Legislator Ken Jenkins, the chairman of the Westchester Board of Legislators, has put out a statement reflecting on the past two year term, a day before a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers plan to announce their plans for a new leadership team starting in January.
Jenkins, a Democrat from Yonkers, criticized the administration of County Executive Rob Astorino for failing to collaborate with the board and withholding information but listed many accomplishments of the legislature under his leadership. Here’s the release:
Westchester Legislators Chairman Jenkins Reflects on “Productive” 2012-2013 Legislative Term
Cites smart financial decisions, protection of residents and defense of County laws as top accomplishments
White Plains, NY – With the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) having concluded its last regular meeting of the year, BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) summed up the 2012-2013 term as a “productive” one that included smart financial decisions, protection of residents and defense of County laws and good governance as the top accomplishments.
“The Board of Legislators faced a number of difficult challenges in the past two years, and accomplished a great deal under trying circumstances” Jenkins noted. “While holding the line on an increase in the County tax levy, we were able to fight for and secure funding for important safety net programs that are right for Westchester. We pushed back on borrowing for operating costs and added to our fund balance in an effort to maintain our top credit rating. It was productive term, but not without needless difficulties.”
Instead of enjoying a legislative term marked by friendly collaboration with County Executive Robert P. Astorino and his administration, the BOL often was left in the dark during crucial instances, Jenkins noted, where working together could have improved different situations. The BOL never participated in discussions with the credit ratings agencies to protect the County’s bond rating, or to finalize the Playland re-vitalization plans, or defuse the conflict with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. District Attorney over compliance with the fair and affordable housing settlement. Also, the Administration often stalled the sharing of important information with the BOL.
“The Board of Legislators has been ready to work with the Administration every step of the way on so many important issues so that the business of the County can be conducted officially and legally,” said Jenkins. “The elected officials in the co-equal branch of government should be integral and complementary to the governing process, not under-utilized or expressly ignored.”
Nonetheless, the BOL approved capital projects and budget additions that proactively helped shore up infrastructure, mitigate flood and stormwater issues, fix bridges and roadways, and repair damage following the catastrophic Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. One of the projects, sponsored by Jenkins, involves an evaluation of burying power transmission and service lines underground at the County’s facilities in the Northern Westchester communities that are particularly vulnerable to outages following severe weather events.
“Now is the time to start investing in projects that will safeguard our residents and business owners,” said Jenkins. “We cannot simply sit idly by and then turn to the federal government for assistance after the fact. It’s time to protect our infrastructure. Otherwise, the overall public safety here in Westchester is being compromised.”
All in all, the Westchester County Board of Legislators passed over $220 million in approved bonds for capital projects for the 2012-2013 legislative, more than double of the $101,546,000 for the bond acts approved by the BOL during the 2010-2011 term.
Finding ways to save money for taxpayers and streamline government for the future, the BOL approved several landmark bills regarding public safety, planning and information technology in recent years to spur the trend toward shared services around Westchester. In total, the BOL approved 43 different shared services bills in the 2012-2013 legislative term involving senior programs, affordable housing, prisoner transportation, use of the County’s firing range, youth development programs, school resource officers and fire suppression training.
“As municipalities and school districts look for ways to lower costs to taxpayers, the regional government is essential in providing cost-effective, high-quality services that can reduce taxes,” said Jenkins. “We will continue to look for more smart solutions in terms of reducing spending to benefit the county’s taxpayers.”
Long-range improvements and significant actions from the BOL in 2012-2013 to steer Westchester toward a more prosperous future would include signing a lease with the Children’s Museum, which is now a part of the Playland Improvement Plan, said Jenkins, and approving the County Local Development Corporation to help encourage economic growth.
Other accomplishments focused on protecting residents and helping those in need. The BOL fought the County Executive’s effort to increase the parent share for day care and successfully kept it at 20% for 2012; and for the first time in four years successfully opened Title XX day care program for more children by adding $900,000 to the 2014 Budget. In addition, a Safe Clinic Access bill was approved (later vetoed by Astorino), a County registry for animal abusers was established, and a law was passed to stop service workers from being displaced from their jobs by new employees.
“Standing up for what’s right is not always easy, but that’s what elected officials in all levels of government are expected to do,” said Jenkins. “Whether it’s helping working mothers keep their jobs or fighting to stop funds from being cut for eviction counseling and after school programs for at-risk kids, it’s important to put the well-being of our residents first.”
Jenkins remarked that the County Executive and his staff’s continuous disregard of the County Charter and laws approved by the BOL led to lawsuits that could have been avoided.
“The bigger issue, though, is the integrity of our government and its laws, something my colleagues on the Board should also be mindful of,” said Jenkins. “Once the separation of powers in government is compromised, you loosen the system of checks and balances that keeps our democracy strong.”