BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
By a 3-2 vote, the Orangetown Town Board Tuesday voted to approve a privatization contract for the future operation of the town’s financially troubled nine-hole Broadacres Golf Course in Orangeburg.
The three-year contract is expected to be signed by both parties within days following the council’s OK Tuesday after supporters and detractors of the agreement had their final opportunity to vent their wrath during the meeting’s otherwise routine two-hour agenda.
Assuming responsibility for operating the short course, nestled between the Palisades Interstate Parkway and the Rockland Psychiatric Center state mental hospital, will be AppliedGolf, a private firm based in Millstone Township, NJ which specializes in rescuing and turning around financially troubled golf courses in the eastern United States.
Supporting the agreement were Supervisor Stewart and GOP Councilmen Paul Valentine and Thomas Morr. Opposing it were GOP Councilmen Denis Troy and Thomas Diviny, both of whom asserted the agreement had too many loopholes and was not in the town’s best interest.
“We only have an agreement to agree,” Diviny began in his offensive, saying he could not vote to authorize an agreement that has not even been written yet. A lawyer in private practice, Diviny said the town should never authorize signing an unwritten contract, even if both sides are in agreement on its terms and conditions.
Troy said he agreed with Diviny, and was also concerned about the three town employees who might be lost in the operational transfer. He said he surveyed many golfers and they appeared unanimous in supporting Broadacres manager Joe Wrafter.
Councilman Valentine countered that AppliedGolf was writing the contract now, and it would be submitted in days to Town Attorney John Edwards for review. He in turn would pass it on to the full council for ratification, along with his recommendations, which would then be incorporated. Edwards said he supported Valentine’s comments, and believed a signable contract was “imminent.”
Company President Dave Wasenda appeared at the meeting and expressed gratitude following the vote for the board’s endorsement of his earlier proposal from last month to operate Broadacres for the next three years, and hopefully turn it around into a profit-making venture once again.
Wasenda, in written and verbal communications with the board, has assured Orangetown he will run the facility this year and assume its anticipated losses while he studies its operation and plans for future changes. In the second year he hopes to break even, or come close, as the changes are put into place, and by the third year he expects he may actually make a small profit.
Losses during the three-year contract period will be shared by the town and AppliedGolf, as will profits if the two parties agree to continue the contract into the future, once it starts making money. Orangetown also has the option in 2017 of canceling the contract and resuming operation of the club itself if it wants, and feels it is again capable of running the facility profitably without outside assistance.
Orangetown was the first municipality in Rockland County to operate a public golf course when it purchased the 50-year-old, 18-hole Blue Hill facility in Pearl River in the 1960s from the estate of former owner M. Montgomery Maze.
That club made so much money for Orangetown that its profits were used to fund other parks and recreation facilities throughout the township for more than two decades. Eventually the town began losing money at Blue Hill, however, particularly after neighboring Ramapo, Haverstraw and Stony Point all opened public golf courses of their own, hoping to cash in on the apparent bonanza.
With yearly losses mounting, Orangetown countered by purchasing several hundred acres of land at the former RPC campus in Orangeburg, including the nine-hole Broadacres golf course which the state had initially built for staff use, and later expanded as a private membership club.
Initially Orangetown continued its lease with the private Broadacres Golf Club, but when that group couldn’t meet its financial obligations to manage the facility and pay its lease it folded and turned operation as well as ownership over to the town. Orangetown has continued to operate it at an increasing yearly deficit ever since.
The town, in the meantime, was having financial difficulties of its own. Its’ budget rose each year while its revenues started shrinking, with taxpayers forced to pick up the difference in annual tax increases.
By last year, a clamor was arising from both the general population and on the five-member Town Board to cut losses wherever possible. And by last fall, that included calls to close the money-losing Broadacres Golf Course and either sell it for development or private operation or lease it to an outside vendor to operate.
Fans of the small course, and golfers in general, rose in opposition to the closure proposal, and insisted the town could return the course to profitability through changes in management style.
The outcome was a request for proposals the town issued in late November, seeking offers from private firms and operators, other municipalities, developers and anyone else interested in the small course, urging them to submit concept papers to the Town Board for review.
Of those ideas submitted, the council quickly zeroed in on the proposal from AppliedGolf, which said it had rescued 12 similarly troubled golf courses in the eastern United States, and was now operating them all at a profit. They could do the same for Orangetown, the firm’s principals said, through a three-year lease in which they would take over total jurisdiction and responsibility for the facility’s operation.
