Rockland’s Taxpayers Stiffed Again By Legislature

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What would you do if you were deeply in debt, your expenditures were outrunning your income and your annual deficit was driving you further into debt but you had a very valuable piece of machinery?  The machinery in question is being underutilized by a huge amount and your neighbor has just asked you if he could pay you a very large sum of money to share that asset?

It’s a metphorical ‘no-brainer’ you might say but can you believe that five legislators who are apparently literal ‘no brainers’ voted down a similar proposal?

On March 28, 2014 Laura Incalcaterra writing in the Journal News said:

Tuxedo Reserve/Farms is a planned community of 1,195 mixed housing units in the town of Tuxedo in Orange County. The project runs along the Rockland border in Sloatsburg. The development and the hamlet of Tuxedo want to connect to Rockland County Sewer District No. 1’s Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hillburn. Madden said the plant has the capacity, that the sewer district is about to start sewer main construction along Route 17 to the Sloatsburg-Tuxedo line, and that it made good sense environmentally to eliminate Tuxedo’s plant in favor of having the Hillburn plant solely treat and discharge the output. This would bring a $2 million payment into Rockland County’s general fund.

But in a county as debt-ridden, financially insolvent, and with the fourth highest property taxes in the whole of the United States, exceeding those of Beverly Hills, who needs a couple of million bucks to process some sewer water? Apparently, according to five ‘no-brainer’ legislators it’s not the Rockland County taxpayers.

On his website County Executive Day wrote in an April 16, 2014 article entitled ‘Tuxedo Reserve: What It Could Mean For Rockland County’:

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Tuxedo Reserve and exactly what the residential housing development in Orange County means for the people of Rockland County. Developers have told me their plan is to build nearly 1,200 single-family homes, condominiums and townhouses on 1,200 acres of land in the Town of Tuxedo, just across the Sloatsburg border. Representatives of the builder, Related Companies, have also communicated their strong desire to connect to the Rockland County’s new wastewater treatment plant in Hillburn.

Any decision to allow the developers to hook into our wastewater facility rests solely with our Legislature via initiation of a local law. As County Executive, I have no authority to initiate the connection. Going forward, I would urge members of the Planning and Public Works Committee and full Legislature to carefully review all available information for the facts. Much is at stake here, particularly when weighed against our fragile financial picture.

My office is not advocating for or against the wastewater connection. What we DO support is that we seriously consider and weigh the potential for millions of dollars coming into the County, with no potential harm to the landscape of western Ramapo and no stress to our treatment facility. Moreover, the one-time payment of $2 million will go toward deficit reduction, as we continue to grapple with a $145 million budget hole.

Sloatsburgvillage.com reported what the legislators did with Day’s suggestion ….

During the Rockland County Legislature’s Tuesday evening, June 24, 2014 Planning & Public Works Committee meeting, County Executive Day asked the committee to set a date for a Public Hearing related to “premises located outside the geographical boundaries of the county of Rockland” connecting to the Rockland County Sewer District 1, which has an Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hillburn, NY. Day’s proposal was that there should be a public hearing on a local law that would allow Tuxedo Farms to connect to Rockland sewers. The Committee voted against the proposed Public Hearing by a 5-2 vote, with Legislators Douglas Jobson and Patrick Moroney voting for the measure while Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, Chairman of the Planning & Public Works Committee and Legislator Alden H. Wolfe, Chairman of the County Legislature with three others voted against.

With this action the taxpayers of Rockland County were given no opportunity to voice their opinions in a public hearing on this proposal which could have saved them several millions of dollars. Here are County Executive Day’s remarks concerning this issue in comments on WRCR when speaking to Steve Possell, June 26, 2014.

Audience Question: Can you talk a little bit about the development known as ‘Tuxedo Preserve’ specifically the issue of the Sewer District and Rockland County’s ability to earn some money from that development?

County Executive Day: To get this straight we have to go back maybe 12 years. There was a time when there was a proposal up in Orange County, Tuxedo Reserve, to have 600 or more units constructed. The ‘play’ back then was for the developer to connect into Western Ramapo’s Sewer District as a matter of facilitating the construction.

Now the sense of it back then, and this is not one that I quarrel with, was that by providing that connection we would have been enabling construction in another county. I think that this would have been wrong.

There were a lot of issues back then regarding this as to whether this was the best way to proceed. To make a long story short the outcry was such that there were a number of resolutions passed that said in essence to consider this one would need to pass a local law.

Fast forward to 2014. The County Executive’s office was approached by the developers with a proposal – it was very simple – they were going to build 1,200 units in two different phases in Tuxedo Reserve and that is definitely going to happen. They would like to connect to the sewer district in Rockland County. In exchange for that connection they would give the sewer district $7.5 million and the County of Rockland $2 million.

I wasn’t born yesterday! I understand that would work well for them. They are looking for a better way for them to go because if they have to construct a sewer district up there it would be a lot more money.

So we vetted this idea and tried to find out whether or not the construction was definitely going to take place – we talked with the Town of Tuxedo and it confirmed that indeed the construction of 1,200 units is going to happen regardless. Nothing that we would be doing in Rockland County was going to ‘enable’ the construction that was the issue several years back.

We had the Sewer District come in and we asked if this was feasible and we were told directly by the Executive Director, Dianne Phillips, that it is. The reason why it is feasible is that the capacity of the sewer district is very under-utilized – there is plenty of availability there – and making that connection would not be injurious to the sewer system.

We asked a third question: what is the effect of this connection on the environment? Is this the best way to go? Could there be any damage to the environment? Some believe that this is the best way to go because other options available including an older system up in Orange County would be problematic.

So we gave the information to the Public Works Committee because they wanted to review it. Now in the middle of all of this somebody apparently said something to somebody and there was a bit of a ‘dust-up’ along the lines of another one to which Steve (Possell) referred.

But the bottom line is this – we brought the information to the legislators as they requested. We gave them everything we had and they told my office that they wanted to make the decision. So I said: “Fine, here is the information for you to vet the proposal, speak to the developers, speak to the Town of Tuxedo, etc because there is a significant amount of money we can get out of this if you decide to proceed”.

There was a vote the other night and it was declined by a vote of 5 to 2. What is frustrating to me is that in the two months that they had the information no additional vetting was done.

So what was the point?

I am trying to bring things forward for this County and it is the responsibility of all of us in government to take steps that will move us forward. I am a bit frustrated that those steps weren’t even considered by the legislature and the Public Works Committee.

But that’s the way it is!

Where it stands now it is not going anywhere.  However, with the information I had that connection would have not been injurious to the environment, it was certainly not going to affect the capacity of the Sewer District and it would have brought $9.5 million into the County of Rockland where we sorely needed it.

This is yet another example of why many members of this legislature must be removed by the voters in November 2015.

Might we suggest that Democrat Chairman Alden Wolfe be placed on our ‘three strikes and you’re out’ list where he can share the top spot of those destined for elective demise with his Republican colleague, Legislator and self-styled ‘posterboy’, Frank Sparaco?

Picture credit: http://www.funniestmemes.com/funniest-memes-no-heart-no-brain-and-no-courage/

About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

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