Foot-dragging by County Executive Astorino Kept “Smoke House” Out of Service
White Plains, NY – Several Democratic members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) were pleased to learn that the Burn Building (a.k.a “Smoke House”) located in the Department of Emergency Services (DES) fire training yard at the County’s Valhalla Campus in the Town of Mount Pleasant was finally re-opened today after being out of service for the past two years.
In November 2011, the BOL voted unanimously to amend the County 2011 Capital Budget and approve a Bond Act for $550,000 to fund masonry and structural repairs, plus drainage repairs, restoration and exterior site work for the Smoke House, which was taken out of service in November 2010 after a concrete ceiling at the facility had collapsed.
Several members of the BOL expressed serious concern last fall, however, that County Executive Robert P. Astorino had dragged his feet in requesting funding for the Smoke House. Even though the facility had been closed for a year, the County Executive failed in late 2010 to include Smoke House repairs in the proposed 2011 Capital Budget, and didn’t add money for the repairs in early 2011 either.
“Here’s another example of the County Executive stalling on infrastructure investments,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “When it comes to funding items related to public safety, there should be no hesitation. Our firefighters need proper training facilities, or our residents and business owners stand to be at risk.”
The Astorino Administration called for the elimination of the Department of Emergency Services in 2010, which may have been why funding was not pursued for the Smoke House initially. Jenkins noted that the Administration has stalled work on dozens of capital projects as a matter of principle, including the Fulton Avenue Drawbridge, which is now closed. “On one hand, the Administration keeps saying the County is running out of money, but with over $130 million in unrestricted fund balance, that’s just not true,” said Jenkins. “If Westchester can afford to give millions in tax credits to businesses and corporations, then it should be able to spend wisely on needed safety and infrastructure projects.”
While the Smoke House was in disrepair, firefighters from around Westchester used a training facility in Rockland County. A request for Smoke House repair funding from the County Executive finally came in July 2011.
“County Executive Astorino has taken credit for a 2.2% decrease in the 2011 tax levy that he vetoed, so why shouldn’t he take credit for the Smoke House repairs that he stalled?” remarked BOL Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon).
Even before the ceiling collapse of the Smoke House in October 2010 there was concern that excessive spalling of wall and ceiling materials, caused by wear and tear from the training exercises and use of water through the facility, was leading to rapid disrepair. Two BOL committees requested that John Hsu, then Commissioner of Westchester County’s Department of Public Works, answer questions about the Smoke House repairs, but the County Executive would not make him available for testimony.
On November 24, 2010, a full report detailing the repairs needed to the Smoke House was sent to the Department of Public Works.
“It is clear that County Executive was not going to fix the Smoke House until it was nearly falling down,” said LegislatorBill Ryan (D-White Plains). “Sadly, too many capital projects around Westchester are being neglected by the Administration. If the Board had gotten all the information necessary to move the project forward when we asked for, the work could have been completed last year.”