Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino proposed a $1.689 billion 2012 budget Tuesday morning, with the county’s tax levy remaining the same at $548 million and its workforce decreasing by 7.5 percent, or 367 jobs.
“Just like this year, next year’s budget requires some very difficult decisions. We had to confront the dynamic of how to pay for government when costs continue to grow and revenues don’t,” Astorino said. “Our approach has been to fundamentally restructure our finances so that services are tied to a realistic and sustainable ability to pay for them.”
Saying he’s seen no cooperation from unions after asking for certain concessions in his “Jobs for Savings” proposal last month, Astorino said his only choice was to reduce the workforce, including laying off 210 workers.
“This is my 684th day in office, and for 684 days and counting I have asked publically and privately for the unionized workforce to be part of the solution, to help out and pay a reasonable share of their health care costs, just like everybody else is doing,” Astorino said. “To this date, there has been resistance to say the least and no real willingness to come forward and to help out.”
Astorino may be poised for another showdown with the Democrat-controlled Board of Legislators, which for this budget season will still have its supermajority and be able to largely have the final say in many matters in the budget process. The Republican county executive once again proposed ending contracts to three neighborhood health centers in Mount Vernon, Yonkers and Greenburgh and increasing the parent share for child care to 35 percent. These are some of the moves that were opposed by the board’s majority last year, leading to nearly 250 veto overrides by the board.
In a response to Astorino’s presentation, Board of Legislators Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) said the board was committed to not increasing taxes while protecting essential services. He indicated, though, that the board may look to restore some of the services and programs Astorino proposes cutting or eliminating.
“Essentially, the process begins,” Harckham said. “We look forward to working with the public to craft a budget that preserves vital services and is at a reasonable cost to the taxpayers.”
Astorino emphasized the importance of keeping the county’s fund balance at its current level in order to maintain its AAA credit rating.
“Losing a AAA rating is not just a blow to the ego,” he said. “It has costs associated with it.”
Other highlights of Astorino’s proposed budget include:
– Playland Park in Rye would remain open.
– The county would stop funding to the Cornell Cooperative Extension and cut funding to ArtsWestchester in half.
– Six nature centers would be closed.
The Board of Legislators will hold a public meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 22, at New Rochelle High School at 7 p.m. The board has until Dec. 27 to approve a final budget.