Branda Responds to Latimer's "Waffling" on His Property Tax Promise to Us
Journal News Tax Watch Columnist David McKay Wilson spoke to George Latimer about the upcoming 2021 budget:
When Westchester County Executive George Latimer pitched his 1 percentage point increase in the county sales tax in 2019, he pledged to freeze property taxes for the next two years.
The pledge provided cover for Latimer in the sales-tax bill he dubbed the Westchester County Property Taxpayer Protection Act.
But 17 months and one pandemic later, Latimer said he’s not so sure he’ll protect Westchester property taxpayers in 2021 as he prepares to release his 2021 budget on Tuesday.
Less than a week before its release, Latimer said he has yet to decide on the property-tax levy needed to balance in his 2021 financial plan. The levy was $570 million in 2020 - a reduction of $1 million from 2019.
“I’m going to try to honor the commitment, but I also have to be responsible, and responsible means that we’ve had the biggest change in the world, the COVID crisis,” he said. “I’m not using it as an excuse – it’s just a practical reality. If we can work around the practical reality of it, I don’t want to decimate services either. I don’t want to turn around and start closing parks, doing these extreme things.”
If Latimer fails to freeze property taxes as promised, the Rye Democrat assured Tax Watch that his plan would still come within the state’s tax cap, which in 2020 was 4.4% for Westchester. The county has yet to disclose its cap limit for 2021.
“We will certainly not exceed the tax cap in this budget,” he said. “To be as close to zero as we can get is what we will strive for. I can’t be sure. We’re not yet finalized.”
Latimer’s equivocation on the tax freeze pledge comes three years into his first term, with an election looming a year away.
Dan Branda, a Somers Republican who has announced his intention to seek the GOP 2021 nomination for county executive, said that he and Westchester residents took Latimer at his word when he pledged to protect property taxpayers by not raising property taxes in exchange for the sale-tax increase in all of it towns and the cities of Peekskill and Rye.
“He made a promise to us,” said Branda, a former aide to Latimer’s predecessor, Rob Astorino. “He said we won’t raise property taxes because we were raising the sales tax. And he raised taxes on Westchester by $160 million.”
Branda was referring to Latimer’s rosy 2020 budget, which was adopted with its projected increase of $163 million in sales tax revenues – a 35% increase, with most of the increase attributable to the 1 percentage point sales-tax increase.