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 Legislator John G. Testa

John G. Testa, a life-long resident of Peekskill, began his first term on the Westchester County Legislature in January 2010. Prior to his successful run for the District 1 Legislative seat, he served 3 terms as Mayor of Peekskill from January 2002 until December 2007. Before becoming mayor he also served a four-year term as a Councilman. From his first days in office Testa worked tirelessly to set the City on the path of economic stability. Peekskill flourished under this plan, increasing the city fund balance to its highest in history. During John’s tenure in office, the NY State Comptroller’s Office named Peekskill one of the most fiscally sound municipalities in the State; independent auditors proclaimed Peekskill as being in its best fiscal condition in over 30 years; and Moody’s Investor Service agreed to upgrade its bond rating, resulting in further savings. The plan he put in place was so successful that it enabled the City of Peekskill to pass three budgets in a row with a 0% tax increase. These fiscal skills will prove valuable to Testa as he works to put the brakes on what has been wildly escalating county spending and unchecked government growth. He has pledged his efforts to work to consolidate services, eliminate wasteful spending and improve efficiency. In addition to the fiscal conservatism that served Peekskill so well, Testa worked to promote the city, attracting investment, jobs and an increased tax base. Over $100 million of private investment came to Peekskill in the forms of new residential construction, retail space, and the redevelopment of historic structures. As Mayor, Testa led a successful battle to stop the unfair and unsafe plan to send sewage to the Peekskill plant from outside the sewage/water district. John’s roots are deep within the soil of Northern Westchester. His father’s family has lived here for more than a century and his mother’s family is nearing that mark. He is proud that he was born in Peekskill and has lived and worked here all his life and, with his wife Nancy raised their two children here.
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