Building on the Lie

Dec. 27, 2010 The big lie in Ramapo about the baseball stadium keeps evolving and growing. First it was Christopher St. Lawrence who promised the voters, "The stadium will be built with private money. There will be no taxpayer dollars. I got the message." He was reacting to the overwhelming opposition to the project in the September referendum vote. Then as he continued to spend taxpayer dollars on the project, he said, well, the taxpayers will build the park and my Local Development Corp and private investors will build the stadium. In the last Ramapo Board meeting, that lie was exposed for what it is, and now itís St. Lawrence, Hunter and Friedman operating from zero credibility and in need of millions more to continue construction of the ballpark.

At the beginning of the Ramapo Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 22, the agenda had a couple of suspicious looking items, but nothing that looked like wholesale theft of taxpayerís money. That was before the pledge to the flag. By the end of the evening, the Ramapo Town Board had voted 3-2 to take from the residents $2,134,222.26 more for construction of the Grand Slam baseball project in Pomonaóat the very location where we have all been reassured that "There will be no taxpayer dollars" spent. Those approving the theft: Christopher St. Lawrence, Fran Hunter, Daniel Friedman.

The three items on the agenda that were used to successfully wrench the additional $2m from the taxpayers, with as little notice as possible, showed up on that agenda as:

C. Approval of Change of Order for Drainage and Field:

1) Natural Turf Playing Field System: Turco Golf, Inc.

2) Grading, Site Work Drainage: Morano Bros. Corp.

Then later down the page, the Purchasing Dept. had a list of "Acceptance of Bids," and one of those was listed: "1) Route 45óFiremenís Memorial Drive improvements."

To the casual observer, the Changes of Order (aka cost overruns) were for a playing field system by a golf company and some absolutely non-descript drainage work by Morano Bros. And Route 45-Firemenís Memorial Drive improvements sounded like road repairs.

When the Town Attorney read the first resolution, or just part of it, actually, he said this was for a change order not for "Natural Turf Playing Field System." It was for extra soils handling. Even on the completed draft resolution we FOILed the next day at Town Hall, there is no mention of Project Grand Slam or a baseball field. The new name chosen by the supervisor for the Project Grand Slam is the "Firemanís Memorial Drive Project." The draft reads that this additional $214,907.38 is an increase to the already contracted amount of $796,510.63 for Turco Golf to build "a natural turf playing field system for Firemanís Memorial Drive Project." Taxpayers now owe Turco $1,011,418.01 for its work on the ballpark.

The second cost overrun was for "grading and drainage." No mention of baseballs, Grand Slams, some dumb referendum from the votersónone of those irrelevancies. Just the fact that what the public owed Morano before for its work (on the ballpark--$4,125,000.00) had jumped to $5,890,314,88.

Then there was the acceptance of a bid from Morano Bros. Corp for $154,000.00 for "Route 45 improvements." Thatís the only description of the work on the draft resolution 2010-740. When this bid first appeared in the newspaper, we went to Town Hall and signed out a set of bid papers. This work is for road improvements demanded of the builder of Project Grand Slam in order to accommodate the increase in traffic anticipated because of the ballpark.

So at the end of the evening the Grand Slam second-story gang, only three votes, had quietly added more than $2m to the Townís deficit in the name of the semi-anonymous "Firemanís Memorial Drive Project." When you think about it, Turco and Morano are only two of the many contractors working on this project, and yet their $7m (so far) already dwarfs the investment of the Bottom Nine Baseball Group. The investor group is made up of six members who will manage the team, and their full-faith investment in the enterprise will be $1m. Thatís not even half the amount of cost overruns from last Wednesdayís meeting, cost overruns that the residents have been told they will have to eat.

But, not to worry. From the official website we have the following Bottom 9 reassurances:

"We will only make promises we can keep and the following are keepers:

Our fans will always come first!

We will create an affordable and memorable fan experience.

We will establish two way communication with our fans in order to listen and learn.

We will field a competitive team that is lead by a manager who understands the importance of being the face of the franchise.

We will weave the baseball team into the fabric of the community by being a good corporate citizen."

There seem to be a couple of problems here already. First, look at the name of the website. If this is Rocklandís Baseball team, why are the people in Ramapo asked to foot the entire $30m burden? And did the managers leave out a key phrase in their opening line: "We will only make promises we can keep." Whereís the introductory phrase "Unlike your Supervisor."

If they are sincere about establishing a two-way communication with their fans in order to listen and learn, we can send over the district by district election results that trashed the Supervisorís plan to have the taxpayers back this project. A "good corporate citizen" in a democracy such as ours usually doesnít sneak through resolutions that will increase the taxes of a citizenry that has already voted against such expenditures.

And donít you think good corporate citizens might kick in a little more than just $1m of their own to manage this team? Thatís the total investment by these owners. And thereís no evidence this money has reached Accounts Receivable at the Ramapo Local Development Corp.

But then, how much is St. Lawrence contributing? Heís a taxpayer, right? Actually his home is no longer listed in his name, so he doesnít get the tax bills. And even when he did, there was that five-year stretch when he was woefully delinquent in paying his own taxes. Added up, he carried an outstanding balance of $27,000 owed for five years, and there was even a tax warrant issued on November 15, 2006 in his name by Rockland County. That was at a time when he was making $120,000 a year so there might be some doubt as to his "good corporate citizen" certifications.

Of the other two second-story members of the town board, itís not surprising Daniel Friedman doesnít have pressing concerns about tax encumbrances. Heís living at home with the folks, so he doesnít get tax bills.

That leaves Fran Hunter who has been inexplicably voting for all of these taxpayer increasesóholding the ladder, so to speak, for the other two. She surely pays taxes, and she knows about the referendum, so whatís going on with her decisions on these votes? Perhaps itís a matter of focus. At the end of the meeting Wednesday, after Robert Romanowski pointed out the deceptions in the eveningís resolutions and a member of Preserve Ramapo decried the absolute contempt expressed by this board for the taxpayers of Ramapo, just 17 seconds (we checked the tape) after the three board members were asked to stop lying to the public, Ms. Hunter offered a final word on the subject:

"Since this is the last meeting of year 2010, Iíd like to end on a happy note. At this time I would like to wish the community, not only the Town of Ramapo, but Rockland County as well that we all look forward to a happy and healthy New Year."

Happy New Year to all, and to all a Good Night! That should take care of it.

Michael Castelluccio
Preserve Ramapo  

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