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Testa: Arts, Health Clinic Funding Safe For Now

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – Funding for the city’s Hudson River Health Care clinic and coveted county arts funding have been restored to the 2012 budget, says Westchester County District 1 Legislator John Testa. According to Testa, items of interest to Peekskill residents were all restored.

Early Friday morning, county legislators voted on a $1.698 billion budget after hours of negotiations that restored 187 county positions and funding for neighborhood health clinics, nature centers and legal services, which had been eliminated in Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino's proposed 2012 budget.

“We were able to come to an agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the board of legislators and between the legislature as a whole and the county executive to come up with a budget we could live with, which protects taxpayers of the county with a zero percent tax levy increase”

Testa said funding was restored to Arts Westchester and Hudson River Health Care Funding. Funding for the Cornell Cooperative Extension program, a continuing education program run through Cornell University that also has programs in the Peekskill area, was also restored, Testa said.

The budget must now be approved by Astorino, who may veto some budget items. However, county Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature until Jan. 1 that can override any veto he makes.

“Part of the negotiations was that he would limit those vetoes, so we don’t expect as many as last year but he will probably be issuing some vetoes,” Testa said about Astorino. “But we don’t know exactly what yet.”

Lawmakers on both side of the aisle hailed the budget as a bipartisan compromise that maintains priorities in public safety, public health and the environment. Astorino said he would likely be vetoing less items this year than last year but said he did criticize restoring $1.9 million in funding for neighborhood health centers and the continued use of public money for ethnic festivals.

"There are areas of this budget where I am still concerned but where we will watch very carefully and make adjustments during the year as needed," Astorino said of his and Democratic lawmakers' disagreement over whether the state mandated Westchester to pay for the cost of living increases in child welfare funding. "We're potentially facing a $5 to $10 million debt in social services next year."

Testa said he was optimistic the Peekskill area program funding restored by the legislature would not be vetoed.

“I think they would survive any vetoes but we have to wait and see,” he said. “There might be some slight changes depending on how the vetoes go but I think we can count on 95 being percent of where it’s at now.”

Astorino is scheduled to submit his vetoes to the legislature on Dec. 22, but he may submit them earlier, Testa said.

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