Pre-Election Tempers Flare during Candidates’ Forum at JCC Rockland

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FalcoRockland County Sheriff Louis Falco and Woodbury Police Chief Richard Vasquez were the first to face off last Sunday in a room that exceeded its capacity.

Fielding the first question about cuts in the corrections department, Falco said his administration cut $10 million, specifically for cost overruns in the county correctional facility. “We did a comprehensive study of the facility and found abuses in sick time and cut those back by $2 million,” he said.

“Officers work on a collective bargaining agreement agreed upon by the sheriff,” Vasquez countered. “They endorse me, they support me, and after 37 years (citing Falco’s time in the department) now it’s an issue. In addition to the collective bargaining agreement, (in the jail) only a few officers step up to overtime.”

Once he took office, Falco said. “I worked outside the collective bargaining agreement and drove overtime down.”

Vasquez would move one of the two undersheriffs to the county’s Narcotics Task Force, where “we need an active participant,” Vasquez, a former undercover narcotics detective, said. “(And) there are illegal housing issues that are not being addressed re housing.

Vasquez-1Last July’s marijuana bust yielded asset forfeiture money for the sheriff’s budget and 18 arrests, Falco said, adding, “My officers are with civil enforcement in illegal housing areas on a regular basis and report to the housing task force, which reports to the local building and housing inspectors.”

They agreed the department needs more diversity and disagreed about Vasquez’ refusal to condemn a video with anti-Semitic overtones created for his campaign.

“I did not create that video, and I agree with it,” he said. Illegal housing in the county “has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, it has nothing to do with Hasidics or the Jewish people. I am not going to condemn something that I did not put out.”

Vasquez felt drug laws enacted years ago are harsh, citing education as one alternative to incarceration, while Falco said his department partners with the court system regarding alcohol treatment programs and to reduce the number of inmates.

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2“That’s been blown out of proportion,” Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack when asked to explain the $25,000 sewer district money. “This goes back 15 or 20 years that elected officials in the county are members of the sewer commission.”

Gromack decided to pay it back “and wrote a personal check for $24,982.36, the only one who did,” Gromack said. When the county told him he overpaid and only owes $13,000, “I ripped up the check and sent them a check for $13,000,” he said, holding up a letter from Budget Director Stephen DeGroat. “This needs to be clarified next year.”

Town Board member George Hoehmann disagreed. “Rockland County sewer district law is very clear: sewer commissioners other than elected officials shall be paid,” he said. “The county can only go back six years. He was never entitled to the money and should pay it back.”

Hoehmann favored the Ward system for bringing representation closer to people and eliminating power from political parties. “I think we have a significant problem within our town and county (of) political corruption,” he said.

1It would increase the number of council members “with a $50,000 increase in benefits and pit one hamlet against another,” Gromack countered, making project completion difficult and creating a pathway for Wards to be taken over individually.

“Every consulting contract has been approved by the town board. It votes on every single contract,” Gromack said about consultants’ fees. He denied any personal relationship with a consultant that might influence said fees.

Hoehmann said it’s a “problem for Clarkstown” and pushed him to adopt the state’s dormitory fee schedule (to manage construction project and set fees) for engineering and architecture earlier this year. “Architects are sometimes paid double the New York State going rate.”

Hoehmann said he’s not under investigation by the state Board of Elections, and his campaign finances are an open book. He and Gromack agreed personal safety of people seeking donations for charities along Route 59 is foremost and is a police matter.

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StewartOrangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart sat next to an empty chair when opponent Michael Moroney neither appeared nor sent a statement. “I’m not going to change the ground rules. No rebuttal,” Rockland LWV president Linda Berns joked.

“Handling money is the most important thing for me,” Stewart said when asked what makes him most proud. “It’s staying under the tax cap, and proposing a 2.2 percent for 2016.” He also cited Broadacres Golf Course and Blue Hill, which has a $600,000 annual deficit, and energy efficiency.

Asked how he’s increased communications, he said, I put town meetings on television and YouTube,” he said. “I also hold office hours” and have an open office door.

Budgets have been under the 2 percent tax cap “because we start out under the tax cap and go through proposals,” he said, thanking Republican town board colleagues. “They have ideas, and we work through them,” noting 83 police officer jobs were preserved.

“Revenues rose in 2014 and 2015, and expenditures decreased,” he said. “Bit by bit we’re getting closer to where that golf course can start repaying its debt. We’ll do the same for Blue Hill.”

Under consideration were tax revenues, waterpark land set-aside with linear paths, and not too much traffic onto Convent Road.

“Yes, heroin is an issue in Orangetown like it is everywhere else,” Stewart said. Officers are trained to administer Narcan in cases of heroin overdose and an officer was assigned to the county’s Narcotics Task Force and to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

He was and remains opposed to the desal plant. “The county doesn’t have a water supply issue so much as a water management issue,” he said. Other sources are being explored. Re Anellotech Inc. expansion, “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

Asked what he thinks of Mike Moroney’s sealed records, Stewart said his are available online. While “I think it’s incumbent upon him to explain why he resigned (as police lieutenant), my focus is on Orangetown.”

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4 St Lawrence and PariettiTackling the question of building codes, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said, “Once out of every three years a school needs to be checked for fire safety; that’s the state code. In the Town of Ramapo, every school, every year is documented, and we send that information to the state.”

“The Planning Board and Zoning Board are stacked with pro-development advocates to make sure everything the developers want is rubber-stamped right on through,” challenger Michael Parietti said. “If something gets in the developers’ way, they simply get it changed,” he said, citing how easily temporary trailers are set up and get temporary Certificates of Occupancy.

Parietti supports the Ward system, he said, “because right now one subset of the town runs everything that happens, with the Ward system, the other communities in Ramapo would have a say at the table.” St. Lawrence denied voters were disenfranchised last year and cited the town’s extended voting hours and absentee ballots.

Asked if he supports a one-year moratorium on building to review codes, St. Lawrence said, “We don’t have the right to put a moratorium on building,” noting each of the town’s 12 villages have their own housing codes. Parietti said the unincorporated sections of Ramapo are considering a moratorium “because the building situation is totally out of control.”

St. Lawrence was asked about 2013 FBI raid on Ramapo Town Hall. “I think we should look at how we got to where we are,” Parietti commented when St. Lawrence said “they wanted to look at the records.” Parietti said St. Lawrence had an employee suspended for blowing the whistle on money sent to “a very risky project,” which the supervisor denied. “That’s dysfunction,” Parietti said. “There are secret meetings.”

Residents within two miles of the ball park hear fireworks although St. Lawrence said fireworks are not allowed after 11 p.m. “We’re looking into some kind of noise ordinance,” Parietti said. “It’s been losing money since it opened. We’re going to have to find a way to make that stadium sustainable.”

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