The Westchester Board of Legislators filed a lawsuit last week challenging County Executive Rob Astorino’s decision to leave a long list of capital projects the board added to the 2011 and 2012 budgets out of the budget document.
The Astorino administration has argued the board did not follow proper procedure in adding the more than $130 million in capital items because it did not submit them by May 1 as is required of county departments and agencies. The board countered in its lawsuit that the charter puts the Board of Legislators in a separate category as the legislative body of the county. Moreover, the board has always had the authority to add capital projects in the fall as part of the budget revision process, the suit says.
“The County Board has always added capital projects to the capital budget and authorized them in the same manner since the creation of the Westchester County government,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit, filed July 26 in Supreme Court in Westchester County, is one of five authorized by the Board of Legislators in early June against the county executive over issues from child care funding to the fair housing settlement. Two lawsuits already underway were brought by the Democratic leadership of the board and not the full board. One is also over child care funding and the second concerns the membership of the Board of Acquisition and Contract.
The board is asking a judge to declare it has statutory authority to add items, including capital projects, to the county budget and that all acts of the board are presumed valid unless judicially invalidated, a request that has become a feature in the board’s lawsuits against Astorino.
In ignoring the capital budget additions and effectively downgrading the Board of Legislators to an agency of the county government, the Astorino administration has relied on a Jan. 18, 2011 opinion from County Attorney Robert Meehan saying projects must go through a set process including review by the county Planning Board and Capital Projects Committee.
“Just as the County Executive in preparing the Capital Budget for submission to the County Board of Legislators cannot include a new project which has not been properly vetted in accordance with the requirements of the County charter, neither can the County Board of Legislators ignore those requirements,” the opinion says.
The capital projects include affordable development funds, money to fix the pool at Mountain Lakes Park and the Tarrytown Lighthouse, funds for soccer fields and family court facilities and scores of other projects.