KINGSTON – Ulster County Legislature Minority Leader Dave Donaldson, D-Kingston, blasted the Republican leadership on Tuesday, August 7 for "ramming through a party line vote" during last Thursday's Environmental, Energy and Technology Committee meeting on a resolution to solicit Requests for Proposals to sell the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency.
"This was done either for foolish political reasons or out of total ignorance of the understanding of the relationship the County has with the UCRRA," Donaldson said. "This is yet another example of the inept and poor leadership demonstrated by the Republicans of the Ulster County Legislature.
Legislator Ken Wishnick, D-New Paltz, who serves on the committee, offered a list of questions that he says "common sense dictates the legislators should know" before they went "blindly agreeing" to spend $10,000 on an RFP consultant.
Citing the Town of Ulster Tax Assessor, Legislator Jim Maloney, R-Lake Katrine, in his determination that the value of the UCRRA buildings and land are just $1.3 million, Wishnick asked "what is the rationale for thinking that a private company would pay over $30 million?"
Among Wishnick's other questions are whether the Legislature has the right to solicit for the sale of assets on property that is owned by a state-created public benefit corporation and not the county. In addition, Wishnick also notes that the RRA's transfer station in the Town of New Paltz is built on town-owned property, with a lease that expires in 2016 and does not allow a transfer of rights. He asks whether a private company can legally operate the site.
Wishnick contends that if the UCRRA is sold, the bondholders would have their interest payments changed from "tax free" to "taxable." He also argues that since grant funds were used to construct the Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF, some $1.35 million would need to be repaid on completion of sale. Further, Wishnick said that the RRA is responsible for removing leachate and monitoring test wells at landfills located in the towns of Lloyd, New Paltz and Ulster until 2027. If pollution is detected in one of these wells, the first-term legislator asks the Republican leadership whether countywide taxpayers would be held financially responsible for its cleanup.
Deputy Chair of the Environmental Committee Tracey Bartels, NOE-Gardiner, said she is "appalled that the Legislative Chair and Committee Chair would blindside the committee and force through such a poorly-thought out resolution."
"How will trash and recycling be environmentally managed if the UCRRA is sold? How does the county plan to address the fact that state law requires the DEC to pre-approve a sale as part of Ulster County's Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan?" she asked.
Former UCRRA Board member, Legislator John Parete, D-Olive, who serves on the Environmental Committee, called the resolution "factually incorrect, misleading, incredibly premature and ill-conceived."
"This irresponsible act may very well impact the UCRRA's ability to conduct their business and negotiate contracts with municipalities and vendors," Parete said. "The UCRRA's planning process is now frozen while the Republican leadership fiddles. This may very likely cost the county taxpayer $1 million or more in added net service fees."
The Deputy Chairman of the Finance Committee, Legislator Don Gregorius, D-Woodstock, noted that the county's contract with the UCRRA states that the county must provide written notice to the trash agency 360 days in advance of their intention to sell the facility. In light of the clause requiring a year's notice of intent, Gregorius asked, "Why wouldn't the Environment Committee allow sufficient time to vet the issues?"
As a former Chairman of the Legislature, Donaldson wondered why the Republican leadership hadn't even consulted with the county's procurement office to see if the legislative body has the authority to proceed with the RFP.
"Shoot, ready, aim, is what we expect in comedy, not government," said Donaldson. "This display of arrogance and ignorance is very dangerous, both environmentally and financially, for the people of Ulster County."
Legislator Carl Belfiglio, R-Esopus, who chairs the Environmental Committee, released a statement late Tuesday charging Dems with further delaying the problem, which he said "is not proactive and does not serve the taxpayers."
"I am someone who embraces flow control," Belfiglio wrote. "However, legislating is about counting to twelve — we need to pass a plan, not just complain."
In the 23-member legislature, twelve votes are needed to pass a resolution. Belfiglio also wrote that he has asked the Ways and Means Committee to remove the $10,000 cost of a consultant.
Legislative Chair Terry Bernardo responded to the Journal's inquiries by stating that the wording on the original resolution is being revised and that the Legislature will be weighing three options for the RRA, including the Wishnick Belfiglio proposal, which imposes flow control; "the Parete Plan," which would enact a countywide tax or fee on properties; and the seeking of proposals from private companies to buy the RRA and have taxpayers pay off the bonds.
"It would be nice to see it accurately reported that way as opposed to the claim by some that this is a rush to sell the RRA — when in fact that is merely one of three options I am seeking to have looked at," Bernardo wrote. "This is exactly why we have a deliberative committee process — so legislators can bring up ideas, discuss them, and make them better. Former legislatures have failed to address the RRA issue and this legislature is doing all we can to take a hard look at the serious ideas that are being considered." .