Westchester Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz has written a mid-term report on the progress the board has made in the first six months of his tenure as chairman.
He touches on topics from charter reform to the fair housing settlement. The report is below.
Kaplowitz also appeared on the Phil Reisman Show Thursday. A link to the webcast is here.
A Six Month Report to Westchester County Shareholders
At the midpoint of 2014, it is a good time to review the goals and accomplishments of the Westchester County Board of legislators. A mid-term report card, if you will.
The goal of the Board remains the delivery of essential services on a cost-effective regional basis. The means to achieve this goal is to work within a structure of bipartisan government utilizing reason, negotiation and compromise to forge consensus. So far, that model is delivering successful results.
All 17 county legislators are either in a leadership position or chair a critical committee, giving all legislators “skin in the game”. Democrats and Republicans are working well together, committees are meeting jointly and difficult issues are being resolved around the conference room, not in the courtroom. Working together in this bipartisan fashion, approximately 78 capital budget items have been approved with over $128 million in critical infrastructure projects moving forward, creating significant numbers of permanent and temporary jobs.
The Board has taken real steps to make the legislature more efficient while saving taxpayers money. On day one as Chair of the Board of Legislators, I refused the free county car and gasoline available saving over $3600 per year. We have eliminated over 50% of staff Blackberries, reduced service contracts for photography and news clipping services and saved significant money through reduced personnel costs. The final Legislative cost for 2014 will be less than originally budgeted.
We have taken on a number of challenging issues in the first six months of this term. First, we never forget our primary charge remains to deliver essential county services while finding ways to cut costs and keep the county budget under control. Critically, for the fourth year in a row, the county tax levy, approved by the BOL has not gone up. Second, we have tackled the review process of the suggested Playland public/private partnership as put forth by the County Executive. Our thorough and fair due diligence efforts showed the weakness of the proposal originally put forth by the non-profit group Sustainable Playland Inc. and their disconnect with the citizenry of the immediate community as well as the greater Westchester community. The Board will continue to focus on alternative plans for Playland and we look forward to working with the County Executive to re-imagine Playland and make it more financially viable.
The Board successfully resolved an airport leasing issue that threatened to harm both the airport’s financial viability as well as the municipal budgets of entities near the airport. We continue to pursue strong quality of life initiatives such as strengthening our agri-business community, establishing an energy point person to save us money while reducing our carbon footprint, and purchasing vehicles that are more environmentally and cost friendly. In conjunction with the business and labor community, the county has established a Local Development Corporation that has incented half a billion dollars of economic activity. And working with the County Executive, the Board reached agreement with, and helped welcome, the New York Knicks to the county center with the Westchester Knicks starting their D league operations this coming fall.
We have not shied away from difficult issues, either. Our county charter Revision Commission has recommended 16 items for consideration and change, items such as county ethics code changes, modifications to the budget process and reforming legislative confirmation procedures. These recommendations are being seriously debated with the goal of better and more open county government.
The biggest and most contentious effort undertaken this term, however, relates to the issue of resolving the ongoing dispute between the county and the federal government relating to the 2009 housing settlement. The settlement requires that the county build 750 units over seven years, promote a source of income law and submit an Analysis of Impediments (AI) acceptable to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the building of fair and affordable housing in Westchester county.
The county through the combined efforts of the Board and the Country Executive is actively working on building the units. After strenuously fighting the source of income law, the County Executive did ultimately promote a source of income law as required. That leaves the AI. After eight failed submissions by the county planning department, and upon notice from HUD that $5.2 million of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies for 2012 (and equal amounts for 2013 and 2014) are at risk of being reallocated away from Westchester, the Board of Legislators stepped in to help resolve the dispute.
Our more active role in the process has been welcomed by HUD and the housing Monitor tasked with overseeing the settlement agreement. As a result of our efforts, HUD has withheld the funding reallocation through the end of the summer and the Monitor has stepped forward and has initiated the analysis ultimately required for the county to file an acceptable AI. If we are successful, we hope not only to secure the $15 million dollars of CDBG monies, but also forestall penalties, fines, interception of other federal monies and even, potentially, reopening of the 2009 settlement that could result in a loss of over $500 million, potentially bankrupting the county itself. In a further positive way, if we are successful the 2009 settlement will finally be satisfied with no added requirements.
Much work remains. Rest assured all 17 county legislators are up to the task and look forward to serving all of our county residents. Our goal remains to have the best and most responsive county government possible; check us out at westchesterlegislators.com or call us at 995-2800 and let us know how we can help.
Michael B. Kaplowitz
Chairman of the Board
Legislator, 4th District