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Westchester Forward - Phase I

The greatest priority of Westchester County Government is the care of the almost one million people who live here during this unprecedented pandemic.  But, that care comes with a massive price tag as we address the outbreak of the Coronavirus / COVID-19.  That crisis response has Westchester County Government’s finances in freefall. The County’s traditional sources of revenue hang in a field of unknowns, with our residents and our businesses out of work and suffering financially. With uncertainties looming, County Executive George Latimer has announced Westchester Forward- Phase 1, actions that will reduce the spending in our 2020 County Budget by $21 million to begin to deal with the fiscal impacts of societal shutdown accompanying the pandemic.

Latimer said: “Since we do not know when our society will resume a ‘normal’ economic mode, we can’t be sure how deep the loss of revenues will be. Depending on factors beyond our control, we may lose between $90 million to $160 million in revenue, a huge impact to our $2.1 billion budget. Even the smaller estimate will be devastating; the larger loss estimate will be beyond catastrophic.”

Some elements of Westchester Forward -Phase 1, have already passed the Westchester County Board of Legislators. The plan reallocates $10 million planned for the reserve fund; reducing $6-8 million in spending by bonding for certiorari repayments, and saving $5 million by bonding for annual pension contribution costs.

Latimer added: “These actions reverse policies that I advanced as steps to achieve greater fiscal stability. The crisis at hand overrides those concerns, forcing us to take actions we would not otherwise undertake save for the immediate circumstances. We were planning for a rainy day, and that rainy day has arrived as a monsoon - a torrent of lost revenues.”

Currently, revenues from sales tax, hotel occupancy, mortgage recording tax, bus rider fares and parks program fees are all drastically down. The size and the scope of the economic impact of this virus is yet to be fully calculated, Latimer adding: “You can’t tell how far you have to rise up until you stop falling. And we haven’t stop falling yet”.

While the Phase 1 actions do not impact County workers or County contractual relationships, all areas of spending face uncertain times as the pandemic continues. 

Latimer said: “This is a serious financial crisis for individuals, small and large businesses, non-profits, religious institutions, and governments. The County will do everything it can do to soften the blow for the aforementioned entities but, we face - as do all the towns, villages and cities - an historic, unexpected set of budget gaps. None of us can run an unbalanced budget, and there will be pain ahead.  The job I signed up for requires me to lay out a game plan for dealing with all of this. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. With openness, dialogue and transparency.”