White Plains, NY – Democratic Westchester Legislators Pete Harckham (D-North Salem) and Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) strongly criticized County Executive Rob Astorino’s Proposed 2015 County Budget today for relying on an “unprecedented” amount of borrowing to pay for a whole array of costs normally paid for in current year operations.

This morning members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) heard from County Finance Commissioner Ann Marie Berg during a meeting of the BOL Budget & Appropriations Committee that Moody’s Investor Service had communicated to the Astorino Administration that it feels the County’s Proposed 2015 Budget is “structurally imbalanced” because of $15 million of pension amortization included in next year’s spending plan.

It was almost exactly a year ago—November 20, 2013—that Moody’s downgraded Westchester County’s bond rating from Aaa to Aa1 because of “the county’s structural imbalances and limited liquidity.”

“It became crystal clear today that the County Executive is financing his zero percent budget with our children’s credit card,” said Harckham. “This is poor fiscal management and will create a terrible financial burden for our residents and business owners in the very near future.”

Harckham noted that the interest costs through the term of the bonding for the pensions this year will cost Westchester taxpayers an additional $2.7 million through 2026.   

Today, Westchester County Budget Director Lawrence Soule also remarked to the BOL members during the committee meeting that there is “no play” in the proposed budget, and that Astorino’s much-promised 0% increase in the tax levy was effectuated, in part, by moving as much spending as “legally” possible from the operating budget to the capital budget, where the money is borrowed through the issuance of long-term bonds.

Along with the $15 million being borrowed for pension amortization, the Proposed 2015 Budget includes another $8 million borrowed for tax certs (certioraris).

And in 2015 the Astorino Administration plans on borrowing $40 million in bond anticipation notes (BAN), which has never been done this before in Westchester—essentially, borrowing money with the promise of borrowing again to catch up later on.

Meanwhile, for the fourth year in a row, the County will be coming up short in a cash crunch and borrowing again, this time $90 million in tax anticipation notes.    

“All of this borrowing will hamstring future county administrations and legislators from any flexibility in operating budget because of onerous interest costs,” said Boykin. “I see that this will cause real problems for our safety net spending in the short-term, and it will end up costing all of our taxpayers more money when the County needs to spend more on bonding for badly needed infrastructure improvements. Plain and simple: a budget with this kind of borrowing is a huge threat to the long-term well-being of our residents and our county’s fiscal health.”

Both Harckham and Boykin noted that the BOL is hard at work trying to identify places in the budget to reduce spending so some of the borrowed items can be returned to the operating budget.

“Difficult decisions need to be made now, not later, that will allow the County to make a down payment on a true balanced budget,” said Boykin. “Right now, we’re paying millions of dollars in interest on borrowed operational spending.”