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 John G. Testa

Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader. John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility. John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching. John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester. John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters. John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years. John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.” John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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