BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Speakers couldn’t resist the temptation to allude to the importance of every single vote at the Orangetown Town Board’s annual reorganization meetingTuesday evening, from newly re-elected Supervisor Andrew Stewart to Rabbi Daniel Pernick while giving the benediction.
The civics lesson from politicians, civil servants and even invited guests was predictable, however, in view of the fact that Stewart only secured his hard-fought victory by two votes, and after nearly two full months of ballot counting, lawsuits, appeals and repeated recounts.
Stewart, a Democrat, was gracious and generous in his praise of Republicans, however, including his four fellow council members and even his opponent, Walter Wettje, who was not among the 150 spectators who filled the Town Hall courtroom for the overflow crowd of well-wishers.
In his annual “State of the Town” address Stewart praised Wettje for waging a fair and honest campaign, and the all-GOP council for attempting to work with him during the past two years. While he and the council did not always see eye to eye on several controversial issues, Stewart said he firmly believes they were attempting to meet the needs and desires of town residents, as he was, but just from different perspectives.
With the council remaining split 4-1 for the coming two years, following the November election in which all three incumbents were returned to office, Stewart said he would continue working with the Republican council and would try to reach consensus with them on the several issues which remain unresolved.
He presented a list of five concerns he said he believes should top the agenda for the next year or two, including resolving the future of the Broadacres Golf Course, starting re-development of the former Rockland Psychiatric Center campus, stabilizing property taxes, shedding Orangetown of various “chargebacks” instituted against it last year by Rockland County and securing additional county, state and federal aide to both reduce the town budget and assist Orangetown in developing some of its long term and long-stalled improvement projects. Stewart also said Orangetown should prepare itself over the next few years for a potential onslaught of litigation over RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, in which religious groups are suing municipalities to develop their properties in ways the municipalities and their residents don’t approve.
Stewart went on to list some projects outside of Orangetown that he feels could have a negative impact on the town and its residents if brought to fruition by outside agencies and firms. Chief among them are construction of a Hudson River desalination plant in Haverstraw by United Water Resources and reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Orangetown should oppose the water plant, the supervisor asserted, and must insist on both improvements to the bridge project to protect town residents and stepping up its demands for financial payments to the town for nearby collateral improvements to highways, bridges, drainage, noise and air pollution abatement and similar off-site projects.
Interestingly, the two Republican Councilmen who were also re-elected, Denis Troy and Thomas Diviny, said they shared Stewart’s goals and supported his five-point platform for the coming two years. Both men pledged to work with the supervisor to achieve those goals.
Pomp & Circumstance
The reorganization meeting flowed without a single stumble Tuesday, in contrast to bi-weekly council meetings over the past two years that have often degenerated into shouting matches and colorful accusations and counter charges.
From start to finish it was accomplished in only 90 minutes, with a quarter of that time being used for prolonged applause from the overflow crowd that filled the large courtroom.
The evening began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, followed by the singing of the National Anthem led by Nyack Village Clerk Mary White. That was followed by the singing of God Bless America, led by freshman Danny Costello of St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic High School and the Invocation given by Msgr. Jack O’Keefe of St. Margaret’s RC Church of Pearl River. The benediction was given b Rabbi Daniel Pernick of Temple Bath Am in Pearl River, who was the first of many to cite the civics lesson to be learned from the November election, namely that “every single vote counts.”
That was followed by the official installations of the seven incumbent town officials who were all re-elected in November, and took office Jan. 1. They were led by Stewart as supervisor, who ended up defeating his Republican challenger Wettje by only two votes, out of nearly 3,000 votes cast.
Next to be installed were Troy and Diviny, two of the board’s four Republican members. Troy has served 14 years on the council, of which he said he “enjoyed it 95% of the time.” He thanked town employees, who he said do an excellent job serving the public, and pledged to try and work with Stewart to accomplish mutual goals over the next two years.
Diviny thanked Troy for his leadership over the past four years and pledged to work with both him and Stewart to accomplish the supervisor’s five goals. Diviny also said he believes there is a prescription drug problem running rampant in Orangetown, and he would like to see to officials, departments and agencies concentrate on that scourge during his next term in office. He added that as a lawyer he agreed with Stewart’s warning about Orangetown susceptibility to RLUIPA claims, and supported the supervisor’s call for the town to prepare itself in advance.
Town Clerk Charlotte Madigan was next to be installed, saying she felt honored to serve the people of Orangetown for the past 18 years, and for years before that on the Pearl River School Board. She said she would like to see town officials and departments work more closely with children in Orangetown, and especially misses the Police Department’s DARE program, which fell to budgetary cuts a couple of years ago.
