Rye and Westchester County Government
In recent voting, Rye residents elected three city council members as well as a representative on the Westchester County Board of Legislators. The issues involved in the council elections reminded us that “all politics is local,” an adage often attributed to Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
For many of us, however, the issues and workings of the County Legislature can seem as remote as those deliberated in both houses of Congress. Yet, various forms of Westchester’s government have influenced the lives of Rye residents since the colonial period. Westchester was one of the original 12 counties of the Province of New York, created by an act of the New York General Assembly in 1683.
In 1703, a Board of Supervisors was created in Westchester County to assume responsibility for assessing and collecting taxes, to care for the poor, and carry out numerous other duties. It also determined how to apportion the costs of countywide services among the various towns.
The supervisors met first in the town of Westchester (now part of the Bronx). As the population of the northern portions of the county increased, the place of meeting was changed, in 1773, to the courthouse at White Plains. After the burning of the courthouse in 1776, the supervisors became a vagrant body, with no certain meeting place.
After the war, most local legislative issues were handled at the state level, but amendments to the state constitution in later decades expanded the powers of county government. In 1937, voters approved a Westchester County charter, which defined and expanded the legislative powers and duties of the Board of Supervisors and established the office of the County Executive.
In 1966, the Town of Greenburgh, with 83,000 people, had the same representation on the Board of Supervisors as North Salem, with 3,000 people. Greenburgh, therefore, sued, arguing that the makeup of the Board of Supervisors violated the “one person, one vote” principle of the Constitution.
The courts agreed, and the Board of Supervisors was replaced in 1970 with the County Board of Legislators (BOL), composed of 17 members. After every federal census, all the legislative districts must be adjusted, and each legislator now represents approximately 56,000 people.
The BOL also approves appointments by the County Executive (currently Rye resident George Latimer) and passes local laws, acts, and resolutions. The total budget for 2023 — $2.365 billion —included the Latimer administration’s fourth consecutive tax cut.
Latimer recently submitted his proposed 2024 Capital Budget to the BOL, which is charged with passing the County Budget by the end of this year.
Of particular importance to Rye, the proposed budget would allocate $49 million for flood mitigation projects across the county.