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Westchester County capital projects prompt political finger-pointing
Government officials are supposed to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements. In Westchester County, they fight over them.
On Tuesday, Republicans on the Board of Legislators released a list of projects they claim are bogged down in the board’s Government Operations Committee, whose chairwoman is Legis. Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining).
Totaling $43.5 million in project costs, the list includes $4.87 million to improve a parking lot in White Plains, $2.43 million to repair North Street in Harrison and Rye and $1.5 million to rehab an office in Peekskill. About $39 million worth of projects has been languishing for longer than 90 days, the limit the board sets for legislation sitting before a committee.
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The irony, Republicans noted, is that Democrats on March 5 unveiled a new widget on the board’s website called the "capital projects dashboard" that details the status of the many county infrastructure projects now in the pipeline. The dashboard includes scores of projects that Democratic legislators claim are languishing because County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, won’t approve them.
“The Democratic caucus frequently tries to score political points by claiming that important capital projects are being delayed,” said Legis. Michael Smith (R-Greenburgh). “Seven Democrats recently held a press event to unveil a ‘capital projects dashboard’ that would supposedly show the status of every proposed project. That invention has obviously not helped the process with the backlog of projects that the Democrats are conveniently and intentionally delaying.”
The Democrats’ spokesman, Thomas Staudter, said Borgia and her colleagues aren’t delaying the projects. Rather, the projects haven't moved forward for a variety of reasons that often bedevil public work, he said.
“They do a lot of due diligence,” Staudter said. “They are looking at a lot of projects and saying, ‘Are they necessary? Are the numbers right?’ ”
Staudter went on to criticize the Republicans more directly. “We are asking hard questions for a group of people who aren’t very good with the numbers,” he said.
It’s a tit for tat that never seems to end in Westchester County.
Legislators and Astorino have even gone to court over who has the power to approve construction projects, a basic part of government that shouldn’t be so complicated.
That case was decided last month in a mixed decision. The judge threw out the Democrats’ lawsuit charging that Astorino was ignoring their role in approving capital projects. But he also basically slapped Astorino on the wrist for doing so.
In the end, the judge said it wasn’t his place to decide who was right or wrong in the dispute. That job, the judge said in his decision, was up to the voters.