WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino proposed several initiatives in his 2014 State of the County address Thursday night in White Plains, including a $5 million county-run fund to replace federal money for homeless prevention and affordable housing construction currently being withheld from Westchester.
Astorino, who pledged to deliver a fifth straight budget with no tax increase, said the county would use bonds to fund its own community development block grant (CDBG) program and that it would cost each household about $1 more a year on its taxes.
This would replace the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, which is being withheld from the county until it complies with the 2009 affordable housing settlement. Astorino has refused to do so, saying HUD is trying to dismantle local zoning.
“The Community Development Block Grants have been HUD's prime weapon,” he said. “The strategy was simple. Withhold the money and wait for the county to capitulate on zoning. But that didn’t happen and won’t happen while I am county executive. Westchester is not for sale, not for $5, $5 million or $5 billion.”
The county has already lost $7.4 million in 2011 CDBG money and could lose another $5.2 million in 2012 money.
“Mr. Astorino decided to irresponsibly and recklessly take on the federal government in the county’s housing discrimination suit,” Westchester Board of Legislators Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) said in a prepared video response.
The administrative processes for the HUD money are already handled by the county, Astorino said, adding that his proposal would get money for to the communities that need it, and do it quicker by removing the extra layer of bureaucracy.
The county executive also proposed the County Road and Bridge Urgent Restoration Program, which would put $25 million aside during the next five years through bonding.
“The bonding will gives us the flexibility to jumpstart new projects as road conditions dictate, and not to be constrained by slow-moving budget schedules,” he said.
Legislation will be handed down to the Board of Legislators in the next few days, he said.
“On behalf of all the tires and axles screaming for mercy, I ask that we act on this legislation as soon as possible,” he said.
In the Democratic Caucus’ video response, Borgia charged that “Astorino has laid off people who have had years of experience and skills in order to outsource work to high paid consultants while our roads and bridges are crumbling.”
Another initiative Astorino announced Thursday night is the expansion of the county’s Para Transit taxi service to Yonkers in June. The pilot fleets in New Rochelle, White Plains and Peekskill have saved near $500,000 since it started in 2013.
He also announced the creation of the Immigrant Services Liaison position to help connect new immigrants to county services and entrepreneurs start new businesses.
In Astorino’s first State of the County in 2010, he said his guiding compass would be the Three Ps: protecting tax payers, preserving essential services and promoting economic growth.
“Time has shown that the three Ps have us working on the right things. But that’s not enough. You also have to deliver results, which brings us back to collaboration,” he said.
Borgia disputed Astorino’s commitment to preserving services.
“The bottom line is this. Mr. Astorino has put our communities at risk in order to advance his own political goals. Child care subsidies, youth programs, bus services and after school programs have all been cut. Foreclosure prevention and nutrition programs are also on the chopping block,” she said in the video.
While the county has restructured its day care program, Astorino said it has provided 3,500 kids with full-day care, an increase of 300-plus since 2010. He also cited Social Services rooting out fraud and saving $20 million in 2013 by reducing paperwork backlog from 45 to two days.
"The broader point in all our efforts is that good management is our safety net's best protection," he said.
Astorino once again called on the CSEA, Westchester's largest union, to contribute to its health care, as has the other six county unions.