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From This Week’s Gazette

March 22, 2017

Reprinted with permission:

To the editor:
Two-term County Executive Rob Astorino’s big message is that he has not raised taxes in Westchester County.  But what is questionable about this message is the method.  Last November, Astorino announced a proposal to develop and privatize Westchester County Airport with Oaktree management, a company who specializes in distressed properties. This proposal was announced without seeking out bids from other companies, without a master plan published, and without a public hearing.  This proposal was done with no input from the public, particularly the residents around the airport who may have concerns about what an expanded airport would do to their property values and their quality of life with increased road traffic, flight patterns, and noise pollution.

What kind of shape is Westchester County in financially that Astorino would even consider doing this?  The only other privatized airport in the country is in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Stewart Airport in Newburgh got out of the privatized business.  The only reason that Astorino pursued such a proposal is to be able to factor the money from the deal into the county budget.  This money from Oaktree management company would be offered over the course of a 40-year lease.

This attempted deal seems to have been Astorino’s attempt to move forward on required airport restorations after other attempts have failed.  He may be trying to garner funds for the county in this manner because other county properties such as Sprain Ridge pool, Playland Amusement Park and other county parks have their much-needed repairs deferred or the property closed altogether.

Is this how Astorino keeps from raising Westchester taxes?  By trying to privately broker deals with companies who will then assume control of a county property and then be at liberty to expand and use the airport in ways that benefit their bottom line but not the needs and interests of Westchester residents?  What is happening in Astorino’s budget that he is resorting to attempting such deals to bring in cash? What will he try to sell next year to make up for any budget shortfalls? These are questions you should ask next time you hear “he has never raised taxes.” The answer to that question is that Astorino is relying on one-off schemes to make up for a lack of sound prudent financial management over the past two terms.

Bettina Mayer, Member of Croton in Action, Croton on Hudson

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