County Executive’s Corner: “Pushing Back”

By County Executive Ed Day

Rockland County has been pushing back against lackadaisical or outright corrupt code enforcement for years; launching the Rockland Codes Initiative (RCI) in 2015 to correct dangerous and disgusting conditions that were often found all across our County.

Our program is simple. Residents can make complaints through our confidential website or call them in. Once a complaint is made, inspectors from the Department of Health visit the location. They look for conditions that violate the Sanitary Code; conditions like unsafe and overcrowded housing.

Last week, Senator James Skoufis, Chair of the NYS Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations released his Final Investigative Report on Code Enforcement in NY. The report urged other New York Counties to use Rockland as a model writing, “those counties who wish to become more involved in the protection of their residents and first responders [should] follow the lead of Rockland County, which established the Rockland Codes Initiative (RCI) to protect the health, property, and quality of life for all county residents through the enforcement of health and sanitary codes.”

RCI has been extremely successful in the 4 plus years since its inception. Generating 5,305 complaints, seeing 22,225 inspections performed resulting in 28,279 violations and $1.7 million in fines being issued.

We are sending a message. We are getting compliance and we are seeing success. And while the fight is not over, we will not stop. I cannot thank the employees of our Department of Health enough for their hard work and dedication. Because of their efforts everyone in Rockland is safer. I hope to see this success replicated across New York State and thank Senator Skoufis for his advocacy.

We welcomed the Senator’s in-depth evaluation of the code enforcement process in the Town of Ramapo and the three other municipalities focused on in the report; meeting several times with his team and testifying about the progress we’ve made. However, there is still much to be done here in Rockland.

Other recommendations in this report focused solely on the Town of Ramapo, “over the course of the investigation, the Town of Ramapo’s failure to properly administer and enforce the Uniform Code was evident. Despite the placement of a state oversight official to monitor the Town’s code related activities, the Committee believes Ramapo is not meeting its responsibility of protecting residents and first responders from the dangers imposed by improper construction and open violations.”

The Report also encouraged Ramapo to follow the lead of Rockland’s four other Towns and embrace a partnership with the Rockland Codes Initiative writing, “the Town of Ramapo has been disinclined to collaborate with the Rockland Codes Initiative on open violations. The Committee strongly encourages the Town of Ramapo to fully cooperate and embrace the successful efforts of the Rockland Codes Initiative.”

In response, our Deputy Commissioner of Health Catherine Johnson Southren, who has overseen RCI since its inception, has once again extended an invitation to join with RCI in and focus on the future safety of residents to Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht and the Ramapo Building Department.

I also urge the Town to get on board with RCI. It is long past time that Ramapo started looking out for the best interests of its residents and first responders instead of what’s best for developers attempting to exploit their gross lack of oversight.