Legislator Testa Secures Funding for Peekskill Youth Programs 

news12 parking lotsWestchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Minority Leader John G. Testa (R) Peekskill, was joined by his colleagues in passing legislation that authorized the County to enter into Inter-municipal agreements (IMA) with three Westchester cities for a total of $376,924 under the county’s “Invest in Kids” program. Under the agreement, the City of Peekskill will receive $69,231 of funding for its “Advancing Leadership Initiatives for Teens Program” (LIFT). The vote took place at the January 14th regular meeting of the BOL. The IMA terms provide for $245,000 to come from Westchester County and the remainder to be contributed by the municipalities.

The Legislation states that the various programs that will be funded throughout Westchester County, “…use positive youth development models to focus on providing opportunities for to actively acquire the skills and abilities needed to grow up to be competent, caring and healthy adult.”

Legislator John Testa retired in 2013 after a 33-year career as a Peekskill High School teacher. As a former teacher, Legislator Testa understands the importance of youth programs that give kids, especially at-risk kids healthy and constructive options for their time after school. “I was very happy to work with my legislative colleagues to secure these funds for Peekskill. I am very familiar with the LIFT Program and the excellent work that they do.” Legislator Testa said. “When I was a teacher, I saw first-hand how programs like LIFT improved the lives of many of my students. Summers and the after school hours are particularly dangerous times for kids who are unsupervised or who don’t have a strong family support system at home. The LIFT Program operates year-round which means that kids can build permanent and lasting relationships within our community even when school is not in session. This is an excellent investment in our youth and their future.”

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Statement from Minority Leader John Testa on “Ban the Box” Law

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Testa warns legislative agenda is “Death by a Thousand Cuts”
to Westchester County small businesses.

On Monday, December 4, 2018, my Democrat colleagues on the Board of Legislators (with the exception of one Democrat) passed a Local Law (by a 11-5 vote) that prohibits businesses in Westchester County from asking if a job applicant has been convicted of a serious crime. This legislation is an outrageous overreach into private business and a continuation of their assault on the small business community. I disagreed with County Executive Latimer when he ordered that the county will not ask about job applicants’ criminal history but I accept that it is his prerogative as the executive branch of our government to set those policies for county employment. But to legislate that private businesses can no longer establish their own standards for what type of character and integrity they require in an employee- using past criminal activity as a guide- is a disturbing level of government interference in private business.

BanTheBox2The legislation which has most often been called “ban the box” (referring to a box that must be checked on a job application related to criminal convictions) the current legislation has had a few name changes as the laws sponsors sought to make it sound like some moral imperative. Another name that the sponsors tried was “Fair Chance to Work Act”. They finally arrived at the current title, “Local Law to Prohibit Discrimination based on one’s criminal conviction”. Thankfully we have a number of federal employment protections for job applicants like race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. These are protected classes because they are characteristics not indicators of character.  An individual who has committed a criminal act is not a member of a protected class and therefore a small business owner is not practicing discrimination if they choose to disqualify those applicants, this legislation also requires employers- who may have any number of applicants for a position to offer a ‘written analysis’ to job applicants if they are not hired. This is an affront to the notion of private enterprise.

New York State has long held the dubious distinction as the most inhospitable environment for small businesses in the United States. Unfortunately, since taking control of the Board of Legislators last year, after four years of bipartisan cooperation, my Democrat colleagues have embraced this anti-business posture in a series of legislative actions that hurt small businesses and put them at a competitive disadvantage in our region. Dictating what should be the purview of private business decisions like forcing small businesses with as few as 5 part-time employees to pay for sick leave will have a profound impact on a small business. (our request to negotiate a compromise that would exclude businesses with less than 10 employees was ignored) The sponsors of the paid sick leave must have understood the law’s negative impact since they excluded Westchester County from following the paid sick leave law for hourly county employees.

BanTheBox1Other legislative overreach into private business practices include legislation that prohibits small business owners from asking about a prospective employees prior salary, dictating application processes to private residential cooperative building associations, proposed red light cameras that will put further strain on commerce- especially Westchester County retail businesses, passing legislation that raises licensing fees for independent home improvement contractors both now and again in a year by almost 50%.

I am all for giving individuals a second chance, it has been a mantra of mine my entire adult life as an educator and elected official and many business owners do the same as a matter of choice. To legislate and force business to ignore criminal records of a prospective employee is overreaching at its worst.

Small businesses are the real engine of employment in our county and I believe a continuation of this near-sighted agenda will result in a “Death by a Thousand Cuts” for some those businesses. It will also make it far more difficult for economic development organizations in our business community to attract and retain the critical small and mid-size businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy. It will cost jobs and further inhibit the success of local small businesses.

