Plunkett explained how the executive branch used existing revenues to help close an $85 million budget gap.
"Governor Cuomo has not done anything about unfunded state mandates on the county level," says Plunkett, who points to $97 million of additional expenses being handed down to Westchester this year from Albany.
Even with some juggling, he said the County Executive budget still had to make certain personnel and program cuts:
1. 189 jobs which amounts to a 3.8% workforce reduction
2. 126 layoffs
3. 63 vacancy eliminations
The county employee reductions include 75 in social services, 22 in parks, and 24 in the public works and the transportation departments. Layoffs, however, were not in any public safety, corrections, or state mandated jobs. "The parks employees [who were cut] were 'curators.' We're not closing the parks; the programs will stay in place but we want to manage them better," the Deputy County Executive adds.
The commissioners of these departments gave their recommendations to County Executive Rob Astorino. "These were very tough decisions," notes Plunkett. "That said, there were reductions in the Neighborhood Health Centers but they'll be gettting money from Obamacare." He pointed out that some of their directors earn over $300,000 per year.
Regarding negotiations with the CSEA, the union representing the county's service workers, Plunkett says he's hoping for a settlement where members pay more of their healthcare costs. "They should agree to the same percentage as the Teamsters, in which case we'd be able to save more of their jobs, if not all," he notes.
Plunkett also pointed out that currently, the county's fringe benefit rate is a whopping 57% and that payroll is the county's largest expense. "This is totally out of whack with the private sector," he says. But, the County Executive's hands are tied on this issue as pension and healthcare costs are expensive and controlled by the state.
Plunkett stressed that the proposed budget was not balanced on the backs of the neediest. "There will be no cuts to Beeline buses and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley remains 100% funded. The neediest will be protected; there are no changes in those programs."
The Deputy County Executive criticized the Board of Legislators own, separate budget process, citing an extremely short timeframe of 48 hours to obtain public scrutiny. "With the Board of Legislators, there's no transparency...they are voting on the budget way too early, before Christmas."
Speaking briefly about Playland, Deputy County Executive Plunkett says that his office is behind Sustainable Playland because "we want a vision, not just management. Sustainable Playland was community generated."
He also notes that emergency work is being performed at Playland after Hurricane Sandy. "The boardwalk and buildings were creamed," he says. The county is hoping that Playland, under new management, will be up and running next spring, though that may be a long shot. In all probability, Playland will be fully operational within two years, he estimates.
Local Development Corporations
Many members of the Call to Action Committee were curious to know more about the new LDCs, which enable not-for-profit organizations--like hospitals and educational facilities--to access development project funding at lower rates.
"There's a real benefit. You get tax-exempt rates for the borrower," says Plunkett who notes the County Executive forms the LDCs and is completely behind the incentives. The LDCs seek to energize not-for-profit organizations, as their capital projects can be bonded and realized, and will stimulate desperately needed construction jobs in Westchester County.
In closing Plunkett told the crowd of about 30 that "we want to right the ship. We need to show fiscal responsibility -- make the tough decisions -- because we cannot rely on the economy rebounding."