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Hundreds Come Out for Westchester's Final Budget Hearing

Tuesday's budget hearing represented the last chance residents could enter comments about the 2012 budget before the Board of Legislators approves it Thursday.

Hundreds filed into The Westchester County Center Tuesday to have their say before the county officials pass next year’s budget.

A cross section of community residents gathered at the to sound off on County Executive Robert Astorino’s for the last of three public budget hearings. More than three hundred people could be seen inside the Little Theater, where the hearing was held, while a couple hundred more people were directed to a flow-off area where the hearing was shown on large screen.

There were varying opinions and concerns amongst the people in attendance.

Katrina Vidal, a Scarsdale resident, said she attended Tuesday’s public hearing to support Astorino’s budget.

“The taxpayers cannot afford to pay the county union employees’ wages and their benefits, which are out of line with the economic reality of this county, of this state and of this country,” Vidal said.

Iris Pagan, who ran unsuccessfully this year against Bill Ryan for the District 5 seat of the Westchester Board of Legislators, said many of the people she met during her campaign understood the need for a safety net for county residents. But those people also expressed a desire for greater transparency in how much of the funding for those programs is appropriated for salary and not programming.

“This is the type of transparency that many of the people I met want,” said Pagan, a White Plains resident.

Astorino’s proposal is about $100 million less than this year’s budget and represents a zero increase to the tax levy, which stands at $548 million this year. It calls for 210 layoffs and 367 total job eliminations.

The proposal would also reduce spending for parks and recreation by 5 percent, to $48 million; decrease the county Health Department’s budget by $160 million, or 3 percent; and the reduction of $1.9 million worth of contracts with the Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center, Hudson River Healthcare in Peekskill, and the .

The budget would also eliminate $990,000 in funding for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which would effectively end the program, and reduce funding to ArtsWestchester by $750,000, which is about 50 percent what the program received this year.

Brittany Bollenbach, a student at Purchase College, came to the hearing with a group of other students to voice their concern over proposed cuts to parks and environmental projects in the county.

“I really like the environment and parks so I am here with my team we just want to be heard,” Bollenbach said while trying to gather signatures for petition asking for parks funding to be restored.

Curtis Wegener, a White Plains resident and member of the count pest management Committee, attended the hearing to speak on behalf of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. He said Cornell Cooperative Extension offered number of programs that can’t be readily replaced.

“Cornell’s expertise with education and the information it provides about pesticides and the new laws and pesticide labels...it’s just irreplaceable,” Wegener said.

Troy Hyman, a county worker and member of the local Civil Service Employees Association, said he remained optimistic after attending the pubic hearing.

“I found out some information that I didn’t know,” Hyman said. “You always hear from Astorino, but you never here what the Legislators are really saying. It was very informative for me and it gave me a better understanding of what we are fighting for.”

County officials have already made additions to the budget, which can be seen in the PDF to the right of this story, and are scheduled to make necessary line item deletions before they pass a budget Thursday.

Astorino still has the option of overriding the changes made by the board of legislators. If that happens, the Board of Legislators would vote to override the veto on Dec. 22.

