Westchester legislators add money for child care, environmental positions in 2014 budget

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Video: Child care advocates speak in favor of more funding in the 2014 Westchester budget at a public hearing in Yonkers, Nov. 26, 2013. Video by Elizabeth Ganga/The Journal News

The Westchester Board of Legislators has added more than $2 million to the 2014 budget to reopen a middle income day care subsidy program to  several hundred new children and has restored two environmental watchdog positions as it works toward a final budget vote next week.

Legislators also split out grants to nonprofits in individual line items that had been placed in a $1.3 million pot of money that would have been controlled by the administration of County Executive Rob Astorino. In the past, the board had put the money in lines it controlled.

The additions, made late Monday, count on $2.5 million in revenue from the deal with the nonprofit Sustainable Playland to take over the management of the Rye park. The board also found savings in another child care program and in a reduction in personnel spending, according to a statement from the board.

The revenue additions of $9.8 million only partly offset the $16.7 million in additional spending. Cuts will be made on Friday to balance the budget and board Chairman Ken Jenkins said many of the adds are actually revenue neutral. The board puts in an what amounts to a wish list of additions but not all will survive the cuts process.

Jenkins said he thinks many of the adds have nine votes but “the question is are there going to be 12 votes for things the administration might not agree with.” A veto override requires 12 votes.

Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, D-Somers, who is in a powerful position as a swing vote on the budget, said he has concerns about the Playland revenue because the project hasn’t been approved and the revenue amounts to a one-shot.

“Frankly I think it’s too aggressive and too speculative,” he said.

The Playland revenue was put in to fund the additions to day care. Kaplowitz said he hopes to find real money to pay for a compromise.

But Jenkins said the Playland revenue is a great opportunity to fund a child care program that most legislators support by going along with a plan backed by the administration.

“We’re doing it one piece at a time,” he said. “Right now we have an opportunity to take care of something that basically every legislator wants to do.”

The day care program, called Title XX, has been frozen to new families and only accepting families transitioning out of the low income program. It serves families that make up to 275 percent of the poverty line, depending on family size. A family of four can make up to $52,988.

Advocates argued, and many legislators agreed, that it is an investment that pays off by helping families stay in the workforce and giving children high quality preschool education that prepares them for school. Advocates also asked for a lower parent contribution, but Jenkins said there didn’t appear to be enough votes for an override.

Other additions included $25,000 each in salaries for the Democratic and Republican caucuses, six positions in the Board of Elections, $574,670 in salary for the District Attorney’s Office, the restoration of a crime analyst in the Probation Department, $100,000 for ethnic festivals that were cut last year and $2.5 million to reduce the $28 million in pension amortization proposed by the administration.

Kaplowitz said he wholeheartedly supports restoring the two environmental positions, the director of the county water agency and an environmental project director, who will be paid for through fund balance in a special district with no impact on the general fund.

In all the calls and emails he received, Kaplowitz said, “these two positions were far and away the number one concern that people had.”

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3 Comments

  1. Deirdre Curran on

    Why should PLAYLAND have to pay for anyone’s day care? That park has to solve it’s own financial issues, not be used as a cash cow to offset other County programs. And Sustainable Playland has not demonstrated that they even *have* these funds. Their financial status is shaky at best. They are the least fiscally sound of the three plans on the table, with Standard Amusements being the most fiscally sound. I sincerely hope this is not the way we are going to find out that the County BOL has accepted and approved the SPI plan, because it’s a hot mess, financially and otherwise. I have to think there may need to be some clarification to this article…

  2. The Budget is smoke and mirrors. The CE and Bd of Legislators all know better and they know that this is a sham and a way to get through a deal on Playland that will generate contract gratuities for elected officials. Taxpayers should review the list of hires over the past four years to see that consistently, retiring civil service employees are being replaced by unqualified clubhouse cronies. Both the CE and Bd of Legislators are guilty of loading County Government during hard times with their own people most of whom do not benefit Taxpayers or County administration. The Budget could be cut by eliminating 400 crony jobs in the offices of County Executive, Board of Legislators and Board of Elections. It would also help if the local news media became more aggressive in its approach to reporting what really goes on in the County-but possibly they have been “influenced.”