WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino pledged to deliver a balanced budget, but not by raising the property tax levy, in his 2012 State of the County address Wednesday night.
Instead, Astorino said he will seek further cuts in spending to balance a budget with flat revenues and increasing expenses, most of which come from state mandates, he said. This year 82 percent of the county budget will pay for nine mandates, including pensions that are expected to increase from $79 million this year to $91 million next year, then $105 million the following year. The county budget has to fund 2,300 total line items, he added.
"We have no control over the bills Albany sends us and the state has no self-control over the size of the bills it sends us," the county executive said. "The result is a cost explosion that threatens to bankrupt us,” he continued, “big bucks for state bureaucrats and pennies for our parks, our day care, our buses, our flood prevention, our public safety, our seniors and our veterans."
Chairperson of the county board of legislators Kenneth Jenkins (D-Yonkers) echoed several of his Democratic colleagues by saying "the sky is not falling" in a pre-recorded rebuttal to the State of the County posted on the board's website.
"What we have learned is doom and gloom projections simply create unwarranted fears in residents and lead to short sighted recommendations that stop investments in programs that support public health, child care for working mothers, bus lines for seniors, all of which save money for taxpayers in the long run," Jenkins said in the video, adding that Westchester is on solid ground.
On Dec. 31, Astorino cut the Route 76 bus line, which he said cost $240,000 a year to service 30 passengers. He said this is an example of finding efficiencies, because another route was changed to incorporate portions of the defunct route.
Astorino also announced in his speech that the county negotiated a seven-year contract with the Teamsters Local 456 that will see approximately 120 county managers and other employees contribute 10 percent to their health care premiums, and 12.5 percent in 2015. The agreement also includes modest wage increases and freezes. It still needs to be approved by the board of legislators.
The county executive also addressed investing in infrastructure and challenged the board to approve $80 million in capital projects, which he said are waiting for their approval.
While addressing the media after Astorino's speech, Jenkins said none of those projects are "construction ready" and wouldn't be able to begin this year.