With a property tax bill in the neighborhood of $250,000, Stewart Strauss wanted to know how Westchester County lawmakers plan to help businesses.
The way this president and chief executive officer of a Port Chester-based paper company sees it, he would cut all of his property taxes (local, schools, county, etc.) in half by moving to the Bronx or New Jersey.
“How can they get spending under control?” said Strauss. “It’s making tough decisions versus dancing around those decisions. You don’t base things on hope. You base things on reality. … I’m very concerned they’re not in touch with reality and what businesses go through.”
Taxes, tax caps, economic growth, government consolidation, the role of county government and toning down the partisan rhetoric were center on the minds of business leaders who attended a candidates forum tonight at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains.
More than 100 people turned out to hear what the 18 candidates who showed up had to say on some of these issues. It was presented by The Westchester Business Alliance.
The county board is made up of 12 Democrats and five Republicans. All 17 seats are up for election in November.
Several Democrat incumbents on the Board of Legislators said they are balancing the budget and the needs of the public.“We cut taxes 2.2 percent,” said Mike Kaplowitz, D-Somers. “We have balanced child care and social needs and public safety. … We will balance, as we have, our budget. The job is to cut back, to ensure future growth, and that’s what we’ll do.”
He also said that school districts, which make up roughly 60 percent of one’s bill, are the reason taxes are so high. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed with that sentiment.
For his Republican challenger, Terrance Murphy, attracting new business is essential to keeping taxes at bay.
“Everybody’s always talking about cutting services. How about increasing revenue,” he said of sales taxes. “Folks, we have to get people back to work.”
Minority Leader James Maisano, R-New Rochelle, said spending had gone up immensely during the 12 years of County Executive Andrew Spano’s administration and it wasn’t until Rob Astorino was elected that cuts were forthcoming.
“Cutting has to be the priority,” he said.
“This is not the time to be talking about investment,” Maisano later said. “We don’t have the money to invest in anything right now. With a $1.8 billion budget, we’re already investing in a lot of things.”
Michael Smith, who is running against Legislator John Nonna, D-Pleasantville, said the county borrows too much and must stop imposing “nuisance fees” on residents and businesses.
“We can no longer use the credit card,” Smith said. “We can no longer sustain the level of taxes we have here.”
When the question of partisan politics came up, Nonna said both parties must come together and get away from the “polarization of government.”
“We have to learn to come together,” Nonna said. “We can’t engage in sound bites and rhetoric. We have to think beyond the box. We must work together to lower the tax bill.”
Marsha Gordon, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Westchester, said the forum was important for both business leaders and legislators.
“County legislators set the direction of county government, so we wanted to give our members an opportunity to make informed decisions,” she said.