BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Discussion of the preliminary 2014 budget for the Town of Stony Point dominated the discussion at the Town Board Meeting Tuesday night. Almost lost in the mix, but certainly of equal importance, was the Board’s long awaited approval both of the Zoning Relief Act and the Stony Point Master Plan.
Public input started with several residents commending the police department while at the same time pleading with the board not to produce any further cuts to the already depleted force. Chief of Police Brian Moore presented some startling facts to the board in support of his department’s budgetary request of two to three additional officers, reinstatement of part time dispatchers and three new police vehicles.
In the past month 72 arrests were made, double the usual number. During his budget presentation Chief Moore also stated that as recently as 2009—2010 the department had 30 officers, and that currently it is down to 23, with two out on disability leave. This represents a 23 percent decrease in staffing; the next closest drop in police staffing throughout the county was 4.1 percent in Haverstraw. Over the past few years the police department also lost funding for all four of its part time dispatchers. The cumulative effect of these losses resulted in a diminished presence on the street, both for crime and traffic enforcement, as well as the loss of presence in narcotics and intelligence task forces. He also noted the consequent rise of crime in the town, especially an increase in drug and gang related activity as well as burglary.
Councilmember Jim White closely questioned the Chief about the source of funding used in the past to hire additional officers and about the possibility of finding additional sources, including a cost/benefit analysis of reducing part time employees to fund a full time position. Supervisor Geoff Finn assured the public that the board fully supports an operational and effective police force and that most losses in staff were due to attrition, not by jobs being cut. However, he went on to say that even with the Board investigating additional or creative sources for funding, the Police Department will in all likelihood only get the two additional officers, not the three the Chief requested. Nonetheless, the Board was also willing to consider hiring part time dispatchers again if it meant freeing up more officers for patrol.
Superintendent of Highways Larry Brissing expressed his concerns that his operating budget has been flat for the past few years, despite increase in costs overall. The Board rebuffed his further request for a contingency fund, but did seem to be willing to consider his request to hire an additional driver, as the department has 9 snow plows and plow routes, but only 8 drivers.
John Waite, chair of the Stony Point Tax District Board of Ambulance Commissioners, along with Commissioners Kim Lippes and Chris Jensen, was pleased to submit a budget request of about $150,000, with an additional fuel request of $11,000, a total sum still considerably less than requests of past years. The difference signified the Ambulance Corps’ new administration’s change of direction regarding the payment of old debt. Councilman White extensively questioned the commissioners, and the Ambulance Corps’ president Joe Segelbacher, about the sale of the Corps’ old headquarters and other sources of revenue, but in the end no one could really argue with the commissioners’ very reasonable budget request. All parties agreed that things were greatly improved at the Ambulance Corps since the change of Administration in June.
With very little left to be said about the Zoning Relief Act and Advisory Base Flood Elevation Numbers, the Board closed the public hearing and, almost a year to the day of Hurricane Sandy, approved the new law. The Act will permit those who have lost homes in flood areas due to Sandy to rebuild in the former house footprint at elevation levels now at Federal standards (up to 14 feet) without having to go through the numerous variance procedures that would otherwise have been required.
With similar lack of fanfare, the almost eight-year journey toward a new Master Plan has finally come to its conclusion. The Board adopted the final findings statement, the last step in the environmental impact statement necessary for the Master Plan and then unanimously approved it. All changes to the zoning law contained within the Plan will now become enacted. Residents can view the completed project on the Town’s website, or can contact the Town Clerk about how to get a copy. In a related move, Councilmember Luanne Konopko introduced discussion about how to appointment a Conservation Advisory Committee as provided for by Town law but never established. After discussion with counsel, the Board agreed to place the item on the next agenda for resolution.