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Dems reject call for talks on child care subsidies

Democrats and the county executive are battling over child care contribution costs.

Democrats on the Westchester County Legislature are brushing off a proposal from Republican legislators suggesting compromise to end a long-running dispute over child care subsidies.

On Monday, Republicans sent letters to Republican County Executive Rob Astorino and to legislative chairman Ken Jenkins, requesting that two sides meet to hammer out a resolution to the dispute, which is in the hands of a county judge.

Less than 24 hours later, the Democratic majority all but rejected the proposed talks.

"The people of Westchester deserve better than faux compromise with fantasy forecasts," Jenkins said in a statement.

At issue is Astorino's drive to make families kick in an additional $120 a month -- on average -- to help pay for county day care, a move Democrats say would create a hardship for many families and would endanger the safety of youngsters forced into unlicensed settings.

The issue landed in court in May, after Democrats on the Legislature filed a lawsuit against Astorino and a county judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the increases until the judge issues a final ruling.

Astorino wants families to pay 35 percent of the total cost of day care, up from the 20 percent share they now pay. He has proposed to limit the total number of children enrolled as well.

The county says adjustments are required because funding available for day care subsidies and other programs for low-income families will be depleted by July 31.

Astorino and the Democratic majority in the Legislature have been jousting over the issue for more than a year. Before Astorino took office, families paid only 10 percent of the cost of child care. The Democrats went along with an increase to 20 percent, but have drawn the line there.

"The board has already compromised on child care, raising the parent share to 20 percent," Majority Whip Maryjane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson) said in a statement issued Tuesday. "We will not compromise the safety and well-being of so many of Westchester's most vulnerable toddlers any further."

Legis. Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle), the board's GOP minority leader and one of seven legislators who called for the talks, said the Democrats' rejection of the offer was "disappointing."

"It seems the Democratic leadership is more obsessed with litigation than with compromise," he told Newsday.

County officials said they are willing to discuss the contribution levels, but said the Legislature needs to come up with the plan to compensate for the loss of revenue from the Department of Social Service's already-strained budget.

"There's no point in arguing about whether the contributions should be 20, 25 or 35 percent if we run out of money by the end of the summer," said Ned McCormack, Astorino's spokesman. "If someone has a realistic, workable solution as to where the money is going to come from, we'd be happy to listen. But money just doesn't grow on trees."

Astorino and Democrats on the board have been feuding over the day care subsidies since he took office in 2010.

More than 3,500 children participate in the county's day care programs, which cost an estimated $30 million a year to operate. About 75 percent of the funding comes from the federal government.

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