Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bloomingburg dissolution vote awaits court decisions 

A decision on whether the Village of Bloomingburg will dissolve into the Town of Mamakating now depends on several legal challenges, which could take weeks - at the very least.

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick ruled Monday that more than 120 of the uncontested votes from the Sept. 30 referendum will be opened at 10 a.m. Dec. 1. But a decision on the more than 60 contested votes will be made at a later date.

The county Board of Elections last week upheld 62 of the 69 voter registration challenges - which were made by supporters of the dissolution. The voters whose registrations were rejected were apparently supporters of developer Shalom Lamm. The referendum to dissolve was sparked by those opposed to Lamm's 396-home Hasidic development. They say the development would overwhelm this one-stoplight village with a population of 400 people.

Thomas Garry, attorney for opponents of the dissolution, said he plans to challenge the board's rulings on the registrations. A hearing on his challenge could then be scheduled for the future.

Garry criticized the board's decision, saying it had "no basis under the election law."

"This is, by far, the worst I've ever seen a Board of Elections conduct itself," Garry said.

Lori Bertsch-Brustman, assistant Sullivan County attorney who is representing the board, says it did its job correctly. She says it based its decision on voter questionnaires and an investigation by the county Sheriff's Office. "The Board of Elections used the best evidence available in making its determination with regard to challenged voters," Bertsch-Brustman said.

In their decision, Commissioners Ann Prusinski and Rodney Gaebel said many of the returned questionnaires contained little proof of residency, such as paid tax or utility bills, rent payments, tuition receipts or employment verification.

A final ruling on the dissolution also awaits a ruling by the state Appellate Division on another legal issue. Garry filed a notice of appeal challenging the wording of the legal notices and absentee ballots for the Sept. 30 dissolution vote. This came after Schick allowed the referendum vote to proceed when the notices and ballots referred to the consolidation of the village, not its dissolution.

Bertsch-Brutsman said the board followed the direction of the courts when conducting the vote.

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