Thank you to the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce for once again asking me to submit this piece about the importance of local history in their 2019-20 Annual Member Directory:
The communities of Peekskill, Cortlandt and Yorktown will receive funding to help deliver important services to those communities senior residents. Legislator Testa was joined by his colleagues on the Board of Legislators in approving an inter-municipal agreement (IMA) that provides up to $30,000 per community operate communications programs meant to inform seniors about the various services that are available to them through the Westchester County Department of Seniors Programs and Services.
The IMA was passed unanimously at Boards meeting on Monday, April 8th. The IMA states, “the programs and services to be provided under the IMAs include; the Livable Communities Regional Host Program which provides outreach to seniors to enable them to participate in and access programs and services to be provided by the Department; and public information/education programs that include educational forums and events at which residents are educated and informed about the Departments myriad programs and services that are designed to enhance the quality of life for Westchester’s seniors.”
Following the vote, Legislator Testa praised the efforts of the Department of Seniors Programs and Services. “Westchester County offers many important and effective services for our senior community. It is important that we take the necessary steps to make sure seniors, their families and caregivers are aware of these services. Looking out for older generations is a moral imperative. This small investment in outreach will pay significant dividends in quality life for our seniors.”
Career as County Legislator, Mayor and City Councilman Spans 22 Years
Westchester County Legislator John G. Testa announces he will not run for reelection in 2019. Testa’s career as an elected official has spanned 22 years, beginning with his first election in 1997 for Peekskill City Councilman. He then served 3 terms as Mayor of Peekskill and now will complete his 5th term as County Legislator, serving the last 6 years as Minority Leader for the Board.
“I want to thank the communities I have represented for the continued support given to me over the years,” Testa said. “It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve and now it is time to pass the torch and step back from elected office,” Testa added.
Testa has never lost an election. As a career educator at his alma mater, Peekskill High School, Testa simultaneously represented the City in local government. He retired from teaching in 2013 after 33 years but continued his governmental service at the County Board of Legislators representing District 1, which comprises Cortlandt, Peekskill and Yorktown.
As County Legislator, Testa continued his record as a fiscally conservative, taxpayer minded lawmaker. Including his final 3 years as mayor, Testa had a string of 10 straight years with no tax increase budgets. Testa was a leading member of the bipartisan coalition that was formed at the Board of Legislators joining with County Executive Astorino that right-sized county government and put policies in place that preserved essential services, kept taxes flat, supported public-private partnership agreements for Playland and Westchester County Airport, The North 60 Biotech project, and protected local home rule control for Westchester municipalities over federal government overreach.
“My record of fiscal responsibility is one I am very proud of. I wanted to also elevate the standing of Northern Westchester communities in county government and bring the appropriate resources and infrastructure improvements we deserve. I was particularly pleased to bring an office to Peekskill that provides free legal services for eligible Northern Westchester veterans, seniors and victims of domestic violence,” Testa said.
Testa spearheaded initiatives to fully rehabilitate approximately 6 miles of county roads across Northern Westchester, bring improvements to county sewer treatment facilities and local county parks, support Veteran groups, expand programs for youth and seniors, improve Public Safety, support businesses across the district and be an important influence helping local communities and families during the Indian Point Closure process. Testa was a leader in preventing the establishment of barge anchorage sites along the Hudson River and his outstanding record for protecting the environment and supporting environmentally sensitive laws and initiatives has been continually recognized by NYS League of Conservation Voters.
As Mayor of Peekskill, Testa ignited an unprecedented era of revitalization, historic preservation, quality of life improvements, economic development, emergency preparedness, fiscal stability, environmental protection and recreational/open space improvements with new waterfront parks and “Peekskill Stadium,” the only full-sized baseball facility in the area. Private investment and downtown commerce soared with renewed focus on local business and infrastructure improvements, including a million-dollar restoration of the Paramount Theater. Under Testa’s leadership Peekskill won many awards including being named a “Preserve America” community by the US Dept. of the Interior and one of the “Great Places to Live” in Westchester and the Hudson Valley. Testa was named a “Champion of the Arts” by ArtsWestchester for his continued advancement of arts and cultural initiatives. He was also named “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill for his efforts in creating the Lincoln Depot Museum and was given the “Community Service Award” by the Peekskill Area NAACP. Many initiatives that began under Testa were continued under administrations that followed.
“Although I am leaving public service I intend to remain active and continue to contribute to my community. I will now have more time to dedicate to the Lincoln Depot Museum and emerging business responsibilities. More opportunity to travel, read and learn is very attractive to me. Most importantly, I look forward to more time with my family and being a soon-to-be grandfather.”
Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Minority Leader John G. Testa (R) Peekskill, was joined by his colleagues in passing legislation that authorized the County to enter into Inter-municipal agreements (IMA) with three Westchester cities for a total of $376,924 under the county’s “Invest in Kids” program. Under the agreement, the City of Peekskill will receive $69,231 of funding for its “Advancing Leadership Initiatives for Teens Program” (LIFT). The vote took place at the January 14th regular meeting of the BOL. The IMA terms provide for $245,000 to come from Westchester County and the remainder to be contributed by the municipalities.
The Legislation states that the various programs that will be funded throughout Westchester County, “…use positive youth development models to focus on providing opportunities for to actively acquire the skills and abilities needed to grow up to be competent, caring and healthy adult.”
