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.