Updated, 6:45 p.m.
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – County Executive Robert Astorino unveiled a proposed $1.7 billion Westchester County budget Wednesday that cuts 189 jobs – laying off 126 workers – to help close a budget gap.
Astorino, who revealed his 2013 budget proposal Wednesday afternoon, said some layoffs could have been avoided if the CSEA, the county’s largest union, agreed to begin contributing to health care costs.
Karen Pecora, president of the CSEA, said the union put an offer on the table to pay into health care costs, but that the county asked for it to contribute a higher percentage than any other county union with contracts. She added that Astorino’s budget proposal cuts five CSEA positions and wants a guarantee that no positions will be cut before it will negotiate health care contributions.
The budget does not raise the tax levy to bridge an approximately $900 million gap between expenses – $1.79 billion – and revenues – $1.7 billion.
Instead Astorino's budget would defer $35 million of the $91 million in county employee pension costs for 2013, and bond $13 million of tax certioraris, which would add $195,000 in interest during the five-year life of the bond.
County Legislators Jim Maisano (R–New Rochelle) and William Ryan (D-White Plains), said deferring, or amortizing, pension costs for 2013 raises red flags and the county legislators will have to take a careful look. Legislators now have until Dec. 27 to produce a final budget.
After taking those two costs off the 2013 budget, Astorino said there was still a $37 million shortfall, which would be made up in 189 job cuts, or 3.8 percent of the workforce, in addition to some programs cuts. He blamed the CSEA for not coming to the table to negotiate.
“The story of this budget is not what is, but what could have been,” Astorino said. “I pleaded with our largest union, the CSEA, to help avoid layoffs. 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. But they refused. As a result, layoffs and other cuts are regrettably my only option. It’s sad and ironic that the union leadership charged with protecting the jobs of its members ignored my repeated requests to help save jobs.”
Of the 189 positions eliminated in the proposed budget, 75 are in social services, 22 are in parks and 24 are in public works and transportation. Most county departments would be affected, Astorino said.
Additionally, Astorino would cut all funding, $3 million, for the three neighborhood health centers in Ossining, Peekskill and Mount Vernon, and reduce funding to the Cornell Cooperative Extension from $990,000 to $600,000. The proposed budget would maintain the county’s day care program at $26 million, but parents would pay up to 35 percent of their income above the poverty level. The program is expected to be $3 million over budget.
In 2013, the county’s revenues are projected to increase $12 million, while its expenses are projected to increase $97 million. Astorino said this is because of unfunded state mandates. Pensions increased $12 million to $91 million and, without anything else, put the county above the 2 percent property tax cap, he said.
Medicaid increased $8 million to $224 million, and employee health care and salaries increased $5 million and $15 million respectively.
“A tax cap without a spending cap is a joke – a cruel one,” Astorino said.