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Speakers Blast Proposed County Budget Cuts In Four-And-A-Half Hour Forum

Opponents of a proposed cut in arts funding for the 2016 Westchester County budget attend a hearing with red berets and signs. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Supporters of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley hold up signs at a Westchester County budget hearing. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Supporters of the group April's Child attend a Westchester County 2016 budget hearing in Chappaqua. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Westchester County legislators attend a 2016 budget hearing in Chappaqua. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Speakers at a public hearing implored Westchester County legislators not to go along with County Executive Rob Astorino's proposed cuts to a series of groups as part of the 2016 county budget.

The hearing, which was held last week at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, included more than 100 people signing up to speak and lasted for four-and-a-half hours.

Several non-profit groups, which offer services ranging to domestic abuse to public recreational volunteering, are facing cuts in fundings. Among the groups are Cornell Cooperative Extension, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, My Sister's Place, April's Child and the Pace Women's Justice Center.

Within the county government itself, cuts are proposed to parks, with the elimination of several curators and three out of five staffers at Muscoot Farm in Somers. The county's planning department is also slated to see its workforce reduced.

“This kind of austerity is ripping at the fabric of our county," said Laura Schwartz, executive director of April's Child, which helps kids. "It affects children, it affects the elderly, the disabled, families, the arts, education and so much more."

Astorino's proposed iteration of the budget calls for holding spending flat at $1.8 billion. The tax levy would also remain flat at $548 million, which would represent the sixth straight year with an increase in property tax revenue.

Schwartz rebuked Astorino plan, arguing that the savings were not enough to justify the cuts.

"As a resident, I would like to say, 'raise my taxes.'”

Several speakers, including domestic-abuse victims and tenants involved in disputes with their landlords, made impassioned pleas in favor of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and the Pace Women's Justice Center, both of which are slated to see drops in funding.

Rebecca de Simone, who is director of human trafficking at My Sisters' Place, warned against cutting funding to her group.

“Without this funding we cannot exist. Without this funding our clients cannot exist.”

Sue Moga, who for 15 years served as farm manager at Muscoot Farm, noted that its curator has eight years of experience there while her successor and a new farmer only have several months worth of it. Moga also said that Muscoot's curator is responsible for 100 programs, and warned that job cuts at the farm could result in animals being removed.

Several speakers warned that recreational job cuts will lead to degradation in the quality of programs and in maintenance.

In a statement that accompanied the release of the proposed budget, Astorino defended cuts to the non-profits, arguing that they are necessary for financial reasons.

"The decreases were the result of financial necessity and don't reflect on the value of the programs," he said in a statement. "We were forced to make tough decisions, and we have tried to make them in a reasonable way."

County legislators are now tasked with deciding whether to vote on Astorino's proposed budget or to modify it.

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