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Angry Westchester residents sound off on proposed budget cuts

Karen Pecora, president of the CSEA union, speaks

Karen Pecora, president of the CSEA union, speaks before lawmakers and residents at a hearing on Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's proposed budget in Mamaroneck Village Hall. (Nov. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: John Dyer

Art lovers wore yellow hats. Parents and children seeking more funding for day care wore caps emblazoned with duck faces. Union members wore blue T-shirts.

But the 200 or so people who packed an overcrowded Mamaroneck Village Hall on Tuesday night were united in their anger about spending cuts included in Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's proposed $1.7 billion budget.

Bobbie Holmes, a worker at the Mount Vernon Day Care Center, was steaming about Astorino's proposal to increase fees paid by county residents whose children receive subsidized day care.

"Parents really just don't have that type of money," Holmes said. "Some of them just can't do it. You'll push them into welfare, food stamps."

Astorino has called for fee hikes for day care as well as layoffs, new debt and cuts to other programs to bridge a projected $85 million budget shortfall next year. The Republican county executive has vowed not to raise taxes to plug the hole.

Every year, the Board of Legislators conducts three public hearings on the proposed budget. By law, it must approve a county spending plan by Dec. 27. The next hearings are on Nov. 29 at Cortlandt Town Hall and Dec. 5 at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. Both start at 7 p.m.

Democrats control a majority on the board, and it's expected that they will try to restore some of Astorino's cuts. But they would need Republican lawmakers to join them if they want to override Astorino vetoes of their changes.

Members of the Civil Service Employees Association would bear the brunt of the 126 layoffs Astorino has proposed. County Planner Lukas Herbert said his understaffed department already was struggling to meet its responsibilities. He pleaded with the legislators not to let Astorino cut more workers who, like him, are already having a hard time making ends meet.

"I got into government because I wanted to serve the public, not get rich," he said. "I live above the 99 Cent Store in Yonkers."

Others were advocating for a relatively small amount of money. Harold Fein of the Pace Law School's Women's Justice Center asked lawmakers to stop Astorino from cutting $117,000 that helps the center give legal advice to the elderly.

"It's very important we do not overlook the seniors in our community," he said. "The test of a civilization is how it treats its senior citizens."

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