| 12 Oct 2017 | 05:49

By Bob Quinn
— About 100 people filled the seats in the Screen Six auditorium of the Town of Monroe Arts & Civic Center Wednesday night to learn, to ask and to comment about the future of their town.
Wednesday was the first of two public information meetings held by the Town of Monroe to weigh what it will mean if voters approve a referendum on Nov. 7 to create the Town of Palm Tree out of what is now the Village of Kiryas Joel, plus 220 acres that includes the 164 acres that the village won through annexation.
The second session will be held next Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m., back at the TMA&CC.
There was news to be had Wednesday evening.
RBT CPAs, the accounting firm hired by the Monroe Town Board to assess the financial impact of removing the revenue and expense of the new municipality from the town’s ledgers, said Monroe would loose $2,034,234 in revenues, based on estimates using 2016 figures. That would include $917,673 in property taxes and $165,000 in mortgage taxes.
Meanwhile, the auditors said the town would save $168,027, for a “total negative effect” of $1,866,207.
Such a loss, said CPA Bill Cochran, would deplete the town’s $4.7 million in reserves within three years — if the town did nothing to adjust costs, such as reducing expanses or raising taxes.
Cochran also offered a scenario of what such a tax increase could look like to offset the projected revenue loss.
His report indicated that the owner of a home with an estimate value of $280,000 in the unincorporated portion of the Town of Monroe would see a 2.77 percent increase in annual tax bill, or $151.10.
The owner of a similarly valued home in either the Village of Monroe or the Village of Harriman would see a 2.67 percent increase in the annual tax bill, or $145.66.
John Allegro, a member of United Monroe, would later comment the those tax increases seemed a reasonable price to pay for Monroe to have political freedom from the Kiryas Joel voting bloc.
How did we get here?Wednesday’s meeting at the town-owned TMA&CC was a direct result of the agreement forged between United Monroe and the Village of Kiryas Joel this summer. Late last year, residents of the area filed a petition with the Orange County Legislature, requesting the creation of a new town, then called the Town of North Monroe. It would include the Village of Kiryas Joel 382 additional acres.
Mike Egan, another United Monroe official instrumental in the agreement, recalled Wednesday that United Monroe welcomed the idea of a separate town, although he said the price — the additional 382 acres — was too high.
Seated at the table with moderator and Monroe Town Councilman Mike McGinn, Harriman Mayor Steve Welle, Monroe Mayor Jim Purcell and Monroe Deputy Mayor Irene Conklin, Egan and United Monroe chair Emily Convers said the time was right to negotiate and to get out from under the KJ bloc vote.
He added that anyone could have “jumped in” to negotiate. But only United Monroe did. Those talks began in March.
“The peace treaty” is between private parties, he said, but it has incentives and benefits for both sides. It would end all litigation between Kiryas Joel, Preserve Hudson Valley and the consortium of neighboring towns and villages regarding the 164-acre appeal and the original 507-acre petition. “Everyone is sick of fighting,” Egan said.
The agreement eliminates the Kiryas Joel voting bloc, which affects not only who is elected to town offices, but also who those elected officials appoint to the planning, zoning, conservation and other boards and commission that do the town’s work.
The agreement was contingent upon the Monroe-Woodbury School District agreeing to redrawing its boundaries so that the borders of the Kiryas Joel School District is co-terminus with the new town — as it does now with the Village of Kiryas Joel.
He also said Kiryas Joel officials have stipulated they will not seek additional land or foster petitions to create villages in Monroe and Blooming Grove for a decade.
A copy of the agreement can be found on the United Monroe website.
What’s nextThe agreement was, in effect, sanctioned by the Orange County Legislature, which voted 18-3 in September to give the voters in all of the Town of Monroe the chance to say yea or nay to separation.
Egan said should the referendum be approved, lawyers for Kiryas Joel and Preserve Hudson Valley will immediately go to court, seeking a state Supreme Court Justice’s signature on a statement that stipulate what the two sides agreed do.
He also said he expects Kiryas Joel to use its friends in Albany to speed the process of when the Town of Palm Tree officially commences. As things stand now, the new town would hold town wide elections in November 2019 and take office on Jan. 1, 2020.
Assemblyman James Skoufis also has announced efforts to speed up the program.
Questions that could not be answeredThere was room at the dais Wednesday for officials from the Village of Kiryas Joel and the Monroe-Woodbury School District. Village officials were observing Sukkot, the feast of the Tabernacles. School officials had a meeting of their own in Central Valley.
The school district did respond in writing to questions submitted by residents prior to the hearing and McGinn read those responses when the questions arose.
A number of questions were left unanswered Wednesday, and they mainly had to do with how the new town would be run, such as would there be town meetings in English or would the town have an up-to-date website.
Kate Trioano, who has long been critical about what she says has been a rush to judgment on the formation of Palm Tree, described the fact that neither Kiryas Joel or Orange County officials were at the meeting.
“That’s sort of like have a wedding without the bride,” she said.
Monroe Town Councilman Jerry McQuade wondered what had changed since United Monroe described Kiryas Joel as an “unconstitutional theocracy” in its initial lawsuit opposed the 164-acre annexation.
“I am not against separation,” he added. “But why can’t they pay for it.”
Finally, Monroe resident Ed Kapalko asked whether United Monroe would benefit from the new town or would face any financial risk because of it.
“No,” Convers said. “And no.”