Bipartisan Coalition Passes 0% Tax Increase Budget for 2016

Essential Social Services; Positions to Planning, Parks and Public Safety Restored
7 Democrats Vote No on Budget, Offer No Alternative Plan

BudgetVote2015_4On Monday, December 14, 2016 a bi-partisan coalition of 10 legislators came together to pass a 2016 budget for Westchester County that contains no tax levy increase for the 6th year in a row and contains no borrowing or raiding of the county fund balance.

BudgetVote2015_2The coalition of 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats came together to compromise and work together to make sure Westchester County moved forward in a positive way and not let politics influence the important decision making process that was needed in this tough budget year. We were able to add important social and cultural programs that are essential for the citizens of our county. We also added back positions in the County Planning and Parks Departments and important positions in public safety. It is inconceivable that 7 Democratic legislators voted against these programs by voting against the budget.

BudgetVote2015_1It was important to me, as well as the others who supported the budget, to ensure the budget include important services that are needed to help and protect our most vulnerable residents. These programs include services for domestic violence victims, elder abuse, eviction protection, child care, mental health, youth programs, wage theft prevention, human trafficking, homeless services and prevention just to name a few. The budget also includes restoration of programs and positions at our county parks as well as cultural programs including the arts.

Was every program and position reinstated from the proposed County Executive budget? No, it was simply not feasible or possible to fund everything while being fiscally responsible the county taxpayers. However, we were able to reinstate most and for those not funded we made sure the services would continue to be offered through similar or overlapping programs. Of the 25 proposed layoffs, 21 positions were saved. These included county planners essential to addressing county infrastructure and who give assistance to our county municipalities on flooding and environmental issues. Also included were the six park curators who provide programming, maintenance and oversight to our busiest county parks.

Public Safety was an important focus for the coalition as well. We were able to include additional officers to the budget while also committing to filling positions as the vacancies occur over the next year. It is never an option for me to support reducing our public safety strength or capabilities but especially not now as we see the incidents happing across the nation. More than ever we need to strengthen our public safety efforts.

One important initiative that was included was funding for the Northern Westchester office for free legal services for veterans, senior citizens and victims of domestic violence. This office has been open for approximately 18 months and has seen tremendous activity serving hundreds of Cortlandt, Peekskill and Yorktown residents who may never have received this critical assistance. As far as I was concerned it was not an option for this office to be closed.

BudgetVote2015_3Not included, however, was a proposed revenue by the Democratic caucus that was simply nonsensical and frankly irresponsible. The county-owned property on Austin Avenue in Yonkers has been for sale for some time. It is hoped that this property, once sold, would bring a significant one-time or “one shot” revenue to the county. The Democratic Caucus wanted to include $12 million from this potential sale as their ‘magic bullet’ to solve any shortfall from not only adding back 100% of everything not reinstated and possibly more. In other words they wanted to count $12 million as revenue before the property was even sold. For the second year in a row many of those voting “no” on the budget lamented that there was no tax increase imposed as well. They never presented the board an alternative budget to vote on that showed how their requests would be incorporated into a complete document.  As usual, they wanted ‘to have their cake and eat it too’ by voting “no” for pure political expediency, criticizing the budget for including “shaky” revenues while at the same time expounding that their inclusion of a $12 million phantom revenue was acceptable.

Is this a perfect budget? Absolutely not. Actually, I’m not sure that can be said about any budget. However, this is a budget that holds the line on taxes for the 6th consecutive year and does it in a balanced and responsible way. At the same time we realize that we must keep a close eye on the county finances over the upcoming year to monitor, adjust and modify as needed.

As legislators it is our responsibility to move the county forward in a positive way. A responsible budget for 2016 must be in place. That is what the coalition of 10 legislators did. Unfortunately, some hoped to cause chaos and uncertainty. That is not, and should never be, an option. I am disappointed that some of my colleagues thought it was.

About John G. Testa

Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader. John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility. John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching. John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester. John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters. John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years. John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.” John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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