WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino introduced a proposed $1.8 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year on Friday that maintains all essential services and would not raise the tax levy for the sixth straight year.
The spending plan represents no increase from a year ago. It includes no cuts to childcare, libraries and bus routes; while maintaining Westchester’s AAA credit rating – the highest possible – from both Standard and Poor’s and Fitch.
The county continues to be plagued by unfunded mandates, which continue to be “the county’s biggest financial hurdle,” according to Astorino. If approved, 75 cents of every dollar in the 2016 budget would be sent straight to Washington, D.C. and Albany to pay for “jails, Medicaid and a variety of other worthwhile health and social services program.”
“Here’s the math. Washington and Albany tell us we have to spend $1.35 billion on their programs, but only give us $424 million to pay the bill,” he said. “That means county taxpayers have to make up the $926 million difference and once that’s done, there’s only $450 million left to pay for all of the county’s own expenses – that money goes to buses, roads, bridges, parks, police, libraries, arts and not-for-profits.”
Astorino continues to struggle controlling the cost of county employees, whose average compensation – including health care, pensions and benefits – averages at $128,000 per year. Earlier this year, he offered a separation incentive to staff members, which was accepted by 158 employees and should save an estimated $3 million alone this year.
In an effort to continue cutting costs, his proposed budget calls for a reduction in staff, to 4,783, with 25 of the 84 position eliminations coming through layoffs.
“As I have mentioned repeatedly, our county employees are terrific, but they are very expensive,” Astorino added. “If we can’t bring down the cost of our employees, we have to operate with fewer of them. Our preference is attrition and buyouts, but unfortunately, the financial situation this year also requires layoffs to balance the budget.”
Although unfunded mandates and pension costs continue to rise, Astorino said that the balanced budget represents that the county continues to thrive in tough economic times.
“This budget demonstrates that the county can live within its means,” he said. “Every year there are challenges. This year sales tax revenues are down and unfunded mandates from the state and federal government continue to rise, but through smart management we have put together a budget that balances our dual obligation of providing essential services and keeping Westchester affordable for our seniors, young families, and businesses.”
In a statement, the Business Council of Westchester praised Astorino and the budget, citing the need to begin addressing those mandates.
"This budget sends a strong message to the business community that Westchester County government is serious about creating an environment where businesses can grow and prosper. As we try to recruit and retain businesses in the county, it is critically important that they see our fiscal house is in order."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.