BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
At a meeting of the Rockland County Legislature’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday, Rockland Commissioner of Planning and Public Transportation Thomas B. Vanderbeek said a study by Cambridge Systematics on the MTA Value Gap in Rockland County, shows that the county should seek to cooperate with neighboring Orange County in withdrawing from the MTA and potentially create a two-county authority.
“By following the path toward withdrawal, the County will be able to gain more information and the financial impact on the County can be better determined,” said Vanderbeek.
“However, this decision cannot be made in a vacuum. There are a number of significant issues facing our County, not the least of which are the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the county’s current financial challenges. Based on the above, at this time I believe we should not go this route alone. I suggest that we share these results and our thoughts with Orange County, and explore the possibility of a joint action.”
The current system drains tens of millions out of the local economy of both counties in taxes. It ought to be feasible for counties not well serviced by the MTA to run their own public transit systems, critics of the current system like Rockland County Times Publisher Emeritus Armand Miele have said repeatedly through the years.
“Imagine if Rockland County was part of New York City’s bus system and spent twice as much in taxes to get the same service we do now, and then you will see the situation we are currently in with the MTA,” Miele said.
Withdrawing from the MTA would not be without challenges and risks warned Cambridge principal Brian Ten Siethoff, AICP. The biggest unknown is how much in Commuter Rail Revenue bonds Rockland would have to pay up initially.
In the past when the county has threatened to leave the MTA, including in 1988 when the county had the needed state consent to do so, local lawmakers changed their minds after the MTA made offers of increased service or created relatively small annual funds. For example, Rockland receives $2.82 million in returned taxes from the MTA’s DORF (Dutchess, Orange, Rockland fund) which was created over 20 years ago to balance inequities.
However, since it was created, the tax gap has skyrocketed over 300 percent.