Town Board Work Session
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Absent: Councilman Bianco
Building permit renewal fees
The board reviewed a draft of proposed amendments to the existing law governing the renewal of building permits. At issue were:
a. should the permit holder be required to commence construction within a fixed period of time
b. should a permit expire after a fixed period of time
c. if a permit has to be renewed, what should the renewal fee be
Commencement of construction: The existing law requires that construction begin within six months of the issuance of the permit. Initially, Supervisor Grace argued that the permit holder might need more time to begin the work and that any renewal be tied to the date construction actually started, not when the permit was issued. When Building Inspector John Winter and Councilman Paganelli pointed out the difficulty of the Town knowing when construction actually started, this provision was dropped. It was agreed that when permits are renewed, they will be back dated to the expiration date of the original permit.
Expiration period. Subject to renewals, permits are currently good for three years. Supervisor Grace preferred to return to the previous version of the law that did not include an expiration period so that permits always remained valid whether the work was ever commenced and/ or completed.
Renewal fee. As discussed in previous meetings (see below), Supervisor Grace said that the fee should just cover costs with some cushion. If the fee was too high, he said, people would wait until they sold their house to have the work inspected so that they could get the required CO. We should be encouraging people to renew their permits, he said. Mr. Winter will come back to the board with suggested fees.
2. Operating Permit fees
Although not on the agenda, Building Inspector John Winter reminded the board that when the previous board decided to hire a full time fire inspector in 2010 it did not want to impose a fee for the operating permits required for commercial establishments and places of public assembly. That board did, however, add a revenue line for operating fees in the 2012 budget, leaving it up to the current board to determine what the fee should be. He said the fee could fund the salary for the fire inspector.
e said tehat the fee could fund the salary expense for the Councilman Paganelli noted that he pays a fee every time an outside agency has to inspect something at his restaurant. He asked Mr. Winter to come back with a suggested fee that would reflect the time involved in doing the inspection. Taxpayers shouldn’t pay for commercial establishments, he said. Supervisor Grace added: If we do it, we should charge for it.
3. Unsafe structure
On the recommendation of Building Inspector John Winter, the board authorized the Building Department to send a notice to a property owner informing him that he had to demolish his building immediately because it was unsafe and beyond repair. Under the existing Unsafe Structure law, if the property owner does not comply with the notice, after holding a public hearing, the Town can demolish the building and recoup the cost of the work by placing a lien on the property. The location of the building was not disclosed during the discussion.
4. Capital projects
Saying that the board should have an idea of what the Town’s long term infrastructure needs are before it decides to spend money on a project, Supervisor Grace asked Planning Director John Tegeder to come up with a prioritized list of potential projects. Mr. Tegeder gave the board copies of the capital projects list his department compiled last year based on input from department heads and he said he would ask department heads for an updated list.
In addition to citing a leak in the Police Department roof, Supervisor Grace repeated his interest in relocating the highway garage to the Hill on Greenwood Street so that the current site, which he called an eyesore in the center of town, could be redeveloped. He envisioned holding a forum with area stakeholders, much like the Route 202 forum, to discuss a future village-like area that could include Railroad Park and Richard Place.
In response, Councilman Paganelli expressed concern about potential environmental issues on the site. These were dispelled by Highway Superintendent DiBartolo who joined the conversation midway through the discussion. Mr. DiBartolo said that the area had been cleaned up several years ago when additions were put on the original building that was constructed in 1957. He went on to highlight the advantages of centralizing all the Town’s equipment in one location, adding how much better Downing Park would look if the existing Parks Department maintenance facility could be relocated to the Hill. He estimated that the proposed “butler building” type of structure could cost $500,000-$600,000.
Joining the discussion, Acting Town Engineer Sharon Robinson advised the board that given the site’s proximity to the Hallocks Mill stream and its location in the watershed, state and city regulatory agencies might have a problem with siting a highway garage on the Hill, adding that even within the NYS DEC, one unit likes the existing leaf recycling pile while another unit is concerned about runoff into the nearby stream which feeds into the Croton Reservoir.
Citing the rotting windows behind the board table as an example, Councilman Patel raised the issue of other possible high priority infrastructure needs.