Legislator John Testa retired in 2013 after a 33-year career as a Peekskill High School teacher. As a former teacher, Legislator Testa understands the importance of youth programs that give kids, especially at-risk kids healthy and constructive options for their time after school. “I was very happy to work with my legislative colleagues to secure these funds for Peekskill. I am very familiar with the LIFT Program and the excellent work that they do.” Legislator Testa said. “When I was a teacher, I saw first-hand how programs like LIFT improved the lives of many of my students. Summers and the after school hours are particularly dangerous times for kids who are unsupervised or who don’t have a strong family support system at home. The LIFT Program operates year-round which means that kids can build permanent and lasting relationships within our community even when school is not in session. This is an excellent investment in our youth and their future.”
On Monday, December 4, 2018, my Democrat colleagues on the Board of Legislators (with the exception of one Democrat) passed a Local Law (by a 11-5 vote) that prohibits businesses in Westchester County from asking if a job applicant has been convicted of a serious crime. This legislation is an outrageous overreach into private business and a continuation of their assault on the small business community. I disagreed with County Executive Latimer when he ordered that the county will not ask about job applicants’ criminal history but I accept that it is his prerogative as the executive branch of our government to set those policies for county employment. But to legislate that private businesses can no longer establish their own standards for what type of character and integrity they require in an employee- using past criminal activity as a guide- is a disturbing level of government interference in private business.
The legislation which has most often been called “ban the box” (referring to a box that must be checked on a job application related to criminal convictions) the current legislation has had a few name changes as the laws sponsors sought to make it sound like some moral imperative. Another name that the sponsors tried was “Fair Chance to Work Act”. They finally arrived at the current title, “Local Law to Prohibit Discrimination based on one’s criminal conviction”. Thankfully we have a number of federal employment protections for job applicants like race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. These are protected classes because they are characteristics not indicators of character. An individual who has committed a criminal act is not a member of a protected class and therefore a small business owner is not practicing discrimination if they choose to disqualify those applicants, this legislation also requires employers- who may have any number of applicants for a position to offer a ‘written analysis’ to job applicants if they are not hired. This is an affront to the notion of private enterprise.
New York State has long held the dubious distinction as the most inhospitable environment for small businesses in the United States. Unfortunately, since taking control of the Board of Legislators last year, after four years of bipartisan cooperation, my Democrat colleagues have embraced this anti-business posture in a series of legislative actions that hurt small businesses and put them at a competitive disadvantage in our region. Dictating what should be the purview of private business decisions like forcing small businesses with as few as 5 part-time employees to pay for sick leave will have a profound impact on a small business. (our request to negotiate a compromise that would exclude businesses with less than 10 employees was ignored) The sponsors of the paid sick leave must have understood the law’s negative impact since they excluded Westchester County from following the paid sick leave law for hourly county employees.
Other legislative overreach into private business practices include legislation that prohibits small business owners from asking about a prospective employees prior salary, dictating application processes to private residential cooperative building associations, proposed red light cameras that will put further strain on commerce- especially Westchester County retail businesses, passing legislation that raises licensing fees for independent home improvement contractors both now and again in a year by almost 50%.
I am all for giving individuals a second chance, it has been a mantra of mine my entire adult life as an educator and elected official and many business owners do the same as a matter of choice. To legislate and force business to ignore criminal records of a prospective employee is overreaching at its worst.
Small businesses are the real engine of employment in our county and I believe a continuation of this near-sighted agenda will result in a “Death by a Thousand Cuts” for some those businesses. It will also make it far more difficult for economic development organizations in our business community to attract and retain the critical small and mid-size businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy. It will cost jobs and further inhibit the success of local small businesses.
While social activism is an important function in society and the Democrats on the BOL have absolute control of the legislative agenda, handing over the reins of the legislative branch to social activists must be balanced against the needs of those who keep our economy going, the risk takers, the employers and entrepreneurs of Westchester County.
Minority Leader John Testa (Peekskill, Cortlandt, Yorktown) announced the passage of nearly $3 million in funding for the rehabilitation of Washington Street in Peekskill. The Westchester county Board of Legislators voted unanimously on Monday October 1. 2018 to approve the project.
A bond act for $2,960,000 was approved to repair the 1.23-mile span of Washington Street between Welcher Avenue and South Street. The newly approved funds are an addition to an early bond act for $330,000 that was used to design the project. The Washington Street rehab work will include milling, resurfacing, crack repair, replacement or adjustment of utility castings, concrete curb replacement, installation of handicap ramps, new traffic loops, and new pavement markings.
This section of Washington Street supports almost 3,000 vehicles per day and received a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) rating of 55 in 2016 and has continued to deteriorate. The PCI is a rating system based on a 0-100 score. A condition rating of zero indicates that the road requires reconstruction. A score of 100 indicates that the road is new. Based on the PCI rating of 55, this section of roadway requires structural rehabilitation to extend the life of the roadway.
Following the vote, Legislator Testa said, “I’ve been advocating for the rehabilitation of Washington Street for several years. The planning phase for this project began back in June of 2016 and I am glad to say that we are finally ready to begin the work. This section of Washington Street is an important roadway and is badly in need of repairs. When the project is finished, Washington Street will be in excellent condition and will be set to serve the people of Peekskill for decades to come.”
The Washington Street project follows a multi-year focus by Legislator Testa to rehabilitate county owner infrastructure across Northern Westchester that has been neglected and in need of repairs and upgrades for decades. Over the last four years, the county owned portions of Crompond Road/Rt. 202 and Main Street/Rt. 6 have been completely rehabilitated. The Washington Street project will bring the total amount of roadwork done to nearly 6 miles. Major upgrades have been completed in Blue Mountain Reservation and George’s Island Park. Additional upgrades are scheduled to begin at George’s Island in the spring.