year in office and discussed key initiatives that are underway.
Addressing a packed audience, Latimer said the two areas he focused on in 2018 were: 1) stabilization of County finances; and 2) “turning the direction of this County’s philosophy back to what I consider to be mainstream Westchester.” Addressing the latter point, Latimer cited examples including banning the gun show from the Westchester County Center, legislative approval of the “Ban the Box” measure to assist ex-offenders find employment, and raising the legal age to purchase tobacco or vaping products from 18 to 21.
After seven years without a tax increase, during which time the County workforce was reduced by roughly 20%, or 1,000 positions, Latimer says he is working hard to get the County back on track. In 2018, all open union contracts were finally negotiated, approved and signed. The resulting $1.9 million budget for 2019, which was just approved by the Board of Legislators, includes a 2% tax increase. Latimer pointed out that the 2% increase is below the tax levy cap and lower than increases in Putnam and Rockland counties.
To balance the 2019 budget, Latimer has included $22 million of revenues from a somewhat controversial proposal to sell the County Center’s 14-acre parking lot to the Westchester County Local Development Corp. (LDC). Although the property has been used solely as a parking lot for five or six decades, it is designated as parkland, and would require New York State approval to sell it.
One negative impact of the flat taxes has been insufficient funds to maintain the County’s aging roads and bridges. Latimer cited the Bronx River Parkway as being in critical need of rebuilding. Lacking sufficient funds to tackle the whole project at once, Latimer said that the work will have to be done piecemeal over a number of years.
Asked if there was a way to reduce taxes, Latimer bluntly said “NO,” not without cutting services. Latimer reminded the audience that the County is responsible for providing regional services across an area that includes 45 municipalities, covering necessary services that are mostly mandated and are not provided by either New York State or the local municipalities. County services include sewage treatment, running the County jail and probation department, the B-Line bus, the County health department, and social services to the needed.
Latimer shared updates on other key projects:
Concerning Westchester County Airport, Latimer was asked about plans to privatize the airport. He pointed out that the airport is already privatized in that the County has a contract with a private company – AvPORTS – to run the airport. Latimer believes it is critical for the County to maintain control over the airport.
On Playland, Latimer said the County is in dialogue with Standard Amusements regarding their contract to take over Playland in November 2019. He indicated the County would like to renegotiate the contract, to ensure that it is in the best interest of County residents. Latimer believes that Playland can be profitable if properly managed and marketed.
North 60 bio-tech campus: was approved by the Board of Legislators in 2017, delays have sparked concern about the status of this $1.2 billion project, which is anticipated to add jobs and tax revenues. Originally the plans included bio-tech research space, retail space, and a hotel, but the developer – Fareri – has added housing to the project. With this scope change, Latimer explained that a market study is underway to confirm that there is sufficient demand for the amount of development proposed. Provided that the market study supports the development plans, Latimer anticipates that the project will be able to move ahead.
Turning to human rights issues, Latimer said that one of the items that the County’s Human Rights Commission is addressing is how to deal with an explosion of hate crimes. “Hate has no home here. That’s our policy.” In 2018, the County Board of Legislators also passed the “Immigration Protection Act.” The bill limits information the County will share with federal immigration authorities and bars County employees from asking about a person’s citizenship in most situations. Latimer clarified that it does not provide ultimate sanctuary as it does not override the Federal government acting with proper judicial warrants.
This breakfast forum was hosted by The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit. Its next program will be Tuesday, January 15, 7:45 a.m. at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck. The program will address local environmental initiatives. All are welcome.