BY BOB KNIGHT
Supervisor Wants Capital Projects Master Plan Created
The Orangetown Town Board expects to appoint and re-appoint members to dozens of town committees, advisory boards, commissions and other agencies in the next two weeks, and is still seeking interested applicants for many of the positions, some of which are paid and others of which are volunteer.
At a special workshop meeting Tuesday evening the board screened three more applicants in executive session, before reverting to a general discussion about how to categorize infrastructure and financial problems facing the town in coming years, and possible ideas for resolving those issues in the most logical and economically sensible manner.
Supervisor Andrew Stewart announced that suggested names for the various committees will be released at next Thursday’s (April 17) second workshop meeting of the month, and will be voted on by the five-member council a week later, at the board’s business session. All of the meetings are open to the public, with the workshop meeting starting at 8 p.m. and the business meeting at 7:30 p.m.
Stewart also announced that the terms of several members of the various boards and commissions expired at the end of last year, but that those members continue to serve as “hold-over” members until they are either re-appointed or replaced by others.
Chairpersons will also be appointed for each organization, which could be the holdover incumbent, or a new team leader, depending on the viewpoints of the five council members over the next two weeks. Finally, Stewart said, a liaison will be appointed from the Town Board to each committee, with each council member getting three or four such appointments.
Candidates interviewed Tuesday included applicants for vacancies on the Orangetown Housing Authority, which operates the town’s Cortwood Village senior citizens housing complex in Orangeburg, and administers the sale or rental of town-owned, town-sponsored or federally subsidized housing to low income residents, volunteer firefighting and ambulance service families, veterans and other special populations. Management of Cortwood is done through a contract with the private ARCO agency of Suffern, while the non-profit Rockland Housing Action Coalition manages the other projects, under separate contracts.
The only board members who are paid, with annual part-time salaries covered by bi-weekly pay checks, are those serving on the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Architecture and Community Appearance Board of Review (ACABOR) and the Historic Areas Board of Review (HABR). Their chairpersons are also given an additional stipend for their administrative duties.
Some committees have not met in a year or two, have no currently designated function, and may be abolished, Stewart said Tuesday, gaining general concurrence from his fellow board members. They include the Cable Television Advisory Committee, which advises the town board on cable TV licensing agreements every decade when they come up for renewal; and the Downtown Hamlet Revitalization Committee, whose job is now winding down with the completion of the last project upgrade in Tappan. The committee had earlier acted in a similar advisory capacity on upgrades in Pearl River, Blauvelt, Orangeburg, Sparkill and Palisades.
The status of the commuter parking advisory committee was questioned Tuesday, with no one on the board certain if it still exists, continues to meet, or has any future responsibility. It had recommended removing commuter parking from the streets of downtown Sparkill, and moving it instead to a new parking lot the town is to construct at the intersection of Route 340 and Oak Tree Road in Palisades, on land owned by the American Legion post there. Approved over a year ago, the lot has yet to be built. The committee was chaired from its inception by Councilman Michael Maturo who lived in Sparkill but who did not seek re-election when his five-year term on the council expired last year.
Some committees may either have their name changed, or their jurisdiction enlarged, because they no longer reflect their original intent when they were created.
One such group is the Blue Hill Golf Course Advisory Committee, one of the town’s most active groups, which was created more than a quarter-century ago to provide input and advice to the town’s Parks and Recreation Department in the operation of the town-owned and operated Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River. An 18-hole course for a century, it was enlarged to 27 holes by the town, and is today the largest public course in Rockland County. Nearly a decade ago the town also purchased the Broadacres Golf Course on the Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg from the State of New York, and has been operating that nine-hole facility ever since.
The committee has had less input on the operation of that course, but council members Tuesday said they felt the committee should either be enlarged in scope to fully cover both courses, have its name changed to include both courses or to just a “Golf Course Advisory Committee” or create a separate committee to advise on the Broadacres operation. Board members hope to arrive at a consensus by April 24.
Another is the town’s Youth Assessment Committee, the name of which gives no clue as to the group’s function. Councilman Denis Troy explained that the town at one time had an all-encompassing advisory committee to the Parks and Recreation Department called OPDAC, or the Orangetown Parks Development Advisory Committee.
