County Executive Robert P. Astorino pledged to protect taxpayers at the Westchester County Association’s annual breakfast at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown.
Astorino, whose first term expires this year, said that county spending has been reduced by 5.2 percent since he took office, while taxes have decreased by 2 percent. Astorino also pledged to protect the county’s reserve fund, saying it was critical to maintaining the AAA bond rating from Moody’s.
The county executive also addressed this year’s budget process, which saw two Democrats vote with their Republican counterparts to approve the budget after other Democrats walked out.
“We had a bipartisan coalition this year,” said Astorino. “It wasn’t elegant, but it got the job done. They reached across the aisle and showed political courage. This budget was compromise without compromising.”
Mandate relief is necessary to keep Westchester sustainable, Astorino said. Pension costs have risen to $91 million, up from $35 million from 2008, while county taxpayers pay $7.3 billion in Medicaid costs. According to Astorino, 85 cents of every dollar in the county budget is spent on an unfunded mandate.
“Legislators promised mandate relief when they approved the tax cap,” he said. “No one checked to see if their fingers were crossed. Comprehensive mandate relief needs to be achieved.”
Astorino said the county is a year ahead of schedule on building affordable housing units to settle a 2008 anti-discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The county is required to build 750 units over seven years, and has already completed 300. The county has been fighting HUD over HUD’s requirement that landlords accept Section 8 vouchers.
“They have a right to say no, and we will not take away that right,” said Astorino.
Astorino has not formally committed to running for re-election.