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League of Women Voters: Unfunded Mandates Hurt Westchester

RYE, N.Y. – With the implementation of the 2 percent tax cap, the burden of unfunded mandates on local and Westchester County taxpayers has become nearly unbearable, a five member panel consisting of County Executive Rob Astorino and other state and local dignitaries said Thursday night.

The forum panel, which was sponsored by the Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester League of Women Voters, consisted of State Assembly member Sandy Galef (D-Ossining), Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstien and Rye Neck Superintendent Peter Mustich. NYS League of Women Voters Legislative Director Barbara Bartoletti moderated the forum.

In his presentation to the public, Executive Director of New York Association of Counties Stephen Acquario said an unfunded mandate is an obligatory policy order handed down from either the federal or state government that does not come with funding. With no funding attached, the local taxpayer ends up getting left with the check, he said.

Acquario said there are currently 40 unfunded mandates financed by local tax dollars within the county. Nine of those 40 make up for 90 percent of the county's property tax levy, he said.

"The math overwhelms the ability of the county, or any local municipality, within their budget," Acquario said, "Unfunded mandates put counties between a rock and a hard place."

Feinstein, who along with her fellow non-partisan trustees voted to override the tax cap as a matter of protest, continued to voice her disagreement with both the 2 percent tax cap and unfunded mandates.

"I'm vehemently against the tax cap. I've said it often and I say it anytime I get the opportunity. Why do I say that? Because it wasn't coupled with mandate relief," Feinstein said. "I'm angry at Albany."

Astorino voiced his support for Feinstein and said that, although unfunded mandates are a problem now, the projected future increase in employee pensions presents an even larger problem down the road.

"It puts enormous amount of pressure on our budgets and we have no control," Astorino said. "Our bill for pensions alone exceed the cap and then when you add Medicaid, there's no possibility we can do it. When you look at the next three years, not 30 years, it's frightening."

Astorino said that in 11 years, since 2001, the county's pension bill went from $4 million to $79 million. Astorino also said the estimated bill in 2013 will exceed $100 million and that 82 cents of every tax payer dollar goes to Albany.

Galef, who represented Albany, encouraged members of the public concerned about the growing burden of unfunded mandates to voice their opinions to their elected officials to enact change.

"I'm one of 150," Galef said. "It's not an easy place to make things happen. It's a very complicated state and I need the public to come out and say 'this is important to us and this needs to change.'"

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