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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.

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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