Timelines 4/4/13

Pistol Permit Opt Outs Flood County Clerk Offices
In response to a provision in New York’s new gun control law allowing pistol permit holders to exempt themselves from Freedom of Information Law requests, county clerk offices have reported a deluge of opt outs from permit-holders. If an applicant fills out a form released by State Police on February 15 and submits it by May 15, they will be exempt from FOIL requests. This would protect their information from exposures such as the Journal News’ “gun map” plotting permit-holders across Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam Counties. The sheer number of opt outs has proven daunting, with thousands in each county. Westchester alone received 9,000 requests out of 16,800 people with active permits, with hundreds more coming in every day. Though state representatives insist counties would incur no extra costs from the new law, many clerks have disagreed, with Rockland County County Clerk Paul Piperato explaining there were many “unanswered questions” in the process and explained more time might have been useful to establish a process for the forms.

Police Athletic League seeks to Fill Void left by Athletics Cuts
In response to concerns that the East Ramapo School Board might end athletic programs in the school district, town police and East Ramapo teachers have collaborated to bring back the Police Athletic League (PAL). Though sports would be one of the most visible facets of the PAL, it had been suggested that with cuts to art, music, and extracurricular programs, it might encompass a broad range of activities. PBA President Dennis Procter explained the program will aim to keep kids active and engaged in constructive activities. The PAL has already scheduled its first fundraiser for April 5 at Spring Valley High School, hosting a basketball game between teachers and officers. It will be the first such program in East Ramapo since the previous PAL formed in 1997 became inactive.

East Ramapo School Board Paying Out $4,000+ Per Day on Legal Fees
A recent FOIL request submitted by Preserve Ramapo revealed thousands in daily lawyer fees incurred by the East Ramapo School Board, raising questions about the board’s concern over the financial well-being of the cash-strapped school district. The ongoing parent lawsuit and additional legal wrangling with the state over alleged misappropriation of school funds and improper placement of students in special education programs have been tallied at about $4,336 per day. This is not counting legal fees incurred by hiring Long Island attorney Albert D’Agostino, which come to $250 per hour plus travel reimbursements. As of March 7, total legal expenses come to $702,579, a figure which would have paid for approximately 14 teachers.

North Korea Enters “State of War” with South Korea
North Korea announced on Saturday that it would enter a “state of war” with neighboring South Korea over perceived aggression from U.S. and South Korean military forces. The small, politically-isolated state had threatened force for months since joint military exercises between South Korean and American military forces. Though South Korea repeatedly warned against the exercises and referred to as aggressive, the maneuvers were in fact routine drills. Though the two Koreas have technically been in a state of war since 1953, the armistice between the two countries has prevented large-scale armed conflict. Given North Korea’s proclivity to make threats without following through on military action, it is doubtful the North’s recent action will result in a shooting conflict.

MTA to Receive 9 Percent Aid Hike
Governor Cuomo’s office revealed by on Wednesday that the recently-released New York State budget was to have a relief measure for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, giving the institution a nine percent increase in state aid over the course of the 2013-2014 fiscal year. According to Governor Cuomo, the measure will ease the burden on regular commuters by preserving the affordability of public transportation while creating jobs and encouraging infrastructure investments. The MTA is set to receive $358 million more than it currently receives, bringing total aid up to $4.2 billion dollars. The MTA will also benefit from part of the $454 million designated for transportation systems statewide, while local transit systems will also receive benefits. Among the localities is Rockland County, which will receive $799,293 to fund its own transit projects.

Atlanta Parents React with Shock at School Cheating Scandal
Following the indictment of former Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 school employees for falsifying test scores, parents reacted with outrage, stating their children had been unfairly ignored and cheated by schools. Parents such as Chandra Gallashaw explained the scandal involved teachers and administrators who “lied and destroyed” to maintain the reputation of the schools, even as students failed to receive the necessary help to excel in their education. Remaining administrators have pledged a renewed commitment to test security, with state Superintendent of Schools John Barge called test integrity a “top priority. The scandal began with an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008 which revealed irregularities in test results. When the whole operation was brought to light by various local and state inquiries, 44 schools and 178 educators including 38 principals were revealed to be caught up in the scheme.

Catholic Traditionalists Upset with New Pope’s Break with Ritual
Pope Francis’ recent disregard for church law in washing the feet of two girls at a Holy Thursday mass has set off a firestorm of controversy among conservative elements of the Catholic world, seeing the move as a disregard for the previous pope’s drive to re-enshrine traditional Catholic precepts. Francis has been a divisive figure among traditionalists, who pointed to his disregard for the ornate style of the previous pontificate with his relatively modest presence and his willingness to reach out to non-Catholics, as signs that he might be moving away from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s policies. Benedict sought to fix perceived mistakes made in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, retaining a strict interpretation of church law and championing a rollback of reforms, including the return of the Latin-language mass. Though the foot-washing gesture was prohibited by church law, technically Francis is allowed to set precedents by making exceptions for his own conduct.