In response to a question from Councilman Murphy, Mr. Tegeder gave an update on the remaining streetscape projects still on the drawing board for the Heights hamlet but some of the follow up discussion was not audible to the audience.
During a subsequent discussion of budget transfers, Comptroller Joan Goldberg’s response to a question about the $55,000 transfer to pay for a new cooling system at the court led to a broader discussion about the pending need to replace the heat pumps at the court and the overall need to have an assessment of each building’s needs as part of an assessment of the Town’s long term capital project needs. Supervisor Grace said that the Highway Department had completed an assessment, although he didn’t specify what that assessment included, and that the maintenance staff for the YCCC/Town Hall and the library should prepare the assessment of the mechanical needs for those buildings.
5. Junior Lake Sign
The board approved a request from Phyllis Bock, chairman of the Conservation Board, to erect a sign at Junior Lake adjacent to some restorative work that was done by volunteers last year. The sign will explain exactly what was done, why and by whom.
6. BP gas station, 1917 Commerce Street
The station owner needs a special permit to remove and replace existing storage tanks. The board voted to refer the application out to appropriate advisory boards and agencies for review with their reports due back by May 7th. A May 15th public hearing date on the application will be advertised.
7. AWWA Utility Management Course
The board approved the request of Water Distribution Superintendent David Rambo to attend a three Day management class.
8. Landmark Preservation Committee
The board indicated its intent to reconstitute the Landmarks Preservation Commission. According to Nancy Milanese, one of the potential new members, the Town had a Commission from the 1960s through 1980s but somehow not in the 1990s. The Commission was revived in 2002 but its members resigned in 2007 over a dispute to declare the Old St. Georges Church a landmark.
When Ms. Milanese reminded the board that the current Landmark Preservation law permitted the board to designate a structure an historic landmark without the owner’s consent, both Supervisor Grace and Councilman Paganelli said they opposed this provision as an infringement on the rights of the property owner. Mr. Paganelli said he felt strongly that the Town shouldn’t be telling people what they could do with their homes. Supervisor Grace said he would look into the legal issues, while in the meantime, the board would move to make the appointments of the four people who were present plus some additional residents who had previously expressed interest in joining the Commission. The supervisor’s assistant, Mary Cappocia, reminded the board that the existing Landmarks Preservation Law required that some of the Commission members have specific backgrounds and/or expertise, including the requirement that one of its members be an architect. None of the four potential members present were architects and the group said it would try to recruit one.
Much of the discussion with the future members focused on what could be done to save the Knapp House across from the BJs Shopping Center that is slated for demolition as part of the Crompond Crossing project that has been approved by the Planning Board. Supervisor Grace asked if the house could be moved to the State Land site and Councilman Paganelli suggested Downing Park in the event that the department’s maintenance facility is relocated to the Hill, a possibility that had been discussed earlier in the evening. Councilman Murphy suggested that signs be posted on the property of historic houses in order to call the public’s attention to the houses.
Holland Sporting Club
What started out as a discussion about the outstanding invoice for NYCB Engineering, the consulting firm that drew up the initial specs for the asbestos abatement and demolition, ended up as a discussion about the latest problem with the abatement contract.
As explained by Supervisor Grace, the latest problem was the need to have a microfilter operating 24 hours while the project was in progress but it was unclear who would be responsible for providing the electricity to run the filter, the abatement contractor or the monitoring contractor, and how the electricity would be provided as there is no service to the site, a condition that was known to the companies that bid on the job. According to Supervisor Grace, the contractor or the Town could get a variance from the state Department of Labor waiving the 24 hour requirement but it would take 3-4 weeks to get the waiver. Also at issue was who would be responsible for getting the variance.
By the time the discussion ended, it was not clear if the Town was going to take legal action against the vendor who was awarded the abatement bid but would not give the town a credit for the monitoring work, and/or whether the Town would have to rebid the job, and/or whether the Town had already advertised for the monitoring job (see 4/3/2012 below) and how the Town would coordinate the work of the abatement contractor with the monitoring contractor.
In regard to the NYCB invoice, the board felt that the consulting firm should have known about the requirement for the separate monitoring company when it prepared the initial specs and that if the job ended up costing the Town more money, perhaps the firm should be held responsible for the added costs.
