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Astorino Signs County Budget After Dems' Schism Erupts

Lawmakers form coalition for spending plan, with two Democrats joining seven Republicans to approve. The rest of the Democrats walked out of the session, while Majority Leader Peter Harckham questions legitimacy of the approval.

In the dark after eight Democratic legislators left the chambers and turned out the lights, a bi-partisan coalition of nine county lawmakers today produced a $1.7 billion budget package signed by County Executive Robert Astorino.

"This is a good, responsible budget," Astorino said. "While it has been modified from what I originally proposed, it meets all my objectives. There is no increase in the tax levy and there is no use of reserves that could jeopardize the county's AAA credit ratings."

Seven Republicans and two Democrats on the county Board of Legislators formed a coalition to approve the spending plan in a 9-0 vote. The remaining eight Democrats walked out after a hasty motion to end the hearing wasn't properly acted on, Astorino said.

"Obviously I did not like the antics of the eight Democrats, but that's something they are going to have to defend," Astorino said.

Democrats Michael Kaplowitz and Virginia Perez made the difference in today's 9-0 vote.

"It wasn't about being popular with our party, it was about doing what was right," Perez, a Yonkers legislator, said, "what was right for our constituents and what was right for the county as a whole."

Before the agreement was reached the budget faced the possibility of a veto. If legislators failed to reach a new budget the 2012 spending plan would have rolled over to next year, creating a flurry of financial issues moving forward.

"It is never easy to do what they did, quite frankly, politically," Astorino said. "But they had the courage to do what was right."

Perez and Kaplowitz said a key issue during the final negotiations was the minimum childcare contributions asked of families near the poverty level. Astorino's original proposal increased the minimum contribution from 20 to 35 percent for county programs. The two sides settled at 27 percent.

The final budget also restores 27 jobs that were cut in Astorino's original budget proposal, including three park curator positions and five department of public works engineers.

"The budget approved this afternoon essentially splits the difference between my initial proposal and the proposal by the Democrats on the board," Astorino said.

Democrats also wanted to use money from the county's reserve funds to pay for $13 million in tax certioraris in 2013, a sticking point throughout public negotiations. The final budget does not use any of the county's reserves.

"It takes compromise," Kaplowitz, whose district includes Somers, New Castle and Yorktown, said. "I'm proud to have worked with anybody and everybody who was willing to compromise without compromising."

Legislators Spar Over Legitimacy of the Vote

Members of the board disagree over whether the approval was done legitimately.

Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) led the eight Democrats who left the legislators chambers Friday. Republican Minority Leader James Maisano (R-New Rochelle) took over the chair position for the final vote.

"The other people ran out of the chambers, but nine people stayed in there and did the job," Maisano said. "They failed to lead the people of Westchester today."

Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-North Salem), called the action from the Republicans and two of his fellow Democrats a "circus" and a "faux coup."

Harckham argued that the legislators' act was not allowed because Legislator (and budget committee head) Judy Myers decided to recommit, or send back a proposal to her committee. There was a vote to suspend the normal recommit process, Harckham said, but that only applied to removing a restriction on who could offer amendments to the legislation. The recommit process normally restricts the amendments process to use by committee chair, Board of Legislators chair or majority leader, he said.

Harckham also argued that his caucus did not do a walk out, but rather the meeting was adjourned.

"There was no meeting," Harckham said, in terms of procedure, about the action by the remaining legislators.

Harckham maintains that Democrats are open to continuing talks with Astorino over approving a budget, and noted that the deadline for having one has not arrived. Should a budget not be approved on time - the deadline is weeks away - then the 2012 budget's terms would be used for 2013, Harckham said.

Kaplowitz argues that the suspension vote on recommiting the budget does, in fact, supersede Myers' authority. He also said that the Democrats had a motion to adjourn that was seconded but not approved, and thus the board was still in session when the vote on the budget was taken. He also believes that an adjournment vote would have lost.

Anticipating possible legal action following the non-conventional vote, Maisano said all procedures were followed before the nine remaining lawmakers cast their vote.

"They don't have a legal leg to stand on," he said.