Dick Hubert December 15, 2011 at 08:25 PM
The December 10-16 issue of The Economist has a story on the financial collapse of Detroit which is a must read for Jeff Meyer and other public union advocates. America's fiscal future is on display in Detroit, and it's frightening. To quote: "As well as wage cuts and 1,000 lay-offs, the mayor needs big concessions from the unions, ranging from pensions and health-care reform to changes in restrictive work rules. ... The unions may realise that the game is up. One representative—among the 45 with whom the city must negotiate—says his members feel up against a wall." Being "up against the wall" is a feeling that taxpayers in this area already have - witness the defeat of schools bonds in Rye and Cortlandt/Peekskill. Jeff's public union friends may be also "up against the wall" here sooner than anyone can imagine.
jeff meyer December 15, 2011 at 09:12 PM
Dick, I am sure nothing would make you happier then me and my "union friends" being "up against the wall". You seem like the type of person who would derive satisfaction from other peoples hardships. JM Tuckahoe, NY
Dick Hubert December 15, 2011 at 09:32 PM
Jeff, Westchester property owning taxpayers are already up against the wall - hence my pointing out the unprecedented defeat of school bond referendums. Public employees and their unions are going to be joining that list - Detroit is a bellwether of that. I am pointing out the obvious - I take no pleasure doing so, but it seems to be necessary to do it for those who are or wish to be oblivious to reality.
Francis T McVetty December 15, 2011 at 09:36 PM
Jeff, I don't think that is what he means. He is pointing out the reality of the situation. Even someone that does not have an MBA can see this. Just look at your tax bill. Detroit is not the only city or municipality in this financial condition.
Empty Suit December 15, 2011 at 09:40 PM
I don't want to see you up against a wall, Jeff. I want you to get a job, and not take a fixed pension from the rest of us. Children have an innate sense of justice. They know what's fair and unfair. My kids can sense the injustice of the current system. The public employee pension system is unjust. I have been an outspoken advocate against it for years, so Aidan is wrong to say I've been asleep. It's just that people like him and you hold a gun to politicans' heads and have extracted unreasonable demands. Look at the LIRR conductors. They get extra pay when it rains. How irrational is that. Unions were a good idea when May Day took place in the 19th Century. Now, they are just highly paid lobbies for the lazy who think they are entitled to living off the hard work of others. The system is unsustainable. When disaster hits Europe, perhaps the union guard in the US will wake up and smell the coffee. More likely, they'll whine that they are entitled.
Nancy December 15, 2011 at 10:09 PM
Police and fire pay and benefits are especially out of line because their lobbying in Albany and political activism at the local level has been successful. They played the game and they got what they wanted while the citizenry slept. The 20-year rule for retirement and insurance eligibility is by state statute, not by negotiations. Binding arbitration that largely ignores both the ability to pay and private sector compensation has led to astronomical pay and benefits and lax rules for disability benefits. This has all come about because of superior lobbying and politicking by the police and fire unions, not from some mysterious combination of market forces. Public employees didn't hit the jackpot by luck, but by the combination of smart work in Albany and lazy, uninformed voters around the state. A contract is a contract, but there is nothing holy about a contract where the public is unfairly burdened by rules written in Albany by the union lobbyists.
jeff meyer December 15, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Empty One, You are the last person who should refer to whining. You are an expert at it. You want me to get a job? How do you know what I do? You say that you have children. I really hope you show them half of the attention that you and Dick show me. You call yourself an "outspoken advocate". Are you serious? You don't even have the fortitude to leave your name when you attack people. Stop whining and move on. JM Tuckahoe
John Q. Public December 15, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Well said Nancy. If you are correct that the 20-year rule is a creature of NY legislators, then that is easier to change with elected officials than through negotiations with the unions. Most taxpayers get upset when they read about rampant abuse by public employee union folk who abuse the system out of sheer greed. Many retire young on trumped up disability claims, then laugh about it with each other while waiting in line to pay off doctors to rubber stamp their fraud. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/28/nyregion/28lirr-complaint-doc.html There is a public policy exception to almost every law ever written. When taxpayers wake up and decide it's contrary to public policy to create a favored class of people -- for example, public employees who are given benefits that far exceed the value they deliver -- this scandal will end. I applaud Dick Hubert for sticking his neck out. If he lived in Peekskill, he'd have to fear retribution from the reigning political thugs who share Jeff's vision of the world.
