CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino stopped by a packed New Castle Town Hall on Tuesday night for his latest “Ask Astorino” session, in an ongoing effort to reach out to local residents in a face-to-face environment.
Astorino kept the discussion informative, but also informal. “Tonight, we can talk about anything,” he said. “If you want to talk about the Super Bowl, we can talk about that.”
All jokes aside, Astorino’s presentation focused on the county’s recently approved $1.7 billion budget for 2013.
"Are you proud of being the highest-taxed county in America?" asked Astorino. "I'm not."
The 2013 budget represents a decrease of just over 5 percent within Astorino’s three years in office. Taxes have correspondingly decreased 2 percent in that time.
Astorino explained that the budget continues to decline at a less-than-desirable rate, in large part because of “being crushed by state-mandated payments.”
“We wanted to put the brakes on spending, and we’ve continued to do that,” he said. “We made some difficult, reasonable choices and continue to go in the right direction.”
Though Astorino was generally upbeat about this year’s budget - which passed 9 votes to 0 - he did make mention of the fact that eight county legislators abstained from voting.
“I’m proud to say your legislator stayed in the room and compromised a budget and signed a budget,” he said. “It is a good, reasonable budget that met our top two goals of not raising taxes and protecting our triple-A credit ratings.”
Astorino also discussed the Chappaqua hot topic of state-mandated affordable housing, which requires 750 units of affordable housing to be created in Westchester County by 2016. Needing to have 300 units by the end of 2013, the county already has 303 in place. Missed deadlines are met with significant state fines.
“We are well ahead of schedule and continue to avoid any fines,” said Astorino.
The discussion of affordable housing did not stop there. As soon as Astorino opened up questions to the public, New Castle resident Rob Greenstein wasted no time asking what was on many people's minds.
“What is your opinion of the affordable housing proposal at Hunts Place?” Greenstein asked. “What do you think of that location?”
Although Astorino said he was “agnostic” in regard to specific locations, his opinion on local government being able to resolve local issues was adamant.
“One of the biggest things I’m fighting for is local control,” he said. “I want to make sure local zoning keeps being done by local government. It is their process. The county won’t jam anything down anyone’s throats.”