Marilyn Hernandez said she would have no safe place to send her daughter next year if minimum contributions to the county's day care programs are increased to 35 percent–as is proposed in Robert Astorino's proposed 2013 budget.
A mother of two and a cancer survivor, Hernandez said she needs affordable childcare for her daughter. With frequent trips to the doctor taking up her schedule and her husband away serving in the Navy, she said an increase in her minimum contribution from 20 percent above the poverty level to up to 35 percent would price her out of her current child care program.
"I have no other choice," she said. "My life basically revolves around them."
Hernandez was one of about 300 people who attended Westchester County's final public budget hearing at the Westchester County Center Wednesday night in White Plains. Dozens of speakers addressed the Westchester County Board of Legislators, questioning proposed cuts to healthcare centers, the parks department and Westchester County Police Department.
County Executive Robert Astorino's proposed 2013 budget does not increase the county tax rate, but cuts 189 positions and would lay off as many as 126 county workers. Funding would also be reduced to several departments and programs.
Astorino has said the 35 percent childcare contribution from parents who receive non-essential services is the same amount paid in New York City and 20 other counties. He also said the program is expected to be $3 million over budget in 2012.
But that rationalization wasn't enough for hundreds of people who attended the meeting wearing yellow hats to show support for affordable childcare.
"They really are desperate," said Ellen Farrar, director of the Head Start Program, which offers daytime childcare. "These are people who make minimum wage or a little bit better, and these are not good times and they just don't have the money."
County parks would also take a hit under the proposed budget. Although each of the county's nature centers would remain open under the proposal, park curator positions would be cut to help balance the budget.
Nine-year-old Stephen Holden of White Plains created a petition hoping to save those park curator jobs, and addressed the BOL Wednesday night. The fourth-grader collected 246 signatures for his petition.
"I like Cranberry Lake Preserve because I love nature and I still love natural habitats of plants and animals," Stephen said. "Imagine kids not being educated about nature, the people who signed this petition love nature and love Cranberry Lake too.
Dozens of people carried signs to fight proposed cuts to the county's neighborhood health centers. The current budget proposal would cut $3 million from the three community health centers located in Mt. Vernon, Peekskill and Ossining.
Timm Tyler, who works in the Mt. Vernon Center was setting up signs and speaking with supporters before the meeting.
"Whenever they think about cutting funds, it doesn't make sense to me," Tyler said. "I can't understand why, why would you want to cut something that's helping people?"
Vikki Simmons, who also works at the Mt. Vernon Center, told the BOL that the many people in the county who remain unemployed or underemployed are utilizing the centers. She said she doesn't understand a budget that lays off more than 100 people and then cuts programs that provide affordable healthcare for people unable to find full-time work.
Simmons and Tyler both said this is the third year they have attended public budget meetings hoping to save funding for the program.
"Please tell me what healthcare is if not an essential service," Simmons said. "We are that strong safety net, that key place to maintain (help) for those in need, yet here we are again."
Bruce Yablom, of Bedford, said he takes issue with proposed cuts to the county probation department. He views the cuts as short-sighted, because without help transitioning back into society criminals will be more likely to end up returning to prison.
"This is bad economic policy and a bad deal for the taxpayers," Yablom said.
This was the third and final public hearing addressing the 2013 county budget. The County BOL can still make changes to the budget before the proposal goes to a vote later this month.
Ken Jenkins, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, said earlier this month he expects the budget to move toward a vote early next week.