On Thursday night, Rye guy and County Boss George Latimer delivered his third State of the County Address in the Legislative Chambers of the Board of Legislators.
“My friends, we all know the storm clouds still hang over us, we know this squall is far from over – but I am here to tell you tonight that the State of our County is fierce,” Latimer told socially distant officials in the Board of Legislators chamber and his virtual audience. “We are our County, every single one of us, and we are imaginative, and resourceful and we will not let any storm, no matter how heavy the rain or how vicious the winds, claim victory over us. Ever.”
The address included a series of short videos that detailed the path the County was on prior to the onset of Coronavirus, the County’s unified response to the pandemic, a tribute to the Board of Legislators for their work during the pandemic, and a plan to move Westchester County forward.
The entire transcript of the speech, including the referenced videos, is below:
Almost seven months to this very day, our County was shaken to its core by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
It has permeated every aspect of our life here in Westchester County.
Even tonight as I stand here before you, this Chamber doesn’t hold the hundreds of people it normally would, we are not physically together, but ladies and gentlemen we are here….and we are united.
I have heard many State of the County speeches here in this Chamber, and I have given a few of them myself, but the grandness of this room and what it stands for – the people’s chamber – still astounds me – Chairman Ben Boykin, this would not be possible without your leadership and for that I give you my gratitude.
I also want to recognize our County Clerk Tim Idoni, District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, former County Executive Andy Spano, the legendary Herman Geist, Former Chairman of the Board of Legislators, and other elected officials – while you might not be here with us in this room – you are with us, and I thank you for your friendship and your willingness to work together.
To my executive team, including my senior team – Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, Director of Operations Joan McDonald, County Attorney John Nonna, Director of Communications Catherine Cioffi, Deputy Director of Operations Emily Saltzman, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Steve Bass and my Chief of Staff Andrew Ferris – thank you for standing by me – together we can accomplish anything.
And, I want to thank the incredible County Employees for their dedication to the people of this County, and to each other. These last few months have been trying. We have buried our neighbors and seen our loved ones suffer, we’ve seen fear in our children’s eyes, and through it all we have worked every day to carry this County through dark times – thank you.
Some of you tonight are watching this at home on News 12 or on Facebook Live, or you are tuning into the County’s webpage. To you I say thank you – thank you for allowing me into your home. I have had to tell you many things over the past few months that were difficult, but with you I was, and still am always, honest. I want you to know I think of you, and fight for you, every day.
My friends, we all know the storm clouds still hang over us, we know this squall is far from over – but I am here to tell you tonight that the State of our County is fierce. We are our County, every single one of us, and we are imaginative, and resourceful, and we will not let any storm, no matter how heavy the rain or how vicious the winds, claim victory over us. Ever.
President John F. Kennedy said it best, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Before the storm descended on Westchester, we were traveling on a path…
****** The Path *****
We announced the Opportunity Zones Program to spur economic development. This Program provides tax incentives for investors to re-invest their unrealized capital gains into dedicated Opportunity Funds. With such valuable benefits at stake, property values are rising as investors and developers scope out these nominated areas’ potential.
We reestablished the Urban County Consortium and the County was awarded Federal Housing and Community Development Block Grants for the first time in ten years. The Community Development Block Grant Program allows municipalities to apply for funding for infrastructure improvements such as sewer and water treatment, sidewalk rehabilitation, playground and field upgrades, and handicapped accessible vans. Thank you to Planning Commissioner Norma Drummond for making this important initiative happen.
We announced nearly three hundred thousand dollars in state grants for the County-Wide Shared Services Program. The Shared Services initiative was designed to help our local municipalities find ways to save taxpayer dollars by sharing resources, technology and areas of expertise. The Westchester Shares Online Shared Services Portal helped to streamline that process, by creating a centralized location where each municipality can log on and see what equipment and services may be available to them.
The bottom line is this – we must work together if we are ever going to move forward.
