WHITE PLAINS – County Executive Robert P. Astorino, joined by leaders of more than 40 municipalities throughout Westchester County, came together yesterday with a shared goal of lowering property taxes.
The Shared Service Forum, which was chaired by Astorino and included representatives from nearly all of Westchester County’s municipalities, discussed ways that local governments can cut costs and pass on savings to taxpayers, notably through sharing services and lobbying the state to stop passing down their costs.
“Lowering taxes must be a priority in Westchester County and throughout New York State,” Astorino said. “In Westchester County, we’ve held the line on spending with our $1.8 billion budget. Since taking office seven years ago, we’ve either lowered the property tax levy or kept it level. And I am again committed to a budget for 2018 that doesn’t raise taxes. Residents can’t afford higher taxes. So it’s critical that we all work together to find savings to pass on to taxpayers.”
During his remarks, the County Executive cited how the county’s property levy is actually 2 percent lower than when he took office and discussed a number of other ways the county has been sharing services in recent years with localities, such as consolidating village police departments with the county, providing specialized police units to cities and towns in need, and utilizing the county’s planning and land use experts to develop a master plan for the Village of Rye Brook.
The daunting challenge, he added, were federal and state mandates totaling $1.35 billion that are forced on the county and account for 75 cents out of every dollar spent in the county’s 2017 $1.8 billion budget. The largest state mandate, for example, is Medicaid and costs Westchester taxpayers $210 million. New York is one of the few states that forces counties to pay part of that bill. Other mandates include pensions, child welfare, probation, public assistance and special education, among others.
Westchester County in 2013 created its Shared Services Handbook, a guide for local communities on how the county can help lower the costs for local governments. The state’s Shared Services Initiative, which was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 state budget, mandates that 57 counties throughout New York State (New York City is excluded) establish a Shared Services Panel that will come up with ways for governments to share and coordinate services.
Thursday’s meeting was the first in a series of meetings that the Shared Services Panel in Westchester will conduct until Sept. 15, 2017 when the panel is required to vote on a plan. County Executive Astorino and municipal officials will be compiling a report on services already being shared as well as working on new initiatives to save taxpayer money.
“The best way to reduce taxes is by growing the economy, controlling costs and eliminating burdensome mandates.” Astorino said. “Sharing services is part of a broader strategy aimed at protecting taxpayers.”