When asked if legal action will be taken to challenge the action, Harckham replied that they don't have to, saying that there is "nothing to file a challenge against." 

Harckham was asked what would happen if Astorino were to use what he signed, such as spending, and response that he would be violating the law.

Other changes from Astorino's original budget include:

The final package differs from the original budget plan made in November:

  • Additional funding will help public safety, emergency services, probation and the District Attorney's Office.
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension gets and added $200,000 — a total of $800,000.
  • Arts in Westchester gets $500,000 more, for a total of $1.25 million.
  • Other additions were made for legal services for immigrants ($200,000) and small business loans and technical assistance ($160,000).

“I can accept these changes,” said Astorino, “because the coalition made sure that it came up with a spending plan that did not raise taxes, did not under fund programs, did not hurt the county’s most needy — and did not in any way jeopardize the county’s three triple A bond ratings." 

Patch Editor Tom Auchterlonie contributed to this story.

Bob Zahm December 07, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Like heck ".. it's a good responsible budget.". Any budget that borrows money to pay operating expenses (pension fund contributions in this case) is IRRESPONSIBLE. You don't borrow money to pay your mortgage, your insurance, your electricty, etc. Why? Because if you did, you'd likely never catch up. Just because Gubernator Cuomo decided to let counties borrow money, doesn't mean they should.
Billy December 07, 2012 at 10:34 PM
But its ok for dems to have done it in the past or to take from reserves? New Rochelle did it last year, yet no one complained, not even a whisper.
andy December 07, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Hey its the Obama way.... why shouldn't Astorino follow suit ? This country, this county are shot.....
Tom Murphy December 07, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Jenkins needs to learn a lesson from history. The successful Speakers of Congress, (Rayburn and O'Neill come to mind) are leaders who were committed to their legislatures. They respected the institution and were happy to have ascended to that leadership position. They were not looking to move up to the executive branch. They learned how to form alliances,to gain respect and yes sometimes to engender fear in their collegues. These men lead and passed legislation that our grandchildren will be reaping the benefits from. Ken overplayed his hand. He committed a cardinal sin amoung leaders, he made a rash move without ever knowing if he had the votes to back it. I believe he did this because he was more interested in moving up to County Exec then to reaching consensus, at least with his caucus. He was right to oppose Astorino's budget. It is a mean spirited joke that doesn't reflect the values of Westchester but will play well to his teaparty right wing sensibilities and friends. Too bad, Dems could have gotten a better deal if they had stuck together and not been blinded by individual agendas and ambition. In my opinion Jenkins should resign as leader. Today proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can no longer successfully lead. If he wants to run for County Exec then run. It is bad enough that we have Astorino gauging ever decision based upon his political future.
Paul Feiner December 08, 2012 at 12:22 AM
I hope that Ken Jenkins will learn from this experience. Members of the Greenburgh Town Board and I have been seeking a meeting with Ken Jenkins to discuss the Westhelp lease. I have written to Ken, Mary Jane Shimsky, Alfreda Williams asking if a meeting could be arranged with all 17 Legislators to discuss the Ferncliff Manor application. Despite numerous letters seeking a meeting, I have not had the courtesy of a response from Mr. Jenkins. I have offered to meet with him and Legislators at Greenburgh Town Hall, at the county office building - anywhere, anytime, any day, any evening, any weekend. This is the first time in my career that elected officials won't meet to discuss an important matter. Ferncliff provides services to the developmentally disabled. The developmentally disabled deserve a decent place to live. The WESTHELP campus is beautiful. Ferncliff has an excellent reputation. And--they are offering the town of Greenburgh about 3 million dollars more than anyone else over the life of the lease--money that could be used to reduce Greenburgh taxes. I believe that if Legislator Jenkins put the Ferncliff lease to a vote --a majority of Legislators would authorize the town to enter into the lease with Ferncliff.
Bob Zahm December 08, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Billy, Billy, Billy, two wrongs don't make a right. I don't live in New Rochelle so don't pay a lot of attention to it. If they chose to do that last year, it was their folly. For the 2013 County Budget, I chose to pick the most egregious issue with the "responsible budget". Using reserves would also be a problem, although I'm less fussed about using reserves to pay tax cert claims because those claims were incurred at the same time the reserves were built up so using them to pay tax cert is a different than borrowing money to pay an operating expense.
