Taking care of business
Monroe Town Board takes care of the nitty gritty of governance
By Bob Quinn
MONROE — There were no 90-point headlines to be found on the agenda for Monday’s Monroe Town Board meeting.
But Supervisor Anthony Cardone and Town Board members Mary Bingham, Rick Colon and Mike McGinn move through the meeting’s itinerary to approved a contract with highway workers, schedule public hearings, listen to the public - and then respond. The meeting began at 7:30; the board adjourned by 10:30 p.m. to go into executive session.
Here’s a recap:
Monday’s meeting began with a recognition of the Monroe-Woodbury Pop Warner Junior Varsity and Junior Peewee Cheer squads recently competed in the Pop Warner Nationals in Orlando, Florida. Both the Junior Varsity and Junior Peewees each placed fourth in their divisions - the highest placement of any team of cheerleaders from the area.
On behalf of the Town Board, Cardone thanked the cheerleaders, their coaches and their families for representing their community so well.
In turn, several of the cheerleaders thanked their neighbors, friends and local businesses who help them accomplish their goals. “We are proud to represent our town,” one young woman said.
The Town Board then presented Ted Nelson, the commissioner of Pop Warner Cheer with a plaque thanking him for his community service.
Bailey Farm RoadCardone reported that he and Highway Superintendent John Scherne have met with Harriman Village Mayor Stephen H. Welle regarding the opening of Bailey Farm Road. The road will provide one-away access. It’s expected to cost $10,000. The town will provide 15 signs; Harriman will repair the curbs and clean the catch basins.
Cardone said he expects the road to open by mid-spring.
ContractsThe town has upcoming contracts with the Monroe Free Library, the Monroe Fire District and the Monroe Ambulance Corps.
Town Clerk Mary Ellen Beams, who also is the town’s tax collector, said those agencies will be paid after Feb. 5 because state law gives town precedence on receiving tax revenues.
There is an issue with the contract with the ambulance corps. Town Attorney Brian Nugent there has been no formal contract for two years and negotiations have been about fees. He noted that the ambulance corps has not given the town the required financial reports needed to understand and then to determine the fee schedule.
No action was taken, but Councilman Mike McGinn said the impasse takes nothing away from the work of the corps. “As a community,” McGinn said, “we support the EMTs.”
Meanwhile, Cardone reported that the town and the union representing its highway employees had reached a contract agreement.
The four-year deal dates from Jan. 1, 2017, through 2020. The annual raises are: zero for 2017; four percent for 2018; two percent for 2019; and two percent for 2020.
The agreement also provides a clothing provision, giving the highway department crews high visibility outfits.
The boathouseCardone said he was in discussions with a town employee about operating the boathouse at Mombasha Park. Although he did not go into specifics, Cardone said the person had the experience to oversee the operation, which would run from April through October.
He also said there should be a small stipend to compensate the employee.
Eitz ChaimCardone said the town continues to study the merits of obtaining the building owned by Congregation Eitz Chaim on Orange Turnpike.
Central town government offices now operate out of the building under an extended lease arrange between Monroe and the congregation. The asking price is $2.7 million, which McGinn would later described as a reasonable figure, given that the Woodbury proposed a consolidated municipal building at a cost of $9 million. That was rejected at referendum by Woodbury voters.
Although there is nothing written in stone, the general thinking is to consolidate all town offices at Eitz Chaim, and then to sell DeAngeles Hall and town hall.
Cardone said a meeting has been scheduled with the town’s two judges to discuss the town court’s needs in terms of where clerks work, the size of the courtroom, where holding areas are best situated.
Cost estimates also are underway regarding offices for the town clerk, the finance office, a conference room, the supervisor’s office.
The supervisor said the town has been in contact with state Sen. William J. Larkin and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus for funding assistance.
Later in the meeting, during public comment, Mike Egan, the United Monroe leader as well as the chairman of the Town of Monroe’s Board of Ethics, requested an overview of what the town would do if it acquires Eitz Chaim as municipal offices. “Given what happened with the theater,” Egan said, “you owe it to the citizens (to) provide the big picture.”
At the time the town purchased what is today the Town of Monroe Arts & Civic Center for $880,000 five years ago, there was no business plan for its use. There were some discussions then about using the theater for municipal offices but those never came to fruition. Finally, the town board decided to open three of its six theaters to show movies.
Later in the meeting, Cardone would respond, saying that architectural plans for the building are being developed and “that will help us determine the costs.”
He also said the accommodations for the town court would be far superior to a $300,000 renovation of DeAngeles Hall. That renovation “would be no where near that we would have” in the Eitz Chaim building, Cardone said.
McGinn also noted the cost differences between purchasing Eitz Chaim ($2.7 million) and the $9 million proposal rejected by voters in Woodbury for municipal offices for the town and village.
Public commentFormer Town Board member Dan Burke complimented Cardone for his efforts to host the movie, “Twelve Strong,” at the Town of Monroe Arts and Civic Center for veterans on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Burke said opportunities liked this “will bring people to Monroe and the movie theater.”
He also suggested that the town create a movie theater advisory committee to explore other ways to utilize TMACC for the benefit of the community.
Veronica Connolly spoke briefly, saying that a wise man had once told her that the most important thing someone could do was to write a thank you letter. And so she did to the people at the table.
“I wish you well,” Connolly said. “You have challenges ahead of you, but you will do well.”
Lorraine Loening requested a return to a protocol where town department heads are available to the public at regular intervals to address citizens.
She also urged the town to recognized the academic achievements of young people akin to that given earlier in the evening to the Pop Warner cheer teams.
Egan also asked about the town board’s rules for public comment. Those include signing up to speak within 15 minutes of the beginning of a meeting and limiting the time to talk to three minutes.
Egan questioned whether deadline to sign up to speak would eliminate people who arrived after the first 15 minutes of a meeting. He also suggested that residents might come to a town board meeting with no intention of speaking but after hearing discussions one topic or another might feel compelled to comment.
“We are open to suggestions,” Councilman Rick Colon would say later. “All the answers are not on this side of the table.”