WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Westchester lawmakers on the county budget committee voted to include $23 million worth of additional line items to the proposed $1.689 billion county budget Monday night, but the group said it plans to offset the cost by deleting items worth the same amount.
The proposal was suggested by the Democratic lawmakers, however, they have not identified which items worth $23 million they intend to eliminate. Both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to propose a balanced budget this Thursday.
Legislator Peter Harckham, the Democratic majority leader, said funding for legal services, health centers and the environment were critical and were added back into the budget as part of the proposal – making up the added $23 million.
“What we’re trying to do is present a budget that reflects some of the priorities that we’ve heard at these public hearings and in emails and calls that we’ve gotten,” said Harckham (D – District 2). “Things like probation, public safety were things that we heard were important because it also saves money. It’s $5 a day for probation versus close to $300 a day in our corrections system. It’s good public policy and it saves taxpayers money.”
Republicans voted for all of the added items suggested by the Democrats. However, some conservative lawmakers said they would have liked to see a list of the deleted items that amount to $23 million, which the Democrats must present by Thursday before the budget vote.
The additional proposed spending includes funding to keep 69 jobs in the department of social services, 15 jobs in the probation department, and 27 jobs in the department of public works, which County Executive Robert Astorino, a Republican, proposed to eliminate.
Lawmakers agreed to allocate some of the $1.9 million for the community health centers Astorino revoked, put nearly $2 million into Invest in Kids youth programs, place just under $1 million in the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s budget, and spend more than $670,000 in legal services for seniors and those facing eviction provided by Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.
Money was also slated to reinstate the route 76 bus line that Astorino suggested consolidating with another route. Also, the Democratic legislators approved keeping parents’ daycare share contributions down to 20 percent of the difference between their income and the poverty level, instead of the 35 percent, proposed by Astorino’s initial budget.
Kathy Halas, the executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester, said 20 percent was a compromise she was “extremely grateful” for.
“It represents parents having to do more, which is in keeping with the general expectation these days. We are hopeful that it’s manageable for most families,” said Halas.
Although the added items total $34.9 million funding some programs will qualify the county for $11.7 million in state and federal money, which would bring the net added items' cost to $23 million. Both Democrats and Republicans have pledged to come up with $23 million in deleted items to balance the proposed budget they will release Thursday.
Legislator James Maisano, the Republican minority leader, said fellow Republicans agreed to “vote in favor of the adds without prejudice” in the spirit of bipartisanship. However, he told lawmakers across the aisle they should expect to see some of their proposals deleted.
“We are going to prepare a specific list of deletes based on these additions that we see here and maybe any other deletes that we believe should be considered on delete day,” said Maisano (R - New Rochelle).
Republicans said they needed to see more specific plans for at least $1 million of the roughly $1.68 million budgeted to the legislators, which conservatives called a “slush fund.”
“We don’t deny that over the years the board has used those funds for some very good projects. Our problem is that they don’t have lines in the budget,” said Maisano. “When we vote together a big pot of money that’s going to be used for future purposes, that’s not a lot of information to the public on what’s being voted on.”