Washingtonville's Naomi Sewell Richardson Park,
Village Financial Matters Are Front & Center
New Village of Washingtonville Mayor, Tom DeVinko, and Trustees Donna Jacaruso and Susan Walski are facing a delicate balancing act between sorting through and correcting some of the Village’s finances which are in disarray, and planning some exciting new bold projects for the community. Perhaps the top agenda item is to schedule a public hearing for extension of the Village’s 6-month building moratorium. The moratorium currently in place will officially end on June 1. However, there two additional extensions permitted and the community appears to want as much time as possible to reset the balance of "Smart Growth" while maintaining its bucolic and historic image. A Public Hearing to consider the first extension was set for May 15. Meanwhile its Comprehensive Plan Committee has a new Planner and Attorney (Nelson, Pope, Voorhis' Planner, Bonnie Franson, and their new Attorney, Brian Nugent of Feerick, Nugent & MacCartney, PLLC.) Both are longtime area professionals who represent the Town of Blooming Grove as well and have guided legal matters with good results for them in the past.
Plans Presented for Sewell-Richardson Park
Among the new upbeat projects the Villagers are excited to fast track is development of Sewell Park, which lies nearly across the street from Washingtonville High School and Middle School. The Park was formed after flood waters of Hurricane Irene ravaged the area and damaged the Sewell homestead beyond repair. Plans include a lot of horticulture activities, including a "Pollnator Trail" and series of environmental and educationall horticultural activities that will be linked to school curricula both at the High School and Elementary level. per a detailed presentation by Jean Galli and Shivon Cham who are organizing a sub-committee for the project.
Shivon Cham, who with her daughter have impressive hortiultue credentials
They said that the students (WCSD includes 3,812) in the greater Washingtonville and Blooming Grove area are really excited for the project and eager to start. They plan to meet with school officials and teaching staff this week. The Park sits in a beautiful spot in front of the Moodna Creek as it winds its way into the Village.
Moodna Creek behind Sewell Park, with a trestle in the background.
Naomi Sewell-Richardson was the first African-American to graduate from Washingtonville High School, and went on to an impressive life as an educator, suffragist and founder of Delta Sigma Theta, the second sorority founded for women of black heritage. Mayor DeVinko and his board members see the future of the Park as beneficial to both village businesses and the community, a great central meeting place that is walkable to the Village proper. In addition to all kinds of nature, butterflies, plant propogation, pollinators and some student art, they would like to see a bandstand with a gazebo, and for activities there to blend into a big Sidewalk Sale during events so that the village center businesses benefit as well. The "Beautification Committee" has already obtaidned 34 large gardening pots of which 24-26 already have Spring plantings and are being distributed throughout the community.
Dedication of the Sewell Richardson Park with Family Members. They have indicated that they definitely want to come to any rededication event!.
But meanwhile, the new administration has already started to tackle a scary list of serious financial “irregularities " which include the procedure of payment of $1.3 million 2022 bills out of the 2023 budget. A thorough review is planned with the State Comptroller's office, about what to do with the co-mingled accounts of water and sewer as well as grant monies for refreshing the Downtown area that were commingled into the general account. DeVinko is also looking into why work on the new sewer plant was stopped and why there is a whopping unpaid bill for completed work, missing audits for 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. A third irregularity he said was that the financial accounting program that was last in use was abandoned 6 years ago, and there have been so many updates since then that many records are no longe accessible. Both DeVinko and Trustees Jacaruso and Walski declined to point a finger of blame, saying instead that will be up to the auditor, treasurer and State Comptroller's Office. Trustee Susan Walski pointed out that without a Moody bond rating they could be in trouble if a serious village emergency occurred.
The significant challenge is to keep track of new income that will help them keep the Village solvent with the balance of existing and new unpaid bills, and determine which of general fund monies that include the grants that had been given for downtown lighting and could possibly be used for the Sewell Park Project, or whether they can seek additional grant monies for it through Senator James Skoufis.
DeVinko said that at their Board's weekly finance meeting they go through each bill and tackle a list of special exception items one by one. (one, for instance included an errant water bill that a resident received for 100,000 gallons). Water and Sewer charges are no longer being co-mingled and grant moneys will have their separate accounts. Mayor Tom DeVinko and the Trustees vowed to keep the process of straightening out the financial issues transparent as they go along. There is some good news about finances in that there are fairly significant payments being made on taxes, water and sewer bills, building permits and the like that can help make up any deficit.
Lastly, the board reported that interest was good of individuals who may apply for the vacant board positions, the Comp Plan Committee and other community activities such as Witchingtonville, Whoville, and the Village's parades which are popular throughout the region. They added, however, that "interest" is not enough, and that with a mountain of work to be done they are eager to start actual interviews this week and receive actual commitments. The committee and board rmeetings are open to the public, and board and comp plan meetings are also on video at the YouTube channel which has a link on the villages' website.