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Westchester Republicans urge truce in child care feud

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino during a news

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino during a news conference in White Plains. (March 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

Republicans on the Westchester County Legislature are breaking ranks with County Executive Rob Astorino, calling for a compromise in the long-running dispute with Democratic legislators over the county's child care subsidies.

On Monday, Republicans sent letters to Astorino and Democratic legislative chairman Ken Jenkins, requesting that the two sides meet in legislative chambers to resolve the dispute over how much the county should be paying for child care services.

"This child care debate should be resolved by county legislators and the county executive -- not by a judge," said Legis. Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle), the Legislature's minority leader. "When we send policy questions to a judge to make a decision, we are abdicating our legislative and executive responsibilities."

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 endanger the safety of youngsters forced into unlicensed settings.

The Republican leader 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 the increases are needed because funding available for day care subsidies and other programs for low-income families will be depleted by July 31.

Last month, the issue wound up in court after Democrats on the Legislature filed a lawsuit against Astorino and a county court judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the increases until the court issues a final ruling.

Whether Republicans will be able to broker a resolution to the dispute remains to be seen. Astorino's spokesman, Ned McCormack, couldn't be reached for comment Monday night. One Democratic leader said he was skeptical.

"We have compromised a great deal," said Legis. Peter Harckham (D-Katonah), the majority leader. "We passed the law, which was the budget that restored $4.3 million in subsidies, and it's time for the county executive to respect that."

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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