Orangetown and Clarkstown officials want Rockland County to shoulder the cost of maintaining the county roads within their borders, as well as the traffic signals, streetlights and fire hydrants along them.
But the Rockland County Department of Law states town officials lack the legal authority to take that action.
The Clarkstown Town Board approved a resolution at its July 10 meeting to bill the county for those utilities. Orangetown officials discussed similar action at their workshop last night and are expected to vote on a formal resolution next week.
The towns of Ramapo, Haverstraw and Stony Point are expected to follow suit and vote on similar resolutions. The towns have been paying those costs, but their resolutions claim that they are the legal responsibility of the county.
The statement issued by the county disputes that argument and determined there was no statutory basis since streetlights and traffic signals are placed on the county roads at the request of the individual town and that fire hydrants are the responsibility of the local fire district.
“The County is responsible to improve, maintain and repair roads in the County Road System, not the appurtenant structures along the road. Specifically, as set forth in the Highway Law, Town boards may provide for lighting of roads which is not requested and approved by the County. The expense of installing, maintaining and caring for such lighting is a Town charge with moneys appropriated in the same manner as other town expenses.
Our County Superintendent of Highways advises that, in Rockland County, streetlights are placed on county roads at the request of the Town. The Town submits an application directly to Orange & Rockland ('O&R') to install the streetlights. The only charge involved is for the actual electric usage, which is billed monthly by O&R to the Town. Similarly, traffic lights in Rockland County are placed at the request (and option) of the Town by permit from the County.
In addition, as set forth in Town Law, the 'furnishing, erection, maintenance and care of fire hydrants' are the responsibility of the Fire District. Thus, in our view, the Town of Clarkstown and any other Town who has approved this resolution will be looking for the courts to render a decision of first impression.”
The Town of Clarkstown determined it has been paying approximately $460,479 a year for the costs of maintaining those fixtures along county roads within its boundaries. Of the 1,982 fire hydrants in Clarkstown, 247 are on county roads. The Town estimates the costs for fire hydrants on county roads is approximately $230,866. There are 5,359 streetlights throughout Clarkstown with 526 on county roads. The Town estimates the annual cost for streetlights on county roads is approximately $99,650. In Clarkstown there are 87 traffic signals and 52 of those are on county roads and cost $129,963 to maintain yearly.
In Orangetown, the annual maintenance cost for the 471 streetlights on county roads amounts to $82,547. The cost of 28 traffic signals on county roads is $97,611 and for 91 fire hydrants is $83,464.
“As we start to enter our budget preparations for next year all municipalities are struggling to stay within the Governor’s two percent tax cap,” said Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack. “While the Town of Clarkstown has been successful in the past with a zero percent tax increase in 2011 and 2012, we have to continue to look for ways to reduce the cost of Town government. We are in no position to be footing the bill for the maintenance of County roads.”
"This is part of our effort to mitigate the impact of the county's financial crisis," Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said."Everybody had to go back and quantify their own county road costs. Fair is fair. It's not an unreasonable appraoch to look and see if you are paying for something that somebody else should be paying for. That's all we're doing."
Clarkstown plans to bill the county for all costs that it was initially billed or paid that are connected with street lights, traffic lights, and fire hydrants adjacent to county roads. The reimbursement sought could include electric supply costs charged by Orange and Rockland Utilities or other energy supply companies, repair costs, and United Water hydrant charges. The town directed its comptroller to arrange for all future bills from service providers or vendors to be charged directly to the county.
Additionally, the resolution passed by Clarkstown directs the town attorney to commence appropriate legal action, either individually or with the other four towns of Rockland.
The five Towns have already retained Edward J. Guardaro, Jr. of Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan, LLP of Westchester County. Guardaro is a municipal land and road use attorney expert, who has handled similar claims for other municipalities including a successful legal action by the Town of Huntington in Suffolk County.
As the towns pass the resolutions, they are being sent to County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, County Legislative Chair Harriet Cornell, County Superintendent of Highways Charles Vezzetti and the other town supervisors.
This is the towns' first attempt to charge the county, which is passing along its Board of Elections and costs to the five towns. The county is dealing with a deficit that could reach $95 million.
"It's a shame we got into this position," said Orangetown Councilman Denis Troy. "This is pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It is exactly what they did with the college charge-backs. There is more validity to this than the community college pay back."