Stony Point Board Passes 2014 Budget; Cell Tower Sale Allows One-Year Tax Decrease on Residential Properties

Other issues: School Bond vote scheduled for November 19; CHPE EIS hearing set for November 18; NY Rising meeting set for November 20 and Supervisor Finn assails alleged incompetence of Joe Abate’s replacement in county government

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

After several weeks of deliberations and public hearings, the Stony Point Town Board passed the Town’s 2014 budget by a vote of 4 to 1. The new budget will provide, for the first time in several years, for the hiring of up to two additional police officers and an additional highway department employee. It will also include an increase of $6,500 in the overtime line for the Justice Court, to be offset by an equal amount in anticipated revenue from fines and levies.

Councilmember James White was the lone member to vote no, based in part on his objections to the raise in business tax and the failure of the budget to account for expected increased sales tax revenue from the county. The full budget can be viewed on the town’s website.

Of $2.3 million earned from the recent sale of a 40-year lease on the town’s cell tower properties, $1.5 million has been applied to this year’s budget. Supervisor Geoff Finn said he hopes that about half that amount can be returned to the town’s coffers when an expected influx of cash from FEMA comes in. The $1.5 million injection into the budget allowed the town to reduce homestead taxes by nearly 3 percent, while increasing commercial taxes by nearly 4 percent for an overall tax levy decrease of about 2 percent. Without the cell tower sale, taxes would have gone up several percent for homeowners. The town had been receiving about $130,000 annually off the lease of the cell towers, which it will no longer enjoy.

Supervisor Finn, as well as resident Susan Filgueras, urged all residents to vote yes November 19 to the proposed $7.6 million school repair bond. New York State has mandated that certain essential repairs must be made throughout the North Rockland School District. The bond will provide for two sources of state aid to do so: $5.09 million from the State Building Aid and another $2.6 million from the State Excel Aid. The Excel portion is available, however, for a limited time only. If the bond does not pass, residents will end up footing that portion of the costs through the regular school budget next year, Finn explained. If the bond does pass, it will only cost residents one to three dollars a year for 15 years. Voting will take place at the Farley Elementary School. For more information about the bond, visit the district’s website at www.nrcsd.org or call 845-942-3047.

Filgueras also announced that a public hearing would be held November 18 on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE). Residents will have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this project, which is slated to bring an electric power line from Quebec, underneath the Hudson River and overland through Stony Point, to provide electricity to New York City.

Filgueras believes there are dangers the line would present to the environment and that property may be seized though eminent domain, potentially impacting such landmarks and locations as the Waldron Revolutionary War Cemetery, the Ba Mar homes, the Stony Point Battlefield, and numerous houses and townhouses and the West Haverstraw Elementary School. The hearing is jointly before the U.S. Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers and will start at the Stony Point Center at 6 p.m. Residents also have until December 13 to submit written comments. The draft EIS can be viewed at the Rose Memorial Library. For more information go to chpeexpresseis.org or stonypointer.org.

The Town of Stony Point will hold the second of four public planning meetings for the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program on November 20 at 7 pm at the RHO building. Councilmember Luanne Konopko urged all Stony Pointers to participate in the planning process if they want the Town to remain eligible for the $3 million state grant to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. She noted that it is critical that the community develop a competitive reconstruction plan in order to secure the funding. “Now is the time for your input,” she stated, “to give us your ideas on what projects you think will be best for the community.”

During public input, Diane Tomlins, a resident of the Ba Mar community, read a letter behalf of Ba Mar Community Organization acting president Timothy Waldron and the entire Ba Mar Community, pleading with the town for assistance with the new elevation requirements they must comply with in order to maintain their homeowners’ and flood insurance.

Some of the residents have already received letters stating that they will lose their insurance by February 2014 if they do not provide proof that they have raised their homes by that date. Waldron’s letter stated that the process of compliance is prohibitively complex, time-consuming and costly for individual residents. With the departure of county administrator Joe Abate, who is no longer working directly with the Stony Point community, they have no municipal official to turn to for help and guidance.

Supervisor Finn said he has been in contact with Abate who, despite his new position with the state, is apparently still willing to return to Stony Point for a series of meetings with elected officials, the Ba Mar owners, and the community members, in order to determine what can be done. Abate’s two original suggestions, that the entire Ba Mar site be raised by bringing in soil, or that each home be raised on concrete pillars, are still under consideration. Finn expressed frustration with Abate’s successor Maria Frank, exclaiming before a full house at the board meeting “she doesn’t know what she’s doing” and further stating she has demonstrated no familiarity with the situation or the requirements of her job. She has proven “completely unhelpful” to those who have gone to her for information or assistance, Finn claimed. The town has done little to fill in the gaps since Abate left, however, residents of Ba-Mar told the Rockland County Times.

A formal resolution creating a new Conservation Advisory Council will be introduced at the next board meeting and the board is now accepting letters and resumes from residents interested in serving. The council will be responsible for mapping all open space in the town and offering advice as to its appropriate uses. The board is also accepting applications to fill the two vacancies on the Zoning Board of Appeals and one vacancy on the Planning Board.