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* This article first appeared in The Times Herald-Record on August 11, 2001. Used by permission.



August 11, 2001

Legislative fur flies over park money for Orange County

By Timothy O'Connor
The Times Herald-Record

Goshen The idea in the Orange County Legislature yesterday was simple double a $500,000 pot of money already set aside for parks throughout the county.
But before it was over, words like divisive, regionalist and parochial were flying around the legislative chamber.
The fur flew when Legislator Jeff Berkman, D-Middletown, offered an amendment to the resolution that would have ear-marked the additional $500,000 for municipalities that don't have county-run parks.
Berkman's proposal brought to the surface the always-simmering tensions between the county's three cities and its rural and suburban towns and villages. Legislators and advocates from Newburgh, Middletown and Port Jervis have long felt slighted by the county when it comes to the way county services and funding are doled out. The parks were yesterday's flashpoint.
"I've had some concerns all along about the distribution of funds in our parks," Berkman said. "I'd want a fairer allocation of our resources."
The county set up the $500,000 fund a few months ago with grant money. A committee of seven citizens was appointed to construct an application process for cities, towns and villages to get the money.
Berkman said the cities shouldn't have to wait in line with other municipalities who already get park money from the county. He pointed out that none of the 10 county-owned parks are in the cities.
"The City of Middletown doesn't get any," he said. "None of the three cities get any."
Legislator Steven Brescia, R-Montgomery, vigorously opposed Berkman's amendment. He brought up the old sales-tax divvy, a perennial sore point for towns and villages that claim the cities get too much of the cut. Brescia said the three cities make up 18 percent of the population in the county but get 67 percent of the county's sales-tax haul.
"So if we want to talk about fair allocation," he said, "let's go there."
In the end, Berkman's gambit went down by a vote of 17-4. The county Legislature then approved the resolution to add the $500,000 to the pot with no strings attached.


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