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Release Date: July 07, 2008

The Westchester County Board of Legislators will be meeting tomorrow at 7 PM at the Westchester County Office Building, 8th Floor, 148 Martine Ave, White Plains. It is possible that the Legislature might try to vote to spend $13 million to buy a dilapidated office building in Greenburgh. The matter is currently not on the agenda –but there is speculation that a vote could take place tomorrow evening –when few people are paying attention.
This is bad for Greenburgh –this is bad for Ardsley--- this is bad for the county. If the county purchases the building the property will be taken off the tax rolls –which means your taxes will go up unnecessarily.
Between 7 PM and 7:30 PM you can speak at the Legislature meeting to express your concerns. Try to show up a half hour before the meeting so you will be called.
If you cannot attend the meeting please call your Legislators. County Legislator Tom Abinanti of Greenburgh is leading the fight against the acquisition. Phone numbers are posted below.
We are in the middle of a recession.
People are having a difficult time selling their homes.
Property values are falling. There are other, less expensive alternatives. This is not a good time for the county to buy a building.
The following is posted below:
1)    Phone numbers of County Legislators. Please call them and urge them to vote no.
2)    E mail I sent out last week opposing this outrageous taxpayer waste of money.
3)    Column by Phil Reisman, Journal News (Sunday, July 6).

Thanks. Hope to see you tomorrow night before 7 PM at the County Office Building.
Phone (914) 995-
George Oros (Minority Leader)
No wonder people mistrust and want to abolish County government.

The Board of Legislators, with little public notice, is about to appropriate $13 million to buy and renovate a dilapidated office building/warehouse at 450 Saw Mill River Road in Greenburgh.  450 has been vacant for a long long time -- except for a brief time when the county rented it.  The stated purpose for purchasing this 85,000 square foot building is to house the new voting machines the county will purchase to comply with federal and state mandates.  $13 million dollars to house machines!

Newspapers have reported that the building is owned by a large contributor to the County Executive.

Most outrageous is that the county is doing what it always protests about the state and federal government.  It is placing an unfunded mandate on Greenburgh and the small Donald Park fire district that must protect this building with no taxes, as the county’s purchase takes it off the tax rolls.  Taking it off the tax rolls also takes another $200,000 a year out of the pockets of the residents of the small Ardsley school district.  So some Greenburgh taxpayers will see a property tax increase to subsidize a questionable deal.

Since the voting machines will need no more than 55,000 sq. ft, no more than 2/3 of the building, the county is now scurrying around trying to find a use for the other 1/3.  The county executive first proposed moving the Department of Environmental Facilities from New Rochelle, but backed off when the mayor protested.  Now, he suggests moving the police brass out of the Hawthorne headquarters to take up some of the extra space.  He still hasn't yet figured out how to use the remainder.

With everyone else hurting and cutting back, is now the time for the county to spend $13 million to take on the obligations of a new building?   How about using the office/warehouse building the county already owns at 375 Executive Boulevard  in Elmsford? 

Right now it houses some files and new equipment but also abandoned motor vehicles and used computer equipment waiting to be sold. With almost 4 million square feet of county-controlled office, warehouse and garage space, can’t they  juggle things around to make room.

And at least you can get to 375. It  is in used by so many companies as a distribution center  (near Fed Ex, UPS, etc). 450 is located on a remote stretch of 9A between  two congested intersections Ardsley Road and Jackson Avenue. It has no easy access to major commercial highways - even though all of the county's voting machines will have to be distribtued from there by commercial vehicles.

If this makes no sense to you, tell your county legislator: 995-2800 or westchesterlegislators.com. E mail the County Executive at

