Well, they got their way.
Last night, the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted the way Andy Spano & Co. wished. They approved the $13 million-plus purchase of 450 Saw Mill River Road, a vacant office building in Ardsley that happens to be owned by one of the county executive’s favored campaign contributors, Jon Halpern.
The approval was not a surprise. Spano had the votes line up going in. Indeed, they were so confident that work on the building’s air conditioning was already going before the board meeting, according to my sources.
The deal screws Ardsley taxpayers because they”ll have to make up more than $192.000 in lost school tax revenue. Plus, Halpern is suing for a tax reduction going back four years., which will likely cost taxpayers many, many thousands of dollars.
Evidently, Spano and the legislators have been taking a great deal of heat for all this– and I’ve written more than a few columns on the subject. The public anger is so intense that Andy was moved to send out an e-mail, defending the purchase, repeating the rather dubious claim that the Ardsley building was the best deal out there and that anyone who disagrees (i.e. County Legislator Tom Abinanti and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner) are “fiscally irresponsible.”
Received today, here’s the Spano e-mail in full, with my title added.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON A CROOKED DEAL
Thank you for contacting me about the purchase of 450 Saw Mill River Road. It is our understanding that your email is based on information you have received from Supervisor Paul Feiner. It is unfortunate that the information he is circulating is false and irresponsible. Here are the facts:
First of all, we do not want to buy any building, but are mandated by the federal government to purchase and store new voting machines. Without a place to store 1500 new voting machines and warehouse the old machines for two years, weâ€™d be in violation of federal law.
Contrary to what you have heard, we have no county facility big enough to house these machines. The county building at 375 Executive Blvd. is full; it would cost $30 million to build a second story extension to increase it to a size necessary to house and maintain the machines.
We did not single out this property owner for special treatment. In fact the county sent out at three different times, requests for proposals to get the lowest price possible on a rental or a purchase. Repeatedly, the building at 450 Saw Mill River Road was by far the least expensive alternative.
Far from rushing this through without public notice, this proposal has been discussed publicly at Board of Legislature meetings and in the press for more than one year, as we attempted to get the best deal for our taxpayers.
Recognizing that taking the property off the tax rolls would be a hardship for the Ardsley School District, we offered to give the District $1 million in capital improvements to make up for the loss of tax revenue. Last year, the Ardsley school board approved the purchase in return for the $1 million. Yet Legislator Abinanti who represents this area, voted against it.
Paul Feiner sent a letter to us in January â€“ not to oppose this purchase, but to ask for $50,000 for the town. The County Executive agreed.
The bottom line: Mr. Feiner (as well as Legislator Abinanti) is being fiscally irresponsible in opposing this purchase. The terms for the purchase of 450 Saw Mill River Road are the most advantageous to county taxpayers. We will get 85,000 square feet of space to use for the storage of the voting machines, needed administrative offices for the Department of Public Safety and storage of records. Plans were already being discussed to build a new Public Safety facility which our police department has greatly outgrown. So 450, besides being the best deal for the storage of the machines, is even more cost effective now that it eliminates a new public safety building which would have cost taxpayers almost $10 million to construct.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to set the record straight. It is of utmost importance to me to run a cost-effective, fiscally responsible government. I pride myself on this, and I assure you that I will continue to do so. I am well aware of the difficulties our residents are experiencing in this economy. That is precisely why I have worked so hard to get the most cost effective and best long term facility for the County.