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Westchester Democratic legislators seek to avert layoffs

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announces the 2013

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announces the 2013 county budget during a news conference in White Plains. (Nov. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Democrats on the Westchester County Board of Legislators are seeking to avert the 126 layoffs proposed by Republican County Executive Rob Astorino in his draft budget for next year.

In a series of amendments to Astorino's proposed budget, Democrats would boost expectations for revenues -- but not raise taxes -- and use $16 million in reserve funds to restore funding for the positions Astorino would cut, as well as other spending cuts Astorino is seeking.

"These additions show that the Board of Legislators is dedicated to ensuring a healthy and prosperous future for the residents and business owners of Westchester," said board chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) in a statement. "Our decision-making is always focused on creating jobs, helping our taxpayers, protecting the people and safeguarding our environment, all within a financially responsible structure."

In November, Astorino proposed for 2013 a $1.7 billion county budget that would lay off workers, float new debt and trim spending, especially on social programs, to make up for an $85 million shortfall in revenues. The county executive pledged not to raise taxes or use reserve funds to bridge the budget gap.

The Democrats want to add $31.6 million in expected revenue and $40.8 million in spending to Astorino's budget proposal. The schedule outlined in the county charter will require that they unveil further steps to bring revenues and spending into balance next week.

Astorino's communications director, Ned McCormack, said he'd be able to respond to the Democrats' changes more fully next week. But he said their projections of additional revenue from increased county golf course fees and elsewhere were overstated.

Under the charter, the board and county executive must agree on a budget by Dec. 27. In the weeks before that deadline, negotiations between the two branches of government likely will become intense. Astorino can use a line-item veto to erase the board's changes to his budget proposal, and the board can then attempt to override those vetoes.

However, possibilities for compromise are developing.

Astorino has proposed that Westchester County families who receive publicly subsidized child care pay 35 percent of the cost of the service, an increase from the current rate of 15 percent. Democrats added funding to Astorino's proposed budget that would require the families to pay 20 percent.

Republican legislators who have seven seats on the 17-member board have proposed that families pay 27 percent, a potential compromise.

"We are reviewing the additions that the Democrats have made and we are hopeful that we will be able to work in a bipartisan and transparent way to arrive at a sound and responsible budget plan," said Legis. Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle) in a statement.

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