WESTCHESTER, N.Y. We sat down with County Legislator Peter Harckham to discuss issues that have been raised during his current re-election campaign. Harckham, the Democratic incumbent, is facing Republican challenger Peter Michaelis in next Tuesdays election.
Here are Harckhams responses to our questions:
Your opponent has accused you of not having done enough to reduce government bloat and lower taxes in Westchester County. How do you respond?
I am the only candidate in this race to cut taxes. Last year, I cut taxes by 2.2 percent, more than twice the cut proposed by the county executive. I cut spending $30 million (equivalent to another 5 percent on the tax levy) and reduced the size of the county workforce by over 10 percent, saving an additional $30 million annually moving forward. We passed legislation reforming employee benefits, requiring unrepresented management to contribute to their health insurance premiums. I sponsored and passed a 10 percent tax break for emergency first responders and veterans not covered by a loophole in NY State law.
Ninety-five percent of all legislation passes nearly unanimously in a bipartisan fashion and is signed into law by the county executive. This year, there were only 17 overrides. 15 of them were bipartisan this is called checks and balances. For example: the county executive vetoed mandated emergency dam repair in his own town. The BOL unanimously overrode the veto.
Further, all five Republicans on the board voted for the BOL budget because it provided twice the tax relief as the county executives proposed budget. The 247 overrides were budget lines in a budget with over 6,000 line items in it and accounted for less than 3/10ths of 1 percent of the budget. During our public hearings, people said they wanted tax relief, not Rob Astorinos budget.
Moving forward, the Board of Legislators has committed to no tax increase for 2012. I was astonished to hear the county executive say that he will submit a budget to the BOL in November that actually increases spending by 5 percent for next year.
Explain the HUD settlement and why you supported it.
The county housing settlement is more than 1 1/2 years ahead of schedule. By settling this complicated case, the county saved the taxpayers to exposure to $200-300 million in penalties, was capped at $52 million, provided important home rule protections and contained provisions whereby the monitor could actually waive some of the penalties. Further, the infrastructure limitations of northern Westchester prohibit the construction of any large-scale housing. County funding is the last funding into any housing deal, and cannot be passed unless all local approvals are in place. The income levels are exactly the same as workforce housing that currently exists in northern Westchester and local residents have an equal opportunity for the units as anyone else. Further, the County Board stands united with the county executive in opposing ADCs new lawsuit to re-engage in the settlement.
Your opponent wants county employees to begin contributing to their health benefit packages in order to reduce costs. Whats your take on this issue?
I have already pushed through legislation requiring non-represented county employees to contribute to their healthcare, saving the county millions. For the budget, everything should on the table and savings could come from many sources, healthcare contributions among them. Its up to the county executive to negotiate with the unions.
You have been known for your work on environmental issues. What legislation are you most proud of, and what environmental challenges is the county still facing?
Im proud of the groundbreaking deal that I negotiated between the towns, the DEC, and the county that will save municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Left to their own devices, towns would have had to hire additional building inspectors to inspect every septic system over a five-year period. Or, homeowners would have had to hire engineers to provide inspections. Under my plan, homeowners will only have the cost of a pump out every five years, something prudent septic system management dictates anyhow. My plan uses the existing county protocol, where private sector pumpers conduct normal pump outs and visual ground inspections. Reports are filed with the County Department of Health for follow up if need be.
The most pressing issue other than the budget will continue to be the high cost of environmental remediation in northern Westchester. The federal government used to fund 90 percent of the costs of clean water projects today it is 10 percent.
I am proud to have extended the $312, 500 IMA for Lewisboro, passed the release of $10 million for North Salem, as well as funding for Bedford and Somers to study their wastewater solution options. I am working hard in the subcommittee on septics with the County Department of Health, the state and New York City, to expand septic regulations to allow for expanded use of Enhanced Treatment Units in the watershed, as well as pilot use of decentralized systems hybrids of septic and sewer systems that are much less expensive to build and operate.
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