The county executive and county legislature are focused on saving money by looking for ways to consolidate, merge or eliminate county departments and functions.
The Westchester County legislature recently announced the formation of a Charter Revision Commission to look for initiatives and innovations to whittle down the budget.
The commission would consist of 23 volunteer members including resident taxpayers and representatives from the business, non-profit, labor and government sectors. Each of the 17 members of the county legislature can appoint one member of the commission, and the county executive can appoint six members.
The committee will hold hearings soliciting public opinion and then make recommendations and revisions to the county charter.
In his State of the County address on Thursday, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino trumpeted a number of “initiatives and innovations” that he said helped make county operations more efficient. According to a county press release, those initiatives included:
- Consolidating Department of Transportation into the Department of Public Works and using the savings to preserve bus routes.
- Turning the county’s four mental health clinics over to nonprofit agencies.
- Finding a provider of medical services for inmates at the jail, which will save an expected $3 million over the course of the three-year contract.
- Taking over the policing of the Town of Ossining through a contract that will cost county taxpayers nothing, but provide savings to Ossining residents.
Astorino also said he would submit a 2012 budget that would hold the line on property tax increases. The 2011 budget lowered the county property tax levy by 2 percent—a small, but symbolically significant, amount.
“The amount is relatively small, but it is a powerful statement that enough is enough,” Astorino said in the speech. “Finally, we are saying ‘no.’ Not ‘no’ to service, but ‘no’ to endless tax hikes to pay for wasteful spending. We have moved the conversation away from how much can we take from taxpayers to, how much do we really need.”
County taxes account for about 20 percent of a taxpayer's property tax bill, and this year’s budget raises just over $555 million through the county government's property tax levy. The 2 percent decrease in the levy represents about $12 million.
Nine state mandates currently consume 75 percent of the county’s property tax levy. Medicaid alone, at $211 million, is equal to 38 percent of the tax levy, according to county budget numbers.
County management will be expected to continue looking for ways to streamline operations in their departments, Astorino said.
“Future focus needs to be on self reliance and existing resources,” he said. “That requires a new operating model energized by efficiency, common interests, new ideas and partnership.”