Timeline — 4/5

State Health Commissioners ban sale of synthetic marijuana products

New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah recently issued an order banning the sale of synthetic marijuana products in New York State. These substances contain the plan material coated with chemicals that mimic THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. They are being sold in convenience stores, smoke shops, and tobacco stores, as a “legal alternative” to marijuana and are known as “Spice,” “K2,” “Mister Nice Guy,” and more. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo urged the Department of Health to ban the sale of these dangerous products. The Commissioner’s order calls for the sales and distribution of these products to cease immediately. Reportedly, “synthetic cannabinoids have been linked to severe adverse reactions including death and acute renal failure, and commonly cause a variety of other serious side effects.


New York repeals state sales tax on clothing and footwear under $110

New York will repeal the four percent state sales tax on clothing, footwear, and similar clothing items and apparel sold for less than $110 each, which began on April 1. The program, now in its second year, is applicable to items purchased in person, on the internet, via phone, or mail.  The qualifying amount for the sales tax exemption has doubled from clothing and apparel sold at $55 of less, to items which are sold at $110 or less. This sales tax cut will save taxpayers an estimated $210 million and also give local retailers and economic boost. Local businesses will likely see an increase in customers from neighboring states such as New Jersey. To find additional information on the sales tax exemption, visit the New York State department of Taxation and Finance website at www.tax.ny.gov.


Piermont man dies in SUV crash

Samuel Mason died while still inside his SUV which was on fire, following a crash into a wall in front of his rented property in Piermont. Police said that the cause of the crash and fire on Ritie Street, where Mason lived, is still under investigation. Police also do not know why Mason, who was 42 years old, could not exit his vehicle. They suspect that he may have suffered from a medical condition or lost consciousness. Detective Brian Holihan is being assisted in the investigation by officers with the Orangetown Police Department accident investigation team and detectives with the Sheriff’s Department Bureau of Criminal Investigation fire unit. Police do not yet have a cause of death, but believe that is was accidental. Mayor of Piermont Chris Sanders said that Mason was a newcomer to the village. The fire took place in a single parking space just off of Hudson Terrace which becomes Ritie Street. The car appears to have crashed into the retaining wall and burst into flames. Police still have many questions about the bizarre case.


Clarkstown School Board to fund defense of VP facing lawsuit

The Clarkstown school board of education voted on Monday to use district resources for the legal defense of the vice president of the Board of Ed, Donna Ehrenberg, who is facing a lawsuit filed by a teacher in the school district. Taxpayers are not responsible for any of the funding because the district has an insurance policy which pays for the legal fees and damages if board members and district employees are sued for actions taken in their official capacity. Trustees Ehrenberg, Doug Katz, the president, Phillip DeGaetano, and Kevin Grogan all voted in favor of providing defense which would be district-backed. This is permitted by the state education law under specific circumstances. Diane Hoeneveld and Robert Carlucci both voted against funding Ehrenberg’s defense. Joe Malgieri, who wife was the one who brought the lawsuit against Ehrenberg, abstained for obvious reasons. He is a political minority and is opposed to Ehrenberg, Katz, DeGaetano and Grogan.


Clarkstown schools to use $5.8M from reserves, expecting no layoffs or program cuts

The Clarkstown school district is planning to utilize $5.8 million from various fund reserves in order to bridge a budget gap in the 2012-13 school year. This is the highest dollar amount is has used in recent years. Assistant superintendent for business, John LaNave, said the district would draw from three separate reserve funds. They will take all of the $2.2 million in a fund set aside specifically for New York state pension retirement payments. Approximately $1.7 million will be allowed from a debt servicing fund, and finally about $1.9 million from its $6.7 million undesignated fund balance. The undesignated fund balance is typically the first place money is taken from to fill a funding shortage. LaNave said that there is “no other way to balance the budget without the use of fund balance and reserves.” The district’s spending plan, which totals about $179.8 million, for the coming school year, predicts a $4.22 million spending increase and a proposed 2.4 percent tax rate increase. The additional spending is mainly due to salary increases and health and retirement benefits for employees. This alone will cost an additional $6 million. There are no layoffs of program cuts predicted.


Illegal Valley Cottage apartments catch fire

Twenty people were living in a two-family house that was reportedly illegally converted into four apartments at the corner of Lake Road and Louis Avenue in Valley Cottage. On Monday morning, the structure caught fire, but no one was hurt in the blaze. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Clarkstown building inspector Peter Beary said that the town would be issuing violation notices to the homeowners, Sylvester and Virginia Almiron of New City. According to records, the old home was built in 1922. Reportedly, a family was living in the basement unit, which was not permitted under building codes. Gordon Wren, Jr., the county’s fire coordinator, is head of a task force that tries to identify and eliminate illegal housing in Rockland. Illegal housing is often dangerous and can pose risks to both the occupants and the firefighters if a blaze should break out. When firefighters arrived at the scene, fire was shooting out of the main level of the house. Several of the 20 residents were home at the time of the fire, and many ran outside in their pajamas. A preschool across the street from the home took in the residents and offered them shelter from the weather, which was chilly. They were also offered animal crackers and coffee.


