Concerns of NYS Open Meetings Law raised during meeting; Supervisor Phillips says Lynn Teger should apologize
BY KOREY WILSON
The Town of Haverstraw held a special meeting Wednesday morning to adopt the town’s 2012 tax rates. The only public notice of this meeting was placed on the Journal News website the day before.
Lynn Teger, a Haverstraw resident who recently ran for Town Council, posted the link on “North Rockland Community,” an open group on Facebook for North Rockland residents. Her message on the post read, “Notice to all Haverstraw taxpayers: The town is having a meeting Wednesday (I guess that means tomorrow) to consider the 2012 tax rate. If they mean tomorrow, they did not give 72 hours notice as is required by NYS open meetings law. How many of you will be able to attend?”
Town Supervisor, Howard T. Phillips began the meeting addressing Teger’s post.
“For as long as I’ve been an employee in the Town of Haverstraw, we’ve been adopting the tax rate in a special meeting during the day. I would like to correct erroneous information that Ms. Teger has put out on websites that we did not give out 72 hours notice. We did. You should apologize to the entire board because you keep putting out false information. We gave 72 hours notice to the Journal News, which is the legal newspaper in the Town of Haverstraw, which we are required to do.”
Teger said, “Having the meeting at 10 o’clock in the morning and people getting notice of it the day before does not give people an opportunity to attend if they would like to attend. The problem that I have is that I would like to see our town in compliance with the New York State Open Meetings law. That is the only issue I addressed in that posting.”
Phillips responded, “We gave it to the media in the proper time before we had this meeting but your posting insinuates that we were doing something nefarious and clandestine and we haven’t.”
“The posting was not about the content of this meeting. It was about not following the New York State Open Meeting Laws,” said Teger.
“We must notify the media 72 hours prior to having a meeting,” said Phillips. “We must notify them.”
The New York Open Meeting Law specifically states, “Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before such meeting.”
Phillips affirmed that there was nothing “seditious” or “clandestine” about this special meeting to adopt the tax rates. Phillips said that the tax rates are determined by the budgets that are adopted by the Town of Haverstraw, and other agencies such as fire departments, Rockland County Solid Waste Authority and others. “All of these are determined by the budgets which there were public hearings on. The public came but public comment was not offered,” said Phillips.
The Town of Haverstraw passed their budget in November. Haverstraw could not establish tax rates until the county’s budget was recently approved. “There are some 20 plus different rates that must be calculated. As soon as we complete this, we hold a meeting as soon as possible because it must be given to the assessor, the receiver of taxes and the company that produces the tax bills so they can be completed by the end of the year and out to the residents by the first of the year,” said Phillips.
“This is simple mathematics,” Phillips added. “It is the budget that has been adopted with its tax levy divided by the assessment. That determines the tax rate. It’s not something we can change or manipulate.”
The board successfully passed the new rates, which establish taxes for the county, highways, fire districts, sewer districts, and lighting, among others.
“Some towns can adopt the tax rates at a town board meeting but we try to do it before We have been doing it this way for since Phillip Rotella was supervisor and before then,” said Phillips.