With a state tax cap set at approximately $11 million and looming Medicaid and employee fringe benefits estimated to increase by $25 million, something has got to give, according to Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino.
Unfortunately, that something might mean the elimination of hundreds of jobs in the county in the 2013 budget. Last week, Astorino announced that the county was trying to close an $86 million budget gap for 2013 and that it would take 800 public positions in order to close the gap through job cuts alone.
Astorino is pushing a $1.69 billion budget for 2013.
“We can either have those types of massive layoffs, which I will not do, but we can have several have hundred layoffs if the unions and the county do not reach a settlement real soon, like, within 10 days,” Astorino said Wednesday night during a town hall meeting in Cortlandt town hall.
Astorino came to Cortlandt as part of his “Ask Astorino” tour, which are a series meetings designed to get input from residents in different communities.
Astorino said his staff and commissioners have three goals: protecting taxpayers, preserving essential services and promoting economic growth.
Those goals have been become increasingly harder, as the county deals with rising costs and little to no revenue growth from year to year.
Astorino said he intends to keep his promise to not increase the tax levy, which stands at $548 million, in 2013. At the same time sales tax revenue is only projected to increase by $12 million to $376 million next year, state aid is only projected to grow by $2million to $249 million and federal aid is expected to decrease by $2 million to $201 million.
Overall, 82 percent of this year’s county tax levy is expected to go toward state mandates.
“When we think about what we have to spend our dollars, they’re limited now because I’m not going back and asking you for more” Astorino said. “So when we have to decide what we do with our dollar, do we put it into the Bee-Line Bus System or do we spend it at Playland?”
Michael Rizzo, a resident of Cortlandt Ridge, wondered if he would ever receive tax relief once the value of his house goes back up. He said half of his family has already moved out of the state and more people are being driven away because of high taxes.”
“I’m up $4,000 [worth of property taxes] in four years and I think it’s just horrifying,” Rizzo said during the session. “How much further can we go? My house is down $270,000 in value...I’m paying $30,000 [in property taxes].”
Astorino said the reason he ran for office was to get a hold of the spending and taxing on the county level.
“And when I make these decisions, and I catch a lot of grief...It’s not easy to say no,” Astorino said. “It’s not easy when you have a group that comes in that’s very vocal, that makes great points—and says we need more money and I say no because I know we can’t afford it. I know what the bills are come Jan. 1. I know how hard it’s going to be to stay within the budget.”