“Governor David Paterson delivered his proposed 2010-2011 budget today, and sent a clear message to all New Yokers that we must learn to do more with less.  I applaud the Governor’s efforts to reduce state spending, place a moratorium on unfunded mandates and close the budget gap.  I know this process could not have been an easy one to complete, and I thank the members of his Administration for their stellar work.

In the same breath, however, I must part ways with Governor Paterson on his beverage tax proposal.  The idea that the Governor would resurrect the soda tax, clearly indicates that we are in grave fiscal times and must find revenue to close the budget gap.  However, in a desperate attempt to find revenue, this proposal has been floated without regard for the devastating economic impact of raising more taxes on the food and beverage industry.  A soda tax will drive many of our Fortune 500 businesses throughout Westchester right out of the state and cost Westchester County thousands of jobs. I would sincerely call upon the Governor to reconsider this option.

Simply put, Governor Paterson’s soda tax proposal can result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of New York jobs, and end up costing - not saving - taxpayers millions of dollars.”

 

 

 

 

(White Plains, NY) – Newly-elected Westchester County Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) hosted a community swearing-in ceremony at the Theodore Young Community Center in Greenburgh on January 9th.  Williams, the former Greenburgh Town Clerk, has succeeded former County Board Chair Lois Bronz to become the newest representative from Greenburgh. 

White Plains, NY - The Westchester County Board of Legislators have unanimously elected Legislator Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) to serve as the new Chair of the Board of Legislators and Legislator Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) to serve as the new Vice-Chairman during their organizational meeting tonight.  Under the leadership of both Jenkins and Williams, the Board will move Westchester in a new direction, taking steps to create a more open, accountable and inclusive legislative process.  “I look forward to working with all the members of this august body as we continue the County Board’s leadership in addressing the cost of government, establishing policies that protect essential services while delivering them in a cost-effective manner,” said Chairman Jenkins. 

Spano Misusing Board of A&C to Handcuff Incoming Administration

12/1/2009 4:25:14 PM

Westchester County Legislator George Oros (R/Cortlandt) asserted today exiting County Executive Andrew Spano was using the Board of Acquisition & Contract to ram through expensive multi-year contracts before his successor takes office on January 1.

 

“In the 11th hour of his term, Spano is utilizing what little power he has left to kick in the teeth of taxpayers,” Oros charged. “Unless it affects the safety, health or welfare of the public, no contracts should be executed until Rob Astorino takes over the reins of the county and his team has sufficient time to research the requests being made.”

 

Oros, who for years has called for the reform of the Board of Acquisition & Contract, pointed to the November 24 A&C agenda that included a handful of multi-million dollar and multi-year contracts.

 

Contracts included: $2.7 million to enter into agreements with various law firms to perform “of counsel” legal services; more than $12 million for Westhab to operate homeless shelters; more than $4 million for security systems integration at the county jail; and a contract to build a controversial fence at Playland.

 

Oros wrote a letter to Board of Legislators Chairman William Ryan, one of the three members of the A&C board (the other two are Spano and Public Works Commissioner Ralph Butler), asking that 12 items on the November 24 agenda be held over, and 11 were, but they will likely be “rubber stamped” in the near future.

 

“It’s obvious what is being done,” Oros said. “Spano and his administration are trying to tie Mr. Astorino’s hands as much as possible to make it that much harder to achieve the goals the overwhelming majority of voters chose him to accomplish. This type of action not only hampers the new administration but hurts the taxpayers.”

 

In addition, Oros alleged that some contracts were “political payback,” citing campaign contributions to Spano’s failed re-election attempt by several of the vendors.

 

Coupled with the “phony revenue and other land mines planted” in the Spano 2010 budget, Oros labeled the Spano actions “very disappointing” and “demonstrates distain for the taxpayers.”

 

“This is not the way a county executive who has served for 12 years should go out the door,” Oros said.
 