10. Budget transfers
The board reviewed, and subsequently approved, a list of 2011 budget transfers with Comptroller Joan Goldberg and a representative of the Town’s outside auditing firm.
As part of the discussion, the board agreed with the auditor’s’ suggestion that a reserve fund be set up for “compensated absences,” i.e., the money the Town has to pay out for accumulated vacation time and sick time when an employee retires. As explained by Ms. Goldberg, when an employee gives the town advance notice of a pending retirement, the money can be put in the budget, but sometimes the Town is notified after the budget has been adopted and no money has been set aside to cover the expense. This happened in 2011 resulting in an unanticipated $45,000 expense for one department. Alternately, in the past, because a staff member gave notice of her intent to retire the following year, money was put in the following year’s budget to cover the expense but the person later changed her mind. The amount of fund balance money that will be set aside in this reserve fund was not discussed. In supporting the establishment of the fund, Supervisor Grace said that it wasn’t fair to future boards that would have to pick up these expenses that could be anticipated in advance.
The board also agreed to a series of 2011 budget transfers for several capital funds that are still ongoing or have remaining debt service payments.
Ms. Goldberg also advised the board that because the Town is self insured for workers’ compensation, it would have to transfer $270,000 into the Town’s Workers’ Compensation Fund, plus $200,000 into the Liability Fund as a reserve against pending liability claims. Both transfers will be apportioned to the Town’s various funds, as appropriate. For example, of the $200,000 needed for the Liability Fund, $140,000 will come from the Highway Fund.
11. Open Space Fund
As part of a broader discussion of budget transfers (see above), the board discussed the $30/year flat tax that every property owner pays into the Open Space Fund that is used to acquire open space. According to Comptroller Joan Goldberg, the money generated by the fund is used to either pay outright for an acquisition or to pay the debt service if money is borrowed for an acquisition, as it was for the $2.7 million Granite Knolls acquisition. Based on the anticipated revenue stream from the flat tax, a previous board authorized a $5 million bond issue, but the money is only borrowed when there is an actual acquisition. There is approximately $1 million left in the authorization which is good for 10 years. After that, the board would have to renew the authorization.
Supervisor Grace called the $30/year flat tax “illegal, unfair and inequitable” and said that he would not vote to acquire any additional open space. In response to a question of how the Town could get kill the flat tax, the Town’s auditor said that the Town could just stop collecting it.
12.Sparkle Lake lifeguard
Supervisor Grace repeated the desire of a six year old resident to restore lifeguard service at Sparkle Lake. When Councilman Patel noted that it was the former Parks & Recreation Superintendent who had recommended the cut, Councilman Paganellii corrected him and said that the elimination of the lifeguards was the least objectionable of several possible cuts to the recreation budget that had been recommended by the previous superintendent.
When Supervisor Grace asked what the lifeguard poll results were on the patch.com website, his assistant checked her cell phone and advised the board that of the 48 votes cast, 37 said they wanted the lifeguard restored and 9 voted no.
Both Supervisor Grace and Councilman Paganelli appeared in favor of restoring the lifeguard which they said people saw as a “value” and which they considered a “public courtesy issue” but they decided to postpone taking a vote so that Councilman Bianco who was not at the meeting but who voted to eliminate the lifeguard as part of his budget vote last year, would have an opportunity to cast a vote.
13. Tree Ordinance
Beginning the discussion by noting that he hasn’t hid his “disdain” for the law which he believes is an “incredible intrusion” on a person’s property rights, Supervisor Grace said he wants to either soften or repeal the law that was passed by the previous board. He called the purpose of the law “laudable” but its enforcement “contemptible.” You can’t focus on individual lots, he said, adding that some of the pro environmental people he has spoken to do not want to see another layer of government or another obstacle put in the way of development, especially in the current hard times. Without identifying the property, he cited the example of an owner who experienced a problem and delay taking down a tree that created a problem for his driveway. He said that the ordinance would delay a business’s opening and lead to a loss of revenue.
The one suggested change Supervisor Grace offered was that there should be more creative mitigation measures. He praised a recent inventory of Turkey Mountain as an example.
