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TOWN BOARD APPEARS ADRIFT AS UNADDRESSED PROBLEMS BEGIN TO PILE UP

The Town Board, holding its first work session in several weeks, tried to come to grips today with multiple problems affecting the Town, but did nothing about them.

First on the Town Board’s agenda was a meeting with the environmental consultants the Town had used to conduct a Phase I and an aborted Phase II environmental assessment of the Frank’s Nursery property.

The Town Board had earlier this month canceled a planned auction for this week of the former Frank’s Nursery site after the auctioneer said that bidders were unwilling to take a risk on the environmentally contaminated property because the costs of cleanup were at present unquantifiable.

The auctioneer had expressly warned the Town Board last April that this would be the reaction if the Town’s Phase II environmental study did not estimate the costs of cleanup – but the Town Board decided to proceed with the auction anyway.

As a result, the Town Board spent $25,000 on marketing and agreed to pay the auctioneer another $25,000 for his time – only to come away with nothing. Today, the consultants appeared to soft peddle the issues – suggesting that the main problem was an ongoing oil spill – while leaving for another day what to do about the cancer-causing carcinogens that were revealed in an October 2012 report that the consultants had prepared.

Based on today’s discussion, even if the Town went ahead with a resumption of the Phase II work on Frank’s, the property would likely not be marketed for sale for at least another six to eight months, and even then, it is doubtful whether prospective bidders will accept a consultant’s estimates without a guarantee from the state that such remediation plans would be acceptable.

The Town Board, meanwhile, continued to act as if it were the only municipality in the State of New York that had ever acquired environmentally contaminated property in a tax foreclosure sale.
Thus, even though New York has a Brownfields Cleanup Program that provides financial assistance to municipalities that own contaminated property to assist in completing Phase II and remediation efforts , no town officials today even raised the possibility of enrolling the Town in the program.

Governor Cuomo’s 2014-15 budget included a new $100 million appropriation to extend the State Superfund cleanup program, including $10 million through the Environmental Restoration Program to address municipally-owned brownfields.

Compounding its problems, the Town Board also seemed not to know what to do about a $5.3 million bid pulled from last week’s town board agenda calling for the repainting and remediation of three of the Town’s six aging water tanks.

Only one vendor submitted a bid – demanding an upfront payment of $5 million for a three-year contract with limited warranties – and the Town conceded that for whatever reason, its bidding period was open for only a narrow two-week period. The bidder also conceded today that it knew in advance what the specifications of the Town’s requirements would be, so that it had a head start on the preparation of its bid. No other vendor appeared to have been given any such head start.

Town officials seemed reluctant to re-bid the contract since competitors would now know what the successful bidder had offered. And there was also the risk that if the successful bid was pulled, the same bidder could once again come be the sole bidder – and this time, knowing for sure there would be no competition, come in at a higher number.

The Town Board tentatively decided to put the matter over until its next meeting on November 24, 2014, at which time it was hoping to see certain town-friendly modifications to the contract. But the circumstances of the unusual bid — and why the Town went along with an unusually short bidding window — remain fishy.

But there was more. Town Supervisor Paul Feiner insisted that the Town Board then had to appeal a court ruling two weeks ago granting a resident access to the Town’s email list. Mr. Feiner said residents would not give the Town their email addresses if they knew that the addresses could be obtained by a resident who might decide to sell the list.

The court’s ruling provided that the resident – Dorrine Livson, the president of the Worthington Woodlands Civic Association –could not use the list for commercial purposes, and there was no evidence presented in the record to suggest she would.

Mr. Feiner also said that he would favor instead granting civic associations the right to post “periodically” on the Town’s website, as long as their posts weren’t “political.” Mr. Feiner, of course, uses the Town’s email list to promote his own personal political agenda, including personal attacks on residents who oppose him – without giving those residents any opportunity to use town resources to respond, which was one of the reasons Ms. Livson asked for the list in the first place.

Before they went into executive session to discuss what to do about the appeal, Town Councilman Francis Sheehan said that he agreed with all of the reasons Mr. Feiner gave for not wanting the list made available to residents, but said none of those reasons were included among the Town’s reasons for refusing access to the list, and questioned whether the Town even had a valid basis for appeal, noting that a frivolous appeal could expose taxpayers to the risk of sanctions being imposed against the Town.

Mr. Feiner next tried without success to introduce a measure to address the proliferation of “massage parlors” in Edgemont, but held the measure over until next week when it was pointed out that the measure he proposed was so flawed he had failed even to define the term “massage parlor.”

Mr. Feiner said he was anxious to get the measure introduced anyway – even if it had to be revised later – in order to show Edgemont residents that he was doing something about the problem of massage parlors.

According to Police Chief Chris McNerney, the number of massage parlors along Central Avenue in Edgemont has more than doubled within the past 18 months. He recently told the Edgemont Community Council that because Greenburgh had no law on the books regulating massage parlors, Edgemont had now become the illicit “massage parlor” capital of Westchester County.

However, Edgemont residents who were shown a copy of the measure that Mr. Feiner intends to introduce said they were not only disappointed by the draft proposal, but warned that it was so poorly worded and thought through conceptually that it would actually encourage the proliferation in Edgemont of even more massage parlors – thus doing the opposite of what was intended. Comments to that effect were given last week to Chief McNerney – and the draft that was to have been introduced at last week’s town board meeting was pulled at the last minute.

But based on what transpired at today’s work session, it does not appear that Mr. Feiner or the town attorney made any changes at all to what was supposed to have been introduced. When Mr. Sheehan suggested that introduction of the measure be put off until such time as Mr. Feiner, the town attorney and Chief McNerney were all on the same page as to what the proposed legislation should say, Mr. Feiner said it was more important to him that something be introduced right away so that he could tell Edgemont residents he was doing something about the problem.

Finally, the Town Board discussed the need to schedule its customary two budget hearings on next year’s tax hikes, which were scheduled for November 24 and December 10, respectively.

However, because the Town Board waited so long in scheduling it, it is unlikely that the November 24 hearing will be timely noticed under state law, which requires that legal notice of the meeting be published in the Town’s official newspaper at least five days before the hearing takes place.

Town comptroller Bart Talamini addressed presented the board with a chart showing where the town stood in terms of spending in each of its departments, but declined to identify which departments were over budget, saying that if residents were interested they could obtain the information to figure it out for themselves.

Mr. Talamini also pointed out that the Town experienced a sudden increase of $1.5 million in the Town Entire fund balance as a result of the Town Board’s decision last month to drain 40% of the Town’s Risk Retention Fund – which covers judgments and claims for such thing as tax certiorari settlements – and transfer the money to the fund balance so that the Town would have enough money to budget from fund balance to avoid a double digit tax hike for Town taxpayers in an election year.

Town board members all laughed when Mr. Talamini explained that they all knew the reasons why that had to be done.

The Town Board Work Session can be watched by clicking on this link.

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