A group of around 20 local business owners met with State Sen. David Carlucci (D-New City) Wednesday morning at the Haverstraw Community Center to discuss ways to best help out businesses in a struggling economy. It was the first of a series of round table discussions called "Thoughtraisers" to be held around Rockland County.
But what mostly came out of the discussions was that there needs to be better communication between business owners, all of whom own businesses in Garnerville or Haverstraw, and the Village of Haverstraw. Many of the business owners shared stories where they felt taken advantage of or bullied by the town building and fire inspector.
The stories ranged from being told to pay for fire inspections where seemingly all businesses are charged a different price and are not given a reason for the difference in price, to having inspections done on their businesses where they felt like the inspector was just looking for ways to shut down their business. Many also didn’t want to give their names in this story for fear of retaliation from the inspector, possibly with more fees or hostility.
“One of the biggest things I took from this is that communication is critical,” Carlucci said. “These people don’t mind paying fees or having their spaces inspected, but they want to know why they have to pay the fees and what exactly is being inspected.”
Many of the businesses are located at or near the Garnerville Arts and Industrial Complex, where many people have occupied space for 15-20 years without issue until recently they were told they didn’t comply with the zoning regulations. Making sure people know what the regulations are and enforcing them properly was another big issue Carlucci took from the round table discussion, he said, adding he was going to speak with Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut about the business owners’ issues, possibly bringing everyone together at some point.
“Today was very constructive,” said Roger Swingle, of Intervision New Media in Garnerville. “I think the senator is on our side in trying to build a spirit of partnership between us and the village.”
Swingle said some businesses have already left Garnerville because of issues with the village, and since Hurricane Irene many feel like they haven’t received assistance with recovery, citing that many emergency repair permits were delayed so they couldn’t go back into their businesses. One person at the round table said many feel they have reached a “tipping point” and if things don’t improve, many businesses will move out of Garnerville.
That’s not news that made Sharon Kellman, a Haverstraw resident and owner of New Look Hair & Beauty Products in West Haverstraw, happy.
“If we don’t have businesses here, who’s going to pay those taxes?” Kellman said. “The homeowners.”
Carlucci backed up her point, saying it’s important to keep tax ratables in Rockland, and on a larger level, in the state.
“We’re a business-hostile environment right now in New York state, and we need to be a business-friendly environment,” Carlucci said, adding it’s extra important for a county like Rockland that borders another state.
The round table discussion was something planned before Hurricane Irene hit, and Carlucci said was even more timely afterward, as many businesses were greatly affected by the storm. Many of the business owners at the meeting said they felt relations between them and the village have worsened since the storm, as well. The discussions are something Carlucci said he’s going to do in other parts of his district in the future, as well.
“I’m sure at those discussions I’ll hear different issues from what I heard here today,” Carlucci said. “But we’re all working toward the same goal. The number one issue is job creation.”