BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Orangetown’s Town Board happily announced Tuesday that the long-awaited sidewalk project for Route 340 in Orangeburg and Sparkill will finally get built, after nearly a decade in the planning stage.
The board’s only regret in making the announcement at a regularly scheduled workshop meeting was that the chief proponent of the new sidewalk was not present to enjoy the news. That was Esta Baitler, a resident of the Kathy Lukens Residence at Camp Venture on the Sparkill portion of the state highway, who has lobbied for the walkway for longer than most board members have sat on the town council.
Not to steal Esta’s thunder, councilmen suggested she be invited to a future meeting of the board so they can let her know personally that her long battle is finally nearing an end, and she should soon be able to enjoy the comfort and safety of using the new sidewalk to get to and from her residence, shopping and other destinations without having to negotiate the dangerous shoulderless two-lane highway.
For as long as the project has been discussed in Orangetown, nearly 10 years at least, Baitler has been a regular fixture at Town Board meetings, cajoling and pleading with the council and other town officials to finally get started on the long-stalled effort. In particular, she has singled out Supervisors Thom Kleiner, Paul Whalen and currently Andrew Stewart, as well as Highway Superintendent James Dean, begging them for updates and projected construction start dates, only to be told repeatedly that the project was “in the works” or “is being planned,” and was lacking only financial approval.
The long-sought update finally came Tuesday, when Dean announced that the New York State Department of Transportation has finally given its OK for the project, and committed nearly $1 million toward its construction. At the same time, he announced that Orangetown has finally acquired the last parcels of land along Route 340 from their private owners, needed for a right-of-way for the sidewalk, so that construction can begin as early as this fall.
Because it is already fall, he cautioned that major work on the sidewalk probably won’t begin until next spring, but that everything is now in place for that to occur, with no further delays.
Dean explained that Orangetown built a 2,000-foot concrete sidewalk on the south side of Route 340 in 2004 from Camp Venture east to downtown Sparkill. The town will now construct another three-quarters-of-a-mile concrete sidewalk from the side of the Moore and Moore Real Estate Agency at the corner of Route 303 all the way to the existing sidewalk at the Venture Living Center, where Baitler lives.
The new sidewalk will be 3,960 linear feet in length, Dean said, and will be built to state and federal specifications. It will also be fully handicapped accessible, in order to qualify for the joint federal-state grant which the DOT is channeling to Orangetown for the project.
The project will also include the construction of concrete curbs as well as an underground drainage system, channeling the ground-water runoff into the nearby Sparkill Creek, which will have the side benefit of reducing frequent flooding in the area.
Dean said the two most time-consuming elements of the sidewalk project were the actual design phase, and the acquiring of 10 easements along the edge of the state highway.
Seven of the properties are privately owned, while three are owned either by Rockland County or non-profit agencies.
The land, ranging in width from a few inches to two or more feet in various locations, was needed for the actual construction of the sidewalk, since the state had never obtained sufficient land when it first created Route 340 as a state highway nearly a century ago.
Dean said the private land-owners all wanted to be paid for their long, narrow strips of land, meaning an expert assessor and appraiser had to be hired to determine the fair-market value of those strips. Orangetown is now in the process of acquiring the properties, and paying the owners with money it will be receiving from the state.
The two non-profit agencies, St. Thomas Aquinas College and Camp Venture, donated their strips of land for free, even though they are among the three largest parcels needed for the entire project. The other large parcel is owned by Rockland County Sewer District No. 1, which told the town it is prevented by federal and state law from “giving away” any county asset. It will therefore get more than $35,000 for the strip, which borders the county sewage treatment plant, along the banks of the Sparkill Creek behind the Moore & Moore Realty office.
The Town Board spent more than an hour Tuesday reviewing the Police Department’s budget request for 2014 with the four top ranking officers of the department in a sometimes acrimonious debate on how to reduce salaries, benefits and overtime without reducing the department’s effectiveness in preventing and solving crime in Rockland County’s third-largest township.
To council calls for more reductions in force, Chief Kevin Nulty and his staff responded by nothing that the department had more than 100 officers a decade ago, and has an authorized strength of only 81 today.
To make up for that shortage, they said several special units and squads have been disbanded, participation in county, state and federal task forces has been reduced; and vehicles, equipment and supplies has been curtailed to dangerously low levels.
At the same time, overtime has gone up as existing officers must put in extra hours to try to accomplish what a larger force did years earlier, with constant annual shrinkage of their budget.
Overtime an Issue
That overtime quickly became an issue as well, as council members demanded to know why it keeps going up every year, despite their instructions to the department to at least keep it level, if not actually decreasing it each year from the year before. Nulty and his staff responded that they couldn’t both reduce staff and reduce overtime at the same time, because one is dependent on the other, and when one goes down, the other automatically goes up, like a seesaw.
Council members appeared unconvinced of the dichotomy, however, but promised the ranking officers to continue their deliberations and negotiations with them over the department’s future outlook for 2014 and beyond.
Among the “problems” cited by Nulty and his staff were items such as:
- Staffing went as low as 77 last year, because of retirements, but four new hires brought it back to 81 today.
- Overtime is estimated to reach $1.2 million by Dec. 31 of this year, and the council has urged department leaders to reduce it to at least $1.1 million, if not even less, for 2014.
- Three of the current 81 officers are out on long-term disability, all for nearly a year already, and this is anticipated to continue into next year. The officers receive full pay and benefits while out on leave, which could last several years if their conditions do not significantly improve, and there is little the department or the town can do about it. Nulty said a few years ago the department had as many as seven officers out on long-term disability, but was eventually able to dismiss some of them, force others to retire and get others to return to active duty.
- As recently as January of last year the department had 86 officers, now down to only 81. A shoving match is currently in play between the department, which wants additional hires; and the Town Board, which would like to see further reductions.
Budget negotiations between the council and various town departments of government are continuing weekly in Orangetown, with the next sessions scheduled for this Friday and Saturday, with more planned for next week.
Some are held in open workshop meetings, to which the public is invited, while others are held in executive session, which are closed to he public. The board must adopt a final 2014 budget by early November and schedule a public hearing on that document, when residents and property owners will have the opportunity to speak on any aspect of next year’s document, and to make any suggestions or recommendations to the council.
Meetings coming up in the next few days announced by Supervisor Andrew Stewart and Town Board members include the following:
- Friday, Sept. 6, executive session meeting on developing a private management agreement with a private operator to take over the operation of the town-owned Broadacres Golf Club next year.
- Saturday, Sept. 7, workshop meeting of the board concerning the entire budget.
- Monday, Sept. 9, workshop meeting of the board with the boards and staffs of the four Orangetown hamlet libraries, concerning their proposed budgets for 2014. The libraries, which all receive almost all of their annual funding from the township through its budget, are Blauvelt, Orangeburg, Tappan and Palisades.
- Monday, Sept. 9, regular business meeting of the Town Board, at 7:30 p.m., replacing the regularly scheduled session of the following evening that is being cancelled because it is a Jewish Holiday.
- Tuesday, Sept.10, the town’s normal business meeting is cancelled tonight because it is the even of Rosh Hashanah, a major Jewish holiday.
- Wednesday, Sept. 11, the town’s annual 9-11 memorial event will take place as always, at a 6:30 p.m. ceremony at the 9-11 memorial on the Town Hall front lawn at the corner of Orangeburg and Dutch Hill Roads. Along with town officials, local police and fire departments, auxiliary police, ambulance corps, veterans and scouting organizations, Nam Knights Motorcycle Club, service, civic and patriotic organizations and the general public are invited to attend and participate. Refreshments will be served following the ceremonies.