County Executive Rob Astorino renewed his pledges this week to project taxpayers, preserve home rule in the affordable housing settlement and demand greater accountability from Con Edison during a town hall meeting in New Castle.
On Tuesday night the county executive tackled a wide range of local and countywide topics in front of about 75 residents during the latest of his ongoing “Ask Astorino” visits to municipalities around Westchester. Astorino addressed the audience during the first half of the nearly 90-minute forum then took questions for the concluding portion of the program.
In addition to reiterating many of the fiscal themes that have dominated his first three years in office, Astorino also announced that the plan to divert sewage for close to 300 units in three New Castle developments to the Yonkers wastewater treatment plant was progressing after a new sewer district was created in 2011. The county is also assisting New Castle to help with the construction of a replica of the old Millwood train depot that was torn down last year near the North County Trailway, he said.
Astorino continued to stress the successes of his administration in holding down taxes. During his time in office, county taxes have declined by 2 percent as opposed to increasing 17 percent the previous five years. As a lifelong Westchester resident, he said he wanted to enable future generations to be able to live in the county.
“If we didn’t correct the course it was going to become impossible for anyone, unless you’re very wealthy, it would be impossible for anyone to live in this county,” Astorino said of his mission to rein in taxes.
He said he would continue to demand that all of the county’s union employees contribute to their health care coverage. Three unions, the Teamsters, the corrections offices and the superior officers in corrections, have already agreed to that concession in their latest contracts but the county’s largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association, has not.
“That means everyone sitting in this room is paying for 100 percent of their coverage during employment and in retirement, forever, as well as your own,” Astorino said. “And it’s not the real world. It’s not the world I come from.”
Astorino maintained that his administration would contest any move by the federal government to force the county to change the parameters of the 2009 housing settlement that will see the construction of 750 new units built by 2016. He mentioned a May 2011 letter from the Department of Housing and Urban Development warned the county “must go beyond the four corners of the settlement,” including forcing property owners to accept Section 8 housing and waiving zoning restrictions, which the federal government has suggested are exclusionary.
A 56 percent increase in the county’s black and Latino population in the past decade illustrates how Westchester doesn’t discriminate, the county executive said. Currently, the county is in the Court of Appeals to prevent the federal government from imposing new agreement guidelines.
Astorino also defended each municipality’s right to enforce its zoning restrictions.
“This will take that away and say there are no restrictions anymore,” Astorino said. “I have said you’ve got to be nuts and I will not yield on any of that.”
Astorino took no stand on the controversial Chappaqua Station affordable housing project that is currently being considered by the town, saying that responsibility is up to local officials.
He called for Con Edison’s request for a 3 percent rate hike to be tied to performance.
“I don’t think this is the opportune time for this and anything that is done needs to be geared toward performance and in the next storm we’re going to get a good opportunity to see if they’ve learned from (what) went wrong and fix them,” Astorino said.
The county and the Town of New Castle are progressing with two projects–moving ahead with diverting the sewage from 293 residential units at Yeshiva, Riverwoods and Random Farms to the Yonkers wastewater treatment plant and building the replica Millwood train depot on the “Old Put” line, Astorino said. Officials announced that the three developments were part of the Saw Mill Sanitary Sewer District that was created in October 2011.
The train depot, which will replace the deteriorated structure that was torn down last year on Route 133 in Millwood, will be rebuilt by Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. No projected completion date or cost estimate was given, although Astorino and New Castle Supervisor Susan Carpenter said it should be done soon and be relatively inexpensive. It will be built slightly south of the original site.
Carpenter said she was pleased that Astorino choose to make New Castle the next stop on his countywide speaking tour.
“We’re just delighted to have him here,” she said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s a real opportunity for people in New Castle to get a chance to ask him questions.”