While social activism is an important function in society and the Democrats on the BOL have absolute control of the legislative agenda, handing over the reins of the legislative branch to social activists must be balanced against the needs of those who keep our economy going, the risk takers, the employers and entrepreneurs of Westchester County.

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The Hudson Valley Gateway Region: The Cradle of America

Thank you to the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce for asking me to submit this piece about the importance of local history in their 2018-19 Annual Member Booklet:

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Legislator Testa Announces Rehabilitation of Washington Street in Peekskill

Wash St repaving map

Minority Leader John Testa (Peekskill, Cortlandt, Yorktown) announced the passage of nearly $3 million in funding for the rehabilitation of Washington Street in Peekskill. The Westchester county Board of Legislators voted unanimously on Monday October 1. 2018 to approve the project.

A bond act for $2,960,000 was approved to repair the 1.23-mile span of Washington Street between Welcher Avenue and South Street. The newly approved funds are an addition to an early bond act for $330,000 that was used to design the project. The Washington Street rehab work will include milling, resurfacing, crack repair, replacement or adjustment of utility castings, concrete curb replacement, installation of handicap ramps, new traffic loops, and new pavement markings.

This section of Washington Street supports almost 3,000 vehicles per day and received a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) rating of 55 in 2016 and has continued to deteriorate. The PCI is a rating system based on a 0-100 score.  A condition rating of zero indicates that the road requires reconstruction.  A score of 100 indicates that the road is new. Based on the PCI rating of 55, this section of roadway requires structural rehabilitation to extend the life of the roadway.

Following the vote, Legislator Testa said, “I’ve been advocating for the rehabilitation of Washington Street for several years. The planning phase for this project began back in June of 2016 and I am glad to say that we are finally ready to begin the work. This section of Washington Street is an important roadway and is badly in need of repairs. When the project is finished, Washington Street will be in excellent condition and will be set to serve the people of Peekskill for decades to come.”

The Washington Street project follows a multi-year focus by Legislator Testa to rehabilitate county owner infrastructure across Northern Westchester that has been neglected and in need of repairs and upgrades for decades. Over the last four years, the county owned portions of Crompond Road/Rt. 202 and Main Street/Rt. 6 have been completely rehabilitated. The Washington Street project will bring the total amount of roadwork done to nearly 6 miles. Major upgrades have been completed in Blue Mountain Reservation and George’s Island Park. Additional upgrades are scheduled to begin at George’s Island in the spring.

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Legislator Testa, Colleagues Approve County Police School Resource Officers

Lakeland gets two elementary school officers in addition to the one in Panas HS.
Hendrick Hudson High School gets one SRO, the first for the district.

IMG_1643The Westchester County Department of Public Safety will be providing a total of four police officers to serve as School Resource Officers (SRO) in the Lakeland and Hendrick Hudson School Districts. The positions were created through an amendment to an existing intermunicipal agreement (IMA) which adds three new SRO’s where the existing IMA previously provided one SRO at Walter Panas High School. The newly created SRO positions were approved at the Board of Legislators meeting on September 17, 2018 by a unanimous 16-0 vote.

The new SRO positions were created at the request of the Lakeland and Hendrick Hudson School District Superintendents and supported by County Legislator John Testa. One of the new SRO’s will be assigned to the Hendrick Hudson School District at their High School. The other two additional SRO’s will be assigned to the Lakeland School District at the Van Cortlandtville Elementary School and the Lincoln Titus Elementary School. The new SRO’s will begin immediately with the two new elementary school positions continuing through the last day of school in 2021. The IMA for the Hendrick Hudson SRO runs through the last day of school in 2023.

IMG_1638The SRO’s are critical positions in our schools that provide community policing benefits for children and law enforcement. Establishing familiarity and trust with law enforcement at an early age is especially important for kids who are at risk. SRO activities include deescalating potentially violent situations in an emergency, preventing and investigating criminal activities, preventing juvenile delinquency, working with educators and administrators on programs to prevent drug abuse and most importantly to serve as a role model and source of positive input and mentoring to our youth.

The four SRO positions will be fully funded by the school districts through annual payments by the school district to the county. When school is not in session, the SRO staff will be assigned to patrolling Westchester County’s vast parks system during the busy summer season.

Following the vote, Legislator Testa who is a retired teacher from the Peekskill school district said, “I am grateful to my colleagues for joining me in support of this intermunicipal agreement. We have no more valuable asset in our communities than our children and it is imperative that we provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment in which they can pursue academics as well as the important social and civic responsibilities that they will use for the rest of their lives. We have seen the tremendous benefits that having School Resource Officers as a daily presence in Walter Panas High School and I know that our younger kids will benefit from those relationships as well.”

* All schools receiving these SRO personnel are located within the Town of Cortlandt, which does not have its own police force and is patrolled by the Westchester County Police.
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Independence Day!

