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$1.7 Billion Westchester Budget Restores 187 Jobs

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. --  A 12 hour stalemate between Westchester lawmakers ended just before 2 a.m. Friday when legislators voted on a $1.698 billion budget that restored 187 positions and funding for neighborhood health clinics, nature centers and legal services that had been eliminated in the County Executive’s proposed budget .

The Republican County Executive Robert Astorino and lawmakers, who have a Democratic super-majority, agreed not to raise property taxes or use reserve funds to balance the budget. However, legislators made at least two visits to Astorino’s office and held a private meeting with the administration in the legislative committee room before voting 16 to 1 on the budget.

Lawmakers on both side of the aisle, including Legislator José Alvarado (D-Yonkers), hailed the budget as a bipartisan “compromise” that “maintains priorities in public safety, public health and the environment.”

“I am torn that some true professionals who have served the county government for many years had positions that couldn’t be saved,” said Alvarado, who chairs the budget and appropriations committee. “But we have a zero increase in the county tax levy as this board committed and a balanced budget without using fund balances, which protects the county’s AAA bond rating.”

Of the 210 layoffs and 157 other eliminations Astorino proposed, 30 jobs remained cut, according to Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett. County money for the Mount Vernon Neighborhood Center, Hudson River Healthcare, Open Door Family Medical Center and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley was restored.

Legislators also voted to lower parents’ co-payments for subsidized child care to 20 percent of the difference between their income and the poverty level as opposed to the 35 percent contribution the county executive suggested.

Staffed positions at six nature centers were added back into the budget. As was funding for Invest in Kids youth programs, $1 million for the Cornell Cooperative Extension and $750,000 for ArtsWestchester.

Compensation for legislators’ additions was discovered in unallocated money in the department of social services, unspent employee healthcare money, and eliminating vacant positions.

Conservatives, including, Legislator James Maisano (R-New Rochelle), echoed Democrats in labeling the budget “bipartisan.”

“I want to thank each and every legislator for coming together throughout a very, very difficult day today to pass, for the most part, what is going to be a bipartisan budget,” said Maisano, the Republican minority leader.

The lone dissenting vote came from Legislator Martin Rogowsky (D-Harrison) who said he didn’t support Astorino’s and fellow lawmakers’ decision to borrow money to fulfill pension payments.

“Both have agreed, once again, to borrow this year $30 million as the amortization payment for the pension. That again, is kicking the can down the road,” said Rogowsky. “It’s bad fiscal policy and I can’t subscribe to it.”

All lawmakers did agree to pass an act spelling out Astorino’s legal obligation to allocate the funding specified in the budget because some legislators’ said the county executive’s administration had withheld funding allocated to groups such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett said it was “a very good day for Westchester” and indicated that Astorino will “be looking very hard to veto” some issues in the budget. Plunkett would not elaborate on what items the county executive may veto or what negotiations the administration and lawmakers labored over Thursday.

The Democrats have the super-majority required to override any items Astorino vetoes. Still, Westchester’s largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), said there is no assurance that all the restored jobs will make it through the budget finalization deadline of Dec. 27.

“We are grateful and thankful to the legislators for recognizing the work that we do and the importance that we are to the residents of Westchester County,” said Karen Pecora, the CSEA president. “I’m optimistic, but I don’t know. As long as the possibility is out there you can’t bank on it.”

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