Is The Attempt To Use Rockland County Sewer Department Funds To Build
A Police Shed In Clarkstown Now Under Federal Investigation?
There has been much speculation as to what documents might have been requested following the visit of the FBI to the office of Supervisor Hoehmann on his first day of office. There is also speculation as to why access to police department computers has been restricted and incredulity that the FBI could be interested in police department emails.
Some critics of the Town Supervisor are pointing to a federal subpoena from 2015 as evidence that the police emails were never part of any federal investigation at all. The subpoena they frequently reference is dated July 29, 2015 and requested the ethics filings of all current and former members of the Rockland County Legislature, and all current and former members of the following: Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 Commissioners, Rockland County Political Chairpersons, and Solid Waste Authority Commissioners.
The intent of this subpoena is still unknown, but one wonders if it was tied in part to the use of Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 funds for public purposes other than which was intended?
Several articles last year in Rockland Voice outlined an apparent financial ploy that was being pursued by Clarkstown’s former Town Supervisor Alex Gromack and some members of the Rockland County Legislature.
Gromack attempted to secure $2.5M in Rockland County Sewer District funding in order to build a facility that was either a “sewer pump station and storage facility” OR a “police garage and remote operational facility for the Clarkstown Police Department” depending on whose version of the project you happened to hear.
On the agenda for the Wednesday, February 18, 2015 meeting of the County Legislature was a Public Hearing 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. As red flags were raised the meeting was canceled and rescheduled to Tuesday, March 03, 2015.
The description of the purpose of the Public Hearing appeared to be completely misleading given discussions that were held on this project in a workshop held by the Town of Clarkstown one year previously.
Those discussions did not deal with a “pump station and collection system” for a sewer project. They dealt with the Clarkstown Police Department’s need for a “minimal storage facility” to house police emergency response equipment which was used infrequently and which was sitting outside in inclement weather conditions.
At this and several other workshops, the Town Board had been pressured to stop adding to the Town’s bonded debt. Citizens concerned about the Town’s overspending did not question that such a police storage facility was needed but inquired as to the source of the funding.
The response from Town officials was that the cost for a pre-engineered structure, similar to that known as a ‘Butler Building’, was estimated to be only in the order of a couple of hundred thousands of dollars and that Clarkstown taxpayers would not be paying for the facility.
Given that the cost of this proposed police storage facility had somehow escalated to approximately $2.5 million, we asked if taxpayers’ funds accumulated by Sewer District No. 1 were being funneled in a misleading and misguided County legislative process to the Town of Clarkstown?
We asked also why was the use of Sewer District No.1’s funds being brought before a public hearing in a way that obscured the fact that their true expenditure would be on a project that had nothing to do with the primary function of the Sewer District?
Further, we asked why was the project being ‘sold’ to Clarkstown residents as not costing taxpayers anything because the Sewer District would be paying for it? It is from the same taxpayers that the sewer department funds come, yet where was the justification for the use of their sewer taxes for the construction of a Clarkstown Police Storage Facility?
Here are the relevant articles on which the lead question of this article is based:
The picture above was taken at the above-mentioned county legislature meeting. When this Clarkstown entourage arrived at the meeting it was becoming apparent that numerous Clarkstown officials were worried they would not get the sewer funds they seemed to be depending on to construct the police shed.
Strangely, former Supervisor Gromack, his Chief of Staff and Director of Finance John Sullivan, Clerk of the Works, Ed Lettre, Councilwomen Shirley Lasker with Stephanie Hausner and Chief Michael Sullivan in uniform were all present and followed the legislative discussion intently.
We now wonder if the FBI may be investigating why the citizens of Clarkstown were being told a police shed was being built to house police equipment that was out in inclement weather, while the county legislature was being told the funds were for a Clarkstown sewer department building.
Did anyone stand to profit from the construction and engineering contracts associated with the Sewer Building that was really a Police Building?
Were any campaign coffers supported by firms that stood to so profit?
Why did the County Legislature approve the project despite the red flags that were being raised by the public? (The County’s bond counsel later deemed the project illegal and the police functionality was eventually abandoned.)
Why was the Sewer District seeking to fund this $2.5 million dollar project through bonds – on which of course the taxpayer would pay interest – while it was sitting on a massive cash surplus of $25 million?
Was there any criminality involved here by those responsible for the management of the funds controlled by the Rockland County Sewer District #1 or by those responsible for the oversight of those funds in the county legislature?
Sorting out what has been going on by those charged with management of the Sewer District funds may take a lot of time and clearly the net of financial entanglements of the sewer district may encompass the Town of Clarkstown.
If we are patient, time will tell why!