Just days after the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted down his proposal to empower a Local Development Corporation (LDC) for financing, County Executive Robert Astorino announced that he is pressing forward with having it issue bonds to non-profit groups.
Astorino made his announcement Monday at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, reiterating his support for having the LDC give access to a tax-exempt bond issue that will enable NWH to pay for a $36 million project to build six new operating rooms and 13 accompanying beds designated for care before and after treatment.
“When government has the tools to respond to the needs of citizens and businesses, it has an obligation to do that," Astorino said. "Otherwise it’s government malpractice, and we will not let the process get bogged down in politics when there are jobs and the economy at stake.”
Astorino was joined by regional business leaders and NWH officials who gave their backing for the LDC. The hospital is seeking to revamp its surgical space as part of a long-term capital plan to overhaul the Wallace Pavilion section of its building, with is roughly 40 years old. The work is in addition to construction of a new parking garage meant to accomodate more vehicles, which is slated for a spring 2013 completion.
“We are a surgical hospital and having state-of-the-art operating rooms for our surgeons is of utmost priority," said Hatsy Vallar, an official from NWH. She described the LDC financing as essential for the process, and noted that large capital projects are too expense to pay for through the normal operating budget process.
The argument between Astorino and legislature Democrats over an LDC comes down to a legal dispute over which branch can do what. Democrats argue that Astorino cannot exercise unilateral authority to issue bonds, claiming that the County Charter gives that power to the Board of Legislators. Astorino wholeheartedly disagrees with the assertion.
Talking to reporters, Astorino noted that he got a legal opinion from LDC bond counsel firm Nixon Peabody, declaring that moving forward unilaterally is lawful.
"There is no requirement in Section 1411(a) (of the Not-for-profit Corporation law) that requires the legislative body of a municipality to consent to the creation of a local development corporation by the chief executive," the firm's opinion reads, according to a press release from Astorino's office.
Astorino argues that his plan as a good move, one that will help create jobs in healthcare and construction, and improve the quality of care at NWH.
Board of Legislators' Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah), whose district includes NWH, blasted Astorino's legal argument. He said that while he would like to financially support the hospital, "the problem is you have to do it legally."
Harckham also argues that Astorino's iteration of an LDC will give him too much oversight and not enough checks and balances. He also felt that his version is "completely at odds" with a 2011 report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, which called for reigning in LDC's. In addition, Harckham noted that he is backing his own legislation, along with Democratic Legislators Mike Kaplowitz and Catherine Borgia, for LDC creation. His proposal, Harckham argues, will address the issues of concern.
For now, at least, it does not appear that the Democrats will file a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the move.
"Weill, i think it's premature," said Thomas Staudter, a spokesman for the Democrats, who anticipates Legislators' Chairman Ken Jenkins reaching out to Astorino on the issue.
Another topic that came up during the press conference is who is on the hook in the event on the financing going sour. Astorino maintains that the non-profit enity that receives the funding, in this case NWH, is responsible and not the taxpayers. Staudter is skeptical of this assessment, arguing that there is no legislation for that process.
"Just because he said it doesn't make it so."
Astorino said the LDC was launched in January. This summer, his office announced that NWH had been selected as among the first groups in the county that would get LDC funding.