Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef was at the Rockland County Legislature’s Tuesday night meeting to give his final State of County address. Mixed in with the packed crowd of county officials and family members sat a group of about 10 people all wearing white shirts.
The group of people who came from Rebuild Hi-Tor are volunteers looking to build find a new home for the Hi-Tor Animal Care Center, which is rundown. Last week, it was reported that talks stalled between the county and board members of the shelter. Members of the shelter want one and a half acres of land in front of the current shelter so they can build a new shelter, but the land is parkland and can’t be built on.
During his State of the County, Vanderhoef briefly mentioned Hi-Tor.
“Let’s sit down. We can find a way to make this work,” he said. “Hi-Tor, and I say this with all due respect, is critical to the county. There’s no other place that animals can be brought, and I have been there. We’ve got to have a Hi-Tor and we need to find a way to accommodate the best way we can. So let’s work together. I promise that’s what we’ll do in 2013.”
He wasn’t there for the legislature meeting that followed, but during public comments a few people from the group spoke.
“We’re asking the county to give us the high dry land in front of the shelter, one and a half acres, and we will build you a 10,000 square foot modern animal shelter to serve this county for the next 50 years,” said Rebuild Hi-Tor Fundraising Chair Don Franchino. “The existing shelter, I already have existing commitments from BOCES for their students and Habitat For Humanity that will renovate that shelter for free.”
Franchino said the old shelter could be used for storage or whatever the county sees fit. It would be their building. He also said he thinks momentum is with the group, as they’ve raised nearly $250,000 so far and are just now about to enter what they expect to be their prime fundraising season. He hopes they can break ground on the new shelter this summer and have it completed in about three months.
He also said all they’re asking for is help in acquiring the land.
“Everything that we’re doing, everything that the generosity of Rockland County is coming through with, is all free,” he said. “We just ask the county to meet us halfway and give us the land in front of the shelter. The land behind the shelter, make that parkland and de-park the one and a half acres in front, which we consider high and dry. We already went through the land behind the shelter and determined it would be too costly to renovate that land in order to build a building.”
The members of Rebuild Hi-Tor brought signs with them to the meeting. Some simply said “Rebuild Hi-Tor” while others had messages like “Rockland government time to step up!” and another thanking Legislators Ed Day, Alden Wolfe, Jay Hood and Toney Earl for their support.
Before the State of the County, which preceded the legislature meeting, the group was told they couldn’t have the signs inside the legislative chambers. They were told the order came from Rockland County Sheriff Lou Falco. The group wasn’t given a reason why and said none of the signs were profane or had inappropriate language. Two signs mentioned Vanderhoef: one reading “We are loyal professionals, Mr. Vanderhoef” and another that said “Mr. Vanderhoef, would you build a home for your family on swamp land? I did not think so! So why would you endanger innocent animals? Shame on you!”
Falco, however, said that wasn’t the reason the signs had to be left in the hallway.
“We don’t allow any signage into this area,” he said. “They can block people’s views, be distracting or even used as weapons. There’s no signage in the chambers.”
Falco said that even applies to signs that are propped up against the back wall of the chambers, which a few of the Hi-Tor signs were. Falco’s reasoning still confused the group, as they’ve attended past legislature meetings and brought signs with them without an issue. Last May the group attended a meeting and brought a bunch of signs with them, and thanks to a low turnout at the meeting, they propped the signs up on chairs right in front of the legislators.
Falco said that was a mistake and the policy isn’t a new one. It’s something that’s been in place a while, he said.
“They shouldn’t have been able to bring those in then either,” Falco said.
Arlene Kahn, of Rebuild Hi-Tor wasn’t pleased with the order to remove the signs.
“I feel this is against two amendments, the amendment of free speech and the amendment of people to have right for peaceful assembly,” she said. “I think that was unconditionally wrong that that was done.”