Read Astorino’s Lips: No New Taxes

Just a week after his defeat in New York’s gubernatorial election, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino was back in the spotlight yesterday when he released the details of his proposed budget for 2015. The $1.76 billion budget would keep spending below the rate of inflation, maintain staffing, and hold the line on taxes in part through $5 million in savings realized from having seven of the county’s eight unions contribute to their health care costs for the first time.

“This is a disciplined budget that strikes a smart and fair balance between the demand for county services and our ability to pay for them,” said Astorino at a press conference.

Here are some highlights from the proposed budget:

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Spending: The current $1.74-billion budget would increase by $21 million or 1%. Savings would be realized by reducing job vacancies – positions that were funded last year, but not filled – tighter cost controls aimed at reducing overtime, and filling retirements with new workers who tend to be less expensive.

Revenue: The county tax levy, which would remain at $548 million, would continue to be the largest source of revenue, supplemented by a projected 4 percent increase in sales tax revenue (to $414 million), and continued state and federal aid (flat from last year). “This budget establishes two goalposts – no tax levy increase and no raiding of the rainy day reserves,” said Astorino.

Employee Compensation: The proposed budget includes an essentially flat total headcount of 4,859 positions. And it calls for unionized workers to make contributions to their healthcare costs; these contributions offset the county’s $103 million in health care costs by about $5 million a year.

Other Misc: Under the proposed budget, the county will increase its contribution to Westchester Community College by $500,000; will include an $8-million increase to pay for the state and federal mandates in the county’s new contract with Bee-Line bus operator, Liberty Lines; and park passes and parking fees would go up nominally.

The proposed budget was met with approval from business leaders including John Ravitz, executive vice president and COO of The Business Council of Westchester.

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“In delivering a sound fiscal plan that does not increase the tax levy nor raid the reserve fund, the county executive is striking a balance between the needs of tax payers and businesses and those who rely on essential county services,” Ravitz said. “This budget sends an important message to business leaders that Westchester is on the right track and that the county is a good place to do business.”

Westchester legislators have until December 27 to negotiate and adopt a budget based on Astorino’s proposals.

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