County Executive Rob Astorino was peppered with questions about his proposed $1.78 billion 2011 budget at Monday night’s Bedford Armonk Rotary meeting, even as he was exiting the room to attend another community meeting in Somers.
Though the atmosphere was not as charged as previously held public hearings on the budget, attendees challenged Astorino on several proposed cuts—including reductions in child care subsidies and the elimination of $1.3 million in funds to the Cornell Cooperative Extension—and demanded explanations on costs associated with employee contracts.
Astorino’s proposed operating budget calls for a decrease in spending of $33 million from the $1.819 billion budget of 2010. If no cuts were made, this year’s budget would have increased by a projected $116 million. When crafting the budget, he and his staff focused on providing essential services, he said.
Approximately 85 people attended the meeting, hosted by the recently formed Bedford Armonk Rotary Club and held at St. Matthew’s Church in Bedford.
Astorino presented his plan in broad strokes and outlined major cost increases expected in employee health care costs and pensions—they’ll go from $55 million to $163 million in four years, he said.
“We’re only one of four counties in the state where the employees pay nothing toward their health insurance. You—all of you in this room—pay 100 percent of county health care costs,” said Astorino.
He was asked about the current terms of the Civil Service Employees Association contract. “The CSEA contract is in year five of six,” he said. “They got a four percent increase this year, plus step and longevity increases, so it’s like a six percent increase in some cases,” he said.
He added that, if the contract expired and new terms had not been negotiated, the four percent increase remained. According to state law, health care costs can be negotiated but pensions are constitutionally guaranteed.
His budget proposal includes laying off 226 workers from county positions to save money. Buyouts would be given to 465 additional workers and 14 positions that are currently vacant would be eliminated from the budget—combined, the reductions represent about a 12 percent workforce reduction.
In addition to cutting positions, Astorino’s budget eliminates millions of dollars in social services and non-profits (explained further here), including cuts to the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Valhalla, through which community education on nutrition, agriculture, sustainability, emergency preparedness and gardening takes place in partnership with Cornell University.
The county contribution equals about one-fourth of the total funding to run the program—if made, state and federal funds make up the rest.