WESTCHESTER, N.Y. -- Officials from Westchester schools, governments and businesses gathered in White Plains Thursday to launch Stop Albany From Taking Our Power , a movement to reduce unfunded state mandates.
"Albany must be held accountable, it must stop passing the buck to taxpayers," said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
He said that nine unfunded mandates from the state government, including Medicaid, pensions and preschool special education, will cost the county government $464 million, while the county will only receive $249 million in state aid.
"We've got to end the corrosive effects of unfunded mandates."
Astorino said that if unfunded mandates continue, more school districts are either going to have to bust through the tax cap to cover costs or lay off staff and teachers.
Lou Wool, the superintendent of Harrison schools and president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, said that the new state-mandated teacher evaluations were the largest unfunded mandate he's ever seen. He said that Harrison schools received about $16,000 in aid for the evaluations, while it will cost around $3.5 million to implement.
"The question is, where should the dollars be spent? That decision has been taken out of local hands," he said. "The system is badly broken."
"We have to stop what's happening and change the direction of what's going on in Albany so we can maintain basic services for our children," said Kelly Chiarella, director of the Westchester-East Putnam Regional PTA. A Yonkers mom, Chiarella said that mandates will cost Yonkers $68 million next year, and forces the school district to cut programs. "I am the parent of a middle school child who has no art, music, sports support personnel."
Ossining Mayor William Hanauer, who serves as president of the Westchester Municipal Officials Association, said that municipalities all over Westchester have been forced to cut police, firefighters, public works staff and other workers. In Ossining, police retirement contributions have increased 72 percent, and employee retirement contributions have increased 55 percent over the past three years. These increases have led to the elimination of 16.5 positions and 2.5 unfilled positions, he said.
"Contributions rates are imposed by the state, not determined by the local government, not bargained collectively with employee unions," he said.
Astorino said that the movement is not looking to increase state aid, but rather to implement reforms so that municipalities are not left paying for programs they can't afford. Stop Albany From Taking Our Power will be reaching out to elected state officials and encouraging residents to sign a petition in order to start making changes to state mandates during this legislative session.
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