BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
Recently, Village of Suffern Mayor Edward Markunas sat down with the Rockland Times for a no-limit interview to discuss the Village’s past, present and future.
Mayor Markunas is completing his first term as mayor after serving as a Village Trustee. When taking the oath of office as mayor, the Village of Suffern was characterized by the New York Comptroller’s Office as one of the most fiscally stressed villages in the state of New York. The Village had a “stress rating” of ninety percent.
One of Markunas’ first acts as mayor was to request oversight of the village’s finances by the State Comptroller’s office. Now, after making several moves, including restructuring the village’s long-term debt, the stress level has decreased to a well balanced forty percent. This rating equates to a characterization of “no stress” by the financial analysts. Also, four years ago, the village’s bond rating was just steps away from junk status. Now, after implementing pay freezes, limiting payroll overtime and increasing revenue, the village has a stable, respectable bond rating. The village has also entered into shared services agreements with other municipalities to offset certain expenses.
Not all the decisions Mayor Markunas has made have been easy. The village’s police force and public works departments have been reduced through attrition and department restructuring, all without reducing service to the residents. The current collective bargaining agreement with the unions representing the police is currently being renegotiated. Mayor Markunas is trying to minimize the effects the new agreement will have on the village.
Another move the village has taken is to proactively minimize their mandated pension contributions. The previous village administrations would delay payments to the state, incurring penalties. Now, the village timely fulfills its obligations for pension contributions, thus saving money.
The unplanned exit by Novartis cost the village approximately $200,000 in revenues and fees, but Avon and the Salvation Army are steady residents that continue to add to the village’s tax-base. Although the Salvation Army property is tax exempt, the village negotiated a payment of $20,000 in lieu of taxes.
One issue that every municipality in Rockland must face is that of development. What will happen to the Novartis property is still an issue. There were negotiations a few years ago to bring Legoland to the site, but eventually the theme park settled on an Orange County venue. Currently, the village is considering an application for a mixed-use project on Orange Avenue that would add revenue to the village’s coffers through taxes, water and sewer. The project would also enhance the village’s downtown commerce coupled with the current local merchants.
An issue that Mayor Markunas is passionate about is maintaining the extreme sense of community loyalty amongst Suffern residents. Generations of families continue to reside in the Village while new residents are seeking to relocate there. Mayor Markunas is not being challenged for reelection this year, but two trustee seats are being contested.
According to Mayor Markunas, “We have taken the politics out of politics.”