County Executive’s Corner: Fresh Air in the Sewer District

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

The more questions my administration raises about operations of the Rockland County Sewer District Number 1, the greater the stench that comes from that agency.

The Sewer District is an independent agency governed by a board appointed by the Rockland County Legislature.

That means that my authority over the Sewer District is limited.

But that hasn’t stopped me from taking steps to protect your money – all $37.7 million of it that makes up the Sewer District’s budget.

I have been calling for a forensic audit of the Sewer District for a long time now. But again, I have no authority to order such a step. That has to come from the Legislature and the Board of Sewer Commissioners.

The Legislature is to be congratulated for finally taking that step.

Legislator Charles Falciglia has led the call for greater oversight of the Sewer District. The Legislature just passed a resolution sponsored by Legislators Chris Carey and Lon Hofstein calling for a forensic audit.

I will happily sign the resolution.

In addition, George Hoehmann, head of the Sewer District Board of Commissioners, has asked the County Attorney to hire an auditor to go over the books.

The County Attorney is in the process of finding the right firm for this all-important task. He will work with the Legislature to make sure that the two audits are complimentary and do not duplicate efforts.

Let’s hope that these audits can at least start to untangle this mess – and we have reason to expect more revelations from a thorough examination of the finances.

It seems that with the Sewer District, one question just leads to another.

Most recently, my administration began poking around after we received what looked like a routine request from the Sewer District to extend a contract.

It looked fishy to us and it certainly was: the town of Ramapo, led by Supervisor Chris St. Lawrence, had been awarded an $800,000 contract in 2012 – before I took office – to remove soil that was excavated as part of the Western Ramapo Sewer Extension.

Ramapo was paid half of the $800,000 contract – $400,000 of your money –   to move the dirt for the Sewer District, at the behest of Chris St. Lawrence, who long ran both the town and the Sewer District.

We found that the soil had never been moved and brought a stop to this fiasco.

My administration and the Sewer District Board has now brought legal action against Ramapo seeking to recoup the $400,000 for work that was clearly never done.

And that Western Ramapo Sewer Extension was supposed to cost $72 million when it was approved in 2000. Now, 17 years later, it’s not completely done and the cost has grown to $181 million, in large part because of a lawsuit filed by property owners.

Why did costs escalate? Why has it taken 17 years to complete this project. These are the questions we have been asking

Other actions I have taken regarding the Sewer District:

  • I was the first official to call for Chris St. Lawrence to resign as chairman of the Sewer District Board of Commissioners when he was arrested on federal fraud charges. He has since been convicted.
  • My administration successfully urged the Sewer District to give taxpayers some of their money back after the agency built up more of financial reserve than necessary
  • We prevented the Sewer District from borrowing money to pay the settlement of a land deal – a very odd land deal that has cost taxpayers more than $18 million.
  • With my support, the county has also started legal action against the lawyers who represented the Sewer District in that deal.
  • We discovered that Sewer District commissioners who were also elected officials were getting paid even though they weren’t supposed to. We put a stop to that as well.
  • Then there was a strange plan floated to use sewer funds to pay for a police shed in Clarkstown. No way.

There’s a long history of questionable dealings in the Rockland County Sewer District Number 1.

You can believe that we are doing everything we are legally allowed to do to find out what happened to every cent of taxpayer money and to bring a much-needed breathe of fresh air to the Sewer District.

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