Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack said today he would be willing to take back the county roads that run through the town as long as Rockland County turned over the county sales tax to Clarkstown and the other towns. Gromack’s statement was in response to County Legislator Ilan Schoenberger’s suggestion that the county look into to the original owners, the five towns. The towns disclosed on Tuesday their demands that the for the approximately 170 miles of county roads within town lines and also that they had retained an attorney.
Gromack said the county continues to push back many of its expenses onto the towns including the costs of elections and Right now, the towns are arguing it is the county’s responsibility not theirs to pay for the cost of maintaining streetlights, traffic signals and fire hydrants on the county roads. He said Clarkstown would be willing to take responsibility for those services if it also received the county sales tax and the county property tax was eliminated.
“We’ll consider taking these back if we get the money,” he said.
Attorney Edward Guardaro of Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP of Westchester County said there is precedent for the utility costs to be borne by the county and that the towns have a “pretty strong case.”
Guardaro represented the Town of Huntington, which in 2010 won its case against Suffolk County resulting in the utility costs being shifted to that county. He said he has been involved in about a dozen similar municipal cases in New York State since 2007 in which litigation was contemplated but not initiated because the issues were resolved. In Huntington’s case the Appellate Court determined the responsibility for the costs associated with roadwork, maintenance and construction were dictated by state statute.
“No legal papers have been filed yet,” said Guardaro of the towns’ dispute with Rockland County government. “They’re weighing their options. This is an option they feel they may want to take if they can’t get together with the county on some sort of agreement.”
He explained he is preparing memos for town officials regarding any possible legal action they may want to take.
Gromack noted that if the county kept trying to divest itself of services and programs, there would not be a need for the county legislature, county executive or county property tax. Gromack suggested the Board of Supervisors, which once governed the county, could be reinstated and that the towns alone could run the county more efficiently.
He said the county’s actions lead to the question of “Why do we need a county of Rockland government?”
Gromack said Rockland cannot have it both ways – keep 94 percent of the $174 million raised by the county property tax and shift expenses to the towns.
Orangetown Town Supervisor Andy Stewart called for a restructuring of county government in May when the chargebacks were first announced.
“You have all of these costs and how the heck do we pay for these things given that they were not anticipated in our budget,” asked Stewart. “We were responsible. Our town met its two percent tax cap last year. We made tough decisions. Now there is this idea that the towns have endless amounts of money and we don’t. It puts us under an enormous amount of pressure.”
Orangetown Director of Finance Charlie Richardson gave a report on town spending and revenue for 2012. He told the town board on Tuesday night said that based on items the town was able to budget for, it was in line to spend under the budget passed for 2012, but that does not include an anticipated $500,000 to $550,000 that charge-backs from the county will cost Orangetown.
Gromack said Rockland receives federal and state funds for the roads and the towns should not be paying the utility bills for the county roadways. The other town boards – Orangetown, Ramapo and Haverstraw and Stony Point - are in various stages of discussing and voting on a resolution similar to the one passed by Clarkstown last week that would have all utility bills for the roads sent directly to the county.
Schoenberger and County Highway Superintendent Charles “Skip” Vezzetti refuted the towns’ claims that the utility costs were the county’s responsibility. Vezzetti said none of the utilities are a function of the roadways and the towns or the fire districts request their installation and location.
Guardaro, who is a Clarkstown resident, said the battles over which branch of government pays these types of cost have become much common because of the economy.
“It’s becoming much more frequent,” he said. “It wasn’t frequent at all before the recession.”