In the spirit of inclusion, adding to the other boards that already exist, I signed Executive Orders creating a Westchester County Arab-American Advisory Board and the Asian-American Advisory Board, part of our continued dedication to ensuring we all have a voice in County government.
During Disability Awareness Month, I signed legislation creating an Advisory Council on People with Disabilities. The creation of this body will allow for dialogue with people from all circumstances about policy, legislation and funding priorities. Thank you to the Board of Legislators for your focus on this important issue.
Here in Westchester, we pride ourselves on our diversity. It is one thing to tout this, but it is another to use it. Our diversity is our greatest strength, and it is imperative we ensure that all voices have a seat at the table.
We pushed for the County to move forward with our Food Scrap Recycling Program, to create a more environmentally sustainable Westchester, all while saving taxpayer money for local municipalities. Food Scrap Recycling has been a priority for our Administration since we first took office. Municipalities will be able to deliver food scraps collected through either curbside collection or municipal drop-off programs to a transfer station – this greatly changes the future of our waste here in the County. Thank you to Environmental Facilities Commissioner Vincent Kopicki and his team for their work on this program.
I maintained my commitment to the environment, earmarking Four Hundred Thousand Dollars for additional funding for environmental initiatives including storm water gauges and Planting Westchester, a program that will plant trees, greenery and add community gardens for food security and carbon sequestration. Also, with the help of Energy, Conservation and Sustainability Director Peter McCartt, we are working towards increasing our purchasing of electric vehicles, and establishing electric vehicle charging stations around the County.
Here in Westchester, we also believe in second chances….
Just a few days ago, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that after five years of monitoring the Westchester County Jail, that the jail has met the conditions to improve the treatment of inmates. Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement: “The Jail is a completely transformed institution, having implemented every provision of the agreement and even creating policies and programs that go beyond what the agreement requires.”
When it came to rehabilitation, I was proud to support efforts at the Westchester County Jail to have inmates who are also students receive their high school diplomas while in custody. Family, mentors and other invited guests rose to their feet as the students filed into the jail’s Albert Memorial Chapel, clad in blue caps and gowns while ‘pomp and circumstance’ played. Several of those graduates went on to Manhattan College, and are taking college-level courses at no cost to taxpayers. Thank you to Commissioner Joseph Spano, First Deputy Commissioner Louis Molina and Deputy Commissioner Leandro Diaz for your commitment to changing lives.
Also, we were able to announce that Five Hundred Sixty Thousand Dollars in funding was awarded to Westchester’s Young Adult Reentry Project. The Program, which is run by the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board, assists soon-to-be released incarcerated young adults with job and workforce training, and reentry services.
As a County, it is critical that we provide the resources necessary to help our youth re-enter society armed with the tools that are needed for success. We all know and understand the transformative power of education, and we are proud to have helped to transform these young lives.
We have done a lot, but what I know resonated deeply with the people of this County was our 2020 Budget. The 2.1 billion dollar budget included a one million dollar cut to the Westchester County Property Tax Levy.
We made a commitment to freeze County property taxes, and we were able to go further and cut the County’s property tax levy by one million dollars.
- 2% cut for
- Town of Mount Pleasant
- Town of Eastchester
- City of New Rochelle
- 3 % cut for the
- Town of Mamaroneck
- New Castle
- 4% cut for the
- Town of Bedford
- 5% cut for the Town of Pound Ridge just to name a few.
This budget was about the people who live here in Westchester County, it was about giving them some property tax relief, and at the same time working to make their County the best it can be – by providing services and programs taxpayers rely on while placing the County back onto solid financial ground.
This was the first time in almost a decade that a County Executive had proposed a budget that reduced the County property tax levy. The cut to the tax levy was due in large part to the Westchester County Property Taxpayer Protection Act, which shares back money to the municipalities and school districts.
We did all of this, but we also never forgot about those County residents who were ready to lay down their lives for our country. As part of Military Appreciation Month, I honored WWII Veteran Hilda Lacoff.
