BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Orangetown Town Board is considering issuing about $4 million in bonds this year to purchase new highway equipment, construct a garage for the Parks Department, pay for more than $1 million in sewer improvements and possibly finish paying for the total reconstruction of the Kings Highway bridge over the Sparkill Creek in Tappan.
At a workshop meeting Tuesday evening the five-member council gave informal approval to Finance Director Jeff Bencik’s proposal to finance all of those projects, along with several smaller ones, by floating interest-bearing bonds that would last from three to 15 years each, depending on the projected life spans of the projects involved.
Two of the more expensive projects on the proposed list of 23 could be dragged out for much longer, the bridge replacement and the parks garage, Bencik said, because they would have anticipated life spans of several decades apiece.
In response to questions from board members about the effect the bonds would have on local real property taxes next year and in the future, Bencik explained that there should be no effect, good or bad, because the bonds will simply replace existing bonds totaling about $4 million that will be retired this year.
A vote by the five-member council is expected to be held at its business meeting next Tuesday. If the council members need additional time for further study, the vote may be delayed until the board’s Feb. 25 meeting, according to Councilman Denis Troy.
Bencik gave the council a list of 22 projects requiring funding, explaining that the Town Board had already approved doing each of the public works endeavors or purchasing the equipment in a series of resolutions passed last year, but never put into effect.
Bencik reported to the council Tuesday that with last year’s budget already expired, and this year’s already in effect with no funding for the specific projects, it was his recommendation that they be paid for through bonding, to spread the cost to taxpayers over several years instead of all at once.
The only alternatives would be to pay for the projects from this year’s budget, which would directly increase taxes next year to covert the shortage, or abandon the projects altogether. Because the projects are all considered urgent or essential, he explained the predicament left him no choice but to recommend bonding as the best alternative.
The list of 22 projects proposed by Bencik for funding total $3,522,000. Adding the $700,000 for the Tappan bridge project brings the total to $4,222,000.
Bencik argued for inclusion of the bridge project because work has already begun on it, and it is considered essential to complete it within a year to prevent disruption to vehicular traffic in the downtown Tappan business district. The project is also the recipient of a $1.2 million grant from the federal and state governments.
Highway Department projects to be included in the bond issue include purchasing a new case loader for $175,000, three new heavy duty trucks for $295,000 each, a new Vac-All street sweeper for $280,000, a new medium duty truck for $185,000, two new leaf machines for $38,000 apiece and two new dump trailers for $37,000 each.
The Parks Department, which currently parks its vehicles and equipment outdoors and subject to the elements, wants to spend $450,000 to construct a garage for both storage and repairs; and is seeking $60,000 to purchase its own salt truck. The Blue Hill Golf Course is requesting $40,000 for a new chemical sprayer and $22,000 for creation of a bag drop off area.
The Sewer Department, also called the Department of Environmental Management and Engineering (DEME); is requesting $500,000 to re-line existing century-old sewers in the Village of Nyack, $200,000 to replace outmoded equipment in the old Nyack Sewer District which is now run by Orangetown, $350,000 to rebuild the outdated sewer sludge press, $100,000 to demolish the abandoned Hunt Road sewer disposal plant in Orangeburg and $75,000 to renovate the 75-year-old sewer treatment system within the old Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg, now owned by Orangetown.
Bencik also told the council that some of the projects, particularly those from the Sewer Department, are mandated by various state and federal agencies, and cannot be postponed by the town any longer without risking substantial fines for non-compliance.
To comply with state law, Bencik also told the board that it should issue the new bonds in separate votes, grouping the bonds into lots with the same running time or expiration date, such as 3-year bonds, 5-year bonds, 10-year bonds, etc. By state law, each bond must be approved by a supermajority vote of the board, or at least four affirmative votes, Bencik noted.
All board members Tuesday appeared favorable to the $3.5 million bond concept, but they also asked questions bout adding the additional $700,000 for the Tappan bridge project, wondering aloud how the town would make up for the $200,000 shortfall over the existing $4 million in bonds being retired.
The other major item of discussion Tuesday involved progress on the town’s new television broadcast project, and how it can be further improved and enlarged.
For several years Orangetown worked closely with the nearby Tappan Zee High School to have communications students at the school televise Town Board meetings. The student volunteers, who could earn school credit for their endeavors, would dutifully televise each regular business meeting, two evenings a month, and either broadcast them live or on a delayed basis on an access channel given to the town on cable TV networks.
The relatively unsophisticated system typically involved one student manning one portable camera on a tripod for about two hours each evening. For nearly a decade, members of the Seeger family provided this service, until the two brothers and one sister all graduated and there were no younger siblings to replace them.
The opening has led Orangetown to explore ways to enhance the old program, and utilize the volunteer services of local resident David Chilson, a CBS television engineering executive. He has been working with another local resident, Anthony Bevelacqua and his teenage son Matt, who have jointly been televising the Town Board sessions since last year.
The system has now expanded to two permanently mounted cameras in the Town Board meeting room, along with one portable camera, and the construction of a new broadcast studio in a part of Town Hall that had previously served as the town’s computer network.
Chilson told the board Tuesday that service has improved greatly over the past year, but that many more improvements are on the agenda. Both audio and video broadcasts of the meetings are clearer, crisper and cleaner, and can be shot from various angles to portray both the board and the audience depending on who is speaking, and from where.
Chilson also noted the new system will allow live broadcasts from multiple camera angles and the addition of effects such as pre-taped content and text inserts.
“Now, we can do all of those things and we have a dedicated volunteer expert who is committed to training other volunteers from Tappan Zee High School and continuing to work on the technology and our program content to help develop this resource for the entire community,” he told the board.
Chilson then gave a six-month game plan for improving the current operation, all at no cost to the town. Orangetown was given $300,000 by the various cable television companies that the town has licensed to operate in Orangetown and Chilson said he and his team have only spent about $67,000 of that so far, with much of the manual labor being performed for free by himself and members of his volunteer committee, high school students, and town employees.
The current goal is to make both technical and programmatic improvements over the next six months, to include:
- Technical Improvements include a wall-mounted projector and a screen in the nearby courtroom for showing presentations and videos, improved lighting in the board room, installation of better microphones, training for council members on the use of microphone to get better audio, and the use of the You Tube channel for re-posting of Town Board meetings.
- Programming improvements include the following:
o Broadcasting “live” both workshop and business meetings of the board
o Replaying all board meetings daily at 2 and 8 p.m. for a week, until the next meeting
o Replaying Rockland County Legislature meetings every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
o Broadcasting public service announcements (PSAs) about safety and various town services from all departments of town government, which will run at all times except during Town Board meetings.
- Longer range improvements include working on building a stronger relationship with Tappan Zee High School and its students, faculty and administration, to include the training of volunteers and the broadcasting of student-generated and school-approved programs and content. Another long-range goal is to develop locally produced topical video PSAs featuring town departments, facilities, leaders and topics.