Since last July, the volunteers of the Rebuild Hi-Tor effort and the shelter’s board members have been talking with Rockland County officials on moving forward with their plans to build a new animal shelter in front of the existing one.
Although fundraising and tabling events are running smoothly, discussions with the county have seemed to have stalled.
Volunteer Chair Don Franchino’s plan for the new shelter is that it’s paid for through fundraising donations and that the new building will be built in front of the current building. They have been negotiating with the County for an expansion of the lease on the land where the present shelter exists.
As part of his plan, the cost of the county for the entire project will be $0 and Hi-Tor would request a 10-acre site from the county leased to the shelter to be cleared and prepared for the new animal shelter. This land would be leased to Hi-Tor for 99 years for $1. Hi-Tor will still be contracted with the county, but the operation of the new shelter will remain with the not for profit Hi-To Animal Shelter.
Back in October, Franchino and Hi-Tor Animal Care Center President Roberta Bangs met with County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef's office to discuss leasing the land from the county to build the new shelter. The county exec's staff last year that an issue that is a roadblock is the fact that land eyed by volunteers is park land, which cannot be built upon. At that October meeting, Franchino said that he will not have this process dragged out for several years.
Since then, there has been slow progress in the discussions with the county leading Franchino to call out the county on not allowing this to move forward.
“I will consider abandoning this effort and dump it in Scott and Harriet Cornells lap,” said Franchino in an email blast. “After all they have successfully put this County in debt for the foreseeable future. They obviously are not willing to accept a million dollar shelter for free—let them build one and put this county deeper in debt … The requirements he has stated in his letter requires extensive work and cost on our end. This is not our responsibility but falls directly on the County. Let them work out the land at the County's expense.”
Vanderhoef's office say that they have been collaborating, but need to protect park land
"We are surprised at the negative language in Mr. Franchino's statement, as we have been communicating with him and Hi Tor in good faith," said Ron Levine, Vanderhoef's Director of Communications. "We have offered the organization land behind the existing shelter to build a new facility. We’ve had a whole team of county professionals looking into this matter and we have made every effort to work in collaborative way to come up with a solution. Nothing would please us more than to see them open a new facility. However, we are obligated to protect designated parkland on county property."
Franchino is from Nanuet and also runs a New City All State office with his sons. He is known in the community for his successful fundraising efforts.
Franchino said that he joined the Rebuild Hi-Tor effort because he felt it was necessary to raise funds for a new shelter because the current one is in such a dilapidated state with a roof that is in disrepair and not structurally sound.
However, “little did I expect dysfunctional politicians and their staff to be the real hurdle,” he said in his email. “It is time the public be brought up to speed.”
Their next community meeting, which is open to the public is Wednesday March 13 from 6:30 to 9 p.m at Clarkstown Town Hall. This is an open meeting to discuss the progress of rebuilding the Hi Tor Animal Shelter and Adoption Center.
"Contrary to assertions made in his statement, we have not shut any doors on working with the group or set deadlines," said Levine. "We only ask that Mr. Franchino recognize that county government must abide by specific procedures, regulations and laws."
Inr response, Franchino said that "over the course of one year and three meetings the response has been the same—'we wish you luck in finding a new location.' They don't understand my negative language because quite frankly the truth hurts. The partnership with the Hi Tor Animal Shelter and the County of Rockland began over 35 years ago. Since that time the County has allowed, through their own neglect, this building to deteriorate to a state of complete disrepair. The population of the county has grown over this period but the shelter has not kept pace with this growth. In their response, the County offers one acre of swamp land behind the shelter and insists the present shelter be demolished ... This acre is good enough to build on but not good enough to be designated parkland. The proposal to designate the acre behind the shelter as parkland in exchange for the acre and half in front of the shelter is what Hi Tor is proposing."
Franchino added that Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski has offered to sponsor the necessary legislation at the state level. "He waits along with the volunteers, people of Rockland, staff and animals of the shelter. The existing shelter would be renovated for free by apprentice students. The new shelter would be built with donated funds, materials and services. The new shelter would operate at no cost to taxpayers other then the fee the County pays currently. The County has been dragging their feet since April 2012," said Franchino.
Here are some of the topics that will be discussed at this March 13 meeting:
- The status of the discussions between the shelter and the county.
- location of shelter, proposal presented to County Executive over two months ago
- Committees available to volunteer: grants, tabling, fundraising, construction, media/public relations, events, social media and many more.
- Architects(volunteer) proposed shelter design
- tabling events being held at various public locations every weekend through winter months.
- walkathon scheduled for June 23 Rockland Lake State Park
- concert—site and date to be determined.
- learn how shelter will partner with energy company
- ongoing financial support once new shelter is complete
- future events being planned—bowlathon, New City, dinner/dance, venues for hypnotist, Levity Live
- restaurant dates continue to be added visit web site www.rebuildhitor.org
- bucket brigade continues with nearly 300 placed in local businesses
- local celebrities lending their support to the rebuild—psa has been filmed and waiting for air time.
- fall golf outing set for September 23 at Minisceongo Golf Club—volunteers needed—contact bob salmon 845-362-6777 ext 2 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- fall three miler also set for weekend of October 27; same location as last year (firemens training center)
"The Hi Tor Animal Shelter serves not only the abandoned, abused malnourished animals of Rockland, the shelter teaches volunteerism to both young and not so young people of Rockland. A modern shelter will only increase this spirit among Rockland citizens," said Franchino. "It is not the responsibility of Hi Tor to locate an adequate location, nearly impossible in Rockland. The shelter must be located away from residential areas. The present location serves that purpose and allows volunteers to walk the animals in the adjacent park. Rockland County has 161,000 acres of parkland, we seek 1 1/2 acres deparked in exchange for the swampland behind the shelter, so 161,000 remains intact ... We are approaching one year of "working on this" and we are no closer to a solution. The hurdles being placed on this new shelter by the County belies their statement "nothing would please us more to see them open a new facility."