BY MARIA BROWNSELL
Recent talks about the sale of town-owned Middlewood Senior Complex in Clarkstown has sparked heated arguments over motives. “Why now?” seems to be the question of many.
At the town board meeting on Tuesday, April 8, resident and blogger Michael Hull presented a few questions to Councilwoman Shirley Lasker and Clarkstown Comptroller Ed Duer during public discussion. Duer recently met with the agency in charge of bestowing the Triple A bond rating on the town. Hull asked whether the town’s recent $5 million use of reserve funds threatens their bond rating and “Does the town need a cash infusion into the reserve fund this year to maintain its triple A bond rating?”
Hull did not receive a direct answer, but Supervisor Alex Gromack later said, “There could be an infusion of money into the town’s funds. It will make the town look good.” Gromack then continued to say there are many months of reviews and public hearings ahead.
Stephen Levine of New City also asked why the town would be selling Middlewood and was concerned about protecting the seniors.
“We’ve been to public meetings at Middlewood. We will have much discussion of this, many more meetings. We want it to be a public discussion,” said Town Attorney Amy Mele.
Gromack addressed the public about transparency in government. He said that people should call his office when they want questions answered, so that a meeting could be set up with more in depth discussion. He reiterated numerous times that people don’t have to wait until 11 p.m. at a town board meeting to ask slews of questions. There were about 15 questions in all, with the meeting lasting more than three hours.
“A year ago people started calling about the sale of Middlewood since the 40-year mortgage was up,” Gromack said. He said the town did not seek out buyers and hadn’t even thought about it at that point. “An opportunity came along, it was an opportunity that could…protect seniors and benefit 80,000 other people.”
Gromack said if the town does decide to sell they would make sure it’s a reputable firm that is versed in senior housing and will guarantee it will always stay senior housing, possibly locked in by that firm for between 30-50 years. He said that it will stay sponsored by HUD guidelines and rents will not be affected.
Councilman George Hoehmann added, “No decisions have been made. We’re just gathering information.”
Gromack said that the town’s triple A bond rating is being upheld, giving credit to Duer and his staff. He didn’t say how that was being done and Duer did not seem to have any answers for Hull. Councilman Frank Borelli chimed in, saying he would also like to know the answers to Hull’s questions. He wanted to know how much money needs to be in the reserve and about the renewing of the Triple A bond rating by Moody’s.
Duer then said that the town did run a deficit budget for the past several years and used money from the reserve in order to keep a stabilization of taxes. He said he cannot answer as to the various factors that go into the way the town maintains its Triple A bond rating, but said the town is below the 20 percent requirement in the reserve. Other factors such as past history and plans for the upcoming year also played a role.
“Based on our presentation and the infusion of funds we presented during our presentation, they gave us the Triple A bond rating,” said Duer.
The infusion of funds that is being expected will keep the Triple A bond rating, but Supervisor and Council told the public earlier that there is no decision made for the sale of Middlewood.