BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Demonstrators gathered at Ramapo Town Hall at 7:15 p.m. on July 9 to raise awareness of the town’s budgetary woes and voice their objections to the conduct of Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence.
Preserve Ramapo organized the event in response to perceived misuse and diversion of public funds, alleged damage done to the town’s tax base and failure to provide budgetary transparency, cronyism, and the proposed tax cap override, which did pass and permits the town to raise taxes over the 2 percent state limit.
The protest attracted dozens of attendees who held signs reading “Shame,” “Resign,” and “Where is our money?” as Preserve Ramapo chairman Robert I. Rhodes and County Legislator Joe Meyers addressed the audience.
During the subsequent Town Hall meeting at 8 p.m., several of the protesters asked pointed questions to St. Lawrence, and the town board, which protesters said is beholden to the desires of the town supervisor rather than town residents. Following the hearing, the board voted in favor of overriding the tax cap with four affirmative votes and one abstention.
Rhodes stated that he is determined to embarrass and expose St. Lawrence’s perceived failures and pave the way for a new, capable town supervisor.
“We need really competent leadership now because we are in a terrible, terrible position and we know we have an incompetent board that has no curiosity at all, at least public curiosity, and we have an incompetent, lying supervisor,” he said.
Rhodes said he believes that though the tax cap should be raised, the repayment of a $15 million tax anticipation note signed by St. Lawrence will necessitate either a steep tax hike or town employee layoffs. Rhodes expressed additional objections to what he perceives to be exaggerations of revenues for the 2012 fiscal year by 25 percent, which led to irresponsible borrowing and an ultimate inability to efficiently pay down the town’s deficit.
Meyers said that St. Lawrence would attempt to shift the blame for the town’s deficit to the county’s fiscal troubles, and indeed St. Lawrence did blame increased expenses forced on the town by the county for the hike. Meyers said, “The truth of the matter is his fiscal mismanagement, his Elm Street project, his borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, his stealing money from the ambulance district and the fire district and the police district or other things he shouldn’t be spending money on, that is what has caused this problem.”
As examples of unnecessary spending, both Rhodes and Meyers cited the controversial building of the baseball stadium in Pomona at the expense of town taxpayers and the building of “affordable housing” on Elm Street which has failed to attract attention from renters.
In response to the criticisms, St. Lawrence attributed many of the concerns to unsubstantiated rumors and misinformation. He stated that there was no budgetary overspending and that he and the board were working to pay down a $6.9 million dollar debt by enacting budget cuts which would set aside the entirety of $1.1 million to pay back the county in new costs.
“We didn’t overspend our budget by one penny,” he said.
St. Lawrence also claims that there was no borrowing involving a $15 million tax anticipation note. He said money transferred from various funds were paid back with interest rather than left as debt, there was suitable transparency because the town budgets were available and subject to meetings and votes on adjustments, and that the tax cap bypass merely expands the town’s options.
In addition to the public hearing on the budget, several resolutions were put to a vote and passed. These resolutions included:
· Amendments to the 2012 budget in the form of county charge backs and the receipt of a New York S.T.E.P. Grant
· Settlements of certiorari action on Calvert Estates, Inc. and 400 Pella Realty
· Acceptance of the resignation of a member of the Town of Ramapo Planning Board
· A memorializing resolution expressing support for the Legal Aid Society of Rockland County’s continued control of its funding through escrow interest accounts