Should they fail, Orangetown could break the lease or decline to renew it; and if they succeeded in making it profitable as projected, the town could either extend the lease and allow them to continue running it, or return management to the town in hopes Orangetown could continue the winning streak.
By early January town officials seemed convinced AppliedGolf’s offer was a “win-win” situation for Orangetown that they couldn’t resist.
Details of the transfer were worked out between firm leaders and town officials, resulting in a contract that was reviewed by both sides Tuesday evening, and eventually put to a vote for final approval.
Other town officials and AppliedGolf’s Wasenda also noted after the meeting that all three current employees at Broadacres would continue working for Orangetown golfers, but in different capacities.
In other action, the board also voted to continue Town Board meetings on Tuesday evenings for 2014. Upcoming Town Board meetings under the newly adopted schedule will be the first and third Tuesdays of each month for workshop meetings, starting at 8 p.m., and second and fourth Tuesday’s for business meetings, starting at 7:30 p.m. All meetings will be held in the council chambers at the Orangetown Town Hall, 26 Orangeburg Road, Orangeburg.
The remaining meetings for January are a workshop session on Jan. 21 and a business meeting on Jan. 28.
In Other Business
In other business at the otherwise routine meeting of the Town Board, the council approved:
- Appointing Christos G. Chondris and Dylan P. Reynolds as firefighters in the Blauvelt Volunteer Fire Department, in the board’s capacity as fire commissioners for that district.
- Appointing council members to serve as liaisons to 19 town committees, boards, commissions and agencies, most meeting monthly and comprised of volunteer members.
- Reviewing a list of members of the above groups starting next week to consider re-appointing those who terms have expired, replacing those who are not continuing, and replacing those whose positions are already vacant. (A list of committees and potential vacancies is available from Supervisor’s Stewart’s office, and applications for appointment to those vacancies can be made to the same office).
- Holding a public hearing Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. on repealing the town’s existing local law regarding flood damage prevention, and replacing it with a stricter law.
- Holding a public hearing on Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. to consider changes to the boundary line of the Central Nyack Fire District, part of which is in Orangetown and most of which is in neighboring Clarkstown.
- Accepting a $20,239 grant from Rockland County that will be used by the Orangetown Police Department to reimburse the town for its installation of a Commetix fingerprint hardware upgrade.
- Accepting the retirement resignation, “with regret,” of police officer Robert L. Sick, effective Jan. 25.
- Appointing Parks Department employee Mark Albert to the town-wide (non-police) position of coordinator of automated external defibrillation (AED) for all other town departments.
- Supporting the Ancient Order of Hibernians as sponsors of the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebration in Pearl River on March 23 by providing trash barrels, barricades, painting of a green line on Central Avenue, showmobile usage with sound system and operator and splitting the cost of renting dozens of portable toilets.
- Authorizing Town Clerk Charlotte Madigan as the town’s official voting delegate as the annual Association of Towns convention in New York City on Feb. 16-19, as well as Tax Receiver Robert Simon as alternate delegate.
- Authorizing finance department workers Ann Maestri, Janice Ganley and Natalie Schutter to attend the finance officers training conference in Albany April 1-4.
- Authorizing the town clerk to issue 2014 bingo operating licenses to St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church in Pearl River, St. Margaret’s School Auxiliary, and Beth Am Temple, also in Pearl River.
- Investigating complaints by residents of Pearl River who reside in homes just east of Middletown Road and are in commercial zoning districts instead of residential ones. The disparity prevents them from making improvements or enlargements to their homes because they are listed as “non-conforming” uses in the commercial districts, according to Louis and Tracie Eichner of 155 Braunsdorf Road, one of the affected households. The Eichners explained that all of the homes were originally in single-family housing districts, which included all of Middletown Road and its side streets. Middletown was home to large mansions from about 1900 until the 1960’s, when many were demolished and replaced with retail stores, banks, restaurants, bars and auto service businesses. To accommodate them, the town changed the zone along the highway from residential to commercial, but in advertently included the two or three private homes on the many side streets, directly behind the mansions, as well. Now, the Eichners say, those homeowners cannot improve their homes, and they in particular are being denied a bedroom addition for their soon to be expected new child. Chief Building Inspector John Giardiello told the board the easiest way to rectify the problem is to rezone the homes back to residential use. If they remain commercial, variances are needed from the town’s strict building and zoning codes, and obtaining them can be very time consuming and expensive, he explained.