By Carol P. Bartold, Senior Reporter
Jan. 17, 2018: “I’ve been exposed to a lot of different perspectives on Westchester,” said George Latimer, newly inaugurated Westchester County executive who spoke at the Martin Luther King, Jr., breakfast in Bronxville on January 15. “It’s a more complicated landscape when you look at it as a whole rather than focusing on its parts.” All of its parts, he added, must be working toward the right end.
Latimer outlined two broad themes he believes will play out in the county during 2018.
First, he noted, he believes that county government is ready to enter an era of cooperation and pragmatism with local government that will endeavor to find common ground dealing with problems and solving them to the best of its ability. “Let's calm down the rhetoric,” he said, “and find a way through the issues at hand.”
To facilitate understanding and cooperation, Latimer has tapped a diverse group of people from several demographic categories and geographic areas around Westchester County to serve in his administration. “We have already shown that we’re not going to hire everyone on politics,” he said.
Latimer emphasized that the county has a very strong population base of intelligent, educated people willing to lend their professional expertise and become involved in public policy. The team running the county, he said, will look like the county in its entirety.
The second theme, Latimer said, and not necessarily a positive one, encompasses the current economic situation. “The federal government has made some decisions that are going to make it very difficult for Westchester to remain competitive on a desirable level,” he stated.
Although he inherited a balanced budget for 2018, he characterized the budget situation as difficult. While he recognizes a countywide expectation that taxes will never be raised, he stated that commitments arising in the future could create a deficit for the next budget that must be closed. “I’m not anxious to raise taxes,” he said, “but we can’t continue to not invest in our infrastructure and let things deteriorate or die in front of us because of rhetoric and an ideological approach to taxation.”
Latimer feels the county must strike a balance between fiscal needs and the fact that residents are very tax sensitive. It’s not a “win,” he said, to burden local governments with costs they will have to raise taxes to cover. “We need to work as an entity,” he stated, “and we need to be intelligent.”
Westchester County needs a clear picture of fiscal realities, Latimer emphasized, in order to make strong plans to stabilize its finances. Without stable finances, he added, policy cannot be effective.
Overall, Latimer sees a positive outlook for Westchester County due to its strategic location near New York City, its strong transportation system of commuter railroad lines, interstate highways, parkways, and an airport, all complemented by an abundance of human capital.
Having served in local government on the Rye City Council, at the county level as a county legislator, and in both the New York State Assembly and Senate, Latimer brings a depth and breadth of experience to his position as Westchester County executive. “Experience helps,” he said, “but you still have to make intelligent and good decisions.”
Pictured here (from top down): (L to R) Don Brown, director of ECAP, Lovely Billups, ECAP Advisory Council chair, and County Executive George Latimer; George Latimer in Congregational Hall at The Reformed Church of Bronxville for the MLK breakfast.
Photos by N. Bower