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Animal Space vs. Open Space

by Ed Day, Rockland County Legislator

A request by Rockland County’s Hi-Tor Animal Shelter to build a new facility on adjacent parkland to replace it’s overcrowded and deteriorating building was turned down by Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef earlier this week. Legislator Ed Day (R-New City/Pomona), a candidate for Rockland County Executive, says the county has an obligation to be more proactive.

The Hi-Tor Animal Shelter has been an indispensable part of this county since its inception, and more so now in this period of shrinking government budgets as a key partner with Rockland in both animal control and care of strays and lost pets. And yes, this is somewhat personal and should be to all who read this. When my family decided to get a dog in 1996 it just made perfect sense to adopt one from Hi-Tor, and “Princess,” a cocker spaniel mix, gave all of us 12 years of kindness and affection. So many others in this county and nearby have been able to give loving animals homes thanks to their efforts, and the current situation they face is simply a shame and, quite frankly, inexcusable.

It is bad enough to know the deplorable condition that Hi-Tor fell into due to lack of financial support as they executed their important mission. A year ago, a number of my legislative colleagues joined me in an effort to establish a $650,000 capital projects line for repairs to the shelter and while that line was admittedly unfunded, there was some hope that action would generate two things: A rallying point for a community that knew what was right, and a sense of urgency to our County administration. We succeeded in one aspect of my strategy, with legions of caring citizens coming forward to do the right thing and be part of the solution. My utmost respect is offered to the Don Franchino, Roberta Bangs, and the Board of Hi Tor for their stewardship.

But the other half of the equation still falls short. It is now entirely unacceptable to see such resistance to alleviating this situation, and what I believe to be government finding more reasons not to find a solution instead of working to actually arrive at one. Having been close to this issue for some time, as well as having taken a leading position in favor of preserving open space in this county, I recognize both their plight and the need to protect against excessive development in the county. The fact is, however, that we need to balance that need for open space with other key responsibilities, such as providing humane care for Rockland’s animal population.

Land swaps for open space have been done in the past, and we have a ready partner in the State legislature in Ken Zebrowski, who is willing to carry whatever legislation is needed to finalize such a transaction. The original proposal has been modified and cut back; Hi-Tor officials have not been unreasonable or unwilling to meet the county halfway. For the county government, however, to claim that Hi-Tor’s survival and condition are not at all their responsibility after having supported the shelter for nearly 40 years is disingenuous. To make a “slippery slope” argument, that suddenly unknown hordes of nonprofits will come seeking parkland if a swap is approved is particularly unacceptable, especially considering the historical precedent of land swaps and Hi-Tor’s unique position of executing a key county function.

In the end, we need to step back and look at the potential: an opportunity to build a shelter at no cost to the taxpayer. Even better, if the building is ever vacated, it will be owned by the County to repurpose as needed. Given the fiscal crisis we face, shouldn’t these observations provide the necessary motivation to move forward and stop this charade? Shouldn’t the County be more willing to step to the plate regardless of what level has the “responsibility” to? Instead of arguing about what pocket the taxpayer money comes from, shouldn’t we be focused on reducing the total amount being taken. To me, the larger “responsibility” … the true measure … is how we are judged in our care of those unfortunate animals in need, and how efficiently we provide needed services to the people of Rockland.

As an aside, it would be nice if all levels of government would treat residential developments on open space in Rockland with the same amount of skepticism, bordering on obstructionism, as the county is unjustly applying to this legitimate application on the part of Hi-Tor. But that is a discussion for another day – today it is readily apparent that clearing a path for this shelter to begin construction is a goal that all those involved, elected and appointed officials alike – should be working together to accomplish. Government needs to understand that basic priorities trumps the superfluous and it is properly expected that an important function such as basic animal care and control function must be implemented and funded. And in this case the potential is right there to do the right thing and do so at no cost to taxpayers. That sounds like a “win – win” to me.

Ed Day, a member of the Rockland County Legislature, is running for Rockland County Executive.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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