BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Orangetown Town Board has informally agreed to issue more than $5.2 million in bonds this spring to cover a variety of needed equipment purchases and construction projects.
The approval came at a workshop meeting of the board Tuesday evening and is expected to be ratified at a business meeting this coming Tuesday, March 4.
Town Finance Director Jeff Bencik explained to the board that the purchases and projects are all desperately needed and must be consummated as quickly as possible. The only alternative to bonding them would be to include the $5.2 million cost in next year’s annual budget, which he said would cause taxes to rise dramatically to cover the sudden increase in expenses.
This year’s budget was adopted last November and does not include funding for the projects, Bencik added, thus making it impossible to take the money from Orangetown’s current budget and bank accounts.
The town’s Highway and Sewer Departments need most of the money, Bencik went on to explain. The Parks and Recreation Department will use the rest.
More than half of the 23 projects, totaling $2,944,000 in estimated costs, will be for long term projects with life expectancies of greater than five years. By state law, those projects are subject to a permissive referendum by town residents, which means residents who oppose any or all of them can gather signatures of registered voters on petitions and submit them to the Town Clerk for verification. If Clerk Charlotte Madigan certifies sufficient signatures, the item(s) would be placed on a ballot at a public referendum to be scheduled by the Town Board.
The other projects have shorter projected life spans, and smaller costs, and are not subject to the permissive referendum, Bencik added, meaning the Town Board itself has the final say on their approval.
The Highway Department is requesting $1,675,000 to purchase ten new pieces of equipment, and another $719,000 as the town’s share of a $2 million project to reconstruct the Oak Tree Road bridge over the Sparkill Creek in downtown Tappan. The rest will be contributed by state and federal grants.
The equipment being sought by Highway Superintendent James Dean includes a Case loader ($175,000), three heavy-duty trucks at $295,000 each, a medium duty truck (185,000), a Vac-All sweeper ($280,000), two leaf machines at $38,000 apiece and two dump trailers at $37,000 each.
Sewer Department projects requiring immediate attention according to Department of Environmental Management and Engineering Joseph Moran include one million dollars to line two miles of deteriorated century-old cast iron sewer mains in Nyack with a new plastic lining to prevent infiltration of outside drainage, $500,000 for a similar project on other Nyack pipes, $200,000 to replace even more Nyack sewer pipes, $350,000 to rebuilt the town’s sewer sludge press, $100,000 to demolish the town’s old sewer pump station off Hunt Road in Orangeburg and $75,000 to renovate the sewer pump station the town inherited from New York State when it purchased much of the former Rockland Psychiatric Center a decade ago.
The Parks Department is requesting $40,000 to buy a chemical sprayer for its golf course and other parks, $60,000 to buy a salt truck, $450,000 to construct a multi-bay garage in which to store its many vehicles during inclement weather (they are all currently parked outdoors year-round), $22,000 to build a bag drop off area at the Blue Hill Golf Course and $35,000 to install a new roof on the badly leaking building at the Nike Site Park on top of Clausland Mountain.
The town’s smallest unit, the part-time IT department, is requesting $15,000 to renovate existing space at Town Hall to house their tiny office.
Town Board members indicated there may be further discussion on some of the requests, particularly sewer work in the Village of Nyack, at next week’s council meeting.
Councilman Thomas Diviny has been an outspoken critic of costs associated with the town’s sewer department, and particularly of the costs connected to the century-old Nyack Sewer System which Orangetown absorbed nearly 50 years ago.
The vote to accept the Nyack Sewer System into Orangetown “was one of the worst decisions this Town Board has ever made,” Diviny thundered Tuesdayevening as he pounded his fist and yelled into the microphone.
Councilman Denis Troy agreed with him, but recalled that the board felt it had little choice at the time because it was being threatened by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to either accept Nyack or face a huge fine. The board opted to avoid the fine or a legal challenge and instead reluctantly voted to accept Nyack as part of the town-wide sewer system, to its dismay ever since, Troy observed.
He noted that he has always been opposed to spending large sums of money upgrading the old Nyack system, in part because that village never accepted financial responsibility for its deterioration, or offered to assist in its upgrading financially.
