Hundreds attend final public hearing on county budget plan to prevent cuts

(12/02/03) WHITE PLAINS - The county office building in White plains was packed with about 200 people trying to prevent the looming cuts to more than 300 jobs and programs they believe are vital to Westchester. It all stems from the proposed budget county legislators have been mulling over for the past couple of weeks.

The county board members held their third and final public hearing on the budget plan Tuesday night. At the hearing, there were over 50 speakers using the forum as a last chance to ask for their jobs back. The budget committee voted Monday to restore all of the cuts and layoffs, but that does not mean they are not going to happen.

The board's recommendation goes against County Executive Andy Spano's plan for filling an $87 million budget gap. Under the county executive's proposal, property taxes would go up approximately 2 percent, many social services programs would be cut, and more than 200 people would lose their jobs. But if county officials were to accept the recommendations of the committee, residents would be faced with an even higher property tax increase. Richard Wishnie, chairman of the budget committee, says it is possible that the cuts recommended by the county executive may have to happen if county officials do not receive financial assistance from Albany.

From the very beginning, County Executive Spano has said this year's budget is the hardest he has ever had to prepare. He says while increasing sales tax would not solve all the problems, it would certainly help, especially with state-mandated programs.

The county board must vote on the budget proposal by December 8. County legislators are expected to have their final spending plan in place sometime next week. If they decide to reverse some of the budget cuts, the county executive still has veto power. The deadline for having the final budget in place is December 27.

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