$38.5 Million Service Program to Help Sandy Victims Announced
On April 3, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $38.5 million program, called The Disaster Case Management Program (DCMP), that will assist individuals in Rockland as well as NYC, Nassau, Suffolk, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester Counties affected by Superstorm Sandy recover and access essential resources. Anyone who an unmet Sandy-related need (even those who have not applied to FEMA for assistance) are eligible. Those negatively impacted by the storm should call 1-855-258-0483 to find out the location and contact information for their nearest service provider. A complete list can also be found online at www.catholiccharitiesny.org.

West Haverstraw Set to Raise Taxes in 2013-2014 Budget
The Village of West Haverstraw’s $5.3 million budget might include a 7.7 percent rise in property tax and increases to solid waste fees. In total, the budget is up by 4.6 percent from the previous fiscal year, representing a $233,000 increase. According to West Haverstraw Mayor John Ramundo, the increase is meant to offset growing expenditures and avoid cutting into essential services. Much of the new expenses come from workers’ compensation, health insurance and state retirement contributions, which are expected to grow by $155,000. The increase will require the village’s second override of the state’s two percent tax cap, which Ramundo said was “not realistic” when addressing climbing local expenses. A public hearing on the budget, which is available online through the Village’s website, will be held on April 3 at 7 p.m.

Piermont Marina Owner Blames Landlords for Post-Sandy Closure
The end of the 60 slip T&R Marina in Piermont, which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and could not recover financially, is the fault of inaction by landlords with the Knights of Columbus, according to marina owner Tony Medora. Medora explained that the Knights of Columbus failed to repair the wrecked property after his insurance provided insufficient compensation and loan programs proved too expensive. According to Medora, he only received one notification from them after his failure to pay the $2,400 monthly rent, but has been neither released from their contract nor heard anything about repairs. Medora’s attorney Adam M. Lustberg explained they were willing to negotiate the end of their contract with the Knights of Columbus. However, until Medora is granted a sit down or receives a legal decision in his favor, he remains tied to the agreement.

Rockland Bus Services to Continue Next Week, Despite Possible Lack of Agreement
Transport of Rockland and Tappan ZEExpress will maintain their regular routes regardless of their lack of a contract with the county. A possible six month, $7.5 million agreement extension was pulled from the legislature’s planning and public works committee, but might be reintroduced in the legislature’s meeting on April 3 as new business. Though a funding extension might be pursued in the legislature’s Wednesday meeting, no assurances were made the extension would go through. Still, Chairwoman Harriet Cornell assured riders that the services would go on as planned with or without the agreement. Legislators Alden Wolfe also expressed optimism after a rare, cooperative joint Legislative-Executive session was held to avert a shutdown. Hundreds of Teens Agree to Cause Mayhem in Downtown Chicago Michigan Avenue in Chicago was subject to a frightening scene on March 30 when an estimated five hundred teens converged on the busy shopping area to harass shoppers and tourists.

The busy scene was marred by violence when the teens, who agreed on Twitter to meet at the location weeks ago, purposely bumped into pedestrians and fought amongst themselves, actions which resulted in the arrest of fifteen juveniles and two adults. Later in the night, there were also two separate incidents of assault and robbery when a man was punched in the face and a group of women were robbed on a nearby passenger train. In total, 28 arrests were made, with 25 of the suspects being juveniles. Charges ranged from robbery to reckless conduct, but are mostly misdemeanor charges.

Clarkstown School Board Explores Ways to Reduce Budget Costs
The Clarkstown School Board met on Thursday night to explore possible cuts to its 2013-2014 budget. With luck, these cuts will accommodate its rising deficit and bring its funds into temporary balance. With a steep budget increase of $13,778,000 which mostly representing salaries and teacher benefits, the board’s options are limited and undesirable. Areas which might be trimmed include bus replacements and AP classes. A proposal to reduce the size of bus and van replacement purchases alone could cut $500,000 from school expenditures. The School Board faces a budget gap of $6,779,000 which could be paid with a 4.3 percent tax levy increase. However, the board has been hesitant to pursue the increase except as a last resort. Use of funds from reserves has been entertained as well, but might deplete the reserves and limit the amount of money available to the county in the future, reducing options for future budgets.

Ramapo Explores Use of Plane Surveillance to Catch Permit and Zoning Violations
Authorities with the Town of Ramapo explained a new plan using aerial surveillance to discover violations of town permit and zoning violations. The planes would fly over the town while taking high-resolution photographs of the ground below. Using software developed by the Rochester-based company Picometrym these photos would be compared to past visuals, documenting the development of properties and detecting building irregularities as they occur over extended periods of time. Aerial surveillance of the town is not a new tactic. For the past twenty years, flyovers have been used for a range of projects which include documentation of 911 calls, economic development, historical documentation, and public works planning. A similar program to the current proposal was also used to catch homeowners who were abusing the New York School Tax Relief program (STAR) by taking deductions for more than one home.