WHALEN’S LAST BOARD MEETING

Road trenching fees to rise in Orangetown and sewer line replacement costs shift back to homeowners

BY ROBERT KNIGHT

CITY EDITOR

ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

The cost of digging up streets to repair utility lines will go up in Orangetown next year, both for utility companies, contractors and homeowners.

The Town Board unanimously approved two resolutions last week to raise those fees for all involved parties, contending that the cost could no longer be sustained within the town’s shrinking annual budget.

In other action, the board also increased the monthly rent for three employees who live in town-owned homes, agreed to lease sports facilities to the New York Sharks swim club for $14,897.66 for the 2012 season, promoted three employees to new positions, settled a lawsuit brought against the town by All-Bright Electric Co., and agreed to send a memorializing resolution to the New York State Parole Board, opposing parole for the two convicted murderers of Pearl River teenager Paula Bohovesky in 1980.

Street Permits

At the urging of Highway Superintendent James Dean, Sewer Director Joseph Moran and Finance Director Charles Richardson, the board voted unanimously to increase the fees the town charges for digging up public streets for installation or repair of public utilities that lie beneath the pavements.

Separate actions for both sewer and general projects were approved on 4-0 votes of the five-member council, with Councilman Thomas Diviny absent. Voting for the resolutions were the boards remaining two Democrats and two Republicans, with politics apparently not involved in the decision-making process.

Fees for digging up streets to install or repair underground electrical, cable, water, gas and sewer lines will be increased for all who seek permits for such work, including property owners, contractors, and utility companies. Whoever gets the permit will be required to post the fee in advance.

The legislation also requires contractors to restore each excavation to its previous condition after the work is completed, and to repave the street surface to a flat and smooth finish.

The legislation for the sewer work was voted on separately, and was the subject of some negative comments by members of the audience in attendance.

 

Partial Reversion

Town Attorney John Edwards and Councilman Denis Troy (R-Pearl River) explained that until 2005 homeowners paid for sewer repair work from their homes to the connection to the main sewer trunk line beneath the nearest public street.

By then, however, the commonly used “Orangeburg Pipe” was starting to collapse and self-destruct, leaving hundreds of homeowners with expensive bills for the work to replace the full length of lines with new piping. Faced with mounting pressure from the homeowners, the town that year changed the law, and assumed part of the cost for the work itself. The town would pay to dig up the street, and lay new pipe there, while the homeowner would only pay for the work beneath their own property.

Troy said it was estimated the change would cost the town about $50,000 per year. Instead, he explained, the cost quickly escalated to “several hundred thousand dollars every year,” a cost the town cannot continue to absorb. The newest change, approved last week, will shift some of that financial burden back on the homeowners, although Orangetown will still continue to pay a small portion of the total bill.

Edwards said the permit fees, and the costs to homeowners for sewer work, are not detailed in the new laws. Instead, the laws merely refer to a separate fee schedule, which the Town Board can adopt and adjust at will, by simple resolutions from time to time. If the fees were included within the legislation, he added, the board would have to hold public hearings to amend the local laws each time it wanted to make a small “adjustment” to the amounts.

Residents Object

Sumna Nuro of Tappan was typical of the opponents to the change in the sewer repair charges, calling it “unfair to homeowners” whose sewer lines collapse through no fault of their own. Contractors were told to use Orangeburg Pipe, manufactured in a century-old factory on Route 303 in Orangeburg for generations, to support local industry, but were never told the pipe was so inferior in quality that it self-destructs in about 50 years.

Most homes in Blauvelt, Orangeburg and Pearl River were constructed 50-75 years ago, and indeed their sewer line pipes are now starting to collapse with great frequency, residents told the board. Since the town encouraged use of Orangeburg Pipe, the town should assume the cost of replacing it, they told the council.

In better financial times the town could afford to assume that burden, Troy and others said, but in the current economic slump this is no longer true. Positions are being cut from the town budget, services are being reduced or eliminated, and the town is still barely keeping within the two percent tax increase limitation imposed on all municipalities by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

As one result, the town is raising the fees for all services is provides, from the rental of the town showmobile to the use of the two town golf courses to street repair work and even the cost for children to attend the town’s day camp.

 

No Parole

As it has three times before, the Town Board voted unanimously to oppose any possibility of parole for convicted murderers Richard LaBarbara and Robert McCain, who assaulted, raped and killed Pearl River teenager Paula Bohovesky on Oct. 28, 1980.

Bohovesky was 16 at the time, an honor student at Pearl River High School who also held a part-time job as a page at the Pearl River Public Library. She was walking home from the library after it closed at 9 p.m. that day when she was spotted by the two Pearl River men who had been drinking at a downtown bar.

Attacking her on North Main Street, they dragged her behind a tree in the rear of a home at Washington Avenue, where the assault, rape and murder took place.

The two men were quickly arrested by Orangetown Police, tried, and convicted of murder, and sentenced to maximum prison terms of 25 years to life.

They have both applied for parole every two years since 2005, when they first became eligible, and have been denied that year, and again in 2007 and 2009. They are now seeking parole for the fourth time, and the state Parole Board is again seeking community comments.

As it had three times previously, the board quickly approved a strongly worded memorializing resolution drafted by Councilman Denis Troy, a friend of the Bohovesky family, which still lives in Pearl River.

