EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – For the first time in Eastchester history, a Westchester County Executive appeared at a Town Hall meeting, as Rob Astorino continued his “Ask Astorino” question-and-answer series Wednesday night to give residents an update on county economics and progress made on the affordable housing settlement.
County Executive Astorino said unfunded mandates from the state and exponentially rising pensions for government employees are the biggest reason for the strapped county budget.
Eighty-five cents of every tax dollar that residents pay to the county is immediately sent to the state to pay for programs such as public assistance, child welfare and Medicaid, he said.
In the 2013 county budget, Astorino said, $225 million is being paid to the state for Medicaid, $42 million for pre-school special education programs, and $3 million for youth detention. Pensions will account for $91 million in 2013, up from $3.3 million in 2001, $35 million in 2008 and $81 million last year," he said.
“These are bills that have to be paid, no matter what. This isn’t partisanship; it’s basic arithmetic,” Astorino said. “These are programs that the higher form of government says we must provide, but we don’t get any money for it. We have no say over eligibility, and no say about these programs.”
According to Astorino, the county is one year ahead of its expectations in building the 750 affordable-housing units mandated by the federal government in 2009. The benchmark was to have 300 units completed by the end of 2013, with 294 already finished when 2012 concluded.
The federal government is trying to force changes in zoning laws in the county so it can dictate where people live, Astorino said.
“There’s a difference in neighborhoods building upon themselves and people moving where they can afford, and having bureaucrats dictating how neighborhoods will be built and who will live where,” he said. “We have zoning codes so each community can set itself up.”
Astorino said the federal government believes Westchester County is discriminatory, segregated and must be broken up. But the county is the fourth most diverse county in the state, tied with Manhattan in percentage of population, he said.
“Each community meets or exceeds the basic benchmark for zoning in this state,” Astorino noted. “As long as I’m here, there is no way I will let this government dictate how and where communities will plan and zone, who lives where and moving people around like chess pieces.”