The vote is on

County Legislature approves Nov. 7 vote on the creation of the new Town of Palm Tree


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  • The Town of Palm Tree would be located north of the Quickway.



By Bob Quinn

— It is not often that Ben Franklin, Bobby Kennedy, Ronald Reagan or the 1783 Treaty of Paris are invoked during debates of Orange County issues.

But that was the case a week ago Thursday as the Orange County Legislature first listened to more than 30 speakers and then debated whether to allow the residents of the Town of Monroe to decide on the creation of the new Town of Palm Tree.

In the end, the Legislature voted 18-3 to approve a referendum permitting the vote on Election Day, Nov. 7.

The issue has been before the Legislature for nearly a year. This time a year ago, residents filed a petition with the Legislature requesting the creation of a new town that would include the Village of Kiryas Joel and more than 300 additional acres from the unincorporated portion of the Town of Monroe, all north of the Quickway.

The move, coming amidst ongoing annexation issues, was another instance of the Hasidic community’s effort to find housing for its ever-increasing population. And there seemed no end in sight to the conflict, a conflict as long-standing, perhaps, since the creation of Kiryas Joel in the 1970s.

The proposed new town would include the Village of Kiryas Joel plus an additional 220 acres. Those additional acres include the 164 acres that were previously annexed into the village.

‘Historic moment’The boundaries were negotiated by officials from the Village of Kiryas Joel and the local political organization, United Monroe. Those negotiations marked a difference, a change, a compromise between two groups of people, one who favors more urban living, the other rural and suburban.

Mike Anagnostakis, the Republican from the greater Newburgh area, credited Chairman L. Stephen Brescia, a Republican from Montgomery, for bringing the legislature and the county “here at this historic moment.”

Credit United Monroe, too, he added, credit KJ for “this compromise.”

Anagnostakis said the pros and cons of separation were not at issue because under the state Constitution, any citizen has the right to petition for referendum. What was important was allowing the people of Monroe to vote and to decide their own fate.

Then he invoked Robert Kennedy: “The right to vote is the easiest of all rights to grant.”

And he followed that by quoting Ronald Reagan:

“The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberty.”

‘End this fight. Bring peace’During the earlier public comment period of the meeting, George Garcia urged the lawmakers to approve the referendum. He said the vote would empower Monroe, to refuse the vote would empower Kiryas Joel.

“Give us leverage,” he said. “Some issues will not go away, but a stronger Monroe makes for a stronger Orange County.”

And then Garcia quoted Ben Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Also during this time, United Monroe supporter Jeff Manson called “this a historic moment,” alluding to the Treaty of Paris (in 1783 the treaty negotiated between the United States and Great Britain, ended the revolutionary war and recognized American independence).

“Americans understand history,” Manson said. “End this fight. Bring peace. This is a path to success. We can work through the problems.”

‘Why, why this year?During the lawmakers’ debate, there were misgivings about the negotiations between Kiryas Joel and United Monroe.

Kevin W. Hines, Republican from Cornwall, said the agreement between UM and KJ was not legally binding. He questioned whether there had been adequate environment review on zoning, sewer capacity and water.

Christopher W. Eachus, the Democrat from New Windsor and minority leader of the Legislature, said, “Government works best when it is transparent.”

He described them as “bad government” meetings that took place behind closed doors, including a political party and only three legislators.

He said there should have been a study to determine the impact of a new town. And he noted that studies have saved the county money when it came to deciding what to do with the county building or the Valley View nursing home.

Roseanne Sullivan, Democrat from Circleville, also questioned the dynamic that allowed United Monroe and Kiryas Joel to negotiate for this deal. “I was taught,” she said, “that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

“Why, why this year? Sullivan asked. “This is a county issue ... a moral issue. What is the plan after 10 years? How can you vote without knowing?”

Legislators Michael Amo, the Independent from Central Valley, Myrna Kemnitz, the Democrat from Monroe, and Katie Bonnelli, Republican from Washingtonville, participated in the meetings.

And each supported the referendum.

Amo: “It’s always about ligating. It’s always about fighting. This is an opportunity to think about Orange County, to consider regional planning in southern Orange County.”

Kemnitz: “This is a vote from the heart. My community, my neighborhood, my family.”

Bonnelli: “There is one question: Let their voices be heard. We sat down and communicated. We are just beginning. We can work together.”

The vote was 18-3. The dissenting votes were cast by Hines, Sullivan and Matt Turnbull, D-Hamptonburgh.

What’s nextMonroe Town Councilman Mike McGinn told county lawmakers that the town plans to hold informational meetings regarding the proposal. He also said the town has hired a public accounting firm to assess the financial impact of creating a new town.

During his remarks, former Town Board member and now town comptroller Peter Martin said the loss of tax revenue, state and federal reimbursements, mortgage tax and other source would total $1,531,204 out of a $6.5 million overall budget. He said the tax rate would increase from $7.47 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $11.39 per $1,000.

What remains undecided is the New York State Education Department’s approval of the redrawing of the Kiryas Joel School District boundaries to be coterminous with the new town. The Kiryas Joel and Monroe-Woodbury school boards have approved the change; so, too, has Orange-Ulster BOCES Superintendent William J. Hecht.

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