“Whereas we as a Town Board believe that those who commit violent sex crimes cannot be trusted not to kill again (and) whereas we as a Town Board believe that we have a responsibility to protect the innocent from sexual predators (and) whereas we as a Town Board do not believe that either (man) should be granted parole, now therefore be it resolved that the Town Board hereby petitions the New York State Parole Board to deny the requests of Richard LaBarbara and Robert McCain for parole,” the resolution read.

Troy explained that this year’s hearing should have already concluded, but that it was extended until January of 2012 “for some unexplained reason.” He is among a group of Pearl River residents spearheading a petition drive to make sure the state doesn’t somehow approve the parole during the intervening time period. So far, Troy said last week, the petition has over 20,000 signatures, and is growing daily. Attached to it will be official resolutions and proclamations from organizations and governmental agencies, such as the Orangetown Town Board, giving the petition added strength.

In Other Action

In other action at last week’s Town Board meeting, the council voted to:

  • Approve paying $150,000 to All Bright Electric of Snake Hill Road, West Nyack, for work the firm did in the recent rehabilitation of the town’s sewer pump station off Route 303 in Orangeburg. The town at first refused to pay the company, which in turn sued Orangetown last June. The payment settles the lawsuit, according to Town Attorney John Edwards, who negotiated the out-of-court settlement.
  • Authorized the purchase of a police life insurance policy to cover all 87 uniformed members of that department. Total cost of the policy was not disclosed, but the board noted that the cost would vary form office to officer, depending on their individual incomes.
  • Amended the town’s 2012 budget to increase the anticipated cost of tax certiorari lawsuits against Orangetown by an additional $100,000, which will be taken from the budget’s reserve fund.
  • Approved Orangetown’s participation in the Employer Contribution Stabilization Program for the state retirement systems of both CSEA union workers and police and fire officers in those town departments.
  • Authorized leasing the town’s showmobile to the Orangeburg Fire Department for its Dec. 17 holiday parade, at a cost of $350.
  • Approved lease agreements to provide Sharp copy machines to the Parks and Recreation, Highway and Building Departments.
  • Promoted three employees to higher paying positions in town government, including Matthew Connolly as a mechanic I in the sewer department at $69,505 annually, Karen Jahnes to principal clerk typist in the highway department at $68,837 and Rima DelVecchio to senior clerk typist in the justice court at $39,803.
  • Approved an agreement negotiated by the Rockland Economic Development Corporation (REDC) with the Olympus Corporation for a refund of about $2 million the firm owes various governmental entities. Steve Porath of REDC explained that his agency had negotiated a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement with Olympus several years ago to get the firm to re-locate to Orangetown from out of state. To lure them here, all local governments agreed to reduce the firm’s property taxes by half the first year. The taxes would increase by five per cent per year for the next 10 years, until the firm would be paying its full tax bill at the end of the first decade. Unfortunately, Porath said, the firm violated the agreement by closing its Orangetown facility within a couple of years, thereby defaulting on taxes it should have paid to Orangetown, Rockland County, the South Orangetown School District and other fire, ambulance, library, sewer and other governmental taxing authorities. REDC took the lead in contacting the firm and getting it to repay those lost taxes, however, which amount to more than $2 million, he added, of which Orangetown will get about $480,000 as its share. The company relocated from Orangetown to Allentown, Pa.
  • Approved an agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas College to allow the town access to the college’s athletic fields in Sparkill in the event any repairs need to be made to a town sewer line running beneath the fields.
  • Approved an agreement with the New York Sharks Aquatics club to use town facilities in 2012, for a fee of $14,897.66.
  • Approved new leases for three town employees who reside in town-owned homes.  Thomas Iacobellis will pay $1,013 per month to continue leasing an Army-built home at the former Nike Base on top of Clausland Mountain, now a town park; Mr. Bello will pay the same to continue leasing a 200-year-old farm house at the entrance to Blue Hill Golf Court in Pearl River and Mr. Limandri will pay $1,044.48 to continue leasing the former home of Dr. Borst in Borst Park on North Main Street in Pearl River.
  •  Authorized the acceptance of a narrow strip of land along Oak Tree Road and Main Street in downtown Tappan from the Tappan Free Library. The library is planning an expansion of its facility at that intersection, and is giving the town the strip of land near the curb for public improvements the town will make.

Future Meetings

The Town Board’s next public meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall at 26 Orangeburg Road, Orangeburg. That will also be the board’s annual reorganization meeting at which three new members will officially assume their seats, including Supervisor-elect Andy Stewart (D-South Nyack) and Councilmen-elect Thomas Morr (R-Pearl River) and Paul Valentine (R-Blauvelt). They will join incumbent Republican councilmen Denis Troy (R-Pearl River) and Thomas Diviny (R-Blauvelt).

At the meeting, Stewart is expected to announce his personal appointments, and the full council will make its annual designations such as official newspapers, official banks for town deposits, who will serve as marriage officers and similar housekeeping details.

The council may also discuss when to hold its meetings next year. It was to have decided that at its last meeting, Dec. 13, but the three departing members said they felt it was inappropriate for them to set meetings dates for sessions they will no longer attend. Instead, they said they felt the new board should select its own meeting dates. The board had met on Monday evenings for more than 50 years, but that was changed to Tuesday night sessions two years ago. At last week’s meeting opinions ranged from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday, with no apparent consensus. Objections raised to keeping the meetings on Tuesday were mostly from audience members, who said it prevents them from attending Rockland County Legislature or South Orangetown School Board meetings, both of which also convene Tuesday evenings.