Governor signs laws pushing up Palm Tree’s creation to this upcoming January and $1 million in special aid to Monroe-Woodbury School District

Governor signs laws pushing up Palm Tree’s creation to this upcoming January and $1 million in special aid to Monroe-Woodbury School District

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By Nancy Kriz

— Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signing of legislation on July 1 officially and legally advances the formation of the Town of Palm Tree to next January.

Cuomo’s signature also allows provides the required legal time for prospective Palm Tree board members to get signatures and file petitions to run for office in November, so they can assume their town roles in January.

The following day, July 2, the governor signed legislation authorizing $1 million in special aid to the Monroe-Woodbury School District to offset the net loss to the district’s budget resulting from the boundary shift with the Kiryas Joel School District, approved by both school boards last year.

The new town is the resolution to two annexation proposals that Kiryas Joel officials and United Monroe leaders developed last year, which received widespread support from neighboring towns and villages in addition to Orange County and both school districts.

Those annexation proposals caused years of anger and frustration with town residents and contentiously confrontational town board meetings. The annexation proposals were among the key reasons leading to the formation of the United Monroe grassroots group.

“How fitting that this good news comes as we celebrate Independence Day,” John Allegro, a member of United Monroe’s Executive Committee, said in a statement. “Now, instead of waiting another year, Monroe will be out from under the Kiryas Joel bloc vote as of this November’s election. “

While the school aid legislation may address the short-term financial challenges facing the district, the town still needs to finalize its own financial numbers to determine what the bottom-line financial impact will be to Town of Monroe taxpayers.

Town of Monroe officials initially estimated the town’s budget would have a $1.5 million impact to taxpayers, due to the loss of revenue from taxpayers now under Palm Tree’s jurisdiction.

“The town board is currently in the process of streamlining the budget so that any effect is minimalized as best as we can see fit,” Town of Monroe Supervisor Tony Cardone said. “We’re currently working to reduce that ($1.5 million) substantially and I think the town board is pretty confident that those numbers will be reduced so the effect is not anywhere near $1.5 million. In addition, there is possibility that Palm Tree will do some inter-municipal agreements with the town to provide revenue.”

Cardone wants to start talks with the new town’s expected leadership now, but said Kiryas Joel officials said that’s not going to happen.

“As far as any negotiations go, we are at a standstill,” Cardone said. “Mr. (KJ Village Administrator Gedalye) Szegedin has informed us he cannot negotiate because the leaders of the town have not be designated, and that will happen through the (November) election process. So he will not speak to us (about finances) until January 1 when the new KJ officials are installed. I find him (Szegedin) to be someone who is looking out for the best interests of his residents and we’re going to look out for the best interests of our residents. I see him as someone who is not stubborn or hardnosed. I see him as someone willing to negotiate and reach an agreement beneficial to both.”

Still, Cardone said, he would expect there’s a potential group of people planning to begin the process to run for office. He didn’t know who they might be, or even if the election would be a contested one.

“If they put up a non-contested slate, to me, I don’t see any reason why they can’t start negotiations,” Cardone said. “If they have an uncontested slate, it would be to everyone’s benefit to start discussions. It would be the fiscally responsible thing to do this now.”

While Kiryas Joel officials did not provide information about any potential, future slate of town officers, its public relations counsel, Albany-based Corning Place Communications, provided The Photo News with a list of positions it plans to fill. (See companion story.)

In addition to accelerating the process by one year, the legislation now also removes the KJ bloc vote from participation in the 2018 Town Council special election.

That special election this November is for the seat Cardone vacated when he was elected supervisor in 2017. That seat is now held by Sal Scancarello, who was appointed to the councilman role by the board.

“A year ago when we wrote the terms of the political separation agreement with Kiryas Joel, we made sure that one of them was an immediate and full-out effort to expedite the commencement of Palm Tree after approval by Monroe’s voters,” Allegro said in his statement. “Political separation frees residents on both sides of Route 17 to pursue their aspirations under independent municipal rule.”

While the financial issues facing the town remain at the forefront, particularly to the Town of Monroe, Kiryas Joel and Monroe officials praised the process.

“From the beginning, our only goal for creating the Town of Palm Tree was to establish a solid foundation for a lasting peace between the residents of Kiryas Joel and the residents of Monroe, by giving both communities independence from the other without any political interference.” Szegedin said in a statement. “Diplomacy and compromise produce better results than acrimony and division.”

Cardone added: “Know that this (the new town’s creation) will be beneficial to all Town of Monroe residents. I would say this will subside any fears residents may have, and will create a more peaceful environment.”

Special state aid is officially in place for Monroe-Woodbury School District

CENTRAL VALLEY — The Monroe-Woodbury School District now has an additional $1 million in special state aid to offset losses due to the boundary changes it will make with the Kiryas Joel School District, effective July 1, 2019.
“The school district committed substantial time and effort into compiling a comprehensive report evaluating the short- and long-term impacts of the boundary alteration,” Patrick Cahill, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said in a statement. “The conclusions identified in the report have not changed in any material way since August 2017, when the report was finalized.”
District spokesperson Carole Spendley referred interested people to the district’s website where the report was available for review:
School officials provided some detail on the numbers of students living within the soon-to be annexed area for the forthcoming school year which began July 1, even through the boundaries are not changing.
In an email to The Photo News, Spendley said: “The district estimates that the number of Monroe-Woodbury School students who reside in the annexation areas will decrease from 20 to 14 in the 2018-19 school year, which would result in a slight reduction of tuition revenue for students that (after boundary line change) live in the Kiryas Joel Union Free School District and continue to attend the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District for a regular education program.”
However, Kiryas Joel School District officials were far more generic.
“In July of 2017, when we last looked at the data for the 220 acres, we estimated about 200 students that were projected to be transported to private schools, and 19 students that would be attending Monroe-Woodbury public schools,” KJ Superintendent Joel Petlin said in an email to The Photo News. “It may be difficult to use those numbers for a baseline, only because new families may move in and old families may move out, and new construction may add additional housing, from the time we collected the data (July 1, 2017), until our responsibility for the 2019-20 school year begins on July 1, 2019.”
Still, it’s too premature to look at what those numbers may be for the 2019-2020 school year, which begins July 1, 2019.
“I can’t speculate on how many children will be attending which schools on the date the property is transferred to our school district,” Petlin said in his email. “At that time, we will be doing a canvas of students and appropriate services will be arranged for all students (buses for students in yeshivas, special education for those that require it, and continued education in Monroe-Woodbury for children that were previously students at Monroe-Woodbury schools).”
United Monroe and Village of Kiryas Joel officials negotiated the plan resulting in the formation of the Town of Palm Tree, which also to the school boards of both districts agreeing to a boundary line adjustment last year.
“As a result of Palm Tree and the school district’s boundary change, residents in the Monroe-Woodbury School District also have the assurance that a Kiryas Joel private education bloc vote will not affect their school board elections or the quality of the programs offered,” United Monroe Executive Committee member John Allegro said in a statement.
Monroe-Woodbury officials previously said they haven’t yet made a final recommendation to the Board of Education on how to allocate the $1 million, though it expects to have a plan in place early in the 2018-19 school year.
- Nancy Kriz

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