Westchester County lawmakers managed to hammer out a deal for nearly $1.69 million earlier today that will preserve roughly 190 jobs that were scheduled for elimination in the Westchester County Executives Robert Astorino’s initial budget proposal.
The agreement, which was reached earlier today, restores funding to a number of programs like the Invest in Kids youth initiative, neighborhood health centers, parks and recreations, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the ArtsWestchester. The budget represents a zero percent increase to the tax levy, which stands at $548 million this year.
Legislators approved the budget by a margin of 16 to 1, with Legislator Martin Rogowsky, D-Harrison, giving the lone dissenting vote.
Rogowsky said he agreed with many aspects of the budget, but he questioned his colleague’s decision to borrow $30 million to pay for pension costs.
“It’s easy to get a zero percent tax levy increase if you borrow,” Rogowsky said. “I would rather raise taxes by a few percentage points than continue borrowing. It’s just bad fiscal policy.”
, which is about $8.5 million less than the plan approved by the Board of Legislators, 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.
Astorino said there are still some line in the budget that he will veto, including the line that restored funding to the three community medical health centers.
Lindsay Farrell, president of Open Doors Medical Centers, said she is confident that the Board of Legislators will override any vetoes made to the budget lines of the community medical centers. Farrell noted that the same process took place last year.
“The legislators get it,” Farrell said. “They live and work locally and they certainly understand what these facilities for our communities.”
Astorino also said that he was disappointed that a deal couldn’t be worked out with the county couldn’t come to an agreement Civil Service Employees Association Unit 9200 over the amount of money county workers will contribute to their health care insurance. Astorino has long maintained that the could have avoided having any layoffs if workers agreed to contribute to the cost of their health care benefits.
Karen Pecora, the union president, said she is pleased that the Board of Legislators restored may of the positions that were going to be cut in Astorino’s budget. But she said it is unrealistic for Astorino to expect an issue as complicated as health care contributions to be resolved by the time budget proceedings ended.
“It just wasn’t going to happen,” Pecora said. “Negotiations take time. The county hired somebody to negotiate, but we’re made up of a committee who work during the day and have families. We can’t meet night. Hopefully, we’ll continue negotiations and we can have this done by this time next year.”
Astorino has five business days to decide which items will be cut from the Board of Legislators budget.
County officials must the decide if they are going to override any of Astorino’s vetoes before they approve a budget on Dec. 27.