Monday, November 10, 2008

November Already! Blog

I don’t know where the time goes, here it is November already! I had hoped to write a blog a few weeks ago, but things just kept coming up. This is pretty much an update of things that we have been working on:


Philips Road / Sagamor Sewerage Lawsuits

A few weeks ago we received word that we won the lawsuit brought against the Town by developers regarding our decision NOT to close Philips Road. This is terrific news and I would like to thank our law firm of Wood and Klarl and the firm of Sive, Paget, and Reisel, PC for their defense of the Town’s decision. Last week we received notice that the attorneys for the developer are requesting permission from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department to appeal the decision. Our attorney, Tom Wood, told me that it is unlikely such permission will be granted because the Judicial Panel unanimously ruled in our favor.

Regarding the lawsuit brought against the Town by Sagamor Sewerage Corp. in response to the Town Board’s decision to deny the rate increase application, both sides have submitted documents supporting their position (the Town included all documents from the Coalition, as well as having the documents reviewed by their attorney). After a couple of adjournments, including a period of a month when the Judge had the flu, we are expecting a decision in early December.


Hillside Lake

When I took office in January 2006, Morris Associates had prepared a plan to dredge Hillside Lake to return it to a viable water body again. Unfortunately, the plan was quite expensive (and that was considering fuel and trucking costs in 2005 / 2006 dollars). Last year the Hillside Lake Board, Councilwoman Ethel Walker, and I met with Great Eastern Ecology, one of four companies to respond to a Request for Proposals for the Hillside Lake project to look into a more cost effective proposal. It seemed that they had a good knowledge and record of wetland and water body restoration; but after changing lead scientists and project managers – as well as missing deadlines – (although they had some good ideas) the final proposal was somewhat disappointing. Next, we contacted a company by the name of American Dredge who specializes in that type of work. After several discussions regarding what would be required to use a hydraulic dredge, it does not appear that we have the large dewatering / settlement area to make that work. In the meantime we are reviewing the original dredge proposal to see if we can make it more cost effective. One consideration is that we may not be able, due to costs and logistics, to bring the depth of the entire lake down to a depth that will stop the vegetative growth that is choking the lake and, instead, commit to an annual maintenance with a hydraulic rake. We are drafting the new plans and discussing the preparations of applications for the permits from the DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers. Once we get the scaled down plan complete we will meet with the residents to discuss the scaled – down and full – dredge proposals.


Presidential Way Water

Although we are very close to actually putting the waterline in the ground to supply Presidential Way with water, it looks like it won’t happen until next year.


Brettview Water

The Brettview water situation has been a nightmare from the get go due to the fact that we are dealing with a private water company, Rand Water. For almost three years we have been asking Rand to install filters to remove the Iron and Manganese in the water that they supply to Brettview, as well as Fishkill Plains Elementary and Van Wyck Junior High Schools. They refuse to install the filters even though the Town’s contract with Rand states that we will pay for part of the cost. We have discussed this situation with the Dutchess County Department of Health on many occasions and we are told there is nothing they can do because the Iron and Manganese concentrations are consistently just below the Maximum Contaminant Levels allowed (in spite of the fact that we brought three water filters that were as black as pitch to one meeting). We have identified another source of water for the Brettview area (unfortunately, that would leave the schools still using Rand water) which we hope to have on line – but, it is still over a year away. In the meantime, our water operators, VRI, are doing their best to address each situation and they have implemented a rigorous testing and flushing program. Still, the water that we get from Rand is the problem.


Shenandoah Water

Boy, what a mess. As part of the Consent Decree with the EPA, IBM has nearly completed the Shenandoah Waterline. In fact, around August / September, IBM and the EPA were pressuring the Town to take over the system. We have since found out that the source wells in Fishkill have a problem with levels of Sodium and Chloride that are above the Maximum Contaminant Level. We are looking at other options to provide water to Shenandoah – but this really threw a monkey into the wrench, as they say. We hope to provide water to other areas such as John Jay High School, Lake City, and Wiccopee; but, with this new development, everything is on hold. **Update to Shenandoah Water** We met today with Town of Fishkill Reps and their engineers - contrary to the original claims of problems with Sodium and Chloride, there seems to be a problem only with Chloride. It appears that there is a trend of higher Chloride, with one spike over the MCL. Fishkill has a plan to mix the water from the Shenandoah source wells with other wells to reduce the Chloride levels and implement a monitoring program for one year. After that they have a plan to connect to yet another source with much lower Chloride levels that will supply Shenandoah as well as many homes and businesses in Fishkill. At first I was skeptical, but after talking to the engineers, this plan may have some merit.


