Passionately sharing his feelings about the 2013 budget process at a news conference on Wednesday, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino felt the proposed budget for 2013 could have had many more positives to it, particularly in regard to the 189 county positions that will be lost—126 layoffs, with the remainder vacant positions that will not be filled—if the budget is adopted by the Board of Legislators.
"I pleaded with our largest union, the Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA), to help avoid layoffs," said Astorino, adding "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."
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 property tax reductions, so the money will not have to come out of the 2013 operating 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 said. "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.
Other key parts of the budget are revenues generated for 2013, which in large measure remained stagnant and virtually unchanged from 2012 with the exception of sales tax revenue, which is projected to increase $12 million or 3 percent in 2013 to a total of $376 million.
To view the 2013 proposed Westchester County budget in its entirety, you can visit the county's Web site by clicking here.