Hilda, who recently passed away at 99 years old, served in the Women’s Army Corps from May 1944 to December 1945, where she worked stationed at the Pentagon. This remarkable woman was granted the Westchester County Distinguished Service Award – the highest honor the County Executive can bestow upon a Westchester resident.
Hilda is a testament to the sacrifices made while we were at war to ensure our freedoms. It was truly my honor to have the opportunity to meet with her, her family, and to thank her for service on behalf of the nearly one million residents of Westchester County.
Friends, we were doing all of this and more. And then, March 3rd happened….
***** March 3, 2020 *****
It wasn’t so long ago, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago. As the winds began to swirl, we took quick action steps:
While all of our County Departments rose to the task during the COVID pandemic, I especially want to thank all of the workers of the County Health Department. In the beginning of March our public health nurses, especially the first three out in the field: Chevon Jones, Caitlin Doyle-Goldsmith, and Cathy Gomez, were busy diagnosing the first cases in New Rochelle. They weren’t scared, they didn’t hesitate, in fact their words to 60 Minutes were: “This is what public health is, and so this is what we do. This is our job.”
It might be their job – but they are also heroes in every sense of the word, and for that we thank them.
Under the leadership of Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler, Deputy Commissioner Renée Recchia, and Deputy Commissioner Peter DeLucia – the Health Department has:
- Managed and housed initial travelers from China
- Conducted initial home visits for diagnostic testing and collected specimens at various facilities with clusters
- Worked with the State at the mobile Command Center in New Rochelle
- Implemented a comprehensive case investigation and contact tracing program, including a field monitoring team and conversion to a new robust case management system, and rapidly identified and contained clusters in numerous settings.
I also want to give a special thank you to Assistant Director of Operations Susan Spear and Special Assistant Aviva Meyer, for their unwavering commitment to the health and safety of the people of this County.
While the County Health Department was busy testing, we were working providing child care to our first responders – thank you to Special Assistants Blanca Lopez and Rosie Finizio for your commitment to the littlest of County residents.
We worked with the County’s school districts to help meet their needs, we made changes on the financial side, and further opened the lines of communication with the municipalities so that all decision makers were getting the information they needed. Thank you to Special Assistant Ellen Hendrickx for your work keeping every elected in this County connected and informed.
We stood with New Rochelle, the original epicenter of this pandemic, and we stood with the Asian-American community, because here in Westchester when our brothers and sisters are down, we help them up. Always.
We never do anything great alone…
***** BOL Confronts Covid-19 *****
The people of this County thank the Board of Legislators for all of their hard work during this very difficult time. Let’s give them a round of applause.
We called on all available New York State Licensed Nurses and Physician Assistants to step forward and help us.
We unveiled Ribbons of Remembrance, a monument the public can take part in to remember residents of this County who have died of Covid-19. Visitors are encouraged to write the name of someone they have lost on the ribbon, and tie it to one of two trees or the rope structure. This is a chance to do something tangible to remember that person in those quiet moments, when it’s you, the remembrance of your loved one and nature.
We reached out to the youngest people of this County, and spoke directly to them about this pandemic, even taking the time to read them some books over video and reminding them how to properly wash their hands.
We proposed legislation to ease the financial burden on Westchester’s residents in light of COVID-19, amending the Westchester County Tax Law to authorize towns in Westchester County to waive penalties for the late payment of County taxes, County district taxes and assessments. Thank you to Governor Cuomo for agreeing that County residents needed the extra time. And thank you to the Board of Legislators for working with me to do what is best for County residents.
All this time we kept the dialog open with the residents of this County. I hosted a series of town halls focusing on various issues and how we as a community can build back stronger. One of these town halls was focused on Economic Recovery, where we fielded questions from our neighbors on what we can do – and are doing – to jump-start Westchester’s economy. Our Economic Development Director Bridget Gibbons is using creativity and her “can be done” attitude to spur the next level of business in Westchester. I also want to thank Sharri Rosen Ascher for her work in keeping the lines of communication open with the Chambers of Commerce in this County.
