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Astorino vetoes budget; legislators ready for override

After the inclusion of a tax rate increase and restoration of several cuts by county lawmakers, County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, officially vetoed a revised budget.

“Such an action by the legislature was unnecessary and unacceptable to county taxpayers, already burdened with the highest combined property taxes in the nation,” Astorino said in his a message to the county Board of Legislators.

How long Astorino’s veto will hold, however, remains to be seen, as county lawmakers say they have enough votes for an override. Originally legislators voted by a margin of 12-5 to pass the budget—enough votes for a supermajority, which would trigger an override.

In addition to raising the tax levy by 2 percent, the lawmakers’ proposed budget restored positions to the county Parks Department, the county’s Planning and Engineering departments, as well as support staff for the county executive’s office.

If the revised budget were to pass, it would mark the first time since Astorino took office in 2010 that county residents would see an increase in their tax levy.

Lawmakers say the tax levy increase is being included to help offset $30 million in revenue from a deal privatizing the county’s airport; a deal Democrats have criticized since last year when the initiative was announced by Astorino.

The deal seeks to reclassify the airport under a Federal Aviation Administration-run program that allows participants to transition their publicly owned airports into the private sector and then use subsequent revenue towards an operating budget.

In November, Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation agreed to a $1 billion deal that would extend for 40 years and throughout its lifespan pay the county $595 million on top of $550 million in capital improvements at the airport. That deal will be subject to the approval of an incoming administration of County Executive-elect George Latimer, a Democrat, who has so far been critical of the privatization. Latimer will be sworn into office in January.

Without revenue from the airport deal, however, lawmakers worry that the county would be required to draw money from its reserve fund to cover expenses.

Without a certain total in its reserve fund, Westchester County lawmakers risk taking a hit on their credit rating—particularly a rating by credit agency Moody’s—which dictates how easily the county can borrow money. Currently, Westchester has the second highest rating from Moody’s of AA1.

Legislators will hold a vote to override the county executive’s veto on Thursday, Dec. 22, after press time.

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