On Tuesday evening, the County Legislature is expected to again consider an override of my vetoes of two ill-conceived resolutions: the notorious Brega bus washing bill and the so-called Legal Consistency law. Today, I urge all Rockland County residents to contact your legislator and tell them to uphold these critical vetoes.
The bus washing bill is the Legislature’s response to the February 8th fire that destroyed a Transport of Rockland (TOR) bus in Orangetown. While state investigators have yet to release their findings into the blaze, some legislators are convinced that road salt and everyday grime sparked the fire. This is an absurd notion.
In a post-accident report issued to the Legislature, officials with Brega Transport Corp. revealed that Bus #184 caught fire just two days after a full inspection. The report explained that the driver smelled a burning odor while picking up passengers in Spring Valley. After reporting the odor to a company dispatcher via radio, the driver was told to continue the route into Pearl River, a decision which recklessly placed his passengers and others in danger.
This fire – which apparently sparked in a rear wheel well – was the likely result of a maintenance problem, not a bus washing problem.
According to the five-year, fixed-price contract between Rockland County and operator Brega Transport, our 62 buses are required to receive at least one weekly exterior wash. As part of the existing flat fee agreement, the cost of any additional washings would be absorbed by the operator. However, the legislative sponsors of this deeply flawed measure want to pay Brega an additional $864,900 annually for daily washings, outside the scope of the existing agreement. This translates into a nearly 4% property tax increase each year for the average County homeowner.
Last month, County Attorney Thomas Humbach reviewed the bus washing legislation and found it replete with flaws. He concluded that According to the terms of the September, 2013 contract, Brega Transport is required to wash all buses as often as required and to perform all necessary maintenance without incurring additional costs to the County. In short, all bus washing must be performed without additional compensation. As part of the existing flat fee agreement, the cost of any additional washings must absorbed by the operator.
In addition to wasting soap, water, labor and money, this bus washing boondoggle will compromise the County’s ability to work with our largest vendor and will certainly open the County to lawsuits from rejected bidders who challenged Brega to win the $70 million contract. Without a doubt, this measure is nothing more than a giveaway to a vendor at the expense of the taxpayer. We cannot spend money we do not have.
The other matter before the Legislature involves the Legal Consistency law. This proposal provides for legal agreement between county regulations and municipal building and zoning codes regarding historic structures that are 125 years and older. While this local law would apply to older buildings across the County, it was passed because of the owner of 7 Strawtown Road in West Nyack. The owner doesn’t believe he should be required to install fire escapes or sprinklers in his historic building.
County Attorney Humbach has again opined on this resolution, saying it will jeopardize the safety of the very people protected by the County’s Sanitary Code protects. If certain dwellings are simply deemed to be in compliance with the Sanitary Code without actually having the safety measures required by law, people could suffer serious injury or death in a fire based upon the legal fiction that having a piece of paper is equal to real, identifiable safety measures.
Urge your legislators to consider the unintended consequences of this proposed Local Law. It will permit any town or village in Rockland County to declare part or all of itself to be a “historic area” just because “it says so.” For example, the Town of Clarkstown, Town of Stony Point, Village of Haverstraw, Village of New Square, Village of Nyack could pass a local law stating that any or all of its borders fall within a “historic area,” regardless of whether or not it’s truly historic.
And, here’s the icing on the cake: this bit of legislation is so poorly drafted, it fails to protect the owner of 7 Strawtown Road.
As Tuesday evening draws near, I ask that all residents call, write or email your legislator. Urge them to sustain my vetoes for the safety of our residents and the fiscal health of the County.