PRESS RELEASE FROM JAMES SKOUFIS
Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) announced he is introducing a package of legislation in the State Assembly that would provide additional oversight and scrutiny to the proposed Kiryas Joel annexation bids. The two bills would (1) ensure a more proper and thorough lead agency determination when disputes arise and (2) dramatically increase accountability and scrutiny of specified annexation petitions. “It is clear that our state’s annexation process is deeply flawed – this package of legislation will enact real and effective oversight to the proposed Kiryas Joel annexation and other controversial annexation bids throughout New York,” said Assemblyman Skoufis. “Annexations that have the potential to tremendously impact an entire region should be subjected to significant scrutiny – something that simply does not presently exist.
Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the DEC Commissioner may only consider three criteria when analyzing lead agency disputes, as was the case when Kiryas Joel was awarded lead agent status for their 507-acre annexation petition. These criteria are: (1)whether the annexation has statewide or local impact, (2)which agency has the broadest power to investigate the impact, and (3)which agency has the greatest capability to provide a thorough environmental assessment of the annexation. The first piece of legislation by Assemblyman Skoufis would add a fourth criterion that requires the DEC Commissioner to, during lead agency disputes, examine the environmental track record of each municipality; this includes compliance with state and federal environmental laws, regulations, and permits. It is well known that the Village of Kiryas Joel has a long history of environmental negligence, a factor that must be considered under this legislation.
The second piece of legislation would require county planning departments to review large and specific annexation petitions pursuant to General Municipal Law (GML) 239, a process that already exists for many municipal planning and zoning actions. At the conclusion of a GML 239 review, the county sends a recommendation of approval or disapproval to the municipalities; should the municipalities wish to override a recommended disapproval, the action requires a supermajority vote of each affected board. Under this legislation, should Orange County’s Planning Department recommend a disapproval of the annexation, four out of five affirmative votes will be required by each of the Town of Monroe and Village of Kiryas Joel Boards to override the recommendation and approve the annexation.