Rockland County Legislator Ilan Schoenberger has criticized the announcement by Rockland’s five towns that they plan to bill the county for the .
Schoenberger requested a written opinion from legislative counsel on the legality of the towns’ proposal to charge the county for the cost of maintenance and operation of streetlights, traffic signals and hydrants on county roads.
“They’re made up charges because there is no statutory authorization for these charges,” he said.
Schoenberger went one step further and asked for an opinion from the administration and legal counsel on the feasibility of returning the county roads to the towns.
“First I think there is no legal authority to what they’re asking for,” he said. “Secondly if they want a fight, they’re going to get a fight.”
Schoenberger said the roads were originally under the authority of the towns but the responsibility was moved to the county years ago.
“These were all at one time town roads,” he said. “All it took was an amendment to the county map.”
Schoenberger explained when the board of town supervisors was in place, its members wanted the county to assume the responsibility of roads that were difficult to maintain or snowplow. That took place over a long period of time beginning in the 1800s with most transfers taking place between the mid 1940s and 1970s. No roads have been transferred for at least the past 19 years.
Schoenberger, who served as county attorney for more than 10 years, said, “In all the years I have been in county government it was always my understanding that placing town roads on the county’s official map was an action that was undertaken to help the towns reduce the cost and expense for the paving, maintenance and repair of major roads that went through the towns. In other words, the placing of a road on the county’s official map and thereby calling it a “county road” was being done to help the towns reduce costs and expenses.”
Schoenberger, who is chair of the legislature’s Budget & Finance Committee, said Rockland saves the towns millions of dollars by having the roads on the county map.
County Highway Superintendent Charles “Skip” Vezzetti said there are 170 miles of county roads.
“We have about 43 miles of road in Clarkstown,” he said. “We have 18 miles in Haverstraw. Orangtown has about 35 miles. Ramapo has 48 miles. Stony Point has 23 miles.”
Vezzetti agreed with Schoenberger that the towns’ proposed chargebacks were not realistic.
“None of those items are highway charges, so it wouldn’t affect us,” Vezzetti said. “Streetlights are a local option. Streetlights are not a highway charge.”
Vezzetti stated fire hydrants are not a function of the roadway, they are requested individually by fire districts. He said traffic signals are town property and the towns own them. He stated the installation and expense of operating the utilities is a general fund expense not a highway fund charge.
According to Schoenberger, the process to remove the roads from the county’s official map and return them to the towns’ jurisdiction would take about six months. It would require introduction of a local law and referral of that measure to several review agencies, including the towns. It would also need a majority vote of the legislature.
“If the County chooses this option,” added Schoenberger, “then there would no longer be any issue from the towns regarding the payment for maintenance, utilities or fire hydrants or other costs associated with “county roads” for they no longer will be “county roads”, but will be returned back to the towns, and would be “town roads” just as they were before.”
Schoenberger also requested an analysis from the county’s commissioner of finance and Vezzetti of how much county roads cost Rockland County taxpayers on an annual basis and how much would be saved if the roads were no longer “county roads.”
Schoenberger said the towns’ move, which was announced on Tuesday by Clarkstown, is a reaction to the county’s decision to pass along the expenses of elections and costs. He said the county is legally permitted to to the towns. Rockland wants to transfer those costs as part of its efforts to deal with a possible $95 million budget deficit.