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”.
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.
We also made clear that a proposal to add $2.5 million of additional debt to the taxpayers property taxes through Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 to build a police storage shed in Clarkstown was possibly both improper and illegal due to the co-mingling of the use of sewer department funds for purposes not sewer-related.
On Tuesday, April 7 three Democratic Town Board members – Supervisor Gromack, Deputy Supervisor Lasker, and Councilwoman Hausner – were present accompanied by Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan and Conservative Party Chairman Clarkstown’s Clerk of the Works, Ed Lettre, to watch the County Legislature vote to increase taxpayers’ debt at the request of Supervisor Gromack. Also present were Gromack’s Chief of Staff, John Sullivan, and Kristen Stavisky, Chairwoman of the Rockland County Democratic Party. Gromack may now claim that he has not raised taxes on Clarkstown’s taxpayers while actually doing so by the ruse of raising their taxes through the Rockland County Sewer District No. 1.
Before the vote, three residents detailed how this project had been sold to Clarkstown’s taxpayers as a tactical police garage yet was sold to the County Legislature as a sewer garage. One of the speakers read a letter from Karen Amatuzzo, who had worked with Supervisor Gromack through the past year which stated:
I have provided a package of information to each member of the legislature related to this project about its funding and our concerns. As a resident of Clarkstown and a taxpayer I am upset, disappointed and disgusted that Supervisor Gromack wasted eight months of my time.
He represented himself as bringing together stakeholders and he arranged several meetings with my husband, myself, and numerous Town personnel including members of the Clarkstown Police Department, the Town Board, a private architect, Town Environmental staff and the Town Attorney.
We met several times and also exchanged emails, phone calls involving countless hours discussing a proposal for a storage facility to house the Clarkstown Police Department’s emergency response equipment.
Imagine our shock to find out that this project was not what we were told it was for over the last eight months. According to the Rockland County Sewer District this storage facility will quote ‘house vehicles, trucks and miscellaneous equipment used by the town of Clarkstown to maintain their sewer lines and to respond to sewer-related emergencies’.
Why would taxpayers be told one thing and you the legislators who are approving the funding be told something totally different? Perhaps it is being presented to each party in the light in which it will get the support needed to advance this non-essential and over-priced project.
Since the Town of Clarkstown, the County of Rockland, nor the Sewer Department do not have the money to pay for this 19,000 sq. ft. facility they are asking you to vote to approve funding through the issuance of a $2.5 million bond. We, the taxpayers, will be required to repay this bond and the additional $2 million in interest. We implore you to ask these same questions about these concerns and vote NO on this questionable project with it even more questionable funding stream.
Jim Flynn of Nanuet pointed out that something was financially very improper going on with this proposal and asked the legislature to do what any sports team might do and call a ‘time-out’ to fully examine the materials that had been provided to them. He pointed out that this bond was shading the law and that the legislators needed to step back and take a second look at what was being proposed. Flynn pointed out that taxpayers funds collected by the Sewer Board was not the place to go when politicians needed a couple of million dollars.
During the legislators remarks Grant and Schoenberger, in their finest legalese intonated that the proposal should sail through because the formal documents in front of the legislature were signed by the County Executive, Ed Day and the County Attorney, Thomas Humbach. The statements intimated that the proposals were being submitted with the assurance of both Day and Humbach that what the legislators proposed to vote on was legal and proper and had their approval.
Republican Legislator Carey said he had very great concerns about the project and would vote against it since he was misled by the purpose of the funding and it appeared to be illegal to co-mingle sewer and police department needs. He quoted legal opinions that it was illegal to use sewer department funds for other than sewer district purposes.
Republican Legislator Hofstein stated that members of the public were demanding a forensic audit of the Sewer Department’s books in view of other questionable expenditures and lost court cases costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. He too stated he would vote NO.
The final opposing voice was Democrat Legislator Meyers who stated that he had concerns about the inter-mingling of funds between taxing authorities which was not healthy but which now seemed to be a routine feature of County operations.
Legislator Cornell pointed out that Supervisor Gromack had written a letter to the Legislature stating that the police department would not place any of its equipment in the new building which begged the question of why the Police Chief, in his official uniform, sat beside Supervisor Gromack throughout the proceeding if his department had no interest in the proposed bond vote.
On the roll call the bond was passed by a vote of 13 to 3 with one absentee, Legislator Sparaco. Three Republicans voted with the Democrat majority in the legislature. These were Murphy, Maroney, and Jobson. Murphy is not running again which is not surprising given he nodded off during most of the meeting. Maroney and Jobson were presumably so scared of not receiving the one-man-band Conservative Party line in November handed out by Lettre to his puppets, that they voted against their own Republican caucus to spend another $2.5 million of taxpayers’ money and send the Conservative Party Chairman home happy. Lettre just happens to be Clarkstown’s $180,000+ Clerk of the Works.