In 2002, 2007 and 2008, the Republican Conference introduced a variety of reform measures to change the current A&C system, where millions of dollars of lengthy contracts are approved without any debate, discussion or vote of the Board of Legislators.

 

To curtail the blatant rubberstamping, Oros and his GOP colleagues over the years have suggested any contracts of leases of five years or more, including renewals, must be approved by the full Legislature.

 

In addition, they have recommended the Public Works commissioner be replaced on the A&C board by the budget director; each meeting be electronically recorded; and no emergency contract can exceed three years.

 

“Voters spoke loud and clear in the last election that they’re tired of business as usual in Westchester County government,” Oros said. “For a dozen years these shenanigans have been going on at A&C. It’s time for Mr. Spano to step aside and let a breath of fresh air come in.”

 

Statement by County Legislator Tom Abinanti

I have been repeatedly asked about the recent settlement of a very significant federal lawsuit against Westchester County.  I would like to share with you some of its details, my reasoning for voting against it and where we go now.

Contrary to media hype, the lawsuit was not about racism or affordable housing.

This lawsuit was about a monumental mistake by the County Executive branch.  Earlier this year, a US District Court Judge found that the County Executive in applying for federal grants “made a claim, to the United States government, that was false or fraudulent, seeking payment from the Federal treasury.”

THE FEDERAL LAWSUIT
The Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York (ADC) sued Westchester in 2006 under the 1863 Federal False Claims Act which allows private parties to recover triple damages from anyone who fraudulently takes federal monies.

In a pre-trial ruling, a federal Judge found that the County Executive falsely certified that the County met the preconditions for some $52 million of federal grants – when, in fact, the County had failed to meet an important requirement, that it analyze impediments to fair housing based on race.  The Judge left for the jury to determine whether the certifications were intentionally false.

SETTLEMENT
After the Judge’s decision, the County Executive negotiated a settlement which the Board of Legislators approved.  Five of us – all lawyers – voted no.

The 38-page Settlement Stipulation aims to eliminate “discrimination, including the present effects of past discrimination and…de facto residential segregation …”

A. Implementation Plan
The Stipulation requires the County to create an implementation plan using all means appropriate to accomplish the Stipulation -- including changing County and local government planning, housing and zoning policies and, possibly, legal action against uncooperative municipalities.  The County must prepare an acceptable analysis of impediments to fair housing and take appropriate actions to overcome any impediments identified.

B. 750 Housing Units/ $51.6 million/Targeted Marketing
The County must ensure construction of 750 housing units within 7 years in 31 specified communities (those with minimal African-American and Hispanic populations).

The housing is targeted for those with 50%-80% of median income (singles $36,850-$59,000; families of four $52,650-$84,200) with a maximum 25% reserved for seniors and maximum 25% renovation of existing housing.

The County must set aside $51.6 million to subsidize this construction.

The County and developers must market the housing in Westchester and in “geographic areas with large non-white populations …within close proximity to the County.”  For example, NYC, Rockland and Connecticut.

C. Local compliance
The Stipulation provides that municipal land use policies must consider regional housing needs, be amended to implement the Stipulation and ban all local housing preferences for municipalities to qualify for County funds and resources.  This would include workforce and senior citizen housing.

D. Monitor
The Justice Department appoints (and may remove) a monitor to review all County programs, policies, procedures and relevant documents to insure compliance.

E. Penalties
Failure to achieve 750 units or specified interim benchmarks triggers $60,000-per month penalties for additional affordable units -- with double penalties if failure exceeds 50%.

The County doesn’t build housing. It subsidizes others to bring down construction costs to produce “affordable” prices.  The County’s $51.6 million equals an average $68,000/unit subsidy -- far below the average current $400,000/unit construction cost.  These 750 units will compete against market rate and other non-deed-restricted moderate-priced projects for responsible developers, limited available financing and scarce land.

Already the County cannot meet its first two deadlines: adopt a new housing policy statement (November 5 deadline) and present an implementation plan (December 5 deadline).

