Westchester taxpayers are bracing themselves following the release today of US Attorney Preet Bharara’s demand that County Executive Rob Astorino comply with the federal fair-housing settlement, which Astorino has fought ever since taking office in 2010.
County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, D-Greenburgh, said the intervention of Bharara – the region’s highest ranking federal prosecutor – has brought the case to a new level of seriousness. And the county’s continuing defiance, she said, could spell bad news for Westchester taxpayers.
“Taxpayers could be in for a world of hurt,” she said. “And I’m very worried.”
Shimsky said she hopes Astorino changes course, and decides to comply.
“Sometimes takes different level of trauma to reach people,” she said. “The county executive has gotten so many warnings, he may not even take them seriously at the point.”
By late afternoon, Astorino’s office had yet to issue a statement responding to the federal demand, which was made on Friday, April 19, but only made public on Tuesday.
Tax Watch warned of the potential federal action two weeks ago, as the county executive continued his defiance of the consent decree signed by his predecessor, Andy Spano, in 2009.
Astorino has until Thursday to send down source-of-income legislation to the Board of Legislators that he will agree to sign. In the past, Astorino has insisted he would never sign such a law, which would prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants whose rent was paid in part by federal housing vouchers.
Bharara said he would seek intervention by the federal court to compel Astorino to comply, which would include a contempt ruling, which could come with substantial fines.
News of the federal action comes as Astorino prepares to deliver his State of the County address this evening in White Plains. Last April, he assailed the federal government for its position on what it would take to satisfy the consent decree.
Edgemont civic leader Bob Bernstein, who has provided the county Board of Legislators with his analysis of the WestHELP housing issue, said Astorino needs to comply, or expect major ramifications.
“He doesn’t have a lot of choice, or the county could face financial penalties for contempt of court,” he said. “If he continues to refuse to comply, the full force of the federal government could come down on the county. That’s what happens when the government signs an agreement with a party, and then the other side refuses to comply.”
Photo/ David McKay Wilson