Setting the Record Straight on the County’s Section 8 Program and the CSEA Lawsuit

Other than the budget veto overrides of the County Executive’s attempt to reduce county governmental spending, perhaps the one issue that clearly shows the county board’s Democrat supermajority’s attempts to thwart real reform is the CSEA union lawsuit over ending the County’s role in administering the Section 8 contract with NY State.

Let me first give the background on the issue for those who may not be fully aware of all the facts.

In October of last year County Executive Astorino exercised his option as the County’s chief administrative officer to inform NY State that Westchester would not be renewing the contract to administer the Section 8 program. It is important to remember two very important facts: the County Executive was required to inform the state of this decision at least 60 days in advance (which was well before the county budget process was to begin), and that no individuals or families currently receiving Section 8 would be losing coverage. What it meant is simply that another vendor or non-profit agency would assume the contract with the state to administer the program.

The State of NY is required to provide and administer the Federal Section 8 program, not the counties. In all but four counties throughout the State of NY the section 8 programs are contracted with outside agencies, just like Astorino plans to do here. It makes more sense and saves significant tax dollars.

Also important to note is that the county lost approximately $1 million dollars last year administering the program because NY State reimbursements do not cover required employee health insurance and pension contributions. In fact, the estimated total cumulative county losses in administering the State’s Section 8 program have been approximately $5.5 million! It is time to end the flow of red ink and manage our responsibilities in a cost-effective way that protects not only the vulnerable, but hard-pressed taxpayers too.

With everything I mentioned above you would think this was a “no-brainer” for the county, given the mantra of smaller government, less spending, right? Wrong! The County Board of Legislator’s supermajority thinks otherwise.

Even though there was no contract to continue the county Section 8 program for 2011, the Board’s supermajority decided to include the program in the 2011 budget anyway when it was adopted in December. They not only restored the 38 CSEA positions eliminated, they overrode Astorino’s veto that attempted to remove the restored positions. If those employees were brought back, they would have no duties to perform. Actually, some of them have been hired by the state and the agencies taking over the program. Remember, there is no Westchester County Section 8 program or office anymore. In fact, a contract has already been signed by NY State with other agencies that are presently administering the program.

So, you would think this ends the issue. Not according to the BOL’s Democrat supermajority and CSEA. In fact the CSEA is suing the county over the 38 layoffs that resulted from the fact that there is no program. The Board supermajority has taken sides with the CSEA against the county taxpayers to restore the positions that have no job to perform.

Incredibly, it doesn’t end there. The supermajority also claims that the County Attorney cannot represent the County Executive in the lawsuit. Why? Because they claim that since the board supermajority is taking the side of the CSEA, which is opposed to Astorino’s position, this puts the County Attorney in conflict. As a result, the County Executive’s office must now hire outside council to defend the lawsuit, thus causing additional wasted taxpayer funds!

By the way, as part of the budget process the supermajority expanded their staff by hiring two lawyers full time to, in essence, create a board legal department.  That way they can continually challenge County Executive’s attempts to represent the citizens of Westchester. This move is questionable in itself and may be in violation of the County Charter.

What my colleagues and I in the Republican minority propose, is that the Board of Legislators move to have the CSEA lawsuit dismissed, or have the BOL removed from the suit and take the side of the county residents and taxpayers, not against them. So far the Democrats on the County Board have refused to even discuss it! A resolution offered by Republican legislators to oppose and dismiss the lawsuit has been prevented from being put on the agenda for a vote.

About Legislator John G. Testa

John G. Testa, a life-long resident of Peekskill, began his first term on the Westchester County Legislature in January 2010. Prior to his successful run for the District 1 Legislative seat, he served 3 terms as Mayor of Peekskill from January 2002 until December 2007. Before becoming mayor he also served a four-year term as a Councilman. From his first days in office Testa worked tirelessly to set the City on the path of economic stability. Peekskill flourished under this plan, increasing the city fund balance to its highest in history. During John’s tenure in office, the NY State Comptroller’s Office named Peekskill one of the most fiscally sound municipalities in the State; independent auditors proclaimed Peekskill as being in its best fiscal condition in over 30 years; and Moody’s Investor Service agreed to upgrade its bond rating, resulting in further savings. The plan he put in place was so successful that it enabled the City of Peekskill to pass three budgets in a row with a 0% tax increase. These fiscal skills will prove valuable to Testa as he works to put the brakes on what has been wildly escalating county spending and unchecked government growth. He has pledged his efforts to work to consolidate services, eliminate wasteful spending and improve efficiency. In addition to the fiscal conservatism that served Peekskill so well, Testa worked to promote the city, attracting investment, jobs and an increased tax base. Over $100 million of private investment came to Peekskill in the forms of new residential construction, retail space, and the redevelopment of historic structures. As Mayor, Testa led a successful battle to stop the unfair and unsafe plan to send sewage to the Peekskill plant from outside the sewage/water district. John’s roots are deep within the soil of Northern Westchester. His father’s family has lived here for more than a century and his mother’s family is nearing that mark. He is proud that he was born in Peekskill and has lived and worked here all his life and, with his wife Nancy raised their two children here.
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