Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Council Votes to Create Parking Department and to Sell Cucia Park
At a special meeting Monday evening the Common Council voted to affirm their intention to create an independent parking department in Middletown. The city, which had a parking authority more than a decade ago, and since then has placed authority for parking matters in the Police Department, will now have a parking commission, a parking department and a professional parking manager. An interesting note, in debate Mayor Sebastian Giuliano made it clear that the parking department did not have jurisdiction over on-street parking, but only for parking lots and off-street muncipal parking.
After impassioned testimony by Stephen Devoto (full disclosure: Devoto is a Middletown Eye correspondent but spoke as a public citizen and not as a citizen journalist), a member of the mayor's task force which identified Cucia Park as the best site for the Army Reserve Training Center, the Common Council spent nearly an hour defending their decision to purchase the park, and disburse the bulk of the funds from the purchase toward operating expenses in the budget for the coming year.
Devoto, who has supported the sale of the park for the Army Reserve Training Center displayed a sense of betrayal and disbelief at the current council resolution.
Devoto made three main points, and forcefully so.
He claimed that the resolution's definition of Cucia Park as a 4.4 acre park, and between 36 and 40 acres of "adjoining land," was not the same description offered when the park was first floated as a potential site for the Army training center.
"The current draft of the Plan of Conservation and Development shows Cucia Park, all of it, all 40.4 acres, as 'permanent open space," Devoto said. "For you to claim that the city is selling a 4 acre park and 'adjoing land' is disingenuous."
Council members countered that the language used in the resolution is the same language proposed in the original definition of the "Cucia Park" found in a resolution urging the sale of Cucia Park, and the funding of the city purchase of a parcel of land in a proposed industrial park owned by Ted Bysiewicz.
"I'd say with that resolution we were playing chess with the Army, and we won," Council member Thomas Serra said.
Council member Vinnie Loffredo, in questions to City Planner Bill Warner characterized the property as always destined for industrial development. Warner ran through a chronology of the park, indicating that it had been originally purchased to use as a reservoir, then designated for industrial development before being noted as open space on city documents sometime in the eighties.
"Then this would all have been underwater?" Loffredo asked.
Warner said that unlike other open space owned by the city, Cucia Park is the single exception which has no restrictions against development.
A second point made by Devoto is that the current resolution runs counter to a resolution introduced by Serra and passed by the Council in October.
That resolution pledged that "Monies sufficient to replace the park and open space land as a result of such sale would be place in a special City Account for the purchase of park or open space land."
"Your budget has already spent at least 75% of the money from the sale," Devoto said. "Even if the city realizes $2 million, you have clearly violated your own resolution, because you will have absolutely no way of putting monies sufficient to replace park and open space."
Devoto's accusations seemed to have struck a nerve as several council members spent the next hour defending the history of the council in purchasing open space. Council members Roberts, Daley, Santangelo and Serra indicated that the history of the Council in pursuing open space purchases in the past was somehow a justification for turning their backs on a resolution passed as recently as October. Warner noted that the city has purchased a total of 3,000 acres of open space, with all purchases coming before the Council.
After the meeting, Councilman Ron Klattenberg noted that he never expected all the funds from the purchase to be used for open space.
"I never expected it to be acre for acre," Klattenberg explained.
"It's why I changed the wording of the resoution to read 'monies sufficient to replace the park," Council member Gerry Daley explained. He noted that while the Council initially hoped to receive far more than the $2 million offered by the Army, he added moderating language to be clear that all revenue would not go toward the purchase of park and open space land.
In the same conversation, Serra admitted that things had changed since the October resolution was made. He indicated that the economic pressures exerted on the city made it clear that money from the purchase needed to be applied to upcoming operating expenses.
"Remember, it means a zero increase in taxes," Serra said.
Mayor Sebastian Giuliano has never been an advocate of using the Cucia Park proceeds for open space purchases. In preliminary meetings last year he indicated that the revenue would be better used to replenish the general fund. More recently, in a compromise budget proposal, he, and the Republican caucus proposed using all revenue ($2 million) to offset expenses projected in the coming year. The difference between the Democratic and Republican line of reasoning on revenue and the budget is that from the Mayor's perspective, even with the use of the Cucia Park proceeds, anticipated expenses would demand a tax increase. The Democratic budget, which was passed by the Council includes the use of $1.5 million in Cucia proceeeds toward operating expenses, and not increase in taxes.
Devoto's third point was this idea of using revenue for the sale for operating expenses.
"It is the height of fiscal irresponsibility for any entity to sell its assets to fund operating expenses," Devoto said. He likened it to a family selling the family's living room carpets to pay for unexpected dental expenses, and then wondering what they might sell for other unexpected expenses.
'Maybe Mr. Devoto doesn't know it," Daley said later in the meeting. "But there are probably people in Middletown who are doing that. Let us not be bullied into thinking that we were disingenuous about our disposition of open space."
Mayor Sebastian Giuliano indicated that the new resolution would trump the language and intent of the original resolution, and that the council would not have to make a direct effort to rescind the original resolution indicating a set-aside of Cucia Park proceeds.
The resolution to give the mayor authority to sell Cucia Park to the Army passed unanimously.