CORTLANDT, N.Y. – More than 250 people packed Cortlandt Town Hall deriding County Executive Rob Astorino's proposed 2013 budget. Speaker after speaker asked that increases to child care costs, cuts to community health centers and layoffs slated for an array of departments be halted.
The 2013 proposed budget is $1.7 billion and the tax levy – money raised through real property taxes – will remain the same as 2012, at $548 million. On average, county taxes account for between 15 and 20 percent of a Westchester taxpayer’s bill.
The 126 layoffs in Astorino's proposed budget fall heavily on social services, parks, public works and transportation departments. Layoffs, together with 63 vacancy eliminations, account for 189 job eliminations. The workforce reductions represent 4 percent of the county's overall workforce of 4,979 employees.
Few departments have grown in the budget. In most departments, retirement contributions and increased health care costs account for growth.
"We can't really afford more layoffs," said Katarzyna Lis-Johnson, a county Child Protective Services employee. "The only thing that did not shrink was the case loads," she said. "There are thousands in the community that struggle with English and math. They are our future. Do we really want to abandon them?"
"I'm a Republican," began Ellen Groenwald,, a mother of three children in day care, a county subsidized program that could be reduced. "It really doesn't make a lot of sense to cut something that allows people to contribute to the economy," she said.
As in 2012, the 2013 child care program would be funded at $26 million, but those using the program would, "contribute up to 35 percent of their income above the poverty level," according to a budget summary by the county executive.
Other programs that could be reduced include almost half of the Cornell Cooperative Extension's budget, which was reduced from $990,000 in 2012 to a proposed $600,000 in 2013.
All funding, $3 million, would be cut to three community health centers in Mount Vernon, Peekskill and Ossining. Astorino said all three clinics have surpluses and the top three executives make a combined $1 million.
"We'd certainly have to eliminate some services and some staff," said Desta Lakew, development director of one of the affected clinics, Open Door Family Medical Clinics.
She added that the clinics provide testing for sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis, both mandated by the state. She said those services would have to be provided elsewhere.
For all the protests displayed during budget hearings, in Cortlandt and previously in Mamaroneck, the county executive's office said the crowd may not be representative of Westchester residents.
"Typically what happens is the special interests come out and advocate for their points of view," said Ned McCormack, a spokesperson for the county executive. "There's a million people in Westchester, roughly. You've got a hundred people that come out, we had 31,000 on the line yesterday," McCormack said about a "supportive" budget teleconference Astorino conducted Wednesday.
Of the dozens of speakers, at least one was in favor of the budget. "These are all valuable programs, nobody wants to cut them, but with a little bit of pain on the part of county employees," jobs could be saved, said John Mattis, a financial industry consultant.
Astorino said the Civil Service Employees Association union refuses to contribute to its health care, accounting for the large number of layoffs.
"We've heard very, very different stories from the county executive and from the union about what's actually happening at that table," said County Legislator for Cortlandt, Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining). "Perhaps, perhaps," the executive is using the layoffs as a "negotiation tactic," she said.
Upcoming budget hearings are Dec. 5 at the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave., White Plains. Board of Legislators must adopt a budget by Dec. 27.