BY SARA GILBERT
The Preserve Ramapo group met Monday evening, July 2, at the Deerkill Day Camp to discuss their plan for a demonstration this coming Monday, July 9 outside Ramapo Town Hall. The goal, they say, is to protest the Ramapo Town Board’s intention to raise the tax cap above the 2 percent state limit.
The demonstration at the entrance to Ramapo Town Hall on Route 59 in Suffern will begin at 7:15 p.m., allowing enough time for picketing and getting the message across prior to the meeting at 8 p.m.
The signs will include slogans like “Shame,” “Resign” and “Where is our money?”.
“We are in a difficult position,” said Robert I. Rhodes, chairman of Preserve Ramapo. “Without the raise, Ramapo is going to have to declare bankruptcy or fire an awful lot of employees. On the other hand, people are truly outraged that our town board is going to do what I predicted before the last election – to raise its taxes far beyond the 2 percent cap.”
Preserve Ramapo members are additionally annoyed at the timing of this meeting. They feel Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence purposefully waiting until the week after July 4th, when many people are away on vacation, in order to discuss the tax cap increase in the hopes that many of those opposed would not be available to attend. “He could have held this meeting weeks ago, but he waited,” said Rhodes.
Ramapo recently passed a $15 million tax anticipation note and now needs to raise its tax limit in order to repay it and continue to pay off its debts, according to Rhodes.
Rhodes predicts that St. Lawrence is going to blame the County and say it’s because of the County’s monetary problems that we need to raise the tax cap. “Those who want to believe him will and the rest aren’t aware of what’s going on anyways,” Rhodes complained.
Preserve Ramapo would like more transparency in the way that the Town of Ramapo operates its funds.
Ramapo has been listed by debtwire’s Municipal Early Warning System (MEWS), of the Financial Times of London. And Moody’s has downgraded Ramapo’s credit rating twice recently and expected further downgrades will come, Rhodes said.
Rockland County currently has the lowest bond rating in the entire state of New York and Ramapo has the lowest rating in the county.
In addition to the increase in the tax cap, two major complaints Preserve Ramapo has are the affordable housing on Elm Street and the baseball stadium, Provident Bank Ballpark.
“Ramapo has invested $100 million in two fiscal disasters,” according to Rhodes.
The affordable housing project on Elm Street, is in reality so expensive that half of the units have not been sold. In addition, most of the units that have been sold were done so illegally to limited liability companies and not to low-income families as they were supposed to be, according to Patsy Wooters, a Preserve Ramapo member and the 2010 winner of the Rockland County Executive’s Outstanding Environmental Volunteer Award.
The stadium, at a $70 million investment, cost more than three times the projected amount listed by the Fishkind report, which was what Ramapo used to justify its investment in the project, claimed Rhodes.
In the beginning, attendance at the baseball games was high, but Rhodes said the last game he attended there were roughly only 300 people in the stands. “That’s not enough money to even keep the lights on there,” he said.
At the very least, Preserve Ramapo is hoping that they can politically embarrass St. Lawrence and the town board at this Monday’s meeting. “They shouldn’t be able to raise the tax limit above 2 percent without being politically embarrassed,” the group said in a press release.