2016 county budget cuts spell uncertain future for nonprofits

By Evan Fallor

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Nonprofits budget rallyWhen asked what they wanted to say to Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino in response to his proposed 2016 county budget, leaders of nonprofits responded:

• “We need him to remember everyone, not just someone.”

• “We need him to return calls.”

• “We need the arts to feed our souls.”

• “We need the parks to feed our souls.”

The pointed words came Nov. 19, when nine nonprofits, organized by Nonprofit Westchester, held a press conference at Yonkers Public School 30 before the first of three Board of Legislators public hearings on the budget, rallying together under the hashtag and unified coalition #KeepWestchesterThriving.

Astorino’s proposed $1.8 billion 2016 county capital and operating budget, due to be approved no later than Dec. 27 by legislators, calls for a 20 percent cut in funding to Westchester’s nonprofits. For some organizations, reduced funding would mean the elimination of a program or several positions. For others, it would mean sink or swim.

For the Greenburgh Nature Center, a $50,000 cut — 100 percent of its county funding — would mean the layoff of two full-time employees and a reduction in its programs and events. Officials from The Campaign for Kids, a branch of the Westchester Children’s Association, said Astorino’s proposed budget provides money toward child care subsidies and other youth programs, but would eliminate the only program in the county that provides specialized treatment for victims of sexual abuse.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension, an Elmsford-based nonprofit that provides Cornell University education programs to Westchester residents, would see a 75 percent drop in funding, down from $800,000 in county funds this year to $200,000 in the proposed 2016 budget.

ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam said the $330,000 drop in funding to her organization would cost the county arts community and the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers roughly $13.2 million in potential revenue.

Luis R. Rosario Rodriguez, representing John Jay Legal Services of Pace Law School on behalf of the Immigration Justice Clinic, said Westchester’s low-income and working-class families

“We serve a demographic that has as much a right to quality legal representation as any other citizen of this county,” Rodriguez said. “I have significant concerns whether this demographic will have adequate legal representation in the future if the county does not restore funding for nonprofit legal services.”

The budget marks the sixth straight year without a property tax levy raise, a vow taken by Astorino when he entered office in 2009. But many of the nonprofit community leaders argued that the money was instead raised by slashing funding to their programs.

The Board of Legislators, led by Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Sheila Marcotte, began a review of the budget Nov. 16.

“Early indications suggest that we will have some very tough decisions to make in order to provide a budget that balances the needs of those residents who rely on the social safety net with taxpayers who already pay the highest taxes in the country,” Marcotte said in a statement.

“I believe that the vetting and approval of the annual Westchester County budget is the most important job we do as legislators,” she added.

Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, who also spoke at Thursday’s hearing, agreed it would be an exhaustive review process.

“It would appear that there will be some difficult decisions to be made regarding funding for our nonprofit social service providers who are facing an approximate 20 percent reduction in funding,” Kaplowitz said.

Thursday’s event saw representatives from Nonprofit Westchester, Child Care Council of Westchester, Westchester Women’s Agenda, Westchester Children’s Association Campaign for Kids, Westchester NOW, Community Voices Heard, Interfaith Clergy for Social Action, Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, ArtsWestchester and New York Immigration Coalition. Despite differences in organizational objectives, Joanna Straub, Executive Director of Nonprofit Westchester, which represents 100 nonprofits in the county, said many work hand-in-hand to ensure the others’ success, and urged for the restoration of the funds before the end of December. Astorino could not be reached for comment.

“If we all follow the blueprint that’s been proposed, Westchester won’t end up with a strong structure,” Straub said. “When our community’s well-being is unstable, social stresses like graduating from school during a recession or having an aging parent who needs care can be catastrophic.”

“These cutbacks will come back to haunt us for years to come.”

Roughly 200 people attended the public hearing that followed the nonprofit’s press conference, some of whom held signs that read, “Don’t Cut Our Funds Please,” “Protecting Rights Saves Money” and “#KeepWestchesterThriving.”

A 2014 economic study put together by Nonprofit Westchester and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies found that nonprofits employed 53,897 workers, or 13.6 percent of the county’s workforce, and generated nearly $6.9 billion in revenues as of 2011.

The report also found that 29,324 jobs, or more than half of the total nonprofit jobs in Westchester, were in the health care sector.

April’s Child, formerly the Child Abuse Prevention Center, would see funding to keep children out of foster care cut entirely, a move officials said would cost the county more in the end.

The organization said it costs $1,400 per year to keep one child out of foster care as opposed to costing the county $100,000 each year to place a child in foster care. April’s Child serves 150 children per year, which officials said already saves the county $1.4 million each year.

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About the author

Evan Fallor covers county government, retail, education and tourism for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked as a town reporter for the Republican-American (Waterbury, Ct.) and the News-Times (Danbury, Ct.). He holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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