SOMERS, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino brought his traveling town hall meeting, Ask Astorino, to Somers Wednesday evening.
Among the topics he discussed were health care benefits and pensions for county employees, the affordable housing settlement with the federal government and ways for the county to save money while increasing revenue.
“For every dollar that a county employee puts into his or her pension, you and I put in $15. Westchester County employees get 54 percent of their salaries in fringe benefits,” said Astorino, meaning an employee who earns a $73,789 salary actually ends up with $113,635, counting the value of benefits.
The public pays all of a county employee’s health insurance costs, and each employee has a guaranteed pension, mandated by the state.
“The only way we can change the total cost of the employee pension is to hire fewer people,” Astorino said. “In the last three years, we’ve reduced the roster by 700 workers.”
“The Teamsters came forward and agreed to have a third of their people pay a portion of their own health care, so that people wouldn’t be laid off,” he said.
Astorino earned a large round of applause when he added, “I think it’s reasonable to pay 10 or 15 or 20 percent of your own health care.”
Astorino explained that the affordable housing settlement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires Westchester County to build 750 affordable units, scattered through specific towns with minimal Hispanic and African-American populations.
“I didn’t support it, but we have to comply,” he said. “But we will not go beyond the already agreed-upon settlement.”
“One of my beefs is that the county has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing to people outside of Westchester. We have plenty of people in Westchester who want this housing.
“Westchester County is the fourth most diverse county in New York state, tied with Manhattan. I think that’s a wonderful thing. In the last decade, we’ve had a 56 percent increase in the Hispanic and African-American populations. Under the New York state constitution, every community plans and zones for itself. Every community is open. People live and move where they can afford to.”
Speaking about the county-owned Playland Amusement Park in Rye, Astorino said it has been a burden, partly because it is open only a few months a year. The county has now contracted with Dan Biederman, whose company has converted New York City’s Bryant Park from a drug zone to “one of the most vibrant parks in the city,” Astorino said.
“He’ll run the park on a day-to-day basis and bring in private investors to take over parts of it. They take the risks, we don’t. The responsibility of running Playland and its debt go away and we end up with an even better place.”