Wednesday, August 26, 2015

WestHelp Agreements Violated Again

At  the last Town Board meeting they proved once again that it lacks integrity, transparency and honesty with their skewed methods of governance. This latest move belies Mr Feiner’s often used canned phrases of ‘due diligence’, ‘transparency’, ‘faith in the process’ and others. This time the Town Board held a special meeting, a covert meeting if you will, to change the tenets of the previously agreed upon use of the WestHelp facility on the Westchester Community College campus and negate the agreement that had been developed for the property. Originally created and used as an affordable housing facility for mothers with under school-age children, you may recall Mr Feiner chose to leave the vacant facility open after the County ceased using the facility for homeless families. Its original intent and design had been as an affordable housing facility.

With a seemingly veiled public disclosure at the ending of last Wednesday nights Town Board meeting and without any public session, or any public discourse, Mr Feiner and his Board skirted their elected obligation entitled to by the public regarding the WestHelp property. It highlights Mr Feiner’s contempt and low regard for the Greenburgh taxpayer. He and his Board members voted in a hastily contrived “special meeting” to change the determined use for the now degraded WestHelp facility. You may recall, after the lease with the County expired due to Mr Feiner’s twice refused contract acceptance, the facility was vacated by the County’s Department of Social Services (DSS). Mr Feiner took it upon himself, condoned by his Board, to not only leave the facilities unsecured, but to accelerate its degradation so it would need to be torn down, appeasing the residents of Valhalla who were mostly against the site in the first place. The reason? Votes.

The site was the brainchild of the HUD Chair Andrew Cuomo, who was appointed by then President Bill Clinton after Cuomo’s political aspirations were halted when he insulted New Yorkers with several negative comments when he was running for governor. Knowing what short memories voters have, he was whisked away to Washington to wait out the furor. Once his past history was forgotten, he began his anointment to the Albany throne. As governor, he disagreed with Mr Feiner’s newest proposal for the WestHelp site to sell the property to the Ferncliff School for the disabled. County Executive Astorino, as well as other County Legislators, disagreed as well but chose inaction over The Town’s violation of the in-place and still active contract. ABG conversed with County Legislator Alfreda Williams, who said the County Board would need to address any contractual violations and decide how to proceed. Nothing was done.

So, after languishing for four years at the mandate by Mr Feiner, the County finally agreed to let the Town submit a proposal for the site or lose this gift-horse property completely. The facility had generated $1.2 million dollars a year in revenue to the Town. Had the Town continued to receive those funds, we would have had $4.8 million that could have been used toward paying down the $6.5 million guilty verdict fine levied against Mr Feiner after being found guilty by a Federal Court for discrimination, destroying evidence, not being a credible witness and more. In the meantime, Mr Feiner keeps insisting the Town remained within the 2% NYS Tax Cap while raising our taxes 3.4%. More political posturing aided by Cuomo’s 2% Tax Cap hype.

After the NYS Division of Human Rights granted the Town permission to impose age restrictions toward the property’s usage, it was decided to create a Senior Living Facility on the WestHelp site in accordance with the terms of the original lease with the County. They would reconfigure the 108 efficiency apartments into 74 apartments to be rented out to senior citizens. The facility would then be managed by a previously denied management company, Peekskill’s Marathon Development Group. Mr Feiner originally tried to award the contract to a developer with no background or experience in property management. In fact, the deal  that Mr Feiner originally refused to award to Marathon is the same deal as before with two major and costly changes. First, the deal will only bring in $127,000 per year, down from the original proposal Mr Feiner killed. Second, the Town, in particular the Unincorporated Taxpayer, will wind up paying for the remediation to the site! This was another decision made behind closed doors, possibly in an elusive Executive Session and never a posed to other bidders. Faith in the system? Transparency? Due diligence? Hardly.

Messrs. Morgan and Jones “brokered” the same deal that was laid out initially and are now bragging of this “new” deal as though they are master negotiators. They’re not. Because of Mr Feiner and his Boards actions, the Town not only lost the $1.2 million a year in revenue, they knowingly and arbitrarily decided to cost the Town even more by dragging out this process and agreeing to what had already been proposed, less the four year reduction of income for the Town, income for Marathon and most importantly income that would have helped the resident taxpayers. Now, however, the taxpayers will be “on the hook” for the remediation costs, no matter what they amount to. Additionally, Marathon will wind up managing 54 apartments instead of the originally agreed upon 74 and the seniors that might have been afforded homes will still be left wanting.

If Mr Feiner and his Board were truly interested in providing affordable housing and not just posturing about it, they could have assigned the 108 apartments to some of the 250 families on the Greenburgh Housing Authority’s waiting list once the County ceased their operation of WestHelp.That would have amounted to about half of their waiting list of Town residents being helped. This would have alleviated the blight of Greenburgh residents and probably others seeking a home. There was no stipulation in the original contract about who the Town could place in the apartments once the Town took it over. But since this administration is not sincere about addressing the problem, those people continue to wait - over four years later.

Another connivance by Mr Feiner means more delays and another possible rejection for the use of the WestHelp property from the County. We’re pretty sure that Mr Feiner did not make the switch from senior to affordable housing to help County Executive Astorino in the County’s fulfillment of the federally mandated housing agreement in Westchester. Although, given Mr Feiner’s history of guilty verdicts in court, we have to wonder if he has had any experience with those judges and cut a deal? Regardless, after rejecting proposals from bona fide housing management companies, turning down a cash sale with all remediation costs included, trying to change the use from housing to a school, being found guilty in paying funds to the Valhalla School District, after accusing residents of undermining his (illegal) deals, it will be no small task to see anybody living at the WestHelp facility. That is, unless they are in tents. This must end. It’s the only way we’ll get A Better Greenburgh.

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