Greenburgh Town Supervisor
The Westchester County Board of Legislators is about to make one of Andy Spano's buddies happy - and anything that makes a generous campaign contributor happy makes Andy happy, too.
It appears that there are enough votes on the board to approve the county executive's feverish quest to spend $13.6 million for the purchase and renovation of a vacant office building in Ardsley that no one else seems to want.
As I've reported in this column, the building at 450 Saw Mill River Road happens to be owned by Ardsley Partners III, a firm controlled by Jon Halpern, who has given much in the way of money to help Spano get elected over and over again.
You may connect the obvious dots, but only at the peril of ticking off Spano's right-hand man, Larry Schwartz, who will tell you the deal is a "financial no-brainer" that has nothing at all to do with a political payoff - and if you think otherwise, you're an uninformed, stupid scum bucket. (By the way, is there such a thing as a "yes-brainer"?)
But it's weird how Spano-Schwartz will make up any number of creative excuses to buy Halpern's albatross, er, building. The message is clear: They must have it.
As all issues do, it started with a legitimate problem - where to store 1,600 new voting machines the county must buy to comply with state and federal election reforms. Since the Board of Elections digs in White Plains aren't big enough to hold the new equipment, it made sense to keep the BOE operation intact and move lock, stock and barrel to one site.
Spano-Schwartz chose 450 Saw Mill River Road.
The idea raised all kinds of concerns, many of them articulated by Tom Abinanti, a Greenburgh Democrat whose legislative district includes the village of Ardsley. One argument was that county ownership meant the property would be removed from the tax rolls, which would cost the Ardsley school district $192,171 a year.
Another argument was that the building was off the beaten path, up a hill, hard to find and just an altogether lousy place to put the BOE.
When it turned out that Spano-Schwartz couldn't move the BOE away from the county seat without putting it to a referendum, they were stymied. But only temporarily.
They never for a minute considered the referendum idea, knowing full well that the county's voters would shoot down the expenditure of $13.6 million. So they briefly fooled around with a goofy idea to pretend that the BOE was actually staying in White Plains by, in effect, keeping a light on in the building and having someone sit at a desk with a phone.
Then they tried another idea. They'd still buy 450 Saw Mill River Road for the voting machines and for the Department of Environmental Facilities, which leased space in New Rochelle.
That didn't fly in the Queen City, which gets a piece of the county sales tax and didn't want to lose workers in its downtown.
Now Spano-Schwartz want to put the county's Department of Public Safety in Halpern's building, which presumably would save the county from spending $14.2 million to build the cops another headquarters in Valhalla. See what I mean about Spano-Schwartz? They really want it.
Their morphing of purpose for the Ardsley building may not end there. Who knows? If the public safety excuse should somehow fall apart, they'll probably come up with a scheme to warehouse all the discarded rides at Playland.
"It's so obvious, you're trying to make it look good," Abinanti said last week on my WVOX radio show. "You know the old line, the more lipstick you put on a pig, it's still a pig? That's what you're dealing with here."
Abinanti said Halpern's a "good guy but he's stuck with a problem here." Advancing the pig metaphor to describe Spano's willing assistance, Abinanti quipped. "It's pork, not ham."
The 17-member Board of Legislators could vote on the matter Tuesday. As it now stands, Abinanti looks to be in the minority, which includes three Republicans - George Oros, Gordon Burrows and Jim Maisano. It's such a big deal that even Board Chairman Bill Ryan, who is recovering from heart surgery, is reportedly anxious to show up for the vote.
Abinanti said some of his Democratic colleagues are leaning toward a yes vote because they are simply resigned to the fact that there are no other solid alternatives to 450 Saw Mill River Road and time is running out to meet the voting machine mandate. The reason for the lack of choices, Abinanti suggested, was that developers and commercial property owners didn't want to cross the powerful Spano-Schwartz by coming forth with better ideas.
But there's yet another way to torpedo the scheme, according to Abinanti. The purchase price of 450 Saw Mill River Road, he said, exceeds the $10 million state-imposed limit and must go to a referendum. The purchase price of the building is well under that amount.
The legislator explained, however, that in cases where the property isn't usable in its current condition, the cost of the renovations must be lumped in with the purchase price.
If that's so, then Spano-Schwartz will have to figure out another way to thwart the public. It's a good bet they'd be up to the task.
But it's ironic when you think about it.
After all, the whole thing started with voting machines, the most important instruments of democracy. And democracy can be a messy obstacle when you're trying to help out a pal.
Phil Reisman
Reach Phil Reisman at preisman@lohud.com or 914-694-5008. Read more stuff at lohud.com/reisman.

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