WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino asked in a press conference Thursday for union concessions from the CSEA, PBA and three others currently without contracts to help close a projected $86 million gap between revenues and expenses in the 2013 county budget.
Astorino must release his budget proposal by Nov. 15 and on Thursday, he set a Nov. 1 deadline for county unions to meet and agree to pay a portion of their health-care costs. Without any concessions, Astorino said it would take cutting 800 jobs, or a 16 percent reduction in the workforce, to close the gap, having already taken tax increases and dipping into the county reserves off the table.
“Layoffs hurt everybody,” Astorino said. “Health-care contributions can provide significant savings, which can greatly reduce the number of layoffs we are facing.”
Local CSEA president Karen Pecora said in a statement that everything is on the table, but said her organization wants to hear Astorino ensure union members won’t have the rug pulled from under them.
“What we haven’t heard from the county, however, is a contractual offer of job security for our members if we are to agree to the county’s proposal,” Pecora said in the statement.
County Legislator William Ryan, (D-Fifth District), said Astorino, a Republican, has made projections on past deficits and been “wide on the mark each time.”
“There’s the goal and there’s the end result, the reality that you have to deal with,” Ryan said of Astorino taking tax increases and using county reserves off the table. "We can’t comment on any of this until we see the specifics of his budget plan.”
Astorino said he wouldn’t discuss how much he is looking for union workers to contribute to their health care, if they agree to do so, but said “the settlements themselves will not close the gap completely.”
In 2013, the cost of pensions is projected to increase $12 million, Medicaid $8 million and healthcare $5 million, Astorino said. Both state and federal aid are projected to remain stagnant, with a slight bump in sales taxes from $364 million in 2012 to $376 million in 2013.
“We know of the revenues we have available and we know of the largest burden that counties have, and that is to carry out the programs mandated by the state without state reimbursement,” Ryan said after the news conference.
The county pays $120 million for health care this year, and is projected to pay $125 million in 2013. Three unions have already struck deals to contribute to their health care, and the county and a representative from the largest county union, the CSEA, will meet with a state mediator next week to talk about its contract, which expired Dec. 31, 2011. Their last contract remains in effect until new terms are agreed to and ratified.
“There’s no way I’ll let 800 layoffs happen,” Astorino said. “But we have to figure out a way to contain our costs or there will be a number and it won’t be a pleasant number, and that will happen this year.”