New York’s Department of State has appointed oversight monitors in a town and village in Rockland County. The purpose is to ensure that state building and fire codes are enforced. Lawmakers and officials say there have been deficiencies for years, putting lives at risk.
The Department of State has appointed monitors to the Town of Ramapo and Village of Spring Valley. A Department of State spokeswoman, in an emailed statement, says, in part, “The Secretary of State has found significant deficiencies in code enforcement in the Town of Ramapo and Village of Spring Valley. The public's health and safety remains [sic] at risk.” She says the Department will begin oversight with Ramapo this week, per the agreement, and will identify a start date with Spring Valley after the agreement is executed.
Democratic Assemblymembers Kenneth Zebrowski and Ellen Jaffee had been speaking with state officials about the matter for some time. Jaffee says it is a serious situation that has been ongoing for years.
“So this oversight is really essential in response to the many deficiencies that exist within the Town of Ramapo and Spring Valley and certainly the need to improve the code enforcement and, of course, the standards, the building standards,” Jaffee says.
State Senator David Carlucci is an Independent Democrat whose district includes Ramapo and Spring Valley.
“This is extremely important because for a long time now we have seen so many different violations, and really the public has lost faith and trust in the building departments in Ramapo and Spring Valley,” Carlucci says. “We’ve seen instances where a temporary CO has been allowed to stay into compliance for a long period of time.”
CO refers to Certificate of Occupancy. Carlucci says he spoke with Secretary of State Rossana Rosado just ahead of her confirmation in June about the issue. He outlines what will take place.
“And what this will do is have oversight officers right there on the ground, in real time, reviewing applications, going out and doing inspections with the code enforcement officers to make sure they’re using best practices,” Carlucci says. “We’ve got to make sure that when people, when a building permit is being permitted that it is done with the utmost integrity. And we hope that this will restore best practices in the Village of Spring Valley and the Town of Ramapo.”
The Ramapo Town Supervisor was unavailable for comment but had issued a statement saying he and the town board unanimously approved the agreement with the Department of State. The Spring Valley mayor did not respond to a request for comment. Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says he has measured optimism about the oversight officers.
“This is the first time they’ve appointed monitors. This is not the first time that they have been engaged with what’s been going on here in Rockland County,” Day says. “There have been threats. There’s been correspondence. There’s been interaction but nothing has worked. So I’m hopeful that this next step will actually bear some fruit.
And he hopes the monitors take aggressive action when needed.
“We need to see action. We need to see something more than somebody visiting an office,” says Day. “We need to see them taking firm action the very first time they see something that’s improper.”
He says action like stop work orders and fines. Day says overdevelopment is a major problem, and development in Ramapo has reached critical mass.
“I’ll be emphatic about this. This is not a religious issue anymore,” Day says. “We have had Orthodox developers go into an Orthodox neighborhood and have the Orthodox neighbors say, ‘what are you doing to our community? We pay taxes. Our kids go to school and you are ruining our community by putting in extra apartments in basements when the plans call for no apartments in basements.’ This is what's been going on here in Rockland.”
In September, Ramapo’s Chief Building Inspector Anthony Mallia was arrested on 100 felony charges, including allegations involving the falsification of building permits. And Assemblyman Zebrowski pointed to the case as demonstrating the need for state takeover of building inspections. Again, Jaffee:
“Code enforcement is essential for the safety of the community,” says Jaffee. “And I believe that this is the second turn of the corner that’s going to certainly improve the lifestyle and the safety in the community in a very positive way.”
The first turn of the corner came with the East Ramapo School District, for which the state education commissioner in August announced the appointment of a monitor. There is no set end date for the town and village oversight monitors. The Department of State spokeswoman says they will remain until such time as the Secretary is satisfied the town and village are properly administering and enforcing the building and fire code.