During the summer months, I announced a comprehensive plan to address Food Insecurity. With school out and many camps not opened due to COVID-19, there was an unprecedented need for food assistance for families who are struggling in Westchester County – and that need is expected to grow over the next few months. Thank you to Diane Atkins for your work on this very important topic.
Westchester County Government developed the Westchester Food Security Initiative, which provided four million dollars in additional support to food pantries, restaurants and food delivery services through four different programs. The funding consists of CARES Act dollars, with additional state and federal money for the COVID-19 response.
When people were stuck in their homes and had limited recreation – I opened up our County parks including Westchester County-Owned Golf Courses. We were and are balancing the desire of those who want to enjoy the outdoors along with the priority of stopping the spread of the virus. These courses served as a test case of our ability to balance both priorities – and in that test we succeeded.
Masked golfers, observing social distancing practices were able to find peace and comfort on the golf courses, bikers were able to do the same on Bicycle Sundays, our summer camps opened and our pools and beaches welcomed summer. Were things different? Of course they were different, but we adapted to our new normal – and we all worked together to make sure it happened successfully. I thank our Parks Department, especially Commissioner Kathy O’Connor and First Deputy Commissioner Peter Tartaglia, for a tremendous summer – their professionalism and care allowed us to enjoy the outdoors safely.
When it came to reopening in the fall, I created a Working Group to Assist Local School Districts with the Reopening Transition, and to provide assistance and public health support to protect our schools, teachers, staff and most importantly our students. The goal of the task force, that I want to thank Community Mental Health Deputy Commissioner Joe Glazer for, was to help create a more efficient way to provide feedback on common issues that could arise such as: the bulk purchasing of Personal Protective Equipment, suggesting vendors for Plexiglas dividers and signage, offering assistance with contact tracing, and developing a standardized frequently asked questions document.
It has been a long seven months…
***** Facing Covid-19 *****
But even as COVID raged on, we also….
Worked to Ensure Smooth Voting On Election Day 2020. While the Westchester Board of Elections is state controlled, we are all in this together. I want people to vote, I want them to be engaged – and we are here to help. That is why we released a four-point plan aimed at offering assistance to the state-directed Westchester County Board of Elections in advance of Election Day 2020. The plan includes assistance with additional polling place inspectors, replacement polling sites, and promotion for early voting.
Our nation was founded on the principle of free and fair elections – without them nothing else truly matters.
We were busy working, we had our heads down and we were inching forward, trying to return to a calm time. That was when the storm raged even more furiously…
In the thick of the COVID pandemic response, we were further tested by a crisis of the soul, the murder of George Floyd in May, and what that means for our society and what that means for our future. As I have said from the beginning, that man was murdered. But, we are not going to let him die in vain.
Between George Floyd’s death and the hate incidents County-wide surging, I announced the formation of a police training reform group of various stakeholders to review procedures and policies at the County Police academy. We know that it is not enough to rally, it is not enough to express heartfelt anger and frustration – and it isn’t really realistic for a white man to try to channel what is being felt in the black community or any community of color.
What it is important for me to do, given my responsibilities, is to have an appropriate governmental response so that it is not just about the rally of the moment, it is about what we can do as a government to improve.
The working group is comprised of County and local police professionals, individuals who serve on the Human Rights Commission, on the County’s police board, members of the African-American clergy and justice activists, who have all spent months reviewing in detail all of the procedures and policies that are used at the County Police Academy to train new police recruits, and to provide in-service training for those that are already working in law enforcement.
I think we all owe them a round of applause for the incredible work they are doing on this very sensitive topic.
Ladies and gentlemen it has been a long seven months, it’s been a long 2020. Plans we had were sidetracked. Ships have gone astray, but we find our way back, because that is what we always do…
Recently, I was able to stand with Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard & LandTek VP and New York Jets Legend Marty Lyons, to break ground on the Memorial Field Reconstruction Project. After years of uncertainty, the moment finally happened and it was truly a government at its best, working for the people who we serve. I commend my partners in government from the City, County Legislature and State for their joint efforts toward progress – and I want to particularly single out Judge Lyndon Williams for his exceptional commitment to this project. I graduated on that field, and soon Mount Vernon students will get the same honor.
