Act II

| 19 Oct 2017 | 03:04

By Bob Quinn
— The majority of people who submitted questions or spoke at Wednesday’s second public information session regarding the creation of the Town of Palm Tree indicated they would support the Nov. 7 town wide referendum separating the Village of Kiryas Joel and an additional 220 acres from the rest of Monroe.
Questions, remained, though, about the overall impact of the divorce between the communities both in the short term and in the future. Part of the reason was that for the second week in a row, no one from the Village of Kiryas Joel joined the panel of officials from Harriman, the town and village of Monroe, plus representatives from United Monroe. The school superintendents from Monroe-Woodbury and Kiryas Joel school districts joined the group Wednesday.
One speaker called the lack of representative from the village “another example of KJ’s disrespect for the public.”
Several speakers, however, called what has happened - and what could happen - in Monroe “historic.” That’s because few thought there could be a way to counterbalance the ever-increasing Kiryas Joel voting bloc in town politics. John Allegro, an official United Monroe and Preserve Hudson Valley, estimated that by 2021 more than half of all voters in the Town of Monroe would be Hasidic. One speaker described this as “the tsunami of more voters.”
The KJ voting bloc was most evident four years ago in the town supervisor’s race between the incumbent Republican Sandy Leonard, Democrat Harley Doles and United Monroe founder Emily Convers.
More than 50 percent of town voters went to the polls, which at the time was an unusually high percentage. Doles narrowly defeated Convers. Most of his votes came from Kiryas Joel; he received very few from south of the Quickway.
In addition to illustrating the power of the KJ voting bloc, the election also ushered in a new player in town politics.
QuestionsJohn Karl, the former mayor of the Village of Monroe, asked a series of questions to Monroe Town Councilman Mike McGinn, who was moderating the evening in Theater Six of the Town of Monroe Arts and Civic Center.
Among the topics:
What will be the impact of growth on Orange County Sewer District No. 1?
Who will fund the upgrades? Why not remove Kiryas Joel/Palm Tree from the district and let them build their own?
Why a town and not a city?
Will there be diversity within Section 8 housing?
Will the town share in Orange County sales tax revenue?
Does the Kiryas Joel Fire Department meet all standards? What will the impact of the new town on Monroe Fire District?
“A lot of my questions can’t be answered because there’s no one around to answer them,” Karl said. “ I am concerned. I have to make a decision and I need the information.”
McGinn said Karl’s questions would be included in the official record of the information sessions.
Monroe Mayor Jim Purcell said he and a group of seven other officials have been meeting with Orange County regarding Sewer District No. 1 regarding costs. “If there is a build-out (in Kiryas Joel/Palm Tree),” Purcell said, “why should we pay for it?
The new town would receive sales tax revenue from the county, said Bill Cochran, a member of the accounting firm hired by the Town of Monroe to assess the financial impact of removing the revenue and expenses for the new municipality from the town’s books. The county shares a percentage of the sales tax generated annually with its three cities and 20 towns.
Revised figuresEarlier in the meeting, Cochran offered revised figures at what the cost would be for homeowners should the separation take place. After last week’s meeting, town officials said they wanted to be more cautious about the impact of losing property tax revenue, sales tax revenue and other sources such as federal aid for the Dial-A-Bus program.
So Cochran offered a range “of what it could cost:
For the owner of a home with an assessed valuation of $280,000 in the unincorporated portion of the Town of Monroe, the range could be $151.10 to $209.74, or from 2.79 percent to 3.84 percent.
For the owner of a home with an assessed valuation of $280,000 in the village, the range could be $145.66 to $204.93, or from 2. 67 percent to 3.75 percent.
These are estimations based on 2016 town budget figures and do not take into account any actions by future town boards to cut expenses or generate new revenues rather than simply raise taxes.
Mike Egan, one of the United Monroe leaders who negotiation the settlement with Kiryas Joel that set the stage for the referendum, questioned the accounting firm’s approach. He said the 164 acres that have since been annexed into the Village of Kiryas Joel were part of the Town of Monroe in 2016 and therefore generated property tax revenue for the town.
After some give and take between the accounting firm and Egan, McGinn moved the discussion elsewhere.
‘What if’Several people questioned whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment would come into play.
According to the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School: “The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.”
“It’s a what if question,” said Tom LaPolla.
‘Clash of aspirations’If the referendum is approved, there would be elections in November 2019 for Town of Palm Tree offices and those officials would take commence the business of Palm Tree on Jan. 1, 2020.
Meanwhile, the new boundaries of the Kiryas Joel and Monroe-Woodbury school districts would take effect in July 1, 2020. School districts follow a different tax calendar than towns. In the meantime, the two districts have been working together on mutual issues so that the education of children remains consistent.
Assemblyman James Skoufis is pushing legislation to speed the commencement of Palm Tree. He also is seeking a change in state school aid to offset the loss of revenue to the Monroe-Woodbury School District.
As they have said many times, United Monroe officials said the leverage they have with the Village of Kiryas Joel is the litigation they have through Preserve Hudson Valley that challenges the 164 annexation.
They also said they have a stipulation prepared to present to the court that would make the agreement between Kiryas Joel and United Monroe legally binding. It would end litigation between the two and codify the agreement that Kiryas Joel would refrain from any annexation from the towns of Monroe and Blooming Grove for 10 years.
Convers said the creation of the Town of Palm Tree will not solve issues long attributed to Kiryas Joel - environmental concerns, housing, public access to information, the erosion of public education.
“All those concerns will remain,” she said. “But that is not why we are here. We are here for political freedom, to be unencumbered by the KJ bloc vote, to end this clash of aspirations.”