Councilman Paganelli joined the supervisor in calling for revisions to the law, although he didn’t specify exactly what he thought needed to be changed. He added that problems with the law may be more perception than reality but that the board had to deal with the perception. Councilman Murphy cited the example of a homeowner on White Hill Road who “napalmed his yard” much to the displeasure of his abutting neighbors. (Acting Town Engineer Sharon Robinson pointed out that the cutting had been done prior to the enactment of the law and that the property owner will have to replant some trees as part of a mitigation plan.)
Ann Kutter, who helped draft the law, said she was willing to work with the board to amend the law, adding that during the drafting process her goal was to shift the burden from the individual homeowner to the large developments, adding that there some provisions in the law were added to gain the support of some people. One of the pluses of the law, she pointed out, was that it consolidated into one law existing provisions regarding trees which were in several different laws and which weren’t always consistent. What was important, she added, was understanding the function that trees and woodlands play. When she equated the value of a tree ordinance to the Town’s long standing wetlands ordinance, Supervisor Grace intimated that he didn’t want to go there but then added that he did see the need for some type of wetlands regulation. In response to Councilman Paganelli’s earlier comment about the board listening to the public’s perception of the law, whether it was accurate or not, she suggested that the board had a responsibility to both represent the public but also to lead.
Ron Buehl, a member of the Tree Advisory Commission joined Ms. Kutter in support of the existing law but acknowledged that more could have been done, and should be done, to educate the public about the new law.
Ms. Kutter will schedule a meeting with Supervisor Grace and Councilman Paganelli to go over specific provisions of the law that they may want to modify.
14. Baptist Church Road Pipe Relining
With little discussion the board voted to declare itself lead agency for SEQRA compliance in order to proceed with plans to rehabilitate the damaged culvert. The town attorney is still working on the condemnation notice needed to get the temporary easement that is needed for the work to proceed. Supervisor Grace said that if that doesn’t move forward, he would begin the project as an emergency. Acting Town Engineer Sharon Robinson said that she was ready to advertise for bids for the job but Supervisor Grace wanted to wait a bit longer.
15. Procurement Issues/Shopping Local
A discussion over awarding the bid for laboratory services needed by the sewage treatment plant (see the March 13 and March 20 summaries for laboratory services)spilled over into a broader discussion of the Town’s procurement policy and the desire of Supervisor Grace and Councilman Paganelli to do more to purchase goods and services from Yorktown vendors.
Two bids were received for the laboratory services: $24,000 from Yorktown Medical Labs and $17,000 from a firm in Newburgh that has done work for the Town in the past and has the proper certification to do the required testing. The Newburgh firm will come to Yorktown to pick up the time sensitive samples as part of its price. While Supervisor Grace would have preferred to have awarded the bid to Yorktown Medical Labs, he said he saw a problem paying 30% more for the same service. Councilmen Murphy and Paganelli were more concerned, however, that a local business should be awarded the bid even though the price was higher. Saying that he had campaigned on a “buy local” platform, Councilman Paganellii said the town wasn’t doing enough to honor that pledge and he brought up several hypotheticals about what would happen if the non-Yorktown firm got stuck in traffic and couldn’t pick up the samples within the required time period. The board will vote to award the bid next week.
Councilman Paganelli also stated that he didn’t understand why a town employee had to travel to Home Depot to buy a 60 cent item when they could buy it at Mitchelll Hardware.
A discussion ensured about Supervisor Grace’s goal to pass a “best value” local law that would give the town more leeway to use local vendors. Prior to 2012, state law required towns to award bids to the lowest “responsible” bidder. Under a new law that went into effect in January, 2012, the Town can award bids based also on “best value.” Supervisor Grace said that the Town law would have to set up criteria for determining what was “best value.” That might be within a state, he suggested, but he wasn’t sure if the criteria could specify within a town. He has requested the town attorney to draft a best value law. The law, he said, would only cover items that met the bid threshold which is $20,000 for goods and services. The Town’s procurement policy requires three quotes for items under the bid threshold. With quotes, he said, the Town can buy local without violating the procurement policy.
16. Section 8 Administrative Plan
The board voted to set a public hearing on a revised Section 8 Administrative Plan. The hearing date was not made public.
17. Police cars
The board approved the purchase of two 2012 Dodge Chargers for the Police Department to be purchased off the state contract.
18. Escrow law
Given the late hour, this discussion was postponed.