Controversy at Rockland County Legislature Meeting

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

Legislators vote confirm award transit contract to Brega Tansportation Corp. and CSEA Contract moves one step closer

Tensions flared last Wednesday evening as county legislators voted to award the Brega Transportation Corp. a county bus transit contract drawing lawsuit threats from competitor, MV Transportation Corp.

“I believe that we are under an obligation to award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder,” said Legislator Ilan Schoenberger.

According to Schoenberger, the legislature conducted a thorough review and decided on Brega because of their ability to complete the project and their bid amount.

During the public participation portion of the meeting, MV Transportation lawyer Mathew Dawes accused Brega of oppositional, counterproductive behavior. Dawes said that there was no choice but to sue Brega and the legislature for exhibiting local preference. Several unnamed, individual legislators could also face lawsuits from the firm according to Dawes.

In a scathing rebuttal, Legislator Wolfe called the firm’s approach offensive and unnecessary. Wolfe explained that favoritism had no role in the decision. “This tactic doesn’t work in Rockland County,” said Wolfe, “Maybe it works in New York City, but it doesn’t work here.”

Two of the legislators present did not vote on the resolution. Legislator Nancy Low Hogan, who said that all of the bidding submissions were flawed and should not have been accepted, cast the sole dissenting vote.

Legislator John Murphy abstained because his position as chairman at Camp Venture is directly affected by Brega’s transportation services and could present a conflict of interest.

Another item of discussion was the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) contract. All members of the legislature ratified the contract save for Legislator Christopher Carey, who was absent, and Legislators Joseph Meyers, and Low-Hogan who voted against it.

The CSEA and county executive recently released a memorandum of understanding, a tentative agreement that requires approval by both parties before ratification by the legislature. With the endorsement of both the union and the legislature, the memorandum survived a major hurdle and is one step closer to becoming a legally binding contract.

The new contract would contain no new expenses and build in a temporary cash flow boost through a 10-day pay deferment, which would be reimbursed in 2014. However, despite the apparent agreement of negotiators concerning, there was still the issue that the contract would not provide enough real savings for the county, and could become a liability.

Low-Hogan, who voted against the measure with Meyers, said that without the 2013 budget, it was too risky to ratify.

The majority of legislators though have shown support for the bill. As part of a resolution approved that night, Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell promised that as a county employee, she would voluntarily accept the deferment. She said she expects several other legislators to voluntarily subject themselves to the deferral as well.

“We’re really joining because we want to show resolve with employees of the county government,” Cornell stated.

According to Legislator Ed Day, the contract is a fair deal where the county benefits from a pause in salary increases, and a pay deferral without having to resort to layoffs. Day said it was consistent with similar settlements during times of financial strain.

“In some ways, the contract is even tougher than these settlements,” said Day.

Two reports concerning the Summit Park Medical Facility were also submitted for receipt by the legislature. One being an evaluation by audit firm KPMG and the other, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

The latter report, presented by Bennett, Kielson, Storch, and DeSantis accounting partner Nicholas DeSantis, broke down several of the expenditures and deficiencies in the 2011 budget.

Both reports painted a grim picture of the financial situation at Summit Park. DeSantis said that in order to stabilize the facility’s finances, the county would have to pay off outstanding bonds, and any current liabilities.

The county would also need to offset the balance of the proceeds in an investment account to pay retiree health insurance, which requires $7 million in cash each year.

Murphy said that the numbers “spell the death knell of this hospital,” presenting a difficult situation for a facility that is rapidly becoming a financial black hole. This is also coupled with an impossibly small timetable for solving the problem and no immediately options available.

“There’s nothing that we can do in the next year’s operating budget to stem this hemorrhaging,” Murphy said.

Summit Park, which has been frequently characterized as a facility of last resort, has been a significant budgetary issue due to its significant $13 million deficit and an overall loan debt of $32 million.

Suggestions have been made to privatize the hospital’s services, sell the facility, or transfer the population whilst shutting down operations completely, raising the question of what will happen to the facility’s residents.