Ryan Drive Water

The EPA, under the direction of a gentleman named Lorenzo Thantu, has been working very hard to address the water problems at the Ryan Drive Superfund Site. Although some controversy has erupted regarding the proposed source of water for the people in the Superfund Site, the EPA is incorporating alternatives into the proposal to provide some discretion as to the source of clean, safe water. This is phase one of the program, phase two will be actual remediation of the pollution.


Flooding

East Fishkill is spearheading an effort to put together a FEMA – approved Hazard Mitigation Plan to address flooding problems BEFORE they occur. The Towns of Fishkill, LaGrange, and Wappinger, as well as the Villages of Fishkill and Wappingers Falls have signed on to be included. The first step (which we made last week) was to apply to FEMA for a grant to create our plan (we were, sort – of, pre-approved by SEMO a couple of months ago). This is a multi-year process; but, once we have a FEMA approved plan, we can implement mitigation projects using FEMA grant money. Our Grant Writer, Michael Hagerty, has been instrumental in coordinating with FEMA and SEMO and writing the grant application.

In addition, Congressman John Hall has been to our Town Hall with people from the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss flooding of our creeks, including Fishkill Creek, and they are committed to helping resolve these problems also. There seems to be a lot of talk about the problem; but these are long-term plans. In the meantime, we did install another pipe under Lake Drive and we have had the developer modify the storm water retention ponds on the Stone Ridge subdivision; unfortunately, Con Ed simply says that the flooding in not their fault and they have not been very helpful in discussing the topography of their property.

Speaking of flooding, we have built a 250,000 gallon retention pond on an area in the Legends subdivision which is helping alleviate flooding problems on Dogwood Rd. Two local developers, Creekview Homes and Reiger Homes helped with this project – and we appreciate their help. In addition, we are planning work on an existing drainage easement that should resolve more of the problem. A lot of credit must go to our Town Engineer, Scott Bryant, who has been working very hard to solve a difficult drainage issue. Scott has also been working very closely with Highway Superintendent, Dennis Miller, and they have done a lot of work addressing floodplains and streams in the Wiccopee area as well as storm water run – off from the Long Hill area. All told, I am very impressed by the drainage work that our people have done this year.


Open Space

Last August I received a call from the Dutchess County Land Conservancy regarding Manhattan District Attorney, and local farmer, Robert Morgenthau, making an application to place nearly two hundred acres of Fishkill Farms in a land trust keeping that property a farm forever. I was asked to supply a letter of support for the application by September 8th. This is terrific news and at the August meeting of the East Fishkill Town Board we passed a resolution in support of that application. I compiled a report describing the work of our Open Space Preservation Committee, as well as letters of support from Assemblyman Marc Molinaro, County Legislator Alison McAvery (who represents that district), a letter from me, the East Fishkill Historical Society, our Town Board resolution, as well as a map and a very in - depth book of open space properties that we have on file (many thanks to Don McGrath for all of his hard work on that). We put all this together and had it to Dutchess Land Conservancy by the deadline – thanks to all who helped in our support of this application and many thanks to Bob Morgenthau for his desire to maintain a part of East Fishkill as we remember it, a farm.

Speaking of farms, this year one of the finest people that I have ever met, former Town Councilman Jessie Johnson, passed away. It is my understanding that it was Jesse that pretty much managed the affairs of the family farm on Carpenter Road. Coincidently, this year our Town Historian (and Open Space Committee member), Carolyn Plage, came up with the idea of a Community Supported Agriculture program which she presented to an audience at the Town Hall. Well, it is funny how these things happen, because it is very possible that we are going to have our first C.S.A. at the Johnson Farm next year. In the C.S.A., there are different option for participation – one is to purchase a share and then during the harvest season you can go and pick up fresh, naturally grown vegetables at the farm. This is a great thing because it allows the farm to continue as a farm and it also allows people to consume naturally grown produce that is grown locally. I cannot say enough about the Community Supported Agriculture group – they are terrific and I thank the Johnson family for their interest in keeping, as Bob Morgenthau does, some of our farming heritage.


Budget

Yep, it’s budget time again and this time things are tough for all of us. The Town tax is 9 to 14 percent of your total tax bill – that is $2.07 per thousand, so a house worth $400,000 would pay $828.00 in Town Taxes. Still, that is an increase of 7.37%. As we all know, property values are falling and we calculate a reduction in the Town wide assessment of 5.08%, which means that the amount that we need to raise through taxes is 2.29% more, or $56.00 for a $400,000 house more than last year.

The revenue side of our balance sheet has taken a beating as Mortgage Taxes, which made up about two and a half million dollars a few years ago is now projected to come in (hopefully??) around eight hundred thousand in ‘ 09. The Sales Tax revenue has held pretty steady, though. We are looking at shortfalls in both the General and Highway Budgets that we will cover out of our “rainy day” fund balance – and we are still in very good shape; but, we need to shore up revenues.

