Newly-elected Mayor of Bloomingburg Russell Wood expected every insult hurled at him during his first meeting in office. If anything, Wood said the meeting went better than he had hoped.
About 70 people filled the chairs and lined the walls of the village hall meeting space Thursday night, as the new village board held its organizational meeting and a public hearing on the village budget. What would have already been a controversial meeting was made more heated by the publication Wednesday of dozens of documents related to the Chestnut Ridge high density housing project. In those documents, developers detailed early plans to make Chestnut Ridge a Hasidic community of up to 5,000 homes, but to keep that intention secret from the public. Several residents held signs at the meeting that attacked the developers and officials who approved Chestnut Ridge, calling on authorities to "Lock 'em up!"
During the public hearing on the budget, Wood faced a barrage of questions about sections of the budget that showed dramatic changes, like the $22,500 expected decrease in fines and forfeitures revenue and a $12,000 increase to mortgage tax revenue. Attorney fees and building inspector fees showed large decreases. Residents accepted the likelihood that sales within Chestnut Ridge could lead to a large increase in mortgage taxes, but they quizzed Wood about his decreases — does Wood expect there to be fewer building inspections and fines enforced for violations, and how can the village guarantee it won't need more money for attorney fees when it is already involved in a lot of litigation?
Kathy Roemer, former village trustee, told Wood his budget didn't make sense.
"I'm just a little concerned that is willy-nilly thrown together," Roemer said.
Wood defended the budget, telling residents that he worked on it with the village accountant, and he felt they did the best they could with it. At the end of the public hearing, Wood and trustees Aaron Rabiner and Rivkah Mosesson voted to approve the budget without any changes.
During the public comment section of the regular meeting, residents took the opportunity to throw insults at Wood, who many feel is too deeply connected to Shalom Lamm, the primary developer of Chestnut Ridge.
"You're corrupt from the top of your head to the bottom of your foot," Town of Wallkill resident Vincent Ferri announced to applause from almost everyone in the room.
Burlingham resident John Kahrs questioned Wood's integrity in reconstituting a village planning board, rather than keeping those duties within the town, and told Wood he has lost respect for him.
"Many of the people in this room believe this is a puppet regime for the developer," Kahrs said, to more applause.