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Residents Flock to Final County Budget Hearing

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Nearly 400 residents crowded into the county center theater Tuesday night to air concerns about the county's proposed $1.689 billion budget and thank Westchester legislators for agreeing Monday to add $23 million worth of job positions and programs into the budget.

Sara Attia, a probation officer from White Plains, praised lawmakers for restoring 15 probation officer positions that County Executive Robert Astorino eliminated in his preliminary budget plan.

“The very safety of our community depends on the strength of law enforcement and the elected officials who must make very difficult decisions on a daily basis,” said Attia. “We promise these law enforcement jobs will not only save you and your constituents money, but also the many lives of both potential victims and offenders.”

Several speakers criticized the 210 layoffs and 157 other jobs that Astorino proposed to eliminate in mid-November . Although county legislators decided Monday to add back dozens of these positions, county employees and union leaders urged the lawmakers not to change their minds when finalizing the budget Thursday. Still, the lawmakers agreed to offset the $23 million by eliminating budget items that have not yet been identified.

The lawmakers said they would echo Astorino's pledge not to raise property taxes or deplete reserve funds enough to threaten the county's AAA bond rating. Legislators must negotiate before sending a balanced budget to Astorino on Thursday.

Republican legislators have said they will challenge some of the line items that were written into the budget on Monday.

“I just wanted to come here on behalf of 3,300 members to say thank you to the board for recognizing the dedicated employees that we are, the work we do, and the services we provide to the county,” said Karen Pecora, the president of Westchester’s Civil Service Employees Association chapter.

Others spoke against Astorino's proposal not to fund neighborhood health centers, stop programs and staffing at six nature centers, and nix funding to Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.

“Community health centers are the soul of so many neighborhoods and compromising any funding could severely hinder early identification and treatment of numerous communicable diseases,” said Andrea Ruggiero, the director of HIV services at the Open Door Family Medical Center.

Lawmakers on the county budget committee voted to provide funding for the Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center, Hudson River Healthcare, and Open Family Medical Center, legal services organizations, and money to staff the nature centers.

The budget must be finalized by Dec. 27.

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