In an article published in Rockland Voice on February 18, 2015 titled ‘Is Something Rotten In Rockland County’s Sewer District No. 1‘ we asked why on the agenda for a meeting of the County Legislature in February there was a Public Hearing (Referral 5906) which stated that the legislators would receive comments from the public about “A Proposal to increase and improve the facilities of Rockland County Sewer District No. 1, consisting of construction of an 18,000 square foot building on a 6.7 acre property located at 294 NYS Route 304 in Congers to provide an Emergency Equipment Storage Building for use by the Town of Clarkstown as part of its “Pump Station and Collection System”.
The meeting was canceled and rescheduled to Tuesday, March 03, 2015 when it was again canceled because of the weather and is expected to come up before the legislature again in early April.
In the article we pointed out that the description of the purpose of the Public Hearing appeared to be completely misleading, if not completely false, given discussions that were held on this project in a Town of Clarkstown’s Workshop one year ago. Those discussions did not deal with a “pump station and collection system” for a sewer project – they dealt with Clarkstown Police Chief Sullivan’s need for a “minimal storage facility” to house police emergency response equipment.
RCSD#1 is governed by a 13 member Board of Commissioners serving at “the pleasure of the Legislature of Rockland County”. The list of individuals serving on the Board include its Chairman, Julius Graifman, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher P. St. Lawrence – Town of Ramapo, Vice-Chairman, Mayor Demeza Delhomme – Village of Spring Valley, Supervisor Alex Gromack – Town of Clarkstown, R.C. Legislator Aney Paul and Supervisor Andrew Stewart – Town of Orangetown. Legislator Aney Paul is the only member of the legislature who sits on the Sewer District Board.
After the article appeared we became aware that Legislator Hofstein had made calls to fellow Legislators for more information. Apparently in calls to Chairman Wolfe and Vice Chairman Hood Hofstein was told that neither of these legislators was familiar with the topic. We have also learned that Hofstein reached out to Legislator Aney Paul speaking to her on the afternoon of February 18th. Hofstein has confirmed to Rockland Voice that he asked Paul if she could confirm the validity of the claims made in the Rockland Voice article but that she refused comment. Asked why Sewer District No. 1 was proposing to fund a structure that would be used by the Clarkstown Police Department, Legislator Paul’s response was that it was “Ash Wednesday” and that she would call Hofstein later to discuss his question. Rockland Voice understands that Hofstein never received a call back but he and at least one other legislator did receive subsequent calls from two individuals associated with the Clarkstown police offering to explain the project to them. According to Hofstein he recommended to the Clarkstown callers that it would be best if a presentation was made to all seventeen legislators simultaneously. Rockland Voice believes that at least one of those calls was made to these legislators from Clarkstown’s Police Chief, Michael Sullivan.
In the previous Rockland Voice article we asked why the use of Sewer District No.1’s funds was being brought before a public hearing in a way that obscures the fact that their true expenditure will be on a project that has nothing to do with the primary function of the Sewer District? Further, we asked why the project was being ‘sold’ to Clarkstown residents as not costing anything because the Sewer District is paying for it? It is from the taxpayers that these funds have come, yet where is the justification for the use of their sewer taxes for the construction of Clarkstown’s Police Storage Facility?
Apparently, the smell has become so bad that the Chairman of the Sewer District, Julius Graifman, shown here in this picture from the website of Western Ramapo Sewers, reportedly resigned last week citing health reasons. This resignation follows – but may not be related to – an opinion provided by Harris Beach PLLC, Attorneys at Law, with offices in White Plains, NY, that the County Legislature may not lawfully approve the issuance of a bond to pay for the proposed Clarkstown Police facility. Rockland Voice has learned that the County Attorney, Thomas Humbach, asked for an opinion from the County’s bond counsel as to whether, under applicable state law and legal proceedings undertaken by Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 and the County Legislature pursuant to Article 5-A of the County Law, the proceeds of County bonds could be authorized by the County Legislature to finance the construction on an emergency storage facility in Clarkstown to house police equipment.