jeff meyer December 15, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Mr. Public, the 20 year rule has already changed. It is now 22 years. The NYS Legislator is possibly going to amend it again. I hope not. Your view of unions biased and distorted. Since I have no idea who you are, I won't begin to speculate. It could be a honest public policy disagreement. It could be jealousy or envy. Who knows, perhaps you failed the police and firefighter exam as a young person. Buffs are always the strongest critics. You deserve to be stereotyped because of the way you describe others. You ignorant stereotyping puts you in sad company with the Empty One and Dick. You should get together and have lunch with the Empty One and Dick. You can have a whine fest and share your miseries and failures together. JM Tuckahoe, NY
John Q. Public December 15, 2011 at 11:30 PM
You are so wrong it's sad, Jeff. When I was a young boy, working my way through college, I loaded trucks. I was forced to join the Teamsters. They took 1 month of my pay to join, then one paycheck a month. It was not voluntary. What did they do for me? The old guys refused to work. One brought his Winnebago to work each day, and he and the old guys would play cards in the parking lot during the entire 12 hour shift while we young guys worked. Your experience is obviously different or you are able to excuse this behavior while I won't. I now have a job that you would envy, and obviously lack the intelligence for. Unlike you, I hate wasting money. I hate it when government wastes money. I hate it when leeches try to game the system. There are too many people who are truly poor and powerless in this world who need our help. When leeches surface and sap resources that could be better spent on educating and clothing and healing the poor, I get mad. So go ahead, Scrooge Jeff. Tell all the truly needy in the world that you deserve more than they do. Or if you have any self respect, get a real job.
jeff meyer December 15, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Aw.... John, dry your eyes. I don't envy anyone. Especially the likes of someone as bitter and jealous as you. I am thankful and blessed for everything I have. You know nothing about me yet you judge me. You talk about the helping the poor yet your venom against your fellow man contradicts all you say. Your stereotyping of people is sickening. I can see why you post with a phony nickname like John Q. Public. Coming out of the shadows would only humiliate you and your family. JM Tuckahoe, NY
John Q. Public December 15, 2011 at 11:56 PM
You're a typical thug, Jeff. Ideas are more important than personality. In the event you've been living under a rock for the past 3 decades, Dems insist on personalizing politics rather than discussing ideas, because they can't win the argument. You are no different. Shakespeare wrote "How sharper than a serpent's tooth to have a thankless child." Same applies to leeches like you. You posts are the strongest argument to end public employee pensions. If taxpayers knew how ungrateful you are, they'd pull all pensions in a heartbeat. Thanks for helping the cause!
jeff meyer December 16, 2011 at 12:08 AM
John, Your comments are as strange as it gets. Do we know one another? We must because you know my thoughts, motives, and attitude. Whatever cause you are involved with I will stay far away from. It is most likely a cause grounded in hate, stereotyping, bitterness, jealousy and arrogance. Enjoy your cause. Let me enjoy my family, my endeavors and my life. Fair enough? JM Tuckahoe
John Q. Public December 16, 2011 at 12:24 AM
I believe in America, I believe in personal responsibility, I believe in taking care of yourself and your family by your own hard work and labor. I understand Jeff that you do not share these values. I don't stereotype. I respond only to what you write. We should all be responsible for our financial futures. We should not depend on taxpayers and hide behind an alleged "contract" of dubious value negotiated through bad means. Go ahead. Be who you want to be and stay far away from rational thinking people who think government is spending its way into oblivion. Otherwise your life would be uncomfortable, especially if you had to confront the reality that hard working people face every day. You spout bad words like envy jealousy. You use these words because you know you are being unjustly compensated by taxpayers. I know many public servants who don't share your unabashed sense of entitlement. Enjoy your family, but teach your kids to live a more respectable life.
SRT December 16, 2011 at 01:10 AM
John, If your are such a big believer in personal responsibility why don't you sign on under your own name like Jeff does? I would guess it is because at the core of your being you are a hypocrite.
jeff meyer December 16, 2011 at 01:26 AM
John, such arrogance. You even know if my life is comfortable or uncomfortable.Do you give your family as much attention as you give me. To state that one is unjustly compensated by taxpayers after serving as a police officer for 21 years is wrong on the facts and just plain bizarre. Currently there are thousands upon thousands NYS police officers and firefighters in NYS who retired after 20 years or prior to making their 20 from being disabled. Is it actually your opinion that police officers and firefighters don't work hard and are ripping off the system. How can you spout such stupidity. These laws that govern pensions are legal. They were ratified by the NYS Legislative. Enacted into law. Every municipal contract is ratified by the elected officials of each jurisdiction in question. I am entitled to nothing except what my union contract provides for. My pension is a legal contract. Binding and ratified through the collective bargaining process. Nothing was ever done secretly in regards to NYS pensions unless you have been sleeping for 40 years. A contract is never hidden. Any resident can FOIL a copy of a municipal/union agreement. Read the facts, deal with your issues and inform yourself and get a grip. JM Tuckahoe
Dick Hubert December 16, 2011 at 01:59 AM
