Saturday, November 05, 2011

Recommendation for Ramapo supervisor 

Two of the three candidates for Ramapo supervisor are polarizing figures. That is the last thing Ramapo — a community divided — needs.

The incumbent, Christopher St. Lawrence, a Democrat who is also running on the Conservative, Working Families and Independence Party lines, has strong support within the Orthodox and Hasidic communities. Many view town leadership as favoring the religious community — and its powerful bloc vote. That's a feeling often fed by St. Lawrence's touting of open space and at once embracing overdevelopment and downzonings.

Robert Rhodes, on the Preserve Ramapo ticket, is chairman of the group that has been sharply critical of downzoning and dense development, which is often fostered by growth in the Orthodox community. Many in the religious community feel targeted by Rhodes' and Preserve Ramapo's criticisms.

When a significant portion of the community feels left out, there's a problem. Both St. Lawrence and Rhodes have that problem. Ramapo residents, however, have an option: Republican Marino Fontana. In comparison to his competitors, Fontana offers a view of Ramapo that is uninfected by spin or invective. We also believe that Fontana, smart on financial issues, will command a fresh view of the town's murky finances.

Fontana doesn't buy the rosy picture that St. Lawrence offers, nor does he agree with Rhodes' view of impending doom. While St. Lawrence assures all that the town's finances are strong, Rhodes says the town's finances are spiraling out of control. Fontana says that he's not sure how the town is truly doing, but pledges a thorough forensic audit with outside help. St. Lawrence brags about the town's healthy fiscal shape. Yet, the town was criticized in a draft state comptroller's audit for having a negative fund balance at the end of 2010.

St. Lawrence and Rhodes are worlds apart on Provident Bank Park, the baseball stadium that is home to the independent league Rockland Boulders. The supervisor has deemed the inaugural season a rousing success. St. Lawrence says the stadium's financing is strong. Rhodes says the stadium won't be able to pay off its debts and has already been a great financial drain. Fontana has promised to make the stadium work for the town, despite not supporting it originally. Fontana said that many residents didn't feel St. Lawrence was upfront with them about the stadium. "You can't tear it down and put the trees back," Fontana told the Editorial Board. "You've got to make it work for people so it's not a drain."

St. Lawrence pledged that he "got the message" and would use not town resources to build the baseball stadium. That promise came in August 2010, after Ramapo voters overwhelmingly voted down a loan guarantee on $16.5 million in bonds for the project. Since then, the town has backed a $25 million short-term loan to construct Provident Bank Park.

St. Lawrence has done many good things in his leadership position — including gaining intervenor status to fight utility rate increases. Rhodes, too, has brought attention to the issues of overdevelopment in the burgeoning town. But both come with too much baggage. Fontana can provide the steady hand that Ramapo needs now.


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