WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Republican County Executive Robert Astorino praised the $1.698 billion budget county lawmakers passed Friday as a "bipartisan consensus" that elected officials on both sides of the aisle could live with, however, Astorino said there were budget items he intended to veto.
"Republicans, Democrats, the legislative branch, the executive branch, we all worked throughout the night really to get this done," Astorino said of the 2012 budget that restores 187 of the 210 layoffs he proposed. "Fundamentally, this is a sound fiscal plan, which makes some dramatic changes in the way we do business by not basically using our reserve funds to fund day to day operations. There is no tax increase so the tax payers, again, are the winners.
Democratic and Republican party leaders flanked the county executive as he described their disagreements as "healthy debates" in the process of working to "protect and preserve essential services."
"There are areas of this budget where I am still concerned but where we will watch very carefully and make adjustments during the year as needed," Astorino said of his and Democratic lawmakers' disagreement over whether the state mandated Westchester to budget for cost of living increases in child welfare funding. "We're potentially facing a $5 to $10 million debt in social services next year."
Astorino would not elaborate on what he plans to veto. However, he did criticize restoring $1.9 million in funding for neighborhood health centers and the continued use of public money for ethnic festivals.
"There are things that I disagree with that I still feel like I should veto whether it passes or not," Astorino said of intentions to veto items before the Dec. 27 finalized budget deadline. "It won't be as many as last year. I don't need to buy a new ink cartridge for my pen."
Legislators, who have a veto-proof Democratic super-majority, were also optimistic that bipartisanship would result in a less tumultuous budget season than last year, when legislators overrode more than 240 budget line items vetoed by Astorino.
"Still being in a recession, demand for county services is going up. As the county executive mentioned and we all know, the ability of tax payers to pay for those services are going down," said Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah), the Democratic majority leader. "So it was that balancing act and I think we were able to put some things back in that are going to help."
All elected officials agreed that relief from mandated programs, such as Medicaid, that the state requires Westchester to fund and unions agreeing to contribute towards their healthcare would be pivotal in next year's budget.
"I stretch my arm out to the unions that we need to work and we need to work soon," said Astorino, who originally proposed saving $14 million by laying off 210 employees after he said unions refused to make healthcare concessions. "There are going to be some big changes next year if there are no ratified agreements."
Karen Pecora, the president of Westchester's Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) union, said the CSEA was grateful for the position restorations and would continue to negotiate in good faith.
"I applaud the legislators and the county executive for working together and restoring the 187 positions. Of course it’s not perfect, but it’s more than we expected," said Pecora, who represents approximately 3,300 Westchester employees. "Hopefully we can have an agreement by the end of next year that will save the county money, however that is, whether it is with contribution or without contributions."