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Ryan: Scarsdale Forum Budget Report A Bit Too Late

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – The Westchester County budget proposal submitted by County Executive Rob Astorino to the Board of Legislators for approval got a qualified endorsement from the Scarsdale Forum this week, but the document, which made suggestions and recommendations for changes, came too late to be of much use, said 5th District Legislator William Ryan, who represents Scarsdale.

The Board of Legislators hammered out what is being called a bipartisan agreement on a budget early Friday morning.

"I would have preferred to have it earlier," Ryan said of the Forum report. "They missed the important 'adds' date," referring to the final date that items could be added to the proposed budget, Dec. 5. "I had it for about 24 hours prior to the 'delete' date," Dec. 8."

Astorino filed his budget proposal Nov. 15, as required by law . The budget approved by the legislators by a 16-1 vote now goes back to Astorino, who can choose to veto line items or sign it into law. Ryan expects the former.

"Within five days he'll make some line-item vetoes," he said. "Then, around Dec. 22, we'll come in to consider overriding the vetoes or not."

By law, the budget must be finalized by Dec. 27.

Ryan said that, despite the timing, he did read the Forum document. "I'm happy to get it," he said. "The Forum has shared a lot over the years. Their input is a valuable addition. They are serious about their review. I make copies and give them to other members of the legislature, because I want them to see it."

Among the items in the Forum report was the "reluctant" approval of axing 336 positions from county government. The report said it was difficult to put people out of work, but the county needed to streamline its workforce and reduce the amount it would have to pay for pensions in the future. The report also said the positions should not be restored once they were cut.

Ryan and the majority of the legislators disagreed, restoring 187 of the 210 filled positions that were to be cut by Astorino. There were 126 other positions that were not filled. Ryan, who chairs the Public Works Committee, said the department would have seen its architects and engineering staff wiped out, forcing the county to bid out jobs currently done in house and causing project delays.

Another item addressed by the Forum involved the cutting of funds for three community health care companies. While the Forum approved of the cuts, it urged a three-month delay while the centers found other sources of funding and patients facing service reductions found alternatives. The legislators, however, voted to restore that funding, and funding for several nature centers facing closure.

Among other recommendations, the Forum said all county employees should contribute to their health care premiums, as county managers do; that the Cornell Cooperative Extension should adopt a regional model to reduce office expenses; and that pension should be paid in full rather than amortized.

The full Forum document, which has not yet been approved by the entire membership, is attached at the end of this article.

Ryan said that, despite the changes to Astorino's proposal, the tax levy remained the same as last year, and homeowners should see no change in their bills.

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