Issue 1: Patriot Hill Golf Course/Letchworth Land
After struggling to pay your home mortgage for 19 years with one year to go, would you sell in year 20 at a "fire sale" price? This is what the Town Board is doing--selling Patriot Hills as a "financial burden" when the bond is about to be fully paid. This is why the Townspeople must say "No Sale" at Election Day's permissive referendum.
The Town Board portrays the Golf Course as a financial burden when it is not. Rather, it is simply being mis-managed by the Town Board. It could have sought a private operator expert at managing golf courses. The Town Board was too lazy to request proposals.
Worst of all, the Town Board sold Patriot Hills/Letchworth to a purchaser with no real estate development experience whatsoever. It is giving away "fee simple" title to the land, and thus loses all control over it. Thus, if the purchaser (or his successor) says "we cannot make a profit on golf," and then says "we have purchasers for housing," what is the Town going to say? That he cannot sell to a developer for high density housing? What will the courts say to a legal challenge, for example, under RLUIPA?
By selling Patriot Hills, the town will be creating a huge supply of land suitable for residential development. We know there is a huge demand. Money and the law of "supply and demand" talks. If the land becomes high density housing, it will both burden the taxpayers and likely result in a domino effect, resulting in more high density housing. The Townspeople must say "No Sale" on Election day.
Issue 2: Camp Bullowa, and "bankruptcy bull"
It appears that Camp Bullowa was given to the Boy Scouts with the intent of being a "forever wild" forest recreation and camping site. Apparently it was zoned to allow 4.6 acre residential housing as a financial tool, to add value to the land as collateral for borrowing by the Boy Scouts, not for residential housing.
Thus, it is time to re-zone the land back to its intended purpose. Hiking and Camping. This is legal for the Town to do.
After such re-zoning, the Town might also wish to consider using eminent domain to purchase the land, at the fair market value for, essentially, parkland. If the Town purchases the land for, say, $100,000, it could then offer to lease the land back to the Boy Scouts and other non-profit recreational organizations. The Town might be able to obtain a substantial profit in using this land for recreational purposes. And of course the land would be available for use by the Townspeople as well.
As to both Camp Bullowa and Patriot Hills/Letchworth, the Town should promptly develop a sound plan, via an updated Master Plan. No permanent residential housing is appropriate for either site, in Mike's view.
Issue 3: The Hudson River Waterfront
An updated Master Plan should consider both the best use for land located along the Hudson River, and potentially "inter-connecting" such land with Patriot Hills and Bullowa, as well as the tremendous recreational resources in Harriman Park and Bear Mountain. Much has changed in the post-COVID world, including in our region.
There are better uses for the former Tilcon Quarry, Lovett Plant and US Gypsum land than heavy industrial use. We need to put our thinking caps on.
Issue 4: Town Board's golf course mismanagement
The Town Board asserts that the golf course has been operating in the red. First, the taxpayers depend upon the Town Board to run the golf course like a business, including making hard decisions. It has not. Instead, it has operated it in a spendthrift manner, as if it were a hobby, not a job. It has not acted responsibly.
Second, because the Town Board is unwilling or unable to run the golf course like a business, it should have requested proposals from the private sector to do so. It did not. Apparently, it did not even look at how other municipalities responded when faced with cash flow problems, namely:
Orangetown's Blue Hills Golf Course and
Ramapo's Spook Rock Golf Course.
Orangetown and Ramapo successfully sought the help of the private sector, and we are informed that their golf courses are now profitable.
Stony Point's Patriot Hills Golf Course is one of the top courses in New York State. There is no excuse for it not to be operating at a profit. The Town Board could have asked the City of Danbury, Connecticut for tips as to how it runs its very sustainable golf course. Apparently no Stony Point official did. Why not?
Thus, if there is red ink, its greatest cause is Town Board ineptitude or worse, a willingness to sacrifice the long-term interests of the Town by the short-term expediency of selling the town's most valuable asset. That is not what the Townspeople intended when it created the golf course, and it certainly is unwise action now that the Bond is almost entirely paid off.
Issue 5: Excessive Salary--the Town Supervisor's pay raise
The Town Supervisor, with the approval of the Town Board, gave himself a $20,000+ pay raise. He received this pay raise during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many residents were struggling financially with lost employment.
Meanwhile the Town has not appointed a resident Town Attorney, and instead pays an outside private law firm for legal work. The raise the Supervisor gave himself would have been better spent hiring a part-time Town Attorney who resides in the town, and whose loyalty would more likely be to the town, its people and its long-term interests.
Mike Diederich proposes intermunicipal arrangement allowing for shared legal services (when no conflict of interest exists) to keep down legal costs. For example, there is no reason the County Law Department, or the neighboring Town of Haverstraw's town attorney, cannot provide some legal advice to the Town if it has personnel available to do so, at an agreeable cost.
Mike also proposes that the Town consider a Town manager to run the day-to-day affairs of the Town. The manager’s salary could be much lower than that of the Town Supervisor, and the Town Supervisor’s salary would be reduced to reflect the part-time duties required for this Town office. This would help take the “politics” and political patronage out of the Town’s management.
Issue 6: Police Pensions & Police Chief Salary
Is a $258,000+ police chief salary reasonable for our small town? I think not. How is this amount determined? Who in Town Hall is looking out for the taxpayers?
What about a $147,000 per year pension for a retired police lieutenant, paid for by the Town's taxpayers, reasonable for a small town such as ours? Did this super-pension result from a lack of police department management of overtime, allowing for pension system abuse? If so, is this because the "fox is guarding the henhouse," with the Town Supervisor a retired police officer who, it appears, has allowed our police department's officers to receive excessive overtime to increase, at taxpayer expense, retirement compensation? These are questions that demand answers.
Issue 7: Other Issues we cannot see because of lack of transparency
What else lurks out there because the Town Board does not conduct its business in a transparent manner. Recent Town Board meetings are averaging 20 minutes in length. Where is the discussion?
And what is being discussed behind closed doors?
Mike was prohibited from speaking at a Town Board meeting, when he had important things to say to the Town Board, such as "why was there no announcement of a Planning Board vacancy," and "what were the selection criteria--partisan political loyalty?" This is the opposite of open government.