James Dean was installed as Highway Superintendent for his ninth term of office, and noted he has been an employee of Orangetown’s High Department his entire adult life, a total of 50 years. He never would have stayed so long, nor accomplished so much, Dean said, if it weren’t for the excellent work of his department’s personnel, whom he said he couldn’t praise highly enough.
Next to be re-installed was Receiver of Taxes Robert Simon of Pearl River, who called it “an honor and a privilege to serve the residents of Orangetown.” He said he followed Eileen Bohner into office following her death after 38 years in the job, and noted wistfully that he will be the last tax receiver in Orangetown’s 300 plus-year history. When voters re-elected him two months ago, they also approved a ballot referendum eliminating the receiver’s job and merging in with that of the town clerk. That merger will occur Jan. 1, 2018, at which time Simon will retire and Mrs. Madigan will become both town clerk and tax receiver.
The final installation was of Town Justice Richard Finning, who was also re-elected last fall.
Swearing in all seven public officials with their formal oath of office was the town’s other Justice of the Peace Patrick Loftus.
Each of the seven officials was accompanied at the podium ceremony by their families, including spouses, parents, children and grandchildren, with one of the relatives holding the bible for each inductee as Judge Loftus conducted the brief swearing in event.
Following the formal ceremonies, the Town Board quickly settled down to conduct the town’s official business, concluding a three-page agenda in about 20 minutes.
This portion began with Stewart announcing his choices for the three town employees over whom he has sole jurisdiction, and the sole power to appoint.
All three were incumbents whom Stewart had appointed when he was first elected two years ago: Jeff Bencik as town finance director, Allan Ryff as deputy town supervisor and Suzanne Barclay as special assistant to the supervisor. Bencik serves full-time while Ryff is a volunteer (and former Republican councilman) and Ms. Barclay is a part-time employee specializing primarily in the areas of land use and constituent services.
Before voting began on agenda items of town business, the council introduced the family of Pearl River resident Josephine Pucci, a college student who is a graduate of St. Margaret’s School, who is currently in training as a member of the official United States women’s hockey team in the international Olympics being held next month in Russia.
Her parents and sister took to the podium amidst a rousing roar of approval and congratulations from the 150 or so residents present as well as the town officials, all of whom wished her well in her first competition on Feb. 7 when the US is pitted against Finland.
Her father said the family moved to Pearl River in 1990 and couldn’t be happier than to reside in Orangetown. Josephine is pleased and proud to represent not just Pearl River and Orangetown but the entire United States at the world Olympics, fulfilling a lifelong dream, the beaming dad told the cheering throng. She couldn’t be present, he explained, because she is training and practicing seven days a week in Bedford, Mass., preparing for her team’s flight to Europe soon.
He concluded by thanking the hundreds of volunteer coaches in every youth sport imaginable in Orangetown, including hockey, and noted that several town officials serve as volunteer coaches, as he pointed directly at Councilman Troy. Troy, in return, said seeing a local student reach the world Olympics is what makes volunteer coaching so worthwhile.
In official town business at the meeting, the council voted unanimously to:
- Bond all town officials who handle money.
- Designate the five Town Board members and Town Clerk Mrs. Madigan as marriage officers who can perform marriage ceremonies in Orangetown.
- Designate Our Town as the official town newspaper and The Journal-News as an alternate town newspaper.
- Designate Chase Bank, First Niagara and TD Bank as official depositories of town funds, and Sterling National Bank as the depository for the Receiver of Taxes.
- Reappoint Town Clerk Charlotte Madigan to also serve as Registrar of Vital Statistics and Records Management Officer.
- Reappoint Teresa Accetta-Pugh and Rosemarie Maiorano as deputy town clerks and deputy registrars of vital statistics, serving at the pleasure of the town clerk.
- Amend the town’s official travel mileage reimbursement rate to the new IRS amount of 56 cents per mile when employees travel on town business in their own vehicles.
- Authorize the finance office to pay all utility bills whey they become due rather than wait for a Town Board audit approval, to save on late payment charges that might otherwise accrue.
- Authorize the finance office to pay all current bills and vouchers as listed from the general fund as well as the town outside village, Blue Hill, Broadacres, highway, sewer, capital projects, risk retention and special parking funds.
The next town board meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the board meeting room at Town Hall at 26 Orangeburg Road, Orangeburg.