We were able to allow media production back in the County, long a hot destination for the film and television industries. It’s not surprising that production companies want to be in Westchester County. With a small commercial production just completed in the Village of Mamaroneck, a music video shoot scheduled for Playland, and several other productions considering locations here, Westchester is on its way back.
In an effort to stabilize communities and families in the County impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched the Community Build Back Program. The umbrella Program has four prongs under it -Two utilize HUD money, the RED STOP Eviction Project and the RED Rent HELP Project, and two separate ones utilize ten million dollars in CARES ACT money, the Blue Priority Homeowners Initiative and the Blue Small Business Landlord Initiative.
We also set aside ten million dollars in funding to create an initiative to support small businesses and nonprofits facing challenges due to COVID-19. Westchester County Business FIRST: Financial Investments for Recovery and a Sustainable Tomorrow is a new grant program designed to offer immediate financial relief to organizations in Westchester that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
The Program is being administered by the County Office of Economic Development, and is open to businesses and nonprofits that employ 99 or fewer people, and whose primary business location is in Westchester County.
The Westchester County Industrial Development Agency continues to be a driving force in spurring economic development in the County. Recent projects represent a total private investment in the County of approximately $1.6 billion and more than 2,800 in new residential units.
My Administration is taking a new approach to affordable housing by keeping a record of all the units that have been created as affordable, to make sure they remain affordable for their prescribed periods. We have also created a system of updating our affordable housing database as developments progress from the funding stages, to construction to completion.
We are focused on housing, because there are too many families struggling with housing costs across the County. Our work on this is certainly not done, but a total of 2,089 affordable housing units have been proposed, approved or constructed since I took office on January 1, 2018.
When it came to the Census, we funded over 15 community organizations for Census outreach and awareness. The winning part for the people of this County is that we have exceeded our 2010 response rate. Across Westchester people have worked tirelessly to ensure a robust Census participation. Westchester will soon be on the books to being home to one million people – and the opportunity that opens up is tremendous.
Just a week ago, I released my 2021 Proposed County Capital Budget. In it I proposed an additional $231.8 million in new appropriations. This includes: $138.8 million for the general fund, $80.4 million for the sewer and water districts, $1 million for the refuse district and $11.6 million for the airport. Additionally, the County Capital Program supports over 2,000 permanent jobs within the County, which comes at a critical time when the region’s economy has been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic.
Despite the challenges we have faced this year, we are continuing to invest in the County’s capital infrastructure. This is not only important to maintain our assets, but also in creating jobs within the County. With our partners in the construction industry, we will award over $130 million in construction contracts in 2020, representing 31 projects throughout the County. A number of these projects have been recommended by County Legislators; we have incorporated their advocacy into our plans.
During the pandemic, the rating agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, have all affirmed the County’s ratings for the 2020 Bond Issue. What that shows is that we are strong – we can weather this storm. Can we weather it forever? No. But at this time, considering the path we have traveled through the pandemic, our rudder is staying the course.
We have closed the 2020 Budget with no layoffs, no furloughs and no service cuts. We now turn our attention to the 2021 budget. What is in store is still unclear. Much depends on Washington and Albany. But, I can tell you we are spending long days and nights advocating for federal and state help and we won’t stop until we do what is best for each of you.
We yearn for the raging storm to calm. We long for still waters. The challenges we face are many and great, and they will take time, but I’m vowing to you – THEY WILL BE MET.
We pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and begin the journey of rebuilding our country – and that starts right here in our County.
***** New Day*****
The State of our County is fierce. Fierce.
The risk takers, the makers and the doers – are always the ones that carry us to prosperity.
Ladies and gentleman, I am asking you tonight to join me on this journey.
We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move forward. Together. United.