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Can’t afford it

Rosendale rethinking Joppenbergh buy after checking its balance

by Carrie Jones Ross
June 23, 2011 11:55 AM | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joppenbergh Mountain. 
Photo by Lauren Thomas.
Joppenbergh Mountain. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
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A breakdown in communication between Rosendale Town Supervisor Pat McDonough and the rest of the Town Board might cost the town a mountain. The crossed wires resulted in the town’s erroneous belief that enough funds were available in a surplus account to contribute their share — $85,000 — to the planned purchase of the 495-foot-tall, 117-acre Joppenbergh Mountain parcel, which would be granted a conservation easement and be used for passive recreation. The Open Space Institute was to kick in $100,000, making the sum to be paid $185,000.

“According to minutes from the Town Board meeting on June 1, $100,000 [in town surplus money] went into revenue shortfalls to cover expenses at end of 2010, and the Town Board used another $150,000 [in surplus money] to offset taxes this year,” explained Deputy Supervisor Jen Metzger of the quandary. The shortfalls Metzger is referring to are mortgage tax revenues and sales tax revenues which must be projected when concocting the town budget for the upcoming year, but did not meet expectations, Metzger said, due to the poor economy. McDonough did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The original surplus monies McDonough earmarked for the mountain purchase this past spring came from a sale of property from the town’s water district to OSI, which wanted to make it available for the sport of bouldering. The sale netted the town a surplus of $338,000, that the Town Board had voted to put into a capital reserve account for a much-needed new town hall, said former supervisor and town board member Bob Gallagher. Had the money actually made its way to the capital reserve account, a referendum would have been required before dipping into the money. However since it was only placed in an investment fund, it was available for any use. The town dipped into the money repeatedly, using over $100,000 of it to pay its bills, though no one asked about it could even specify which bills were paid nor exactly how much money was spent on the bills. The Town Board agreed to use an additional $150,000 from the land sale to make up the gap, leaving them with maybe enough money to make up the Joppenbergh nut, but maybe not.

Recognizing that the town is not in a position to cough it up, Metzger is implementing the power of positive thinking for other means of bringing that mountain to Rosendale. “The concern raised at the meeting was that Rosendale cannot commit the remainder of the surplus for the Joppenbergh purchase because of the continuing recession. Alternative avenues of funding would need to be found, and supporters within the community that attended the meeting expressed their commitment to doing this.”

The efforts referred to by Metzger are those by Rosendale resident and business owner Fre Atlast and others who created a Facebook page to raise awareness and funds about the Joppenbergh Mountain purchase.

“We are planning to approach all of the Main Street businesses to help in the effort to raise the money, as the parking lot [which would be included in the purchase] is our most valuable resource,” explained Atlast. “The Rosendale Theatre stands firmly in support of the purchase. We will be soliciting help from the local bicycle clubs and other supportive organizations. We have only had one meeting so we are just getting started.”

Second thoughts

Board members Ken Hassett and Gallagher expressed dour doubts as to whether or not the purchase could or should even go through with raised funds. Both questioned the yet-unknown costs of creating trails, maintaining and patrolling them.

Gallagher and Hassett both worried about liability. Gallagher said that the town’s insurance company was sued several years ago for $500,000 when a boy wandered off the rail trail and fell into a mine shaft. He said that he is aware of teenagers circulating plans on the web for a paintball game on town property as well. “We have kids advertising paintball,” he said. “I could care less if we buy this mountain or not, but there is a dollar amount far more than $85,000.”

Hassett said that residents confronted the board with two separate petitions demanding the purchase go to referendum, which he insisted should not be ignored. “The first petition had 298 signatures, and was presented at the April town board meeting,” said Hassett. “The second petition with 129 signatures was presented last week. This represents quite a bit of the Rosendale [population]. The majority on the board disregarded the petitions, citing that the Comptroller’s Office said that since monies were from surplus that they didn’t legally have to have a referendum.” Rosendale’s last referendum vote was held in 2003.

“What I have been saying from the very beginning is I believe that we have to put it on a ballot,” said Hassett. “Even if they authorize it with a vote, we will be tight. We still don’t have any facts or figures about developing trails, maintaining them. There is work to be done; there are old mine shafts which need to be covered up ... Maybe we will have the money for a new town hall someday if we stop buying mountains.”

Gallagher also concurred about creating a referendum, though pointed out it would be costly to do so unless it coincided with November’s election, and added that the unknown costs concern him as well. “The notion of spending any money on it is dead,” he said. “We don’t have the money and people are not going to raise the money. I have heard rumors that there is someone else interested in the mountain. My main concern was the parking lot and the pocket lot of the park.”

Joppenbergh Mountain Corporation’s lawyer Joseph O’Connor of the Mainetti, Mainetti & O’Connor law firm said that his client would not consider parsing off the parking lot and park to separately sell the to town, and remained confident that a sale was going to happen. “Our sale is with OSI, not Rosendale,” said O’Connor. And though O’Connor has heard rumors of an alternate offer, he said that he has seen no binder to back that rumor up.

Bob Anderberg, vice president and lead counsel for OSI, was unable to answer whether or not OSI would purchase the mountain with or without Rosendale, and how much time remains before OSI withdraws its offer. “Our goal is to put that mountain in the hands of Rosendale,” he said. “I think what OSI wants to do is sit down with the town, and figure out how to move forward. We still think Joppenbergh is an important property and would make an outstanding town park and natural area, but obviously OSI has to sit down with [McDonough] and the town and move forward. We expect to do that in the relatively near future,” he stated. Anderberg said that the corporation which owns the mountain has been very cooperative and patient with OSI during the process.

The Town Board is on a summer schedule, meeting only once a month; the next is set for July 13.

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