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Latimer: Balancing Next Budget Calls For Creative, Tough Decisions

Westchester County Executive George Latimer, seated, chats with business leaders before a speech on Wednesday. Marsha Gordon, president/CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, is seated on the left.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, seated, chats with business leaders before a speech on Wednesday. Marsha Gordon, president/CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, is seated on the left. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

County Executive George Latimer said balancing next year's county budget requires creative solutions but also some tough decisions.

Latimer has introduced his proposedĀ $1.94 billion to the county Board of Legislators, which can revise the budget before its passage next month.

In a Wednesday speech before the Business Council of Westchester, Latimer, a 65-year-old Democrat from Rye, said, "That was a fast year." He spoke to the group a year ago after defeating Republican Rob Astorino.

Latimer pointed out that he inherited a multi-million dollar budget deficit and depleted reserves but said he'll be spending much of next year in Albany lobbying for changes in state law to create new revenue sources.

These could include installing red light cameras or adopting new sales taxes on Airbnb lodging, sports betting or legalized marijuana.

The county executive also is looking to transfer ownership of the Westchester County Center parking lot since it's being used by rail commuters as much as park visitors.

Leased county offices and shared services will also be reviewed for potential savings.

"This budget is a maintenance budget, not an advancement budget," Latimer said, noting a 2 percent increase in the property tax levy is needed just to keep existing services. "You can't run a county government on 2 percent,'' he said.

Latimer pointed out that there are about 1,000 fewer county employees today than the workforce of 5,000 a decade ago. But paying overtime is not the solution, he said.

Westchester spends about $200 million annually on state-mandated Medicaid programs, while its total property tax levy is about $580 million.

Latimer's 2019 challenges include future management of Playland Amusement Park and addressing noise, pollution and other issues at the county airport.

Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, reminded Latimer that "the airport is an economic engine" that attracts international companies.

On state mandate relief, the former state lawmaker said, "I think I'm going to have to pick our targets carefully."

Check back to Daily Voice for a story on Latimer's accomplishments in 2018.

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