Westchester Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins said the board will add money for child care and address other concerns of legislators as they begin making changes Monday to County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposed 2014 budget.
But overall, “There’s not a lot of wiggle room,” in the $1.74 billion budget, he said.
Astorino proposed keeping the tax levy flat and the board is expected to stick to that. Because of a decrease in property values, the flat levy equates to a 2.8 percent increase in the tax rate countywide, though different municipalities will see different rates.
The board’s process calls for adding any possible new spending or revenues Monday and making deletions to get to a balanced budget on Friday. The board is expected to vote on the budget next week. After hearing from its auditors Monday morning, Democrats and Republicans have begun drawing up their lists of budget additions and will make a list official later Monday. The parties may compromise on the additions since the Republicans have the likely support of two Democrats who voted with them last year.
Though dozens of positions are proposed for elimination, including 39 filled positions, so far only a few layoffs are expected because employees will be moved to open jobs. A confidential investigator in the Department of Social Services and two people in the Department of Environmental Facilities are expected to be laid off. A crime analyst in the Probation Department may also be let go. Other layoffs will become clear once the county finishes analyzing the impact of civil service seniority.
The board’s auditors, O’Connor Davies, said there were not large pots of money hidden in the budget that could be used for legislative priorities. Despite that, there is widespread support, at least among Democrats, for bolstering funding for child care and other social programs.
“We all know there’s a legitimate financial, conservative case for increasing money for child care,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining, arguing that good child care saves money on services for children down the line.
Jenkins said he is also concerned about the positions in the Department of Environmental Facilities and a list of safety net services provided through the county or by non-profits, including crime victim services, legal services and eviction prevention. The arts, particularly a challenge grant program run by ArtsWestchester, also got support from legislators.
Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, D-Hastings, said the board should put in money for food pantries, eviction prevention and Title XX child care. She also said the county should hire back civil engineers, who she argued would be more cost effective than consultants in doing the necessary work to repair the county’s infrastructure. And she argued for keeping the environmental positions.
“It’s a lot cheaper to keep pollution out of our water supply than to try to get it out once it gets in,” Shimsky said.
To help the board decide how much money to put into child care, the Department of Social Services provided estimates of the cost of the low income and Title XX programs with different levels of parent contributions and open or closed enrollments. Low income day care subsidizes families who make up to 200 percent of poverty and Title XX, which currently only takes families transitioning out of the low income program, helps families up to 275 percent of poverty, depending on family size.
For more on the budget proposal click here.