Harris Beach PLLC stated: Based on our review, it is our opinion that the proceeds of County bonds which may be issued pursuant to the bond resolution in Referral 5906 1.e may only be used to finance the Sewer District object or purpose as described in such resolution. It is also our opinion that the project Authorizations collectively restrict the use of the Project to the storage of vehicles and equipment to be used solely for sewer related emergencies.
Rockland Voice understands that this legal opinion from the County’s Bond Counsel was made known to the Chairman of the Legislature, Alden Wolfe, and to all of the other sixteen members of the County Legislature that any vote to authorize the Sewer District to bond the construction of a police storage facility in Clarkstown would be improper and illegal.
On WRCR Monday, March 02, 2015 Supervisor Gromack stated:
We were at a point where there was still some funding that the sewer district said they would certainly make available to the Town of Clarkstown to help since so much money has been expended in Ramapo. We said we have all of this emergency equipment that we have in the Town but we have nowhere to store it …. we said would you be willing to help with the funding of a new storage or an updated storage facility. They said yes, so they are going to make $2.5 million available for that for the primary purpose of storing emergency service equipment so it is out of the elements.
We were able to get a piece of property from United Water to build this and we will be going to the Public Service Commission with a land swop. United water needed some property from the Town for a well. So they will be turning that property over. It takes anywhere from 9 to 12 months to go through the Public Service Commission so we will end up owning the land and the building and again it is a perfect municipal use. This was signed off by the sewer district as they have signed off on all our inter-municipal agreements.
This isn’t the first one. We have had many over the last 20 years. The various attorneys and bond counsel go through this.
The legislature I believe has to give final approval. I’m just guessing – I’m not an expert on this – I think when this was probably done 20 or 30 years ago the State Legislature felt that on certain items an entity has to review it and sign off on it where we can do everything with the sewer district from minor contracts and this or that, that don’t have to go to the county legislature. I think what they said was for monetary things like our budget every year has to be reviewed and certified by the legislature when they do bonding or public works projects after it is reviewed by the sewer district and its attorneys and bond counsel it goes there for final ratification. So they will review it and I know it is very important to the Clarkstown Police to our sewer district because we have lots of emergency equipment that has multipurposes that can be used and right now we don’t have enough room. So it is certainly an investment protecting this valuable equipment which is millions of dollars when you think of these generators, these light stands and sewer pump trucks and other equipment that is important to all types of emergencies in the Town of Clarkstown. It is an emergency storage facility. It can have multiple uses of police emergency vehicles, sewer generators, light stands. It’s all been explained.
If one takes Supervisor Gromack’s statement at its face value that “this isn’t the first one -we have had many over the last 20 years ” it appears that a forensic audit of the Sewer District’s past bonding practices is now called for.
The following questions need to be addressed by the County Legislature which is charged with oversight of this Sewer District:
1) Is this the only Sewer District project for which a discrepancy exists between what Sewer District No. 1 was claiming to the County Legislature to be the purpose of proposed bonding and what was actually the true intention of the bond funds to be used in the Towns of Clarkstown and Ramapo?
2) Why was the Sewer District No. 1 proposing the issuance of a bond driving up property taxes when it has a reserve fund that appears to be over-funded and may be nothing more than a slush fund for the Towns of Ramapo and Clarkstown?
3) What individuals in any of the Towns of Clarkstown, Ramapo, and Orangetown, whose three supervisors sit on this sewer board, have received patronage jobs associated with Sewer District #1 and have any elected officials in Rockland County received compensation of any nature from this sewer district?
Clearly the $2.5 million rip-off of the County’s taxpayers that has now been avoided by the opinion of the County’s bond counsel, and the strange resignation of the Chairman of the Sewer District’s Board within days of this revelation, indicates that immediate oversight of this board and its actions is required to determine if indeed Something Is Rotten In Rockland County’s Sewer District No. 1.