That group’s original jurisdiction included the golf courses, but that responsibility was transferred to the Blue Hill Advisory Committee, leaving OPDAC with the advisory job of making recommendations on the acquisition of new park land, assigning uses for those new parks, advising on potential uses for all vacant park land, and advising on how best to utilize limited resources for youth and adult sports and active recreation.
Under frequent prodding by Troy, the Town Board eventually decided OPDAC was concentrating its sphere of influence to heavily on passive parks, and ignoring the needs of sports-oriented residents. It then split the committee once again; creating the new Youth Assessment Committee to specifically advise on sports and recreation needs in the town, and relegating OPDAC to advising on passive parkland.
The long-time chairperson of OPDAC was Catherine Dodge of Orangeburg, who was taken ill last year and has been unable to serve ever since. At Troy’s suggestion, the Town Board will consider changing the name of the Youth Assessment Committee to better reflect its purpose, and also consider naming a new OPDAC chair to replace Mrs. Dodge if she is unable to continue serving.
During general discussion at Tuesday’s workshop meeting, Stewart presented a list of topics he said have been vexing him since he took office as the head of town government January 1,and which he wished the board would consider over the next several months.
He discovered, for instance, that Orangetown has no master plan for future public works projects, despite the fact that the town’s infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating. He has also learned that audio and video means of communicating town government and business to the public is virtually non-existent, despite the fact that this is considered the golden age of electronic media.
And finally, Stewart said, he has learned that Orangetown is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility bills to outside agencies, and getting little or nothing in return.
Utility bills include about $450,000 annually to Orange and Rockland Utilities, just for streetlights on town-owned streets. And Orangetown pays the firm even if streetlights are burned out and non-functioning, because the annual fee is based on a per- light charge, regardless of whether the light exists or burns at night. Stewart said he felt the town should assess its lighting needs to see if some lights could be eliminated, see if wattage could be reduced in others, and devise a way to notify O & R when a light is not working, so the town would not be charged.
Stewart would also like to reduce the $9,000 monthly bill for water to the United Water Company, most of which is for street mains and hydrant use, and water required by the town sewer department to constantly flush equipment, mains, pumps and other system components. He suggested either drilling a well on town-owned land to draw free water instead of paying the utility, or reactivating unused water wells and pumps at the former RPC campus, which the town now owns.
Stewart’s biggest gripe, however, seemed to be the lack of a capital project master plan, in which each town department submits a list of capital projects it would like to undertake, reasons for their necessity, cost projections, and timetables as to when the projects should be undertaken, and completed.
Stewart said he has reviewed requests from various departments for funding over the past few years with Charles Richardson, the town’s long-time finance director, to try and get a handle on what each unit of town government feels it needs.
So far that list includes a new salt dome for the highway department, a parking garage for the parks and recreation department’s extensive fleet of vehicles, a repair shop facility for those same vehicles, and constant leaks and other failures at the Town Hall in Orangeburg itself, a 53-year-old “modern” style building that has never been upgraded since it was constructed in 1959.
Currently the highway and sewer departments have repair facilities for their own vehicles, and staff to operate them. Police, parks and other departments either try to get their vehicles repaired by those two shops, when scheduling permits it, or go to outside private repair shops for maintenance, which is very expensive. Stewart said he is yet to be convinced if each department should have its own repair shop, or the town should have one large such facility serving all departments, or continue with the current two-garage system.
Councilmen Paul Valentine and Thomas Diviny suggested the town study what facilities are available at the sprawling RPC campus next door in Orangeburg, which the town purchased from the state a decade ago. There are a number of former garages, warehouses and maintenance shops there that might lend themselves to being utilized by town departments for vehicle parking and maintenance needs, the board members opined.
Stewart thanked them for their input, saying that was the type of information he is seeking, and promised to follow up on their suggestion of space at RPC.
He said he would still like to see comprehensive lists from every department, detailing everything they think they will need in the future, including buildings, vehicles, equipment and infrastructure, along with timetables and cost estimates. Once such a master list is compiled, Stewart said Richardson could prepare estimates for the board on how much money should be spent each year, and now to pay for such expenses, probably through the issuance of revenue bonds. The bonds would be repaid over several years, through real property taxes, with new bonds being issued every time old ones are retired.
Besides seeking input from Town Board members and department heads, Stewart said he is also seeking similar input from town residents who may have ideas on how Orangetown can save money in its operations to reduce the cost to taxpayers while still maintaining a high level of service.