County Legislator candidates: Mary Jo Jacobs

JACOBSAge: 52
Political affiliation: Democratic nominee
Status: Challenger
Party endorsements: Working Families
Years in district: 25
Occupation: Consulting work, director in human resources and
facilities for 30 years.
Family: Husband Quentin; children Anne, 19, Brendan, 17, Andrew, 14, Gregory, 11.
Community involvement: Fifteen years in PTA; seven of them I was president of different PTAs. For three years as special education PTA president. Ran “We Are One” fundraiser. Co-chair of community resources and open space committee for rewriting of New Rochelle comprehensive plan.
One thing the average voter doesn’t know about you: “I was the first paper girl in Queens County.”

Q: What is your stance on the Sustainable Playland plan for the county-owned amusement park? Some concerned residents have cited traffic, parking and noise issues in connection with the 95,000 sq. foot indoor sports facility SPI has proposed within its Playland Improvement Plan.

A: I would want to vet and explore each of the plans that were given to us. I would want to make sure that the county is ensuring that property remains available to everyone and I think you need to get your community input to ensure that we are not creating more problems, but creating a facility that everyone can access and use in a way that is as possible as it can be. I do believe we should be looking at all of our options; I don’t think any of these things are a done deal and I’d like to go in with a fresh set of eyes.

Q: You have said that there were gaping holes in the 2013 budget and safety net programs. Explain how, from your perspective, those gaping holes came to be and what would you do to strengthen essential services while keeping taxes as low as possible?

A: I was disappointed with the way the budget was handled in 2013. There was $19 million that was bonded to pay back tax certioraris. Whether you’re the state comptroller or you’re working an accounting department, you don’t take out a bond to pay for predictable operating expenses. That’s adding interest to something that’s predictable and should have been part of the budget. There was $10 million taken out of social services. There has been, over the years, a 46 percent drop in senior services funding and an increase to [the price of] affordable daycare. The problem with that is the humanistic perspective, which is putting the burden on those that can least afford it, and then there’s the fiscal responsibility of creating a situation where you’re not encouraging people to work.

Q: How do you differ from your opponent on the affordable housing settlement? What direction do you think the county should go in?

A: A settlement was reached and we had an obligation to follow that settlement and, as a result of the obstructionist actions of my opponent and the Republican county executive, we now have $29 million of fines, penalties, court cases and lost community block grants. The lost community block grants have directly affected people in my district. A quarter of a million dollars has been lost in community block grants and money that has already been spent on things like sewer linings and a medical van. Now, that money has to be paid for; the municipalities have already spent that money and now they lost it. That money is going to come from the people that work in the municipalities, as far as I know. I’d like to know where that money is going to come from. In New Rochelle and in Tuckahoe, we had already met our obligations and now we are paying for this perceived federal overreach, which, frankly, isn’t significantly different than what has just happened in Washington D.C.

Q: What are some of your specific plans to deal with flooding?

A: We have to use the examples of what happened in Irene and Sandy and make sure we are preventing that kind of problem again. You have to work with your utility companies and your organizations to make sure people have the services they need during any kind of weather emergency. I would support whatever was really necessary to ensure that we don’t have the same kinds of problems that we’ve had in the past.

Q: Some residents were critical with the county executive’s decision to borrow money for the 2013 county budget to help keep taxes flat. Do you think this was a good idea?

A: No. You don’t bond $19 million to pay for predictable operating expenses like tax certioraris because all you’re doing is kicking the can down the road. It’s going to cost us interest when it didn’t need to. Within the budget that was passed by my opponent and others, there also is a continuation and an add-on to the Astorino appointments within the county government. I don’t know why those exist. That’s the kind of expense I’d look at closely and see if dollars could have been spent more effectively.

Q: How would you preserve county green space while also allowing for smart development to bring in extra revenue?

A: I think what you want to do is work with grass roots organizations and make sure all parties are being heard so that, when you’re talking to developers, you’re also talking to people like the New York League of Conservation Voters to make sure that we’re not only ensuring that there is open space, but that the open space remains protected so there isn’t run-off or other kinds of problems that can contaminate that space. I think it’s important to work with all parties. One thing that I’d like to see happen in Westchester County is to have regional business centers. Young people are getting their drivers licenses at a much lesser degree. I think Westchester County is very well positioned to create business centers that people can ride their bicycles to. I would like the development we do to be used to create business places and business centers where people can have their jobs and also work together to integrate or to network concepts while being a little bit closer to home. I think it would increase tax revenue as well and get more people on their feet while using the rail to see clients.

Q: If elected, what are your priorities?

A: It would be to manage the budget effectively and efficiently with an eye towards keeping taxes down and low to ensure the social services that we offer to our residents are effective and help to move people towards to self-sufficiency. And third would be to have a vision, be creative and engage with the people of Westchester County and find ways to increase and raise revenue; to save people and save municipalities money.

-Reporting by Ashley Helms