White Plains, NY – Democratic Caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) strongly condemned the “structural imbalances” in the 2015 County Budget today, citing the massive borrowing, use of one-shot financing fixes and raiding the fund balance to effectuate a zero percent increase in the County tax levy, and, as a result, voted against the budget. Nonetheless, the budget was passed by a vote of 10-7.

The caucus members voting against the budget were BOL Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), Majority Whip Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), Ben Boykin (D-White Plains), Pete Harckham (D-North Salem), Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Catherine Parker (D-Rye) and Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh).

“This budget actually increases taxes in the future, but with interest by pushing the added costs down the road with bonding for too many operational expenses,” said Borgia. “Fiscal gimmickry may serve the short-term, but it imperils the County’s excellent bond rating, which was downgraded last year because of too much borrowing in the budget and dipping into the fund balance.”

The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee’s (CBAC) presentation to the BOL’s Budget Committee noted that in the 2015 Budget operating expenses are not fully funded by operating revenue; over $6 million in the restricted fund balance was being used for operating expenses as well; and cumulative borrowing to pay for ongoing operating expenses will be over $100 million, with interest costs of over $20 million. Also, tax and bond anticipation notes were being utilized to tide the County over in a cash crunch, with added interest costs.

An Administration official noted during a meeting of the BOL Budget & Appropriations Committee in November that Moody’s Investor Service had called the County’s Proposed 2015 Budget “structurally imbalanced” because of $15 million of pension amortization included in the spending plan.

“Independent professionals gave this budget a hard look, and in their judgment the excessive borrowing for operating expenses will result in potentially large tax increases in the future,” said Lyndon Williams. “There needs to be substantial work done in the first quarter of 2015 to realize revenues from Playland and prevent further borrowing.”

“All of this borrowing will hamstring future county administrations and legislators from any flexibility in operating budgets because of onerous interest costs,” said Boykin, chair of the BOL Appointments Committee. “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.”

“The 2015 County budget is a bad budget, in a bad financial year for our region’s governments,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the BOL Infrastructure Committee. “However, the Board of Legislators’ revisions to the budget have made the County more responsive to our residents’ needs, and more fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.  For example, moving minor road repairs back to our operating budget will save taxpayers millions of dollars over the next five years.”

The BOL Democratic caucus members had hoped to remove a $4.3 million deletion of revenue expected from the finalization of a deal for a private partner to run Playland, the County’s iconic amusement park and recreation area, but it was voted down today.

The Democratic caucus proposed an alternative budget with deletions that were greater than the pension amortization, and they were able to negotiate bonding for tax certioraris down from $8 million to $5 million.

“As I’ve mentioned before, this financing of a zero percent budget will be accomplished thanks to our children’s credit card,” said Harckham, chair of the BOL Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee. “Borrowing for operating expenses is not a substitute for smart planning that keeps the future in mind. Now, a very real financial burden awaits residents and business owners in future budgets.”

“Because it relies on borrowing to balance the numbers, the budget should have been dead on arrival,” said Jenkins, chair of the BOL Federal & State Affairs Committee. “We’ll be bonding for expenses before we know what they actually are, or if savings along the way may negate the need for the borrowing.”

For Democratic caucus members, the one bright note in the approved 2015 budget was the number of additions they were able to negotiate into the spending plan. These BOL Dem additions focused on long-standing safety net and cultural enrichment programs that benefit countless residents, especially the elderly, working families and disadvantaged youth, that are run by the Child Care Council of Westchester, Jewish Council of Yonkers, WestCOP, Legal Aid Services of the Hudson Valley and ArtsWestchester, among others.

“Maintaining support for the County’s safety net programs was at the forefront of our caucus’s budget decisions,” said Alfreda Williams, chair of the BOL Community Services Committee. “I’m pleased that the Administration and my colleagues on the Board were able to join us in this regard.”

“It was said today that the 2015 budget didn’t have to be perfect—but that it couldn’t raise taxes, and borrowing was better than layoffs,” said Parker, chair of the BOL Environment & Energy Committee. “While I’m grateful that important social programs will receive funding next year, there was an opportunity that was missed here to put together a realistic plan that doesn’t dump costs on to future budget years.”