The issue came to light in 2009 when David Spano, the son of then Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, called for the abolishment of Westchester County government via the elimination of concurrent jurisdiction. The dissent, however, was small, drawing about a dozen people in front of an obscure office building in downtown White Plains, New York. In fact, a push to get parking meters in town to accept credit cards made a bigger political splash. Days later, the minor hoopla died down and Westchester County government resumed operating without a hitch. Things probably didn’t go as smoothly at the Spano residence. To this day, I wouldn’t be surprised if meatballs were hurled in a “food fight” between father and son over the dinner table.
In the crosshairs of the junior Spano was one of the County’s largest practitioners of municipal overlapping, law enforcement, and redundancy I experienced first hand when I got into a fender bender on an approach ramp to the Cross County Parkway in Yonkers. It was a minor accident, barely worth stopping for; the first to arrive on-te-scene were the Yonkers Police Department (YPD). They blocked the ramp, turned on their lights, asked if everyone was okay; summoned the usual: licenses, registrations, and insurance cards. Then the Westchester County Police Department (WCPD) showed up, and when they got the accident rundown from the YPD, they did their own inquiry to make sure proper procedures were being followed. Then, out of nowhere, the New York State Police Department (NYSPD) came to the rescue! For what? I had no idea. What I did know was if Sergeant Joe Friday showed me his badge I wouldn’t have been surprised. Finally, when a Deputy Sheriff from God knows where joined the law enforcement agents’ party it made me wonder if the car I hit was registered to ISIS.
Later on, as the police socialized, the surplus of police made me wonder what I’d have to do for whom if I ever got pulled over for drunk driving. Would I have to walk one line for the City, another for the County, then cap it all off with a pirouette for the State? Or maybe I’d have to recite the alphabet forward for the City and in reverse for the County. And whom would I touch my nose for? Just thinking about it made me feel tipsy and I didn’t even have any wine with dinner.
An hour later, after Copland closed down, the traffic jam caused by all the police cars greatly outweighed the severity of the small dent I put in the Chevy Lumina in front of me, and ultimately proved the County had some belt-tightening to do when it came to their police departments.
The fire departments in our County are also redundant, particularly in their chains of command. I noticed the overlapping at the Katonah Fire Department
Carnival in July, and the pecking order was stunning: Fire Chiefs, A-Shift Battalion Chiefs, B-Shift Battalion Chiefs, Fire Wardens, Deputy Fire Wardens, Fire Engine Lieutenants, Deputy Fire Engine Lieutenants, Fire Engine Captains, Fire Prevention Captains, Fire Training Officers and enough Assistants everywhere to put out the Texas City Oil Fire – twice. And I haven’t even mentioned the actual firefighters present yet, who, if you added them to the fire brass, made you hope there weren’t any fires burning in Westchester County. Moreover, all the fire executives were wearing ‘old-time’ fire department uniforms. Their formal wear, I guess. But the vestments made them look like the firefighters in “Ragtime” making one infer they still put out fires with bucket lines. A surplus of insignias also dotted the outfits, and at first, they weren’t an issue. I myself often sport a tie clip and cufflinks to be dapper. But the fire royalty were wearing so many gold-plated bars, stars and bugles I wondered if any of the heroic bling was for sale.
Municipal redundancy is costly. Yet equally draining tax revenues in Westchester County are the police and fire department pensions, especially when cops and fireman “game the system” via overtime, padding up their retirement like a tufted booth in Las Vegas. It’s gotten to the point where many cops in Yonkers have pensions upwards of 200K a year, a ridiculous amount that makes you wonder why McGruff , The Crime Dog, hasn’t retired yet.
If the police and fire departments want exorbitant retirements, fine. But let’s lay down some ground rules: for fireman seeking a pension over 50K a year, they would have needed to save at least ten babies in their career (with five being dropped from windows). For cops seeking the same retirement income, they would’ve had to collar more perks than Starsky & Hutch – and I’m talking about all five seasons the show aired. It’s a fair deal, and the least citizens should get in exchange for retired cops and firemen living the Life of Riley.
Regardless of the financial excesses in the police and fire departments in Westchester County, change will not come soon to either. Legacy employment makes it difficult to eliminate jobs and reduce pensions, especially when the workers involved risk their lives for others on a daily basis. And in spite of the redundancies, there are still affluent people in the County who are willing to pay a premium for the level of extra services provided. But, as usual, the extravagance falls on the backs of the poor via the curtailing of social services.
Today, if any budget cuts were to take place in our County, I’d make sure the Domestic Violence and Abuse Hotline remains in place. There are still under-the-radar grumblings to get rid of Westchester County government, and the Spano household members presently elected r appointment might one day have to make that all important call.
Dante Liberatore is a writer/documentary filmmaker residing in Westchester County. He has had several comedic screenplays optioned in Hollywood, and his movies have won numerous awards at film festivals. His current project, “Abbondanza”, a comedic documentary about Little Italy in The Bronx, will premier at the Yonkers Film Festival. Direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org.