Assemblyman James Skoufis apologized, supports Kiryas Joel corruption

What’s needed to become a city

Assemblyman James Skoufis apologizes for partial information; here’s what needs to happen

The Photo News: Published Jan 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm (Updated Jan 12, 2014)

ALBANY — Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) wants to update and clarify comments made in the Jan. 10 Photo News regarding Supervisor Harley Doles’ interest in creating a blue ribbon commission to study whether the Village of Kiryas Joel should become a town or city.

The Photo News asked Skoufis to share the process an interested village would need to follow in order to change its status to a town or city.

“The research I shared with The Photo News in last week’s issue was only partially complete – I apologize for any and all confusion,” Skoufis said on Saturday. “Forming a city requires three home rule requests – village, town, and county – and State Legislative approval.”

That information was detailed in last week’s addition. However, the process is different if a village wishes to become a town.

“Forming a town, however, requires a different process,” Skoufis said. “In Kiryas Joel’s case, a petition must be circulated and signed by 5 percent of the Town of Monroe’s residents followed by a public hearing and two-thirds vote of approval by the Orange County Legislature. Lastly, a referendum to approve the idea must pass with a majority vote in Monroe.”

Skoufis was the only person invited to speak at the Jan. 6 town board meeting – where public comment was not allowed – where Doles sought to establish a blue ribbon commission to study the process.

The Town of Monroe currently doesn’t have a State Assembly representative in Albany now that former Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt is now Orange County clerk. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to indicate how he will proceed with filling her vacant position.

As he did at that meeting, Skoufis again stressed the process is not a quick one.

“Forming a new town or city in New York State rarely occurs – the process is lengthy and the procedure is complicated,” he said. “Likewise, we have few details, if any, of what Kiryas Joel’s position is and what route will be taken by all involved.”

No Kiryas Joel representatives were at the meeting and it’s still not publicly known what the opinion of village officials are, as they often decline comment or do not return media calls for comment.

Doles’ desire to quickly establish the committee was temporarily halted when Councilman Rick Colon opposed Doles’ naming of Councilman Gerard McQuade to head the panel. Colon cited a conflict of interest and noted an unbiased person should lead the group.

Doles said at the meeting he would reach out to Cuomo, County Executive Steven Neuhaus and Skoufis to participate on the committee in addition to U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

He did say in his Jan. 1 letter that he would also be sharing information with State Majority Coalition Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly/Speaker Sheldon Silver.

In his Jan. 1 letter to Kiryas Joel Mayor Abraham Wieder, Doles wrote: “The last election crystallized the deep divide that exists in the Town of Monroe and it is my job to address the issue head on …. As such I believe that the creation of a ‘gap’ is the only way to bridge the gap and to restore peace in Monroe.”

Doles also wrote: “Mr. Mayor, I believe it’s time for our communities to part company.”

Currently not asked to be part of the commission were KJ village officials and the KJ alliance – the dissent group – in addition to Village of Monroe Mayor James Purcell and Village of Harriman Mayor Stephen Welle.

Both mayors expressed concern over Doles’ initiative.

Also currently excluded were representatives of the Monroe-Woodbury School District.

Superintendent Edward Mehrhof said he was “extremely concerned” about the impact a change to town or city status and any potential land annexation would have on the district.

While school district boundaries and the related tax revenue wouldn’t change, Mehrhof said, he expressed concern over “influence” issues.

Others, like former Monroe-Woodbury Board of Education member Theresa Budich of Monroe, felt if an annexation were to happen, a request would eventually follow to change Monroe-Woodbury and KJ school district boundary lines to be in line with those 500 potential annexed acres, she wrote in a letter published in last week’s edition.

That potential move would then remove that acreage from the school district’s tax rolls and potentially impact the district’s budget and the tax bills of school district residents living in the towns of Monroe, Woodbury, Tuxedo, Blooming Grove and Chester.

And also excluded were representatives of the United Monroe organization.

Emily Convers, who lost to Doles in the November election, said a United Monroe representative must be on the committee to fairly represent the huge majority of the non-KJ voting population who voted for her in the Nov. 5 election.

Convers carried the non-KJ portion of the Town of Monroe votes while Doles won the KJ bloc vote.

In published media reports, Convers said she understood KJ’s desire to add property to its boundaries and would be open to a discussion “as long as the annexation petition is withdrawn, United Monroe gets a seat on the commission and green buffers separate the two communities where they meet.”

Purcell, Welle and Convers felt the idea had some degree of preliminary merit, but also questioned the timing of a KJ’s annexation request, noting that request was submitted after a 10-year hiatus and only weeks after the November election.

Those three people and Skoufis have stated the discussion of KJ becoming a town or village must happen with “no strings attached,” meaning the annexation request is not part of that process.

Skoufis again reminded those concerned that Doles’ proposal will be a long process but an important piece of information to first know is if KJ is truly interested in pursuing either a town or city status.

“I pride myself on presenting complete and accurate information to my constituents,” Skoufis said. “So I apologize again for providing partial information.”

– Nancy Kriz: The Photo News

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