I recently returned from the Town Attorney’s Office. On Wednesday, the Town Board learned from the Town Attorney’s Office that we needed to place a legal notice in a newspaper ten days in advance of a required September 26, 2007 public hearing to qualify for 100s of thousands of dollars of grant money from New York State. We also needed 48 hours notice to have a special meeting to set the date of that public hearing, which caused today, Friday, to be the last workday to have the special meeting to set the date of the public hearing to qualify for the grant money. We were given no other options. Today, we were informed by the Town Attorney’s Office the requirement is only five days for this type of hearing. Therefore, this afternoon’s meeting will be cancelled.
Another pro-forma meeting to set the public hearing date for September 26 and approve two block parties will be held sometime next week, after all board members are available to comment about the date/time.
Normally, these types of pro-forma special meetings to set future public hearings are held without objection from any board member whenever three board members can be present to satisfy quorum requirements. However, this time there was an objection so it is fortunate the meeting can be re-scheduled. All that would have been done had the meeting been held is setting a public hearing for September 26 to qualify for a grant, and allowing block parties to occur that were not requested prior to the last Town Board meeting. No other business would have been discussed or entertained.
The notice deadline discrepancy apparently occurred because property-related public hearings require 10 days notice. The current interpretation from the Town Attorney’s Office is that the public hearing on September 26 will be about a grant, not property, even though the subject of the public hearing will be to hear from the public regarding the use of grant money to help pay the cost of demolishing an unsafe building at 27 Main Street in Dobbs Ferry that is owned by the town. After demolition, affordable housing can then be built on the site in cooperation with Dobbs Ferry officials at lower cost.
Public hearings not involving property generally require only five days notice. Interpreting the public hearing as pertaining to the grant itself and not the use of the grant gets us to needing only five days notice, which is terrific.
Since categorizing the public hearing as one regarding a grant and not property seems to be a technically, and we don’t want to lose the grant money based on a technicality, the Town Attorney called the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) office, the office administering the grant, to confirm that five days notice would be acceptable. Although we don’t have anything in writing yet from ESDC confirming that five days notice will not jeopardize the grant, our Town Attorney’s Office now feels confident that we can postpone today’s special meeting until next week without jeopardizing the grant.
There has never been a downside to holding a special meeting solely to schedule a public hearing that is not controversial, such as qualifying for grant money. In the past, we have done so provided any three board members could attend, which would have been the case today, without interfering with anyone’s religious observances. Nevertheless, now that we know we have time, and will not lose the grant by not acting today, we will postpone the meeting until next week. Our only goal was to do what was legally necessary to qualify for a large New York State grant under a very tight deadline and save taxpayers’ money.
If we don't use grant money for the project, tax money will need to be used. The town owns the property with a vacant building on it that must come down due to its poor structural condition so affordable housing can be built. It is an expensive process to remove it because of an extensive slope that may cause the street to cave in when the building foundation is removed. We learned of a NYS grant that provides significant amounts of money to handle exactly this type of municipal expense. However, we must act quickly.
The grant must be filed by September 28 and there must be a public hearing held before it is filed. It is unusual for a grant to have a public hearing requirement but, then again, there is the potential for significant amounts of money from NYS, so if that is what it takes, that is what it takes.
Based on the supervisor's email it appears he thought some action would be taken regarding hiring a lawyer but that wasn't even discussed on Tuesday at our regular weekly work session as a possibility. Had that been the case, the special meeting certainly would not have been pro-forma. Unfortunately, the supervisor didn't attend the work session, assumed the worst, and objected to a meeting that normally would have proceeded without controversy provided any three board members could attend. His objection seemed focused solely on the possibility of hiring an attorney for the ethics board, not on what the meeting was actually about, obtaining grant money and allowing block parties.
Lastly, had we held the meeting this afternoon, the supervisor would not have been prevented from killing the grant application if he wanted to. Every board member has the right to hold over items on an agenda, so at the September 26 public hearing he could have held the hearing over until after the deadline had passed. I can’t imagine that as a possibility, however, because there is no downside to applying for a grant, other than the extensive work that is needed by staff to put it together, and they are working hard.
As I said in reply emails to those who wrote, if we could avoid having the meeting on a holyday, we would. Fortunately, based on the Town Attorney’s Opinion today, we can!
Francis Sheehan, Councilman
Town of Greenburgh