3. Founded on wrong priorities
I disagree with the Stipulation’s underlying policies

a. Uses Westchester taxes to meet tri-state needs
Westchester taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize housing for those from outside Westchester, especially when it is needed by so many Westchester municipal workers, seniors, young families, low-income residents and those now in substandard housing.  We pay federal and state taxes to meet tri-state regional needs.

b. Impedes local / workforce-housing 
The income limits for the 750 units are too low for many local municipal workers. The Stipulation bans preferences for local residents or workforce – not just for the 750 units but for all housing.   Regional marketing will further minimize availability to Westchester residents and workers.

c. Unfairly burdens some middle-class and low-income taxpayers 
The income limits are high enough to be unfair to other taxpayers: middle income subsidizing those with similar incomes; low income (some in substandard housing) who are too poor to qualify!

d. Disadvantages non-target communities
The Stipulation impliedly prohibits the County from further assisting affordable housing in the non-target communities (Unincorporated Greenburgh, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, etc.) -- as an impermissible intensification of existing patterns of racial segregation.

Further, legalities aside, it is fiscally impossible to fund the Stipulation and continue financially aiding those communities which we have traditionally helped that need redevelopment.

e. Unfair target-community selection
Target communities were selected without any study of whether additional affordable housing opportunities are needed. Each Greenburgh village is a separate target area even though each has a small population and land area.  Villages should be treated as part of the town like other “neighborhoods” in cities and towns.

4. Federal interference with County and local home rule
The settlement imposes a federal monitor to oversee Westchester.

5. Too costly
Proponents of settling argued strenuously that the risk of loss at trial was too great –$180 million or more.

The County’s liability is not limited but could exceed the feared loss. The Board has already approved $36 million and promised $30 million more. $10.5 million went to ADC and their attorneys, but it is doubtful that $66 million will cover the other costs: the monitor and his staff (an anticipated $1.375 million), an implementation plan, a new analysis of impediments, new long-term planning and housing plans, several new laws, legal defense fees, etc.

And, there are many uncalculated costs to local governments.

6. Lacks clarity on significant points
This Stipulation is so unclear in so many respects that it would be too burdensome to outline them here.

WHERE TO NOW?
In spite of many concerns, the Settlement Stipulation was approved. We now must make it work as best we can.

I have already met with some of our village officials and will meet with others over the next few weeks. We need to be sure that they have input into the implementation plan and be sure that the implementation plan produces the necessary number of new housing units and does it in a manner that complements our communities.

This County has done a good job in voluntarily placing affordable housing throughout the County. We need to work on the implementation plan to be sure that we will be able to continue those same efforts to promote affordable housing appropriate to the setting and needs of each Westchester community – to be sure that we will not have a one-size-fits all set of rules that tells us what to do and how, taking away the discretion of the County and local governments.

If you have comments or suggestions, please contact me.


WHY I VOTED NO
I believe that the negatives of the Stipulation outweigh the risks of continuing to defend.

A. Viable alternatives
Legislators who voted “yes” argued that they wanted to avoid losing some $180+ million at trial.  I believe that there are viable alternatives.  We could win at trial…win on appeal … or achieve a better settlement along the way.

B. Unacceptable Settlement terms
Too many Stipulation terms are unacceptable. While the goals are laudable, the “devil is in the details.”

Note that the County Executive negotiated, signed and presented the Stipulation to the Judge without the Charter-required prior Board authorization. The County Executive deprived the Legislators of their Charter-guaranteed opportunity to use their knowledge of local community concerns to shape the priorities in negotiations. 

1. Raises serious environmental and planning concerns
The Stipulation requires amending the County’s planning policies that have long encouraged “downtown” development near transportation.  The Stipulation also ignores carefully-conceived local master plans designed to preserve our environment and prevent overwhelming school districts.

2. Full compliance unlikely – penalties likely
It is likely that the County will not fully/timely comply and will face $60,000 per month penalties and mandated additional units.