By law, the County must pass a balanced budget each year. Last fall, County Executive Astorino and a bi-partisan majority of the County Board of Legislators approved a balanced budget for 2017 that accomplished a number of things.
It held spending to $1.8 billion, the same amount as the County Executive’s first budget seven years ago, and it continued a seven-year run of either lowering or holding the county tax levy flat. Consequently, $400 million has stayed in the pockets of seniors, young families, and small businesses when you compare County Executive Astorino’s seven budgets to annual increases of just 2 percent, the amount allowable under the state’s cap.
It’s also critical to note that the spending and tax savings were achieved <without> drawing money from the county’s reserves. According to audited figures, the reserves, commonly called the “rainy day” fund, were $164.5 million on the day County Executive Astorino came into office and were $164.7 million at the end of 2015. A similar figure is expected next month when the auditors close the books for 2016.
For those who say tax hikes amount to just pennies a day, those pennies add up quickly. In his last four years in office, former County Executive Andrew Spano depleted the rainy day reserve fund by $25 million and increased taxes by $175 million. Compare that to the Astorino record and you have a $600 million swing in what taxpayers had to pay and what they could keep.
One way that County Executive Astorino is making Westchester more affordable is by unlocking the hidden value of County assets. A key example is the Westchester County Airport.
By taking advantage of a Federal Aviation Administration program, Westchester can tap surplus revenues generated at the airport, which until now have had to stay at the airport. Under the proposed public-private partnership, net proceeds from the airport into the County’s general fund are expected to be at least $140 million – money that for the first time can be used to pay for police, parks, roads, day care and other services.
The public should also know the character of the airport is not changing. The county will continue to own the property. Yes, an outside company will manage the airport, but that has been the case since the end of World War II. The number of gates will remain at four and current passenger caps will also remain in effect.
Westchester’s great quality of life means nothing if people can’t afford to live here. The Astorino record shows a commitment to affordability by holding the line on taxes and spending and smartly positioning Westchester for the future.
- Ned McCormack
<Mr. McCormack is Westchester’s Director of Communications and Senior Advisor to the County Executive.>