We are on track to break the Patch record for most story comments! And Jeff Meyer, this is for you. If you get anything out of my posts and the others, it should be that you should NOT count on getting that incredible "20 years and you're out" pension the rest of your working life. The public taxpayer bank really is broken, as those municipal workers in Detroit will be the first to testify. My recommendation: while you are still young and apparently healthy, get a private sector job, and start putting your earnings in a savings account - either insured by the FDIC, or more adventurously, if you really think the municipal pot will never collapse, maybe even in selected municipal bonds. AND SAVE SAVE SAVE. You'll need a fallback position when the municipal pension bubble bursts and you are suddenly in financial trouble.
jeff meyer December 16, 2011 at 02:34 AM
Dick, this is for you. I would prefer no advice from you. I receive nothing from your posts except arrogance and an elitist mentality. You would love nothing more then for the NYS Pension System to go bust. You would enjoy the fact that union employees and their families would have their lives ruined. I do have fall back positions. I have been a saver my whole life. You have a tendency of stating things that you presume I have said. Did I ever say the "municipal pot" would never collapse? Maybe it could. However, Mr. Dinapoli states that it is well funded and one of the most solvent pension funds in the nation. That must disappoint you. I have always provided for my family and always will. I have saved well and live simply. My ultimate faith and trust is in God. I have no control with the markets or pension bubbles. Advice is best received when it is solicited. JM Tuckahoe
Dick Hubert December 16, 2011 at 02:51 AM
Jeff, then good luck to you. I hope your faith in Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's investment prowess does not meet the same fate as those who invested in former New Jersey Democratic Governor and Senator Jon Corzine's investment prowess at MF Global. One word of unsolicited advice: never put all your savings eggs in one investment basket, especially one run by a politician.
jeff meyer December 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Dick, I already told you my faith is in God. I never stated I placed my faith in Mr. DiNapoli. Never the less, good luck to you too. JM Tuckahoe, NY
Nancy December 16, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Jeff: "Is it actually your opinion that police officers and firefighters don't work hard and are ripping off the system. These laws that govern pensions are legal. They were ratified by the NYS Legislative... Every municipal contract is ratified by the elected officials of each jurisdiction in question... My pension is a legal contract. Binding and ratified through the collective bargaining process... A contract is never hidden." How did the police and fire contracts end up being so favorable? Could it have something to do with the political lobbying in Albany, or the political activism at the local level? Does the PBA support local candidates based on their willingness to support rich contracts for uniformed employees, or is it fiscal prudence that it is looking for? You can close your eyes to the reality of how you and your fellow retirees ended up with such a rich package of salaries and benefits and then remind us all about the sanctity of contracts, but you very well know that these contracts have been the product of little more than politics - getting acquiescent politicians at the local level and at the state level, both Republican and Democrat, to simply bend to the PBA's wish lists. Yes, most police officers and firefighters work hard, but so do most working people, so that's no excuse for ripping off the rest of us. Yes, it is a rip-off to use the political system to gouge taxpayers with outlandish pay and benefits, and it is police contracts that are the worst.
jeff meyer December 16, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Nancy: If you don't agree with the system then change it. Very simple. You ask the question of how contracts became so favorable. What you consider favorable public employees consider fair. Also, when the economy was robust did people view civil service jobs as favorably as they do now? Did said jobs and contracts receive such scrutiny, I say certainly not. I get your point that you are not satisfied with lobbying in Albany. However, isn't that the process afforded to all groups and citizens? Do you really expect public employees and pro labor organizations to use the LEGAL process and endorse candidates that work against their interests? Would you, Dick. Q. or Empty do such a thing. Unions, both public and private have already adjusted to the economic climate. I would say that no raises, higher health care premiums and layoffs are a adjustment. However, to call the participation of labor unions in the political process a "rip off" is simply wrong on fact and reality. When you vote who's interests do you consider, yours or mine. Do you really expect pro labor individuals to vote what is against their well being. Enough said. The system is what it is. If you don't like it then work to change it. "We are all part of the same hypocrisy Senator"MC. JM Tuckahoe, NY
Nancy December 16, 2011 at 03:55 PM