On the expense side, although the cost of fuel went through the roof earlier this year, hitting all of our budgets – it appears that they are (thank goodness) returning to earth. Regarding the budget, it takes a certain amount of money to operate the Town (providing snowplowing / road repair, police protection, recreation facilities, and the normal operations: Assessors, Court, Building Department, Comptroller, Tax Receiver, Planning, various boards, and me and the Town Board). Some of these functions bring in revenue to offset their operations – some do not (Court, Building Department do – Planning / Zoning, Highway, Police, Tax Receiver, Assessor do not). Of course there are always State and Federal unfunded mandates (for example, as of last January New York State requires a pre-inspection before a building permit can be issued – it doesn’t sound like much, but it is more time required for the inspector to make an additional inspection, the Assessors get more exemptions to administer each year, and of course there is the huge MS-4 unfunded mandate, which is sure to grow). So we need a certain amount of capital to operate and provide the services that are necessary to the public, and those that the State and Feds tell us are necessary.

A few things that we have done: we have raised fees where appropriate so that the fee covers the costs of operations; the Police and the Highway Department now purchase their fuel from the same supplier and we are looking into joint commodity purchases with Dutchess County; and everyone except for “grandfathered” union employees now pay a portion of their benefits.

I think that we operate on a pretty lean budget; our Town Hall is forty years old and we have very little Town debt. Our biggest expense, as with any business, is personnel; yet, Highway is down from about thirty-two people in the early nineties to around twenty four now. The Building Department had four fulltime inspectors a few years ago; now they have three fulltime and one part - time (I know that I will receive a call from Dutchess County Personnel after they read this blog!). Employee benefits are a huge problem, going up double digits for the last several years. This is a tough environment to operate in. We recognize that everything is going up and it is putting a strain on everybody;
but, I think that our people have done a good job in keeping expenses down.


Staff

All – in – all, I would like to thank our employees. I think that we have some of the hardest working, courteous, and conscientious people working for us. They realize the situation that we are all in and everyone is doing their best to do their jobs, with the additional workloads, and are very pleasant and helpful, to boot.


Government / Firehouse Issues

I just came from a presentation at the Wiccopee Fire Substation where United States Senator Chuck Schumer announced that he would work along with State Senator Saland and Assemblyman Marc Molinaro to provide emergency access from Townsend Rd. by the Substation to Interstate 84. This emergency access would allow much quicker emergency response to incidents on Rt. 84, possibly saving lives and attending to potential disaster, before it gets out of hand. This is a terrific coordinated Federal and State effort and we look forward to the day when the access is actually provided (or, as Larry the Cable Guy would say, “git ‘ r done!”).

As far as today’s ceremony went, I must say that I am incredibly proud of our volunteer Fire Departments – sometimes I get a little busy with work and I don’t think about the hard work and sacrifice that our volunteers put into becoming the best at what they do. It was today at the presentation where Chuck Schumer was talking about volunteerism and that not all countries have people who volunteer; he said, “…that is what makes America great.” Well, I thought about all of the people who attended today and all of the people that I know who are volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and first responders and how hard they work. The Town of East Fishkill is really a special place, we have so many good people that live and work here, that volunteer and who are, I believe, the most professional and knowledgeable first responders going. I am really proud of that – it says a lot about our Town and our heritage.

I would also like to commend for their hard work and diligence in bringing the matter to the attention of the higher elected officials, John Jackson, Station 4 Captain, Dan Jackson, Station 4 Chief, Scott Post District Chief, and Chairman of the East Fishkill Fire Commissioners, John Paraskeva – good work, guys.


Odd’s ‘n Ends

And in closing, a local businessman has been posting correspondence that I had sent him regarding his annual request for a traffic control officer in his place of business. I am not sure what he is trying to convey but I would point out that it is not unusual for a municipality to provide a police officer for traffic control for flea markets, special events, etc. In my nearly three years in office, we had not had the time to develop the proper guidelines or cost of these assignments (an officer had been provided for that assignment for as long as I can remember); so, when the gentleman came in this year, I told him that we would notify him of the actual cost and we sent him back the check he had left as he did in the past. The bottom line is that although we have provided such services in the past, the Town of East Fishkill is requiring that any such assignments be fully compensated by those benefiting from the service and not the taxpayers.


Finally

Well, that’s about it – we keep pretty busy around here. If anyone has any questions or concerns you can respond to the blog, e-mail me at hickmanj@eastfishkillny.org, or stop in at the Town Hall. Thank you and I wish everyone safe and happy holidays.

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