Stony Point Board Switches Dog Park Money to Skate Park Project: One Councilman Fears Move will Jeopardize Funding for Both

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

In light of a state Dormitory Authority (DASNY) approval of a $75,000 grant solely for the Stony Point dog park, the Stony Point Town Board passed a resolution Tuesday night rescinding its budgeted $15,000 for the dog park project and redirected those funds to the PAL to be used towards the Stony Point Skate Park project. However, according to Councilman Tom Basile, who is on the Dog Park Committee and who has spent months working toward obtaining the grant, switching the $15,000 might very well jeopardize the award of the grant money to the dog park.

For personal reasons Basile was not at the board meeting, however, he spoke later with the Rockland County Times about the board’s resolution, citing his extreme concern that the board made this decision without consulting him or the grant guidelines. “There was absolutely no reason for the board to have taken any action this evening. By rushing…the board may have potentially made the situation much worse. As part of the grant application process, we have made representations to both the Dormitory Authority and to the senator (Bill Larkin) that the town has committed $15,000 seed money toward the dog park. Changing that will change the conditions under which the grant was approved, and may result in delaying or even losing the grant.”

The controversy over the funding for the skate park began Friday when Barbara Rush, a Stony Point resident, posted on the North Rockland Community Facebook Page that she wrote to State Senator William Larkin seeking an update on funding for the park, and received an answer in which Larkin stated, “I wanted to let you know that in 2014 I awarded Stony Point a grant in the amount of $75,000 to assist with the construction of both a dog park and a skate park.”

The grant had yet to be announced by the town. The skatepark has been championed by the Stony Point Athletic League as an amenity that would provide safe and wholesome recreation for residents of all ages, especially for the town’s youth. So far the PAL has raised about $30,000 of the estimated $300 – 350,000 it needs to build the facility, and continues to pursue fundraising efforts.

Mike Ehlers, a skate park committee member and the driving force behind most of the fundraising, said that until Friday, he had never heard about the Larking grant. He immediately questioned, through social media, why the PAL never knew about the grant, and why the monies had not been disbursed. Many residents weighed in with questions about funding, transparency and perceived lack of support for the skate park. Thereafter Basile stated, in response to a Rockland County Times inquiry, that on the town’s request Larkin had submitted an application to the state DormitoryAuthority (DASNY) for the funding, which was provisionally approved last year.

Three weeks ago, Basile states, he learned that DASNY issued final approval for the funding for the dog park, but that the skate park did not meet the authority’s requirements for approval. Jim McGee, spokesman for Senator Larkin, confirmed to the Rockland County Times that the town requested money for both parks, but that the skate park ultimately did not meet DASNY requirements; it lacked a line item budget showing how the money would be spent, and further, given the park’s $300,000+ price tag, the grant could not fulfill DASNY’s requirement that it “get the project to completion.” A phone call to DASNY was not returned.

Basile stated that he informed Ehlers of this development about two weeks ago. Ehlers countered that he was never told anything about the grant and informed that the dog park was not approved for any state funds at this time.

At the Stony Point Town Board meeting Tuesday night, Ehlers again posed his questions. Councilman Jim Monaghan explained that there was no money disbursed yet, and that this would be a “reimbursement grant,” i.e. the funds would not be disbursed until the grantee spent the money on specifically enumerated items approved by DASNY. He stated that the board supports both projects, and will continue to investigate funding for the skate park. Supervisor Geoff Finn then clarified that Larkin misspoke when he stated in the email that money had been “awarded;” he explained the difference between funding being approved, awarded, or disbursed. He reiterated that the board has no say overhow the state awards funding, and that Ehlers and the PAL should address Larkin’s office directly about why the skate park did not receive final approval for the grant. Finn then stated that he had consulted with several of the board members prior to the meeting, and that he would propose a motion to switch the $15,000 dog park money over to the skate park. Although Monaghan questioned the wisdom of doing so without first confirming the award of the $75,000, he ultimately voted along with the other three board members present in favor of making the change. The resolution was met by strong applause by the many skate park supporters in the audience, and Ehlers thanked the board.

Whether the resolution will remain in place, however, given Basile’s concerns, remains to be seen.