Fed up in Westchester December 08, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Why rejected?
Fed up in Westchester December 08, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I did u rejected it
jeff meyer December 08, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The previous WC county budget proposal was slated to terminate 126 CSEA jobs. This article states that 27 jobs are restored. If approximately 100 jobs are slated for termination then what the heck is so "good" and "reasonable" about that. There is nothing worse then a loss of a job. The consequences to the individual, the family and society as a whole are terrible. WC has within its authority and resources the ability to restore ALL of these positions. They should do. After all, if the CE has the resources to salvage the jobs of all of the political appointments within his staff the least he could do is look out for the people who actually work for a living. Mr. Astorino, restore ALL positions! Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe, NY
Billy December 08, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Now that I've thought about it; Jenkins, Harckham, Meyers & the other 5 are out of their minds to pull this kind stunt & think its ok to waste time & money on this partisan bs.
Billy December 08, 2012 at 02:17 PM
What's good? Its another Astorino budget to keep the tax increase at zero. What's wrong with that? I don't think I'm going to notice any cuts/reductions at all.
Bob Zahm December 08, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I believe the 126 jobs (doesn't really matter if they were union or not) included positions that haven't been filled. Cancelling a position that the county has been able to get along with being unfilled seems reasonable to me. There's no reason to make such positions a union sinecure.
sayitsnotsojack December 08, 2012 at 03:08 PM
If Jenkins and his crew were to be in complete power more and more of us would need the $13,000 plus for day care, and social services until there would be no one left to pay for all the giveaways. Then what would Jenkins do blame it on George Bush?
jim morrison December 10, 2012 at 01:49 AM
If the employees would agree to wage and benefit concessions, such as paying something towards their health care costs, many of these layoffs would not be required. But they would rather protect their compensation, rather than their fellow workers, so they have got to go.
jim morrison December 10, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Ken Jenkins and Pete Harkham need to grow up, stop protecting their union buddies and think about the tax payers who pay their salaries for once.
Tom Murphy December 10, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Jim Morrison I think that part of the Union's problem was that the county would not agree to no layoff clause if they accepted some modification to health provisions. So the county could have forced the health cuts and then laid off anyway. that would be a stupid deal for the Union. The Union has not been very good at all about eplaining their side of the issue they have let the teabag boywonder dominate the whole argument. The Union officials need to get off their ample rear ends and get into the public relations game. They are losing in the court of public opinion to the right wing. The right wing has convinced the middle class that we should be on a constant race to the bottom. Get rid of pensions, health care and beg for our jobs.
mark December 10, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Billy, its a very stupid way to manage because costs do go up. Here is an example, why dont you draw a line and say you wont pay more than $4 per gallon of gas. Hold the line on it, i wish you success
Ross Revira December 10, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Ken Jenkins clearly shows what a buffoon political boss he is. Did he not know he no longer held a super majority on the board ? Shutting off the lights and sounding annoying alarms to disrupt a perfectly legal government meeting? What a dope.
Ross Revira December 11, 2012 at 12:38 PM
You are right Tom we need to bring back Andy Spano so Westchester can stay number one as the highest taxed county in the country.
Augusta Regalia December 27, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Here is what has become obvious to me over the past decade...we should close the county government. It's bloated, inefficient and completely duplicitous. We could actually improve services by pushing them down a notch to a more local level of government. It is happening across America - delayer the beast before it ruins us !
Lee Perez January 09, 2013 at 08:26 PM
Thank you Jeff!! I was laid off in 2010 after 3 years in WC Civil Service . I am a single mom. I was so happy at the County because I was no longer in fear of losing my job if my child fell ill and I could not come to work. Well after the layoffs I knew I would for sure lose my home and thats whats happening..In part I feel that the President of CSEA should have given in more to Astorinos health insurance contributions proposal and we'd still all have our jobs and houses. But she called his bluff I suppose..But I found it irresponsible for our President to have played chicken with a man so hell bent on politicking his way to the top.

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