County Boarders Pass Astorino Budget. Add $900,000 in Child Care Spending

WPCNR COUNTY CLARION LEDGER. From the Westchester County Board of Legislators. December 10, 2013:

The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) approved a 2014 County Budget tonight that includes funding to re-open the low-income Title XX child care program and for support of other social “safety net” programs that protect seniors, at-risk youths and homeowners facing foreclosure.

“This budget represents a commitment to the values and forward-thinking that makes Westchester a special place to live, work and raise a family,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “My colleagues on the Board and I understand that it is essential to keep the County taxes down through cost-cutting and smart spending. In fact, our future prosperity depends on it. But we must also remain dedicated to strengthening our communities by helping residents in need. This budget accomplishes all this, and I thank my Board colleagues for their efforts, and thank all those residents and advocates who spoke at the public budget hearings.”

The Title XX child care program has been frozen by County Executive Robert P. Astorino since 2010. For the past three years BOL members have tried to re-open enrollment in the Title XX child care program, but to no avail. In the 2014 Budget, the two caucuses compromised to post an addition of $900,000 that will provide a total of 180 slots for children, who otherwise might be put into programs that are less safe or too expensive.

“We heard from our residents and child care advocates loud and clear that creating more Title XX slots was a priority,” said BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham. “The approval for this budget plan shows that healthy dialogue and a spirit of compromise can make good things happen. This will help to keep low-income parents working and contributing to Westchester’s economy rather than needing more expensive social services.”

While certain costs increased across the budget, the BOL was able to make a number of social “safety net” additions to the 2014 budget proposed by County Executive Rob Astorino without raising taxes by trimming projected expenses in the departmental budgets.

Among the additions put into the 2014 Budget by the BOL were nearly $1 million in advocacy programs for domestic violence education, literacy enrichment and resource centers for new immigrants.

“People are still struggling in our communities, whether they are seniors on fixed-incomes or working mothers,” said BOL Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon). “Beneath the wealth and prosperity in Westchester, there is homelessness and residents with mental health issues. This budget works toward helping residents, and also gives them a chance to step up the economic ladder.”

This year, hundreds of Westchester residents and business owners attended the open meetings on the 2014 budget that the BOL hosted, and were able to participate in the decision-making process soon after County Executive Astorino introduced the Proposed 2014 Budget on November 15. The three public hearings and numerous department-by-department budget presentations were all streamed ‘live’ and then archived online at the BOL website (www.westchesterlegislators.com).

“The citizen participation in the County budget process receives is remarkable,” said Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chair of the BOL Budget & Appropriations Committee. “It shows they’re paying attention to how their tax dollars are spent, and that they care about Westchester and the well-being of their neighbors.”

Although the entire 2014 County Budget spending plan totals $1.74 billion, most of the advocacy and safety net programs added to the budget by the BOL cost an average of $8,000 a year.

“I’m always amazed at how Westchester’s not-for-profit organizations stretch the dollars they get from the County,” said Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL Community Services Committee. “Their partnerships with the County allow residents to be served at the community level across the county, making a real difference in countless lives. The small investments we make with them always bring big results.”

“Good governance begins with openness and transparency,” said Legislator Bill Ryan (D-White Plains). “Westchester residents deserve to know which agencies and organizations are getting County funding. It gives them an understanding of how their tax dollars are being spent.”

The BOL considered adding $650,000 toward the reduction of pension amortization in the 2014 Budget, but the measures was not approved. When Moody’s Investor Service downgraded Westchester County’s general bond rating from AAA to Aa1 last month, one reason it gave was the County’s borrowing for its pension obligations.

“The financial picture in Westchester is a good one because of proper safeguarding over the years,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the Government Operations Committee. “Keeping the County’s bond rating at the top saves us money in the long run, so we will continue to take measures to limit borrowing and protect our fund balances.”

“Good budgets require that we act as responsible stewards of infrastructure, resources and investments, and of the fiscal legacy that is being left for future generations” said MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson). “These are things that spur economic development and help attract new businesses and homeowners to the county.”

County Executive Astorino now has ten days to sign or veto the 2014 County Budget.

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