The County Board tonight approved Westchester’s 2009 Joint State Legislative Program, a list of 16 items that represents a consensus of what the county legislators and the county executive consider priorities for state legislative action. The legislators unanimously approved 14 of the 16 items. At the request of the minority leader, items 1 and 8 were severed from the package and were not approved unanimously. 

Legislator William Burton (D-IN, Ossining), Chair of the Board’s Committee on Legislation that led the multi-week discussion on suggested items and signed it out to the full Board for a vote, said the central focus continues to be on property tax relief.

“High property taxes are a direct result of New York State not fully funding its mandated programs. Therefore, our main message to state leaders is to include a local property tax relief act in the state’s final 2009-2010 budget that would deliver meaningful property tax relief,” Burton said.

Burton cited some examples of expensive state mandated programs that have driven up local costs.

  • New York State’s requirement that counties pay half of the state’s share of Medicaid. Only one other state is burdened in this way.
  • The cost of providing care for children with special needs under the age of 5 has been shifted to the county. New York State has altered the formula for paying its share so that Westchester now provides the majority of funds for this program while having little say in how this money is spent. The County will pay approximately $138 million in 2009 for this program.
  • New York State has shifted many costs of providing certain social service needs to county residents by requiring that local funds be used to replace State funds in Temporary Assistance and Food Stamps. County costs will increase by about $6 million in 2009 as a result. 

In addition to property tax relief, the county is asking the state to create an environmental bond fund to finance badly needed water quality projects throughout the state. Burton cited a 2008 report that estimated a $36 billion cost over the next twenty years to rebuild New York State’s municipal wastewater infrastructure. In Westchester alone, communities in the Sound Shore area and Northern Westchester are currently confronting almost $500 million for sewer and septic system upgrades ordered but not paid for by the state.

“It’s not fiscally sound to order such massive upgrades but not provide the funds to pay for them,” said Burton. “The state needs to use its economic muscle to help communities manage these enormous and costly capital projects.  It’s time again for the state to pass a clean water and clean air bond act similar to the one they last did in 1996. A state bond fund, not property taxes, is the appropriate financing tool to protect shared resources like the water supply and Long Island Sound.” 

In addition to property tax relief and the environmental bond fund, county leaders opposed the reinstatement of the commuter tax and requested approval for a variety of public safety measures.