Democratic Westchester Legislators Say Astorino Announcement on Yonkers Court Deal is Premature_2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 2, 2013

Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-419-5221 (cell)

Democratic Legislators Say Astorino Announcement on Yonkers Court Deal is Premature

Bad deal would forgive $1.6 million due to taxpayers

White Plains, NY – Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) questioned today County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposed plan to move the Yonkers Family Court, now located at 53 South Broadway, into the i.Park Hudson Complex at 131 Warburton Avenue because the County has an active legal case against the i.Park landlord to recover $1.6 million in a rental dispute at the very same location. In addition, the legislators feel the i.Park location, which also houses a branch office of the County’s Department of Social Services (DSS), may not be suitable for the Family Court.

“It is understandable that the Astorino Administration feels the need to have a solution to a longstanding problem, but to rush a deal that has real workflow problems is not the answer,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), whose legislative district encompasses the two buildings. “There is over six million of square feet of available rental space in Westchester, so this really requires a two-step approach: Immediate temporary space for the Family Court, as the building now is unsuited for daily court business, and then a Request for Quotation concerning real estate space to house the court in the future.”

The Astorino Administration, which had promised in 2011 the BOL a plan to rehabilitate the County’s three family court facilities, as deteriorating building conditions were posing safety risks to Westchester families, residents, police officers and court personnel, finally announced in April 2012 that it was hoping to move the Yonkers family court facility to an i.Park building that houses the Yonkers District Office of the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS). George Oros, Astorino’s chief of staff, noted at the time that some of the 15,000-square feet office space in the rented building could be freed up after “downsizing” and consolidation at DSS take place in the near future.

“While I appreciate the move out of the present Family Court facility in Yonkers could save the County $600,000 in yearly rent paid in the existing family court building, the landlord at i.Park still owes the County a significant amount of money,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL Government Operations Committee. “Also, major renovations will need to be made to the space before the court can convene there. This deal actually creates a lot of important questions that should be answered before the County moves forward with a contract. Putting Family Court and DSS in the same building may have unforeseen consequences.”

The i.Park dispute goes back to 2009 when the BOL unanimously approved an Act to institute legal proceedings on behalf of the County against I.Park Westchester LLC (as successor-in-interest to Hudson View Associates LLC) for non-payment of money as part of a written agreement in 2007 to reimburse the County for rental payments it made while waiting to take possession of the premises at i.Park.

Also, the landlord’s reluctance to work with Con Ed to install a New York Power Authority (NYPA) meter to help the County recoup electric costs was also a point of contention, and continues to cost taxpayers extra in money spent on electricity.

The Astorino Administration negotiated the $1.6 million owed by the landlord down to $250,000, but has not allowed County Attorney Robert Meehan to address the BOL Legislation Committee regarding the rationale for the settlement, which only returns a fraction of what the County has spent back to its coffers. The request for the BOL to approve the settlement has remained in committee as a result.

“The Astorino Administration has decided to cut a deal with this landlord that appears to cost county taxpayers more money,” said Legislator Bill Ryan (D-White Plains), chair of the BOL Legislation Committee. “This landlord has not kept his word in previous dealings with the County, and is on the hook for more than million dollars. The Administration needs to provide an acceptable rationale for this deal before it moves forward. Thus far, they have not come clean.”

When Ryan was chair of the BOL Public Works, Parks, Labor and Transportation Committee (a precursor to the Government Operations Committee), he led the BOL to add $1.5 million dollars to the 2011 Capital Budget over the objections of County Executive Astorino to address the Family Court space issues, a cost mandated by the State. The Administration never moved forward any court rehabilitation projects, however.

The New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) and the BOL must approve any proposals submitted by the Astorino Administration regarding the moving of the Family Court in Yonkers. OCA would also have to approve moving or closing of present court facilities.

“The County Executive’s announcement today is premature, at best,” concluded Ryan.

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=Bazzo 07/03/13

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