I get it that what the PBA does, and does very well, is work for the benefit of its members, and that includes lots of work at the local and state level to elect politicians who will serve the interests of its members. I get it that we live in a democracy and that interest groups have gained inordinate power in Albany and that it is up to informed citizens to change the balance of power. The system is what it is, but that doesn't make it fair or balanced for the average citizen. I do object to the inordinate compensation costs imposed on taxpayers under this system of governance, and to the smug argument that police officers and firefighters deserve or have earned their inordinate pay and benefits because of their hard work. The hardest work they have done is to buy state and local politicians, of both Democratic and Republican persuasions, to do their bidding, regardless of the impact on the rest of the community. Buy them not with cash but with well organized campaign support. Yes, the citizenry has been napping for a very long time, and quite frankly the citizenry might not wake up and organize in time to avert the house of cards falling in on all of us.
jeff meyer December 16, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Nancy, you present a strong case. However, to state that the hardest thing that police officers and firefighters do is to buy state and local politicians is a disgrace. Especially during this week like this with such tragic losses. Such a comment on your part indicate that you are either very ignorant or very bitter. Since I don't know you or wish to know you I will let you fill in the blank. JM Tuckahoe, NY
Nancy December 16, 2011 at 06:14 PM
I'm not arguing that police officers and firefighters don't work hard and don't have dangerous jobs. I very much respect and appreciate their work. But their hard on the job does not explain their rich contracts, it is the hard work they and their union representatives do off the job that explains the exorbitant salaries and benefits. What's disgraceful is rationalizing these contracts as fair and square deals with the public. They're not. They are the product of a broken system in which special interest groups have taken advantage of the public.
Francis T McVetty December 16, 2011 at 11:28 PM
Nancy, what rich contracts. Can you compare the teachers contracts with them? The teachers are ripping off the public. Just look at the results of their work. Students who can't read or write. We are 17th in the world ranking when it comes to education. What are these teachers actually doing. I see the police arresting criminals and the fire fighters putting out fires. What are the teachers doing? If anyone has a "rich" contract, it is them.
John Q. Public December 17, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Francis, teachers cannot retire at 40 and be on the public dole for 50 years like cops. You can't hold teachers responsible for their efforts to redress what parents fail to do. The responsibility for education falls on parents' shoulders and you can't blame teachers for parents who don't do their part to help their own kids. The 20 and out pension system for cops is not fair. The elected officials who delivered these contractual terms are cowards. If Jeff believes what he says -- he profited from a corrupt system but he claims he wasn't part of the corruption -- I hope he also says that bailing out the banks and the government encouraging moral hazard (bet $1 Jeff doesn't know the concept) is okay for the same reason his "contract" is okay. It's very significant that Jeff is the only one defending his side. Most people who know they unjustly profit off of others' hard work have the sense to keep their mouths shut. I thank Jeff in advance for his response. It will only help recruit more people to put an end to the corrupt system we live under. Thanks Jeff. You are the best!
Nancy December 18, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Francis, since you insist on comparing police/fire with teachers, let's go to the numbers: The average pension for the sixteen Yonkers police and firefighters who retired in 2010 was $120,000. The typical (e.g. median) retiree was eligible for a pension benefit of $124,000 after 31 years of service; if their median age at hire was 24, then they were 55 years old at retirement . Pension, not pay. In 2009, the average pension for the 52 Yonkers uniformed employees who retired that year was $95,000. The median pension was $99,000 for 23 years of service and retirement age was 47 (assuming same age at hire of 24). In 2010, 64 Yonkers teachers retired with an average pension of $85,000; the median was a pension of $94,000 and 36 years of service. Assuming a typical hire age of 24, the typical retirement age was 60. In other words, in Yonkers uniformed employees retire with higher pensions and many fewer years of service as compared to teachers. Of course, this also means that taxpayers are on the hook to pay medical insurance for these retirees and their families for that many more years. By my calculation, the typical W-2 earnings prior to retirement was $201,000 and $198,000 for the 2010 and 2009 uniformed retirees, respectively, and $150,000 for the teacher retirees. Francis, I hope that helps to explain what I mean by "rich" contracts.
Nancy December 18, 2011 at 04:57 PM
By the way, Francis, did you see the article in the Journal News about the 250-pound White Plains police officer with a female assistant chief who allegedly pushed a chair into his chair, causing him to "bump into the computer in front of [him]", and his back "to tighten". Three hours later he was taken to the emergency room. He's been on disability since mid-September and reports that he is "working diligently with my doctors to recover from my injuries". Oh, he's also planning to sue White Plains for damages. That's rich! Francis, what's your guess, will he settle the lawsuit for a non-NY State taxable disability pension at 75% of pay plus lifetime health insurance or will he also require monetary damages for his physical and mental pain and suffering?
Francis T McVetty December 19, 2011 at 01:08 AM
I sure he doesn't. That is up to the attorneys of the city of White Plains. If this is the scam you think it is, do hope that a proper investigation is done. After all it is not the LIRR, is it?

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