Shining a Light on $6 Million in Shadowy Spending

As part of the budget process last fall the Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators fought to cut back spending and the special “special items” or “pork” monies that the Democratic Supermajority built in to the budget.

Although we were unable to get Democratic members to join us in eliminating this pot of funds they created for themselves we were able to get an assurance that the process used to distribute the funds was more open and transparent.

To date that has not happened.

My colleague, Legislator Sheila Marcotte, has drafted legislation that is supported by our entire caucus to finally force the supermajority to publish the contracts so the public can view them.

The press release below outlines the process we are hoping to require as part of the allocation of these funds.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 19, 2011
CONTACT: Legislator Sheila Marcotte 914 961-5780
http://www.sheilamarcotte.com

It has been said that the devil is in the details, if that notion is true then it is confirmed in the execution of short-form contracts in Westchester County.  Short-form contracts are expenditures or revenue with a value of $20,000 or less.   Last year, the Board of Legislators approved spending of approximately 6 million dollars through these short-term contracts.  That figure, quite possibly, could be eclipsed this year.

Legislator Sheila Marcotte (R, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, New Rochelle) is sponsoring legislation designed to take the approval process from the shadows into the light.  Many of these “small” transactions are provided for as part of the Westchester County budget and are disguised in budget lines with warm and fuzzy names such as “community services” or “environment and energy” and are approved by the budget & appropriations committee as well as the BOL. Last December the republican caucus attempted to block the allocation of 1.3 million dollars in what they believe is purely pork – the motion was voted down by the Democratic majority as they defended that budget line as worthy community projects – they did, however, promise to set forth a better vetting process of how these monies are approved and allocated.

The Republican Caucus believes that taxpayer’s money is sacrosanct and when we as legislators spend taxpayer money it should be with great care, attention to details and with absolute transparency, that is why Legislator Marcotte is sponsoring legislation that would require that all proposed short-term contracts be published on the Board of Legislator’s website with relevant documentation about who is being paid and for what service.    Currently, the only way to learn about the details of these contracts is to file requests through the “Freedom of Information Law”.  This process is unreasonably complicated and slow.  Given the technology available to us today, there is no good reason that this information should not be available to the public for inspection.

The majority of these expenditures are being made for good reason, they are expenses that must be met in order to operate our county government.  There is also a lot of pork in these contracts and the only way to expose that is through real transparency.  If the majority in the legislative branch of County Government is going to oppose the County Executive’s efforts to make common sense spending cuts then they should be prepared to explain the expenditures that they are approving.  It is time to shine a light on the short-form contracts process.  Knowledge is power and it is time to empower Westchester’s taxpayers to accurately evaluate where their money is going and who is sending it there.

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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