This week, Moody's Investment Services offered a negative outlook for Westchester County's general obligation debt and future bond sales. This negative outlook is the result of county leaders, in past years, relying on cash infusions stripped from the County’s reserve funds to make up for operating deficits in the budget. In part, the report says, “The negative outlook reflects the county’s structural imbalance in prior years that has driven reserve declines which may limit the county’s financial flexibility and ability to respond to mid-year revenue or expenditure fluctuations.” The report also says, “In the event of additional future draws on reserves, the county’s financial flexibility could become out of line with similarly rated counties that rely on economically sensitive revenues.”
This sobering ratings outlook comes a little more than a week after three County Legislators proposed a resolution to the Board of Legislators that contained a provision that the county would not draw down the reserve fund balance to finance the upcoming 2013 operating budget. Republican Legislators, Gordon A. Burrows, Sheila Marcotte and Michael Smith placed the resolution on the Board's consent agenda for the September 24th meeting of the Board of Legislators. In addition to the provision that protects the fund balance, the resolution serves as a bipartisan agreement that in the deliberation and adoption of the 2013 County Budget, the Board will adhere to a proscribed set of policies, procedures and processes that would result in a budget that provides a 0 percent tax increase, and will provide the public a 48 hour period after the additions and deletions process to review the final budget before a vote to adopt it is taken. The resolution states that the final budget will be made available on the county website during that 48 hour review period.
Legislator Sheila Marcotte (R-Eastchester, Tuckahoe, New Rochelle) is the Vice Chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. Legislator Marcotte said, "Moody's did issue a negative outlook for Westchester's debt rating based on the past use of fund balance but thankfully Moody's also re-affirmed our AAA rating. The report also re-affirmed our contention that any further draw downs on the fund balance would send us on a precipitous path toward an overall ratings downgrade." Legislator Marcotte concluded, "As Legislators it is our responsibility to protect the AAA rating while still providing the essential services that all of our county residents deserve. This resolution serves as a commitment to the public that as Legislators we will work together in a bipartisan manner to adopt the best possible budget we can in what promises to be a very difficult process."
Legislator Michael Smith (R-Mount Pleasant, Pleasantville, North Castle) is also a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. Legislator Smith said, "I urge my fellow Legislators to join us in passing this resolution. The principles that are outlined in this agreement, particularly the commitment to adopt a budget that does not impact our reserve fund balance, are critical objectives in crafting a structurally sound and fiscally responsible budget." Legislator Smith added, "The other provisions in this resolution that provide greater transparency represents what many taxpayers have been demanding for years and so truly deserve. If the entire Board of Legislators as well as the public is given sufficient time to review and comment on the final budget before a vote then ideally we will all have the information needed to produce a real bipartisan budget. As importantly Westchester taxpayers will get a clearer understanding of whose best interests their elected representatives are really serving through this mandated transparency."
Legislator and Minority Whip, Gordon A. Burrows serves on the Government Operations Committee and the Legislation Committee. Legislator Burrows said, “The common sense commitments that we are asking for in this resolution are, frankly, things we have advocated for for years. We may have our discussions, debates and disagreements regarding the budget and that is healthy. This resolution ensures that the discussion and debate process is fair and that it positively impacts the final budget.” Legislator Burrows added, “I continue to believe that the best possible budget is one that includes the input and consent of all stakeholders including Legislators, the County Executive and the public. This resolution helps ensure that all of those voices are heard. I look forward to working with all 16 of my fellow Legislators on the difficult but important work that is before us.”