Political leaders in Westchester County are aiming to close an $86 million hole in the 2013 budget while eliminating as few jobs as possible, county executive Robert Astorino announced on Thursday—an undertaking that would require sacrifices from unions.
The $86 million uptick next year will be caused by state-mandated price tags, like soaring pensions and Medicaid expenses, officials said.
"Our revenues do not keep pace with automatic spending increases," Astorino said during an preview of the 2013 county budget. Astorino must submit the fiscal plan by Nov. 15; legislators have until Dec. 17 to adopt the budget.
The Republican politico noted the county is committed to not boosting the property tax levy, and not dipping into reserve funds. Raiding back-up cash would negatively impact Westchester's fiscal status, Astorino said.
And with state and federal aid stagnant, and no massive influx from the county sales tax, Astorino is hoping unions will make concessions—primarily by contributing to their own health care.
County employees' health care cost taxpayers about $120 million this year; the expense is expected to jump to $125 million in 2013.
"This is a plea to unions," Astorino said. "I'm asking leadership to meet with us directly—it's time for unions to negotiate in good faith."
The county has already struck deals with three local unions, including the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association (COBA). Now, Astorino is pleading with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and others to walk the same path.
Settlements with these unions are crucial to avoiding layoffs, Astorino said. Closing the $86 million hole with job cuts alone would slash some 800 public positions.
Astorino said he is vehemently opposed to eliminating that many positions—which would total 16-percent of the county workforce—but noted a lack of settlements would inevitable lead to deep cuts.
"The goal is not to decimate county government," Astorino said. "But there will be layoffs in we don't get savings."
Astorino did not detail which department are in the cross hairs for possible layoffs, but noted "each department is being scrutinized." The average county employee makes approximately $110,000 annually, including benefits, officials said.
Other savings could be achieved through borrowing, cutting certain services, limiting money spent on libraries, museums and after-school programs.
The county's 2012 budget, which runs $1.697 billion, is currently facing a $15 million shortfall with three months remaining in the year, Astorino said. To close the gap, the county executive is planning to liquidate surpluses that would have carried over, and to limit new hires.