By Bob Quinn

— How much can you say in three minutes?

That’s the time allotted for each speaker at the public hearings next Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 15 and 16, by the Orange County Legislature on the proposal that would lead to the creation of the new Town of Palm Tree.

In one sense, you can say a lot in a short amount of time. Consider the Lord’s Prayer and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

High standards, yes. But the expectation is that those who will address county legislators on Aug. 15 and 16 will speak from the heart on a matter that would transform Monroe.

The issue before the Legislature is whether to approve a referendum, giving all residents in the town of Monroe and its three villages — Harriman, Kiryas Joel and Monroe — the opportunity to vote in November on the creation of a new and separate municipal entity called the Town of Palm Tree. The new town would include the Village of Kiryas Joel, the 164 acres annexed from the unincorporated section of the Town of Monroe, plus another 54 acres. Such a move would eliminate the KJ bloc vote, which has increasingly proved decisive in Monroe Town politics.

The reason we are here is that Kiryas Joel needs room to grow. The village’s population is perhaps 25,000; it’s expected to double within a generation. But the Hasidic community is not waiting for this decision. Five housing developments within the Town of Monroe will bring hundreds of homes. The KJ outgrowth is also a large factor in Woodbury and South Blooming Grove.

The Legislature’s vote is expected on Sept. 7. At least 14 of 21 legislators, or what’s called a super majority, must approve the issuance of the referendum and place it on the Monroe ballot on Nov. 7.

QuestionsWhile many of the speakers will declare yea or nay, others are expected to ask about the impact that the proposal forged by United Monroe and Kiryas Joel officials would bring to both communities.

What about taxes, for both the Town of Monroe and the Monroe-Woodbury School District, in the newly defined towns and school districts?

In a widely circulated email exchange between Monroe Town Comptroller Peter Martin and Kiryas Joel Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin, Martin discussed the long term effect on the town’s taxable assessed value.

“Primarily due to the growth in the Village of Kiryas Joel,” Martin rote, “the town of Monroe has experienced an annual increase of between 3 and 5 percent per year in the taxable valuation for the last ten years. This growth has allowed the town to have comfortable tax increases without breaking the tax cap. Subtracting the growth in the Village of Kiryas Joel, the town’s taxable assessed value has been essentially flat for the last ten years.”

In another email exchange, this between Szegedin and Monroe Supervisor Harley E. Doles III, the KJ village administrator acknowledged that while the particulars of the arrangement to create the Town of Palm Tree need to be disclosed, “it’s a bit premature.

“The immediate issue at hand is a very narrow one and it goes to the heart of the Home Rule rights of the Monroe residents,” Szegedin wrote. “Will the question to separate Kiryas Joel from Monroe by forming the new Town of Palm Tree be decided in September at a meeting in Goshen by the 21 elected legislators from all over Orange County or will it be decided in Monroe by the 22,000-plus voters in a November referendum?

“How can anyone think that 21 legislators know better what’s good for Monroe than all the Monroe residents themselves?”the administror added. “Why should the fate of Monroe’s future rest in the hands of 21 politicians from all over the county and not in the hands of the Monroe residents?

“If and when Goshen permits Monroe voters to decide its own destiny, all these points raised in the multiple letters to the editor must be part of a healthy public debate on the merits of the pending petition until the November referendum, giving the educated electorate all the information needed to call the ultimate shots at the voting booths," Szegedin concluded. “We stand ready to address all points raised if this issue is slated for a referendum.”

Monroe Town Coucilman Mike McGinn said he would "not be making a statement unless I feel it is necessary to refute falsehoods or misinformation being made by other elected officials. This should be a forum for residents to voice their thoughts and opinions on the matter. We (elected officials) have ample access to the legislators and the podium should be reserved for ordinary citizens.

McGin continued: "I'll be listening for the concerns of the residents and how they feel the separation will affect them personally and how it will affect the future of the town.

In an exchange with The Photo News, McGinn added: "My main concern is the financial impact on the town in the way of lost tax revenue. Also, the mechanics of the agreement and timeline for the implementation it. I am equally concerned with the enforcement of its provisions and legal ramifications for violating such.

Should the county legislature approve the request in September, the town board will hold an information session with the other stakeholders to inform the residents of the potential impact that the new town will have on our community," McGinn added. "Ultimately the decision to separate should be made by the voters of Monroe as we have the most to lose or gain from it." Monroe Democrats: Let people decide

Meanwhile, the Monroe Democratic Committee expressed a similar view. The Democrats endorsed the following resolution on Aug. 3:

“We, the members of the Town of Monroe Democratic Committee, believe that the very essence of democracy is the right of people to decide the government under which they live. The proposal to divide Monroe gives the people on both sides of the town the opportunity to solve a number of long-standing problems. We believe the people of Monroe should decide the shape of our town and that the County Legislature should endorse the right of the people of Monroe to make our decision. We urge all parties in the town and county to find common ground to end the cycle of litigation that has beset us in recent years.”

Orange County Legislator Myrna Kemnitz, who also is the secretary of the town Democratic Committee, said, “This could be a defining moment to move into Monroe’s future on a surer footing coming from within from the strength of many.”

She also offered these thoughts on the upcoming hearings:

“My hope,” she wrote in an email exchange with The Photo News:“Is for a large, peaceful, public turnout at both hearings. That the public knows the county’s 21 legislators vary substantially in their knowledge and interest level about what goes on in Monroe. That speakers address only the question the entire Legislature of 21 legislators must answer. Should the residents of the Town of Monroe be enabled themselves by voting to decide where and how they want to live? That a speaker or two provide verifiable information on Monroe’s economics of minus 220 acres given versus minus 164 acres now in court on appeal by the county. And what the revenue to Town of Monroe value of the 65 acres broken out alone is.”

Doles has been a vociferous emailer on the issue. Among his questions is whether the approval of the referendum would be tantamount to allowing annexation without the rigors of state environmental review process: “They facts, they need to come to a decision.”

Although Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus has no say in the Legislature’s decision, Justin Rodriguez, the spokesperson for Neuhaus, said the process is important: “What we all hope is that the Legislators get the facts they need to come to a decision and the public is given substantive and clear and truthful information by proponents of the plan,” Rodriguez said. “While state law does not give the county executive a vote in this process, he has made extensive staff available to all sides so that information can be developed and issues explored. He will continue to make that offer.

“He also strongly urges Kiryas Joel to reach agreement with the other neighboring communities on issues of mutual concern through the discussions which are happening,” Rodriguez added. “It is important that if Palm Tree goes forward, it not only disentangles Monroe government from Kiryas Joel and the Monroe-Woodbury School District, but also lets nearby communities, who are not clear on what it (Palm Tree) means for them, feel comfortable about their community’s future as well. Hopefully, all those issues will be addressed by project proponents and legislators as part of the legislative process.”