MONROE - As the rift between the town of Monroe and the Village of Kiryas Joel widens over the Hasidic community's bid to annex more land, critics are expressing concerns that a larger village could mean a bigger burden on Orange County taxpayers.
Among the chief concerns expressed by opponents to the village's expansion are the potential costs of social services and added stresses on local infrastructure.
Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis says that if Kiryas Joel doubles in size, county taxpayers will foot the bill. He claims that last year, the Village of Kiryas Joel used more social services than two cities and dozens of towns and villages combined. "One village equated to 29 other areas," he said. "How is it that 20,000 people are receiving the same benefit as 155,000 people?"
Newly elected Republican County Executive Steve Neuhaus agrees that Kiryas Joel uses a large amount of social services, but says that the community is third in terms of the total amount paid by county taxpayers. He says the cities of Newburgh and Middletown use more taxpayer dollars on services. "It still doesn't make it right," Neuhaus said. "The optimum goal isn't to have more use over another. The goal is to reduce use from all different types of government."
Members of the Hasidic community have argued that social services shouldn't be factored into the debate. Kiryas Joel School District Superintendent Joel Petlin says the annexation should have nothing to do with how wealthy or poor a community is. "It's an inappropriate argument to say that people who might rely on public services would be ineligible for an annexation process," Petlin says. "You can't say that only Tuxedo Park, because of the relative wealth there, should be able to annex property, but a poorer community might not be able to have that same right."
But the issues and concerns run deeper than taxpayers' pockets. There are also allegations of fraud and political distrust about the approval process, and opponents have expressed worry that Kiryas Joel will seek to expand further in the future. There are hundreds of additional acres of Hasidic-owned land, undeveloped property nearby that Neuhaus says the village may eventually look to annex. "It'll be very challenging because our sewer treatment plant is at max capacity," he says.
Kiryas Joel already started laying a 13-mile pipeline last year to tap into the Catskill Aqueduct, which supplies New York City's water. The $45 million project raised eyebrows at the time, and critics say it marked the first part of the village's long-term plan to expand. If it succeeds, Sewer District 1 and its plant in Harriman will need massive improvements, and some say it would take tens of millions of dollars.
Because of the widespread concerns, Orange County is asking New York state to perform an environmental quality review of the annexation plan. Monroe and Kiryas Joel are also vying for control of the review.
Kiryas Joel leaders have repeatedly ignored News 12's requests for comment. Opponents of the annexation say the lack of discourse is only fueling more concerns.