Neither Troy nor Diviny, two of the board’s four Republican members, indicatedTuesday how they will vote at next week’s meeting, when the council will be expected to cast ballots on the $5.2 million bond proposal.
There is already a 17-item agenda for next week’s meeting, available on the town’s website, but most of the items are routine and non-controversial.
The two items which may draw an audience of residents concern three Pearl River homeowners who are seeking to change the zoning on their properties just west of Middletown Road, and a proposal to find a new contract operator for the town’s financially-beleaguered refreshment stand at Veterans Memorial Park in Orangeburg.
The aggrieved homeowners are Louis and Tracy Eichner, Anthony and Maureen DiGiovanni and Brian and Patricia Scherer who live respectively at 155 and 156 Braunsdorf Road and 166 Hunt Avenue. Their single-family homes, dating from the 1950’s, are zoned CC for highway commercial use. They are actually one property west of Middletown Road, which is indeed commercial, separated by apartment houses and a bank.
CC to RG
The three couples are seeking to have their properties rezoned from CC to RG, which is the zone for single-family homes on lost smaller than a quarter acre.
The issue arose, town officials say, because at least one of them sought a building permit for an addition or alteration to their home, and were denied because they are a non-conforming residential use in a business zoning district. Changing the zone to RG would legalize the three homes.
Town Attorney John Edwards said the Town Board couldn’t unilaterally change the zone, but instead must hold a public hearing on the request, and send the request to both the Orangetown and Rockland County Planning Boards for review and recommendations. The county agency is involved, Edwards explained, because the properties are within 500 feet of a county highway (Middletown Road).
The board scheduled a tentative public hearing for April 22, but that is dependent on receiving the recommendations from the two planning agencies by that time.
The “Snack Shack” at Veterans Memorial Park may be just as problematic, town officials woefully learned Tuesday.
The town constructed a frame refreshment stand and bathroom facility at that large park in Orangeburg several years ago to serve the thousands of residents who use the extensive athletic facilities there on a daily basis from early spring through late fall.
None of the operators who have leased the facility have been able to make a profit, however, and have turned their leases back to the town at the end of each season.
Last year’s leaseholder, who had a two-year contract, gave it back before the first year had even expired. The town quickly hired a substitute to fulfill the remaining months of that first year, and was hopeful he would continue in 2014. Instead, that operator also reportedly lost money, and refused to honor the second year of the contract.
After months of negotiations and internal wrangling amongst various town agencies, a new contract was presented to the Town Board Tuesday and ran into an immediate buzz storm of opposition.
As worded by the Town Attorney’s office, the contract will be put out for public bid within the next week, as required by law, and interested individuals or firms will be given a date of March 10 to submit written proposals. The board will review the submissions and vote on awarding a six-year contract to whomever submits the best bid, Edwards said.
Council members immediately attacked the specifics of the bid document, however, saying the terms stipulated by Edwards were unrealistically high and could never be met by any responsible food vendor.
The old contract required a minimum bid of $9,000 per month, for a 12-month contract, for six years. The amount included a mandatory $3,000 payment for utilities such as electricity and water, and another $6,000 for least of the space. The operator could keep any profit above the $9,000 cost.
No operator has been able to make nearly that amount in years, councilmen complained Tuesday, calling it “ridiculous” to again seek the same rent when the town already it isn’t feasible.
Edwards said that was why the new agreement only seeks an $8,000 minimum bid, $5,000 for a lease and $3,000 for utilities.
That was still far to high, council members insisted, as they demanded the figure be lowered to a more realistic amount.
Finally, after nearly 30 minutes of debate, the council agreed to a minimum lease of $6,000, which includes the same $3,000 for utilities but only another $3,000 for the space rental itself.
Parks and Recreation Superintendent Aric Gorton was not present at the meeting, nor were members of his advisory committee, leaving councilmen operating in somewhat of a vacuum Tuesday. Despite Edwards’ reluctance to endorse such a low lease, the council proceeded to tentatively approve that figure, pending further input within the next few days from other town officials, including Gorton.
In the meantime, the item is scheduled to be voted on at the council’s next business session this coming Tuesday, March 4, at the $6,000 level.