The Valhalla School district voted to settle a lawsuit with the town of Greenburgh last night and will pay the town $1.1 million over a nine year period (with about half of the settlement being paid during the first two years). The lawsuit was filed after the NYS Comptroller's office determined that the town was prohibited from directly giving the school district $650,000 a year from revenues we received from the WESTHELP homeless facility--which is located in the school district. The Greenburgh Town Board will vote to support the settlement at a special meeting this coming Tuesday.
In 2004, when the Town Board unanimously voted to enter into the WESTHELP partnership with the Mayfair Knollwood community the goal was to persuade the neighborhood to accept homeless housing in their community. 108 homeless individuals were provided with transitional services. Maria Cuomo Cole, sister of Andrew Cuomo (who built WESTHELP) offered to close the facility (which had provided services to the community for a decade) UNLESS the neighborhood supported continuing WESTHELP. The Town Board, WESTHELP, Westchester County, Mayfair Knollwood civic association all agreed that the partnership was a win/win. The county would be able to help the homeless by keeping a shelter operational. WESTHELP was able to keep their promise to the community by staying in the community only if the community supported the facility. Residents of the Mayfair Knollwood community received benefits for their children and the school district was able to offer residents programs that they would not otherwise receive. A non binding vote of residents of Mayfair/Knollwood was taken before the agreement was signed. 90 people voted yes. 2 voted no. Attorney's for the county, WESTHELP and town reviewed the contract. We all thought that the agreement was legal. This agreement would have been legal if it had been structured differently--if WESTHELP had sent the school district a check directly the agreement could have continued.
Greenburgh, after receiving a directive from the State Comptroller's office to stop paying Valhalla the annual payments, complied with the directive. The school district sued the town trying to enforce the agreement. The Town Board and I authorized Robert Bernstein and Herb Rosenberg to intervenue in the lawsuit (without compensation). A countersuit was filed seeking reimbursement of the funds. Last year State Supreme court Justice Nicholas Colabella directed that the school district return over $1.8 million to the town.
Although Herb Rosenberg, Robert Bernstein and I have had some disagreements in the past, I am appreciative of their efforts helping the town and school district reach a fair settlement. This settlement is manageable for the school district. Had the school district appealed the case and lost - their financial exposure would have been much greater: they could have been forced to pay the town much more ($1.8 million plus interest). And, they would not had 9 years to pay the town the dollars owed to us. They would also have had to pay significant legal fees.
I am also pleased that the school district and town will be able to put this dispute behind us. We can now work together to enhance the quality of life of children living in our town.
_ PAUL FEINER