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Rosendale town board votes to buy Joppenberg Mountain for $85,000

Rosendale’s local government decided to go forward with the controversial purchase of Joppenberg Mountain for $85,000. The vote came at a contentious meeting last week on April 13th, where council members disagreed along party lines: three Democrats in favor, against two Republicans opposed.

The night was marked by occasional outbursts, eventually leading to the ejection of two protesters. A petition was presented to the board, signed by 298 voters, asking that the purchase of Joppenberg be put to a public referendum. The board declined, and instead opted to exercise their right to contract through a simple resolution.

The evening drew a sizable crowd of 75, about half of the number which attended the public hearing one week earlier. There were significantly more dissenters on April 13th, many from the senior citizen demographic, who complained that April 6th’s hearing took place too late for elderly residents to easily participate.

Technically, the public hearing was held over from April 6th, so all complaints and petitions submitted on the 13th were entered into the record as “public comment.” The board voted to close the public hearing, also along party lines in Democrats’ favor.

Two questions dominated the issue before vote. Primarily, would Open Space Institute, who proposed the deal as intermediary, be willing to wait for a November referendum? Bob Anderberg, OSI general counsel, reiterated that $100K in funding — being gifted as a discount to Rosendale offsetting the purchase price — could not be delayed past a scheduled closing this Summer.

“I don’t buy into it, that OSI isn’t going to be there in November with this funding,” remarked councilman Ken Hassett, speaking for the opposition. “Six months will give us plenty of time to make those costs available to the public, to make an educated decision in November. The mountain isn’t going anywhere, OSI isn’t gonna go anywhere, and the commitment to get this mountain for the people who truly want it, I don’t think that is going anywhere either.”

A second related question addresses the long-term expense of this deal beyond the closing price, for trails, safety, improvements, and ongoing maintenance & patrol. The $85,000 available in Rosendale’s general fund under a surplus line — which came from a $340K property sale last year — was supposed to be earmarked for capital improvements — not “open space.” One hundred thousand was already spent buoying this year’s tax levy. Rosendale’s accountant hasn’t finished 2010‘s final close-out spreadsheet, so that surplus isn’t yet allocated towards a specific budget line, as required by law.

“Maybe,” argued Hassett, “if we took the time to investigate it properly, and come up with the right numbers, look at the whole picture, some of the people who are against this purchase may in fact be for the purchase, because it’s got its virtues also.” Hassett said he remains undecided on the general issue of purchasing this mountain; his opposition, along with colleague councilman Bob Gallagher, is mostly about process. “We’re going too fast here, we don’t know what we’re walking into, we don’t have fixed costs, we don’t know what it’s going to cost us.”

Councilman Richard Minisalli, up for re-election, broke the tie by voting in favor of purchasing Joppenberg. “It seems to me, there’s too much to lose by taking the chance [for referendum],” he said. Councilwoman Manna Jo Greene, a noted naturalist, remained steadfastly in favor of the deal, calling it a “fiscally responsible and environmentally beneficial decision.” Gallagher dissented. “My whole vote on this, has to do procedure and planning of districts,” he maintained.

Supervisor Patrick McDonough, who will not be seeking re-election, countered a few hecklers over his vote in favor. “I’ve never done anything on this side of the table that I’ve ever been ashamed of,” he bristled. “I’m proud of my record of eleven years of service. Everything I’ve ever done has been for the benefit of all the people in this town, and I’ve never once made a decision based soley on politics.”

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