Just two days before seeing Westchester lawmakers override his County budget vetoes and restoring over $1 million, County Executive Rob Astorino told the Local Summit of Larchmont and Mamaroneck that county and other government expenses have far exceeded taxpayer ability to pay, which has made the definition of “essential services” critical.
As an example of this process, he mentioned Playland, which currently runs at a significant deficit, as a county offering that is nice, but not essential.
On Thursday, the Westchester County Board of Legislators overrode all 27 of County Executive Robert Astorino’s vetoes to the county’s 2012 budget.
The overrides restore funding for neighborhood health centers, child care subsidies, environmental education programs, youth services and support for the arts. Republican Astorino said he expected the overrides given the Democrats’ supermajority on the board. He believed the items that were restored will be “detrimental to both taxpayers and the effective management of county government.”
The county’s biggest issue is its cost of labor, Astorino said Tuesday in Larchmont, making the case that the salary and benefits of county employees have become so imbalanced compared to the county’s private sector workers that the people paying the tax tab can no longer afford it. According to his figures, the average county employee earns $71,000 per year, with fringe benefits bringing that value up to $110,000.
Although the county budget was the hot topic, Astorino also took some time to explain his position on the county’s settlement with HUD to create affordable housing units in designated communities where minorities were found to be underrepresented in the 2000 census. Astorino contends that the government is seeking to impose requirements that go outside the scope of the signed settlement agreement and that the demands of the government now are larger and intrusive. In particular, there are two new requirements he feels are outside the scope of the agreement. The first is the demand that the 31 impacted communities revamp their zoning codes, or be sued by the county. The second is the requirement that landlords with four or more rental units accept Section 8 housing, which goes beyond current federal and state law. The county is seeking a federal court ruling on these two issues. This is a case being watched nationally, as the precedent it sets for federal involvement in housing and community planning has consequences across the country.
Additional reporting by Heidi Sickles of the Larchmont Mamaroneck Summit. The Summit is an informal, non-partisan community council. The Summit’s public programs on issues of concern to the community take place at 7:45 a.m. the third Tuesday of every month, at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck.