Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s plans to cut the county’s annual parks budget appears to have been restored thanks to a bi-partisan proposal from the Westchester County Board of Legislators and a big push many local parks advocates including the Friends of Westchester County Parks.
The County Executive has proposed to eliminate eight staff positions scheduled for termination, including five curators. The move comes following significant outcry by advocates and lawmakers at three separate budget hearings. At the third, some 120 signed up to speak for three minutes apiece, forcing the meeting late into Wednesday night.
The curators suggested by the Board of Legislators for restoration make up the entire nature center staff at Cranberry Lake, Lenoir, Trailside, Read Sanctuary and Marchland. This year, over 7,000 participants attended programs at these centers. Also proposed were the restoration of two positions at Muscoot Farm.
Astorino has proposed cutting park positions and funding in order to meet his $1.8 billion budget proposal, along with several other layoffs, position eliminations. The planned budget would also target nonprofit organizations, ending county services. According to Astorino, the proposed budget would prevent a tax increase. It would also mark the removal of 1,000 positions since Astorino took office in 2010.
Lawmakers, however, have started to mull a one percent increase in taxes in order to meet preserve funding for critical services. The board of legislature must produce a budget by December 27. Astorino has pledged to veto any proposal that requires a tax hike. Legislators must produce 12 votes against to overturn the veto.
Funding for Westchester parks requires only 14 cents daily in taxes, adding up to just $4.20 a month. Westchester’s county park system currently preserves 18,000 of land. These parcels have played a vital role in economic development, serving as the cornerstone of revitalization efforts in White Plains, New Rochelle and Yonkers.