BY CHERYL SLAVIN
A host of troubles appears to be dogging the Rockland Sewer District No. 1. Last October the district was ordered to pay almost a million dollars to the New Jersey village of Upper Saddle River for damages caused by sewage overflows on Saddle River Road. More recently the state Court of Appeals refused to overturn a lower court eminent domain ruling, thus bringing the total cost of the yet to be built Hillburn/Sloatsburg wastewater treatment plant to a whopping $181 million.
Now the sewer district faces two more controversies in the form of opinions handed down by county attorneys. County bond counsel Harris Beach PLLC has issued an opinion that bonded debt could not be approved for a facility that mixed county and town functions, thereby nixing a deal whereby sewer district money would have paid for a Clarkstown emergency services vehicle garage. Additionally, county attorney Thomas Humbach wrote a recent memo to Executive Ed Day that elected officials who serve on the sewer district commission should not be paid the $2300 stipend they’ve been receiving at least since the year 2000. And in the midst of all this, long time sewer district chairman Julius Graifman has tendered his resignation, citing health concerns.
Reached on the phone by the Rockland County Times, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, who also serves as a sewer district commissioner, remarked on a number of these developments. He explains that the commission originally approved the idea of building a warehouse in Clarkstown to house sewer district emergency services vehicles and equipment. According to Gormack, he thereafter inquired of bond counsel whether the town might have partial use of the building to house some of its own emergency vehicles as well, and initially received a positive response. However, on later reflection bond counsel decided otherwise, finding that a project built with sewer district funds should only benefit sewer district or sewer related needs.
Gromack now states that given this new opinion, the town has reworked its proposal, and the warehouse will only be used to store sewer related emergency vehicles and equipment such as generators and light stands. The deal with United Water for a $1 lease for the land along Route 304 remains, and he adds that in time the land will actually become town owned in exchange for another piece of property where United Water could dig a well.
Gromack stated that the building would ultimately be a “town owned sewer warehouse” to benefit Clarkstown’s sewer systems. He noted that the sewer district regularly spends money to upgrade the sewer systems in the two towns it serves, Ramapo and Clarkstown. The cost for the facility would still be in the $2.5 million range, funded by Sewer District No. 1, possibly through a bond which he stated was usual practice for sewer district expenditures. He became vague when asked whether this meant that ultimately the expense would be borne by all sewer district ratepayers, claiming that the district might obtain funds through other means. He did not address the district’s $25 million surplus as a possible funding source.
Gromack asserts that Humbach’s memo about the legality of the sewer district stipend for elected officials still warranted examination, but that in the meantime he would continue to serve on the commission without receiving it. He said that he learned, when he became supervisor in 2004, his job included representing his town on the commission and he has done so since. To his knowledge the county attorney in 2003 ruled that county legislators could not receive the stipend, but at that time remained silent as to all other elected officials. He continued to receive the stipend, as did every other member of the commission. He stated that the circumstances around the stipend were “worth reviewing,” and did not oppose the idea of discontinuing it.
Gromack also stated that he had not received any previous notice that Julius Graifman was thinking about resigning, and knew nothing about any health related problems. He did say that Graifman had served for a long time and opined that given his age, might have decided that it was time to retire from “the grind.” He did not comment on the close timing between Graifman’s resignation with bond counsel’s opinion on the legality of using sewer district money for town projects.
More on this in Thursday’s print edition. Requests for comment have been sent to Harris Beach PLLC, Thomas Humbach, Clarkstown Councilman George Hoehmann, Julius Graifman and assistant Mike Saber.