Passionately sharing his feelings about the county budget process at a news conference on Wednesday, Astorino laid blame for the layoffs at the feet of union members for not contributing to their healthcare costs.
"I pleaded with our largest union, the Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA) to help avoid layoffs," stated Astorino who continued that, "had they followed the lead of three other unions to start contributing to the cost of their health care, we could have saved jobs and programs."
The county is facing a budget gap of about $85 million, with about $97 million in cost increases from 2012, versus just roughly $12 million in revenue going up from the previous year.
The budget calls for freezing the amount of money raised through a tax levy, which is the amont of revenue that the county would collect. However, property taxpayers won't necessarily see a freeze, depending where their home towns or cities are, because of fluctuations possible with the tax rate, which is the amount of money taxed per $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax rates are determined by a formula called the equalization rate, which is used to bridge the gaps between municipalities that assess their properties at different rates of their market value.
The county does not yet have data on the tax rates for individual municipalities, according to a spokeswoman for Astorino.
Areas of the County hit the hardest from the job cuts will be in social services, public works, parks and transportation.
Astorino did reiterate, however, that all Westchester parks and nature centers will remain open and that no services will be cut from the Bee-Line Bus system.
Other actions taken by Astorino's office to balance the budget included participating in the state's amortization program, which means the County will defer about $35 million of 2013's $91 million employee pension bill.
Also, Westchester will bond $13 million of court-ordered tax assessment reductions, so the money will not have to come out of the 2013 budget.
"This is a structurally sound budget in the sense that none of our reserve funds will be used," said Astorino, who sought to protect Westchester's triple-A rating while also being sensitive to unforeseen events such as Hurricane Sandy and the importance to keep those funds untouched.
"Hurricane Sandy shows why it is important to have our reserves available for emergencies," he added, "in this instance, Westchester will get federal aid but that aid may not always be there from the state or feds."
Among the cost increases in the proposed 2013 budget are:
- The County's share of Medicaid, up $8 million to a cost of $224 million
- Employee pension costs, which rose to $91 million, up $12 million from 2012 and a staggering $87 million from 2001, when the cost was only $4 million.
- Employee Health Care, up $5 million.
- Employee salaries, up $15 million.
Another key part of the budget are revenues generated for 2013, which in large measure, remained stagnate and virtually unchanged from 2012 with the exception of Sales Tax revenue, which is projected to increase $12 million or 3% in 2013 to a total of $376 million.
Democrats on the Board of Legislators reacted diplomatically but raised concerns.
“The budget, as proposed, will be closely reviewed and prioritized to do what is right for Westchester," said Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), in a press release. "We certainly agree with County Executive Astorino that moving forward there should be a budget that doesn’t increase taxes or jeopardize the county’s triple A bond rating. As we look more carefully at this proposed budget we’ll undoubtedly find areas of agreement and places where we’d like to see some changes.”
The pension amortization and tax refund bonding proposals concern Jenkins.
“Westchester County has never bonded for tax certioraris, and the practice has caused great problems for places like Nassau County," he said in a press release.
The Democrats, in their reaction press release, also noted that the chilcare parental contribution rate is proposed for 35 percent, which was already an issue of concern for this year when the county executive called for raising it to a similar level.
To view the 2013 proposed Westchester County budget in it's entirety, you can visit the County's website by clicking here.
The legislators, meanwhile, have announced that three public hearings on the budget will be held: Nov. 20, 7 p.m. in a Mamaroneck village building; Nov. 29, 7 p.m. at Cortlandt Town Hall; Dec. 5, 7 p.m. at the County Center in White Plains.