Below is an article I was asked to write for the Cortlandt Living Magazine July 2018 edition. They wanted a short piece showing some of the important events associated with July 4th other than being Independence Day, especially local connections.

fourth-postcardFBIt is officially known as Independence Day but more commonly referred to by its date, the Fourth of July. The birth of American Independence in 1776 has been celebrated ever since becoming a federal holiday in 1870. The day has brought us together with our families and communities to celebrate the freedom and liberties we enjoy because of the events and people who enabled those freedoms. Thanks to such organizations as the Peekskill Volunteer Fire Department, we have historically celebrated with a tradition of an annual parade and fireworks display. We look back fondly of our time growing up, watching or participating in those parades and the family cookouts that followed.Fire Dept_Parade
Over time, many important tidbits of history can be associated with the July 4th date. Some with close local connections. Incredibly, three founding fathers and past presidents passed away on this date. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and James Monroe in 1831, who was also a continental soldier in the Revolutionary War.

While the Declaration was being signed and the Continental Army being mobilized, Fort Hill in Peekskill was a key base for Washington to defend the Hudson River and develop military strategy. Eventually, West Point served that purpose, which became the focus of the Benedict Arnold conspiracy. On July 4, 1802, West Point Military Academy was founded.

New York made history by abolishing slavery on July 4, 1827 and setting the stage for what would become a great Civil War between the states. One of the pivotal battles of that war was in Gettysburg, PA. After three days of bloody fighting, on July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia retreated from the battle. A number of the 700 Town of Cortlandt/Village of Peekskill area soldiers participated in that battle.

The Statue of Liberty, a symbol for freedom and independence, was deeded as a gift from France on July 4, 1884. At the statue’s dedication two years later, famous area resident and orator Chauncey Depew gave a lengthy speech celebrating the day. He clearly saw the significance of the moment and praised the cooperation of countries that made it possible. Originally known as The Bartholdi Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty officially became a U.S. National Monument in 1924 and has been the responsibility of the national parks Service since 1933.

Above all, the symbol for Independence Day has been the stars and stripes of the American Flag. As kids, we made sure we had special devices attached to our bike’s handlebars holding an array of mini-flags and our tire spokes were threaded with red, white and blue crepe paper as we rode up and down the streets following the parade. There was also the sight of most houses displaying a flag on the 4th of July or any other appropriate holiday.  It was and still should be a simple way to show admiration and appreciation for living in such a wonderful country and it is an important way to say thank you to those men and woman who have served and continue to serve our country in the military. It is our responsibility to continue the tradition of decorating and displaying the American flag on Independence Day, for us and for our children.  Let’s make sure our way of life is not taken for granted. We should enjoy a day of celebration, yet never forget why we celebrate.

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Legislator Testa Announces $4 Million in Upgrades at George’s Island Park

News12 5_2018Legislator John Testa (Cortlandt/Peekskill/Yorktown)) was joined by his Legislative colleagues on Monday, May 21, 2018 in unanimously passing a Bond Act in the amount of $3,940,000 for major rehabilitation work at George’s Island Park in Montrose. The Legislation was an amendment to a previous Bond Act in the amount of $210,000 which was for the design phase of the George’s Island project.

Some elements of the rehab include design and construction of two playgrounds and picnic areas which will replace the existing ones. The new playgrounds will conform to current accessibility standards. Another major element of the project will be the rehabilitation of the boat launching docks which were last renovated nearly twenty years ago. The sanitary septic systems which service the comfort station buildings will be completely rebuilt. The septic system is a critical piece of the Island’s infrastructure in protecting the Hudson River. The funding will also allow for the restoration of the peninsula shoreline, drainage work, landscaping and other associated site work. The work will take approximately 1 year from beginning to end and will start once the bidding and contracts process is completed.

Following the passage of the Bonding Legislator Testa, who was a member of Westchester County’s Parks Board from 2012 to 2018, said “George’s Island park is a really wonderful part of Westchester County’s parks system and I am very happy to see this rehabilitation project coming to fruition. My family and I have made a lot of memories and had a lot of fun at George’s Island over the years- as have many Westchester families. As a Legislator and a former member of the Parks Board I feel very fortunate to be a steward of our parks which contribute so much to our quality of life here in Westchester County.”

About George’s Island Park- George’s Island Park is a 208-acre waterfront park offering magnificent views of the historic Hudson River. It contains tidal wetlands, a fresh water pond and wooded trails and provides boat access to the Hudson River as well as areas for nature study and picnicking. In winter, it is a favored spot for viewing eagles on the Hudson. A trail network links it to the Hudson River Greenway. This park has archaeological significance and sensitive natural areas, especially along the shoreline.

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Existing Boat Launch

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Existing Pavillion

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Existing Playground

 

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