County Executive’s Corner: A Dirty Deal

 

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

Piles of contaminated dirt have sat in plain view in a park in Sloatsburg and other areas of western Ramapo for years after the soil was excavated as part of a sewer project.

Who knows how much longer those dirt piles would have remained if my administration had not started investigating in January when Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 asked both me and County Purchasing Director Paul Brennen to extend a contract with the town of Ramapo.

On closer look, we found that this was a very curious contract with one main player: Ramapo Supervisor Chris St. Lawrence, who is also a member and former chairman of the Sewer Board.

This seemingly routine request triggered an investigation by my staff.

The red flags raised by people in my administration, namely County Attorney Tom Humbach and Stephen J. Powers, director of Policy and Intergovernmental Relations, have led to more questions about the operations of the Sewer District, an independent entity governed by a board appointed by the Rockland County Legislature.

The biggest question: How and why was the town of Ramapo paid half of the $800,000 contract – $400,000 of your money – to move the dirt for the Sewer District, which they never did?

My staff worked with Legislator Charles Falciglia to get to the bottom of the dirt pile, so to speak.

What we found was shocking.

The original contract signed on Feb. 29, 2012 required Ramapo to move to dirt in six months. Ramapo failed to do so. They asked for, and received, a six-month extension, then another, then another.

All the deadlines came and went. The dirt remains. And what happened to taxpayers’ $400,000? Who knows.

The dirt fiasco is a reminder of how far we have to go to root out waste and mismanagement in government.

As County Executive, my authority in the Sewer District is limited. This contract with Ramapo was made in 2012 – before I took office.

As County Executive, I am now fighting to get the taxpayers’ money back.

The County Attorney has filed a lawsuit demanding that the town of Ramapo pay back the money it got for work it never did.

And for the safety and protection of the residents of western Ramapo, these dirt piles have to be removed – immediately.

There’s a long history of questionable dealings in the Sewer District, like the ongoing Western Ramapo Sewer Extension. That project to bring sewers to the western part of the county was supposed to cost $72 million when it was approved in 2000.

Now, 17 years later, it’s not completely done and the cost has grown to $181 million, in large part because of a lawsuit filed by property owners.

Then there was an odd plan floated to use sewer funds to pay for a police shed in Clarkstown. We put a stop to that.

And why were Sewer District commissioners who were also elected officials getting paid? We put a stop to that as well.

At this time last year, the Ramapo Supervisor was the chairman of both the Sewer District and the Rockland County Solid Waste Authority.

Then he was arrested on federal fraud charges. I was the first to call for him to resign as chairman of both the Sewer District and the Solid Waste Authority, which he did. But he remains a member of both boards.

I repeat my demand for a forensic audit of Rockland County Sewer District No. 1, which has an annual budget of $37.7 million.

Investigators who just happen to be spending a lot of time in Ramapo are looking into this dirty deal. I’m confident they will get to the bottom of it.

It’s clear that there’s more than one stench coming from the Sewer District.