Haverstraw taxpayers face tax-rate increase

Village taxpayers will face a 6.2 percent tax-rate increase under the proposed 2012-13 budget of about $8.4 million. The proposed spending plan if 0.36 percent higher than this year’s budget. Reduced assessments for the Harbors at Haverstraw and its related properties are what are mainly responsible for the proposed tax-rate hike. Haverstraw’s total assessment value for this year was $45.25 million, but with the proposed plan it would be reduced to $43.58 million. Village Mayor Michael Kohut said that the plan would meet the two percent tax levy cap. Under the proposed budget, village employees would receive a 1.75 percent salary increase, but elected officials would forgo their raises. Also, union employees had no raises under the current budget. A major cost increase would be seen in the allocations for Haverstraw Community Center in order to cover expected cutbacks as well as an expiring grant. Other cost increases are expected in items that out of the village’s control, such as employee’s health insurance contributions. The health insurance line for 2012-13 would be $1.13 million, up over 10 percent from this year’s contribution. Fire hydrant rental fees will also be up, as well as street lighting expenses.


Haverstraw father faces 15 years of prison time for beating his 5-month-old daughter to death

Michael Aviles, a 42-year-old Haverstraw man who was convicted of nonintentional second-degree manslaughter for beating his five-month-old daughter to death, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. The prosecution will seek a maximum sentence for Aviles, whose daughter’s skull and ribs were fractured during torturous beatings inside her home while under the care of her parents. Aviles was convicted by the Rockland County Court Judge William K. Nelson in January in a nonjury trial that lasted for several weeks. Nelson cleared Aviles of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder in the death of Michelle Aviles. Also acquitted, was the baby’s 23-year-old mother, LIssette Capellan, of murder. She claimed in statements that she was sleeping the apartment that she shared with Aviles when the child suffered the injuries which led to her death on January 16, 2010. Prosecutors argue that the parents acted together to kill their little girl, with Aviles abusing the child and Capellan taking no action to save her baby. Defense attorneys argue that Aviles was too drunk on rum to remember what happened that night, and also claim that there were no direct eyewitnesses or physical evidence showing that the father hurt his own daughter.


Rockland County Cadet Squadron for the Civil Air Patrol seeks new home

The Rockland County Cadet Squadron for the Civil Air Patrol has been located at the National Guard Armory in Orangeburg for almost 30 years. Now, the facility at 84 Old Orangeburg Road is closing because of troop deployment, forcing the Squadron to seek a new home. Its last day will be June 1. A spokesman for the National Guard confirmed that the armory would temporarily shut down in the fall while the 101st Signal Battalion of the New York Army National Guard is stationed in Afghanistan. The squad does not pay rent. The Rockland Cadet Squadron has about 12 active members and meets on Tuesday evenings at the armory. Some of its meetings are dedicated to military matters: marching, team-building, and learning rank and military protocols. Cadets are also trained in search-and-rescue techniques and are used by local emergency organizations. In addition, practice flights are flown out of the Orange County Airport


Business leaders to evaluate Summit Park

A panel of business leaders has been assigned the task of reviewing a report (which will soon be released) that is meant to help Rockland determine the future of Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center. County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said that the Summit Park Blue Ribbon Advisory Team would provide valuable input as the decision-making process moves forward. All members of the panel are active with the Rockland Business Association. Vanderhoef announced his plan to form a panel during his State of the County Address last month, and he has continued to stress the need for addressing Summit Park’s financial shortfalls. A State Comptroller’s Office audit of Summit Park which was released in December, identified the facility as “contributing toward Rockland County’s overall fiscal crisis.” The audit concluded that Summit Park’s failure to be financially viable has been a primary cause of the county’s deteriorated financial condition. This situation was blamed on increasing employee benefit costs, reducing revenues and the lack of long-term financial planning. Summit Park includes a 341-bed nursing home, a 57-bed acute-care hospital and a 43-bed short-stay mental health unit. In recent years, the county has loaned Summit Park about $19 million so it can continue to operate.


Independent agency given ability to prosecute New York police officers

Following the series of corruption cases and increased scrutiny of the New York Police Department, a new independent agency has been given more power to prosecute NYPD officers. Included in the recent “scandalous” situations are the NYPD’s surveillance and stop-and-frisk practices, the integrity of its crime and data and its use of force in policing Occupy Wall Street protests. Details of the agreement were in a memorandum which was signed last week by the department and the independent oversight agency called, “The Civilian Complaint Review Board.”  The changes are meant to bring a more “fair” disciplinary process for officers, one which critics have long said is “murky and secretive.” With the new agreement, board lawyers, instead of police agency employees, will act as prosecutors in cases in which board members have substantiated wrongdoing by officers and have recommended that the most serious kinds of internal, or administrative, discipline be handed out. Between 2007 and 2011, the board substantiated an average of 200 cases annually that it referred to the police so that officers were put on trial before administrative judges who were also police department employees. Under the new agreement, police department employees will still serve as judges in misconduct cases. Prior to the agreement, a police commissioner could opt not to send any substantiated cases to trial.