Rockland County Legislature Votes on Unfunded Mandate Relief Request, Lawsuit against Clarkstown

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

The Rockland County Legislature met for a general assembly on August 8 to discuss and pursue final votes on referrals which had been carried through the various legislative committees.

In particular, there was significant discussion and debate on the issue of unfunded mandates. Referral 8634 urges Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to include relief for all New York counties if state representatives receive pay raises in 2012. Meanwhile, referral 6707 establishes fifteen new positions in the Sheriff’s Department Correctional Facility in accordance with new minimum staffing requirements mandated by the state.

Referral 8634 passed with opposing votes from Legislators Joseph Meyers, Harriet Cornell, and Nancy Low-Hogan. While Meyers agreed that Albany should consider the feasibility of funding mandates, he stressed that they should be scrutinized individually rather than condemned outright and felt that linking mandate relief to pay raises in Albany might be interpreted as antagonism.

“I don’t want to vote against this resolution, but I don’t think that it is the right message to send,” Meyers said about the connection between mandate relief and salary raises. “We should be asking them to address it regardless.”

Legislator Patrick J. Moroney disagreed, stating that the measure was necessary to draw the attention of non-responsive state legislators.

“I would like to see the state just live up to their mandates and pay us for the mandates that they put upon us,” Moroney said. “They don’t do that.”

Referral 6707 was a closely-related resolution designed to address new state requirements for correctional officers. Almost all legislators agreed that regardless of the mandate issue, the safety needs of officers and inmates outweighed all other considerations.

Legislator Aron B. Wieder disagreed with the majority view, stating that it was necessary to stand up to Albany on this issue.

“This madness has got to stop,” Wieder stated. “The message has to be loud and clear: Albany, we will no longer submit to this onslaught. If we approve this resolution and capitulate to the demands of Albany, we do not deserve any better than Albany.”

A third major issue, referral 6394, was addressed as a new matter of business and passed almost unanimously. Legislator Moroney moved the item, which authorizes a lawsuit against the Town of Clarkstown for what Moroney claimed was an improper closure of Samuel Road in Nanuet.

Moroney explained that the road block was dangerous because it did not allow passage for emergency personnel, requiring them to take detours which add minutes to their response time. He added that it was also illegal because the town did not receive a permit to close the road from the county’s superintendent.  A photograph of the road block that circulated during the meeting and statements from Police Chief Michael Sullivan and the Nanuet Fire Department against the road block added evidence to Moroney’s claims.

Prior to the legislative assembly, the Town of Clarkstown defended the closure as a means to control traffic and limit speeding on town roads. Additional opposition came from Legislator Frank Sparaco, who cited a lack of time to objectively assess the situation and a reluctance to support a lawsuit without adequate information and was the only member of the legislature to vote against the resolution.

“The Clarkstown Town Board [members], in my opinion, are very intelligent, astute, good representatives of their constituents,” Sparaco said. “Why would they unanimously put forth this resolution? I don’t know what their reason is. I don’t know why they did this, when they did it, if it’s temporary, if it’s permanent, what are their plans, why is this happening, or what is their point of view.”

Despite the potential for a conflict and the undesirability of a protracted lawsuit, Cornell suggested and Moroney agreed upon a change in the language of the resolution to stress the urgency and dangerousness of the situation without characterizing the town’s actions as reckless. Cornell emphasized that the resolution was passed out of urgency rather than to antagonize the Town of Clarkstown and that she wished for a mutually agreeable and cooperative solution to the issue.

In addition to these major points of discussion, a number of smaller items passed unanimously:

·       Referral 8737 was a piece of unfinished business that establishes a standard workday for elected and appointed officials in Rockland County and passed unanimously.

·       Referral 9326 approves a three-year agreement with Brega Transportation Corp. to provide transportation for special needs children.

·       Referral 5906 sets 7:10 p.m. on September 19 as the time and date for a public hearing to consider a cost increase of the Western Ramapo Sewer Extension.

·       Referral 8886 approved the acceptance of a New York State Department of Health grant for the Reality Check anti-smoking program.

·       Referrals 6704 and 5327/6704 appropriated federal forfeiture funds for the Suffern Police Department and the Office of the Sheriff for a partial reimbursement for the cost of new police hires in the Rockland County Drug Task Force and the November 17, 2012 police examination, respectively.

· Referral 3657 was also an appropriation for the Rockland County Office for the Aging’s Taxi Voucher Program.

·       Referral 8894 approved fifteen one-year contracts for state-mandated pre-school special education services and early intervention programs, while Referral 8896 extended another contract between the County and Rockland Mobile Care, Inc. for non-emergency ambulance service.

·       Referral 6311/9019 (a)-(d) approved several inter-municipal host site agreements between Rockland County’s Youth Bureau and organizations which will be providing host sites for Rockland County’s Americorps program.

·       Referral 8111/5614 corrects the tax rolls for several individual properties with hurricane damage in the Town of Ramapo.

·       The Multi-Services Committee’s report largely focused upon the appointment and reappointment of various Rockland County board members. Referral 2871 (a)-(d) confirmed the reappointment of Richard W. King, M.D., Vincent P. Abbatecola, and Joseph R. Lagana to the Board of Governors. Referral 3179 confirmed the appointment of Mary Jean Marisco Ed.D., to the Board of Health and Referral 2912 recommended the appointment of Milagros Guzman to the Rent Guidelines Board.

·       Two appointments occurred outside of the Multi-Service Committee’s report. Referral 3936 confirmed the appointment of Joanna Galdone to the Rockland County Park Commission and Referral 5506 confirmed the appointment of Chief William Barbera to the Rockland County Traffic Safety Board.

·       Referral 8757 set 7:05 p.m. on October 3, 2012 as the time and date for a public hearing on amending the Rockland County Multiple Dwelling Smoking Policy Act. Legislator Wolfe stated that the amendments were meant to clarify the purpose of the existing law and make necessary technical changes.

The next General Assembly is in September, though committee meetings are likely to be held before then, especially the Public Safety Committee, which will likely discuss the closure of Samuel Road.