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Stressed Taxpayers Ask Astorino For Relief

CORTLANDT, N.Y. – Addressing an audience of more than 70 at Cortlandt Town Hall Wednesday evening, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said his upcoming proposed budget would close an $86 million deficit by asking unions for concessions, among other measures.

"We could have several hundred layoffs if the county and the unions don't come to an agreement real soon, like 10 days," Astorino said. During a presentation he said the deficit represented about 800 jobs. Astorino said he expects to release his proposed budget in the next three weeks.

"We can't keep up with the cost of a county employee," Astorino said. "Either the cost of labor has to get less, or we have to have less people."

He said the average Westchester employee is compensated at $73,789, and $113,635 when fringe benefits are included.

During a question-and-answer session which followed Astorino's presentation, Cortlandt resident Michael Rizzo said he paid $30,000 in property taxes last year.

"Half of my family already moved to South Carolina, Florida, San Diego," said Rizzo, waving his tax bills. "I'd love to move out of here, but I have a business in the city." Combine local property taxes with state and federal income taxes, Rizzo said, and $55,000 of his earnings went to taxes.

Although questions ranged as broadly as health care and education, the evening's recurrent theme was tax relief. Astorino said he would not increase the county's $528 million tax levy, or total amount of money raised through property taxes, but that tax relief was not being provided by Albany or Westchester's nearly 450 independent taxing authorities.

"This tax cap, as you're starting to learn, is a typical Albany shell game scam," Astorino said. He said pension reforms such as Tier 6 were not providing timely mandate relief. Astorino also said New York governments could negotiate more efficiently without the Triborough Amendment. The law does not allow public labor unions to strike, but allows expired provisions in public labor union contracts to continue indefinitely.

"I have a different point of view on some of the things the county executive talked about," said county Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), whose goals included increasing energy and government efficiency. "The most important thing is for us to find ways to work together," she said about the Board of Legislators and Astorino (R-Mount Pleasant).

Astorino also discussed the county's lawsuit with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The county entered into a housing settlement with HUD in 2009, and is complying with requirements to build 750 affordable housing units. After HUD withheld millions of dollars in grant money to the county for Astorino's failing to "promote" source-of-income legislation, the county sued the federal agency, and is currently in the appeals process after a lower court found in favor of HUD.

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