As you know, the priority of this blog since the day it began is to promote fiscal responsibility for the Westchester County government. Last December, I played an important leadership role in putting together the bipartisan coalition that passed an excellent 2013 County Budget that made tough choices and spending cuts, while we made clear that the old days of property tax increases and excessive spending were no longer acceptable. In our fiscally responsible budget for 2013, we did not increase property taxes, protected essential services and preserved the County’s AAA bond rating. Today we learned from the county’s budget director that Westchester’s fiscal outlook is strong thanks to our thoughtful budget. And I am pleased to note that regarding the one aspect of the budget we were uncomfortable with, which was bonding to cover tax certiorari proceedings, the budget director announced that the bonds were no longer necessary – we will be able to pay for these refunds through operating funds this year. This is good news for taxpayers. Please see the news release below from County Executive Astorino.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SEPTEMBER 3, 2013
SOUND FISCAL MANAGEMENT BY ASTORINO HELPS COUNTY AVOID BORROWING
Budget department releases second quarter forecast showing cost savings;
Astorino withdraws borrowing request previously thought needed to pay for certiorari proceedings
In his second quarter forecast, released today, Westchester County Budget Director Lawrence Soule said that the county was virtually on target for meeting its 2013 budget goals and in much better shape than in past years. At the six-month mark, the budget shows a minute deficit of approximately one-half of one percent, or about $10 million, compared to a shortfall of $30 million at this time a year ago.
County Executive Robert P. Astorino said an immediate benefit of the improved budget outlook was that it would not be necessary to borrow $13 million to pay for tax certioraris, the refunds owed to property owners who successfully challenge their tax bills.
“When we put the budget together, it looked like paying tax certioraris would likely require borrowing,” Astorino said. “That’s no longer the case and that’s a good thing; avoiding borrowing means avoiding interest expense. Accordingly, we are withdrawing the related bonding request from the Board of Legislators.”
Astorino credited tough but necessary decisions over the past three years for putting the county’s finances on a stronger foothold. Those decisions included reducing spending by nearly $100 million, trimming the workforce by 658 or 13.5%, and requiring union health care contributions as part of contract settlements.
“Critics said we couldn’t cut taxes and preserve essential services,” said Astorino. “But we did and we did it by improving efficiencies.”
In his presentation before the County Board of Legislators Budget and Appropriations Committee, Soule noted that the County should be able to close the remaining budget gap by continuing to leave personnel vacancies unfilled unless the position is essential to services and to reduce other unnecessary expenses where possible.
Highlights from the presentation include an increase over budget in sales tax and mortgage tax revenues as well as savings in certain contractual services.
“County Executive Astorino has required all departments to review every contract to see how the program or service can be delivered with the same quality but at a lower cost,” said Soule. “And the commissioners have responded.”
Some additional budget highlights include:
- sales tax and mortgage tax projected to exceed budget due to strong year-to-date performance;
- savings expected in contractual services are significant;
- healthcare expenses are trending below budget;
- the recent settlement of the PBA contract will result in additional health contributions by employees and savings in the budget;
- federal prisoner census is currently below budget resulting in lower federal revenue;
- Department of Corrections overtime currently exceeds the budgeted amount, but is offset with vacancy savings—a second class of officers starting this fall will help mitigate overtime costs.
Astorino said conservative fiscal policies are having a positive impact on the county’s budget and will allow him to continue holding the line on property taxes. Later this year, Astorino will propose a budget that, for the fourth consecutive year, will not raise the property tax levy.