To: The Editor of Rockland Voice
From: Legislator Lon Hofstein
Rockland Sewer District #1 Intends to Dump 10.9% Increase On The People!!!
On April 7, 2015, a proposal came before the Rockland County Legislature for a $2.5 million dollar bond to fund the construction of a storage facility in the Town of Clarkstown. I strongly urged my legislative colleagues to postpone the vote on this matter, as it was my belief that this proposal needed to go back to the Budget & Finance committee for further evaluation.
In order to better understand why I had such strong reservations over what would seem to be a simple storage facility, a quick review of some of the recent events in the Rockland County Sewer District #1 provides some pertinent background information that weighed on my mind. My reservations to move forward on the bond proposal were based in part on the following events, which were an indication of the performance of the Sewer Commission:
1) November, 2014: A fine of $950,000 was paid for damages from pollution of the Saddle River in New Jersey caused by the Rockland County Sewer District.
2) March, 2015: The sewer district lost a lawsuit over a 64 acre parcel of land involving eminent domain. The Sewer District determined the parcel of land was worth $244,800. The court ruled the actual value was $8.1 million and awarded that amount plus accrued interest and attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. The total additional cost to the Sewer District was approximately $16 million.
3) March, 2015 – An attorney for the County of Rockland reveals certain commissioners of the Sewer District were incorrectly paid in excess of $24,000 each.
4) March, 2015 – The chairman of the Sewer Commission submits his resignation.
A reasonable assessment of the Sewer District’s performance would be that it stinks. Unfortunately, the stench will linger for years with the tax payers. In addition to the recent track record of incompetence, there was also another very troubling aspect to this storage facility that was actually the main reason I advised sending it back to Budget & Finance for further clarification. The facility was being presented to the Rockland County Legislature as a facility to house sewer district equipment, but the story coming from Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack was quite different. Mr. Gromack and the Town’s Chief of Police, Michael Sullivan, were presenting the facility as a garage for police vehicles and as remote operational facility for certain segments of the Clarkstown Police Department. The County’s attorneys later deemed that this proposed bond to fund a “mixing” of sewer and police functionality was illegal.
Now fast forward to Thursday, December 3, 2015, when the Rockland County Legislature held a special session to vote on the 2016 budget. According to a letter from the Rockland County auditor, the Sewer District’s submitted budget would implement a 10.9% increase for user charges/fees for the year 2016.
My response was: “Has anyone read the report from the O’Connor Davies, who are the Rockland County independent auditors?”
According to their reports for the years ending December 31, 2013 & December 31, 2014, the Sewer District is sitting on a sizeable surplus. The firm’s report states “we recommend that the county consider utilizing this fund balance for its intended purpose or utilize it to offset future tax increases.” Yet, the Sewer Commission is asking the taxpayers to absorb a 10.9% increase in fees? Based on these recommendations, I stated that it appears an increase in fees is unnecessary and should not be considered.
I reminded my colleagues that back on April 7, 2015, I stated a forensic audit of the Sewer District would be a wise move to determine if taxpayer money has been wisely spent. I stated that before any increase in fees is to be implemented, a forensic audit should be conducted. The people of Rockland do not need another increase in fees from an agency that has not given any indication that it is operating in a competent manner. The only increase that appears to be needed by the Sewer District is one of internal managerial and operational efficiency.
Given all these circumstances, Legislator Christopher Carey and I now are co-sponsoring a resolution to conduct a forensic audit of Rockland Sewer District #1. It is time to get a detailed accounting of where and how our money has been spent so that we can determine exactly what is needed to unclog the bureaucracy and remove the sludge from this commission in order to have a more effective and efficient sewer district and to better protect the interests of the taxpayers.
Rockland County Legislator