Construction of the Hi Tor animal center in Rockland is on hold

NEW CITY — The long-awaited construction of a multimillion-dollar Hi Tor animal sanctuary is temporarily on hold after bids for the work went over budget. Some city officials also have doubts about the location.

Rockland committed $7.7 million for construction, plus $500,000 for architects and engineering. The Hi-Tor Shelter Fund added approximately $472,578 through donations and fundraising, while MP Kenneth Zebrowski secured a state grant of $500,000.

The nearly $10 million seemed to put the decade-long project on solid footing. However, bids from five contractors have recently been in the $14 million range, said County Executive Ed Day, who led the charge for the new shelter despite the issues.

Officials lamented that the weather has only increased the cost of the proposed 14,000-square-foot modernized facility on county property across from the Rockland Fire Training Center and Ramapo baseball stadium bordering a park off Route 45.

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Day said he was unhappy with the further delay and noted that the current shelter is archaic for animal health and on its last legs.

“The costs are what they are and they’re not going down,” Day said of the five deals. “It will only cost more with the delays. The time is over to achieve this.”

But lawmakers, while backing the facility, temporarily balked last week at adding Day’s proposed $10,000 to the construction budget — either through additional bonding or from the county’s provident fund. .

Some lawmakers said they had doubts about the price and the location near the Ramapo baseball stadium, which features fireworks and excessive noise that advocates say are unhealthy for dogs and cats. There is also a traffic problem in the area on match nights.

Legislature leaders said they are awaiting planning and financial information from city supervisors, who oversee the shelter and pay the costs in per-animal fees. The shelter is run by a volunteer board of directors and has paid managers and volunteers.

The sign on Firemens Memorial Drive directs people to the Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Ramapo.

Legislative Minority Leader Lon Hofstein, R-New City, said he was concerned about higher costs, who will handle the facility and location.

He and other lawmakers hope the supervisor can provide answers in the coming weeks. Only four of the five municipalities now use the shelter for homeless dogs and cats. Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny pulled the city last year, citing costs and management issues.

“This is a substantial increase over the initial costs originally proposed,” Hofstein said. “I mentioned to the administration and supervisors at our meeting that before we embark on such a project, we should know who will be running the facility. I don’t want to take the position of a field of dreams that we build and they will come.

The county is not legally responsible for caring for the animals, a responsibility that falls to the five towns. But county government officials have long maintained that caring for animals is the right policy.

Cost, leadership a concern

Lawmaker Michael Grant, D-Haverstraw, said the new award was too rich for him. He noted that the first proposal in 2018 was for $2.2 million. He said he swallowed the $7.7 million figure hard in 2020, realizing costs were rising and pandemic times.

Grant also wanted information on who will run the shelter — the Rockland Green agency that runs the county’s recycling and waste programs or a private contractor. The state approved Rockland Green amending its charter to care for animals. The Legislative Assembly has yet to vote, as officials were awaiting guidance from the agency’s board of directors, which includes the city’s five supervisors and some lawmakers.

“At no time in 2018 and 2020 were we led to believe the cost would be $14 million to $18 million,” Grant said. “Someone has to do a better job of explaining how we got here. I’m not comfortable spending so much money on this establishment. For $18 million, you can build a five-star hotel.

The cattery with the catio attached at the Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona on Tuesday, July 23, 2019.

Lawmaker Aron Wieder, D-Ramapo, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, and Speaker of the Legislature Jay Hood, D-Haverstraw, said the governing body was waiting for supervisors. Hood hopes there will be progress by the end of the month and the Legislature will reconsider the project.

“I’m disappointed that it ran into another problem,” Hood said. “I want the building. We all do. But we have to think about taxpayers. Nobody wants to spend a huge amount of money.

Haverstraw supervisor Howard Phillips, who heads Rockland Green’s board, said he and the supervisors would provide the answers. Phillips said he too was surprised by the doubling of the cost.

Phillips said the building’s size and internal improvements would be reviewed. Plans include soundproofing the building to spare the animals from the explosions of the stadium’s fireworks.

The proposed shelter is designed not only to provide a healthy home for animals, but also to promote and facilitate the adoption of pets in a warm and welcoming environment. The design would help dogs and cats be more visible to visitors and there would be an area for exotic animals and small mammals.

“We’re taking a moment to pause and see if there’s a way to narrow it down,” Phillips said. “We have to put taxpayers’ money first. We do not have a full homeless or battered women’s shelter in this price range. »

Debbie DiBernardo, Chair of the Board of Hi Tor Animal Care Center.

Phillips and other officials want the shelter’s loyal volunteers to remain confident and continue to support the shelter.

Phillips said “the door is wide open” on who will run the shelter. Board Chair Debbie DiBernardo faces criminal charges of falsifying documents as the District Attorney’s Office continues its investigation. She pleaded not guilty.

As for a potential new location, Phillips said Ramapo’s remote Torne Valley had been suggested, along with the former Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangetown and a property in Haverstraw.

Location sparks debate

Day said the delays only made costs and problems worse. He criticized the 11e hour-long call to change location after supervisors sign shared service agreement on construction and includes use of county property near old shelter.

Day said the location and layout change not only further delays the shelter, but burns through $500,000 spent on architects and engineers. He asked if the supervisors had sites ready for construction. He also noted that the assumption is that the county will buy the property, adding another expense.

“It’s unconscionable,” Day said of the lust for a new location and the overall delay.

“The money comes from the county, not from the cities. They are playing with fire,” Day said. “The old shelter is not long for this world. We try to hold it together and keep it open. I’m not convinced that this (new shelter) will be finished by the end of the day. »

Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police and investigations. Contact him at [email protected] Twitter: @lohudlegal.

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Benjamin M. Yerger