RAMAPO — With financial troubles plaguing the Hi-Tor Animal Center and its chairman of the board facing impeachment, Rockland supervisors and the county executive are considering a change in leadership.
They want Rockland Green, which oversees recycling and solid waste management, to be empowered to run the animal shelter or hire people who can. Supervisors are among the officials who make up the Rockland Green Board of Commissioners. County Executive Ed Day is represented on the Board.
The first step is to ask the state legislature to change Rockland Green’s mandate to allow the agency to operate an animal shelter. For this to happen, the Rockland County Legislature must send a referral to state lawmakers.
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The issue could be considered Wednesday night, said GOP Legislative Minority Leader Lon Hofstein. He had asked Rockland Green board chairman Howard Phillips to provide more information on costs and plans at an earlier meeting of the Legislative Assembly.
Hofstein said he supports a leadership change at Hi-Tor from the all-volunteer board and executive director. He cited the long history of dysfunction, divisions between volunteers and board members, and the need to care for cats, dogs and other animals in the shelter’s care.
“The minority wants to hear a formalized plan for what Rockland Green would do,” said Rockland Green board member Hofstein. “We think that’s a prudent avenue to take. We would send the request to Albany.”
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Jay Hood, D-Haverstraw, said he was unsure whether the issue would come up on Wednesday unless more information about the possible takeover and budgeting was provided. . Hood said he was aware the state legislature would soon adjourn for the summer. He said the Senate and state Assembly could consider a county request when they return to session.
Upgrading facilities, hiring staff
Hood agreed that a change was needed at Hi-Tor.
“There have been a lot of issues over the years, not just what happened recently,” Hood said. “We need management to show they can do the job. I have no doubt Rockland Green can handle Hi-Tor. They can hire people to run the shelter and oversee day-to-day management.”
Howard Phillips, Haverstraw’s supervisor and Rockland Green board chairman said he was ready to update the Legislative Assembly. He said the state amending Rockland Green’s charter to oversee an animal sanctuary provides an alternative management solution to Hi-Tor for later.
Phillips said the issues go beyond dollars.
“We are dealing with animals that have been linked to shelter caused by human neglect,” Phillips said. “We have to take care of them.”
Phillips said the shelter would likely need to hire a handful of staff, especially vets.
The county government has worked with the Hi-Tor Board of Directors to build a new facility on county land near the Rockland Fire Training Center near Highway 45 in Ramapo. The county allocated $8.3 million in capital project funding, and the center received additional funds from state grants and donations.
Day said the new shelter would be three to four times larger than the current outdated facility. He said he wasn’t sure Hi-Tor, as constituted, could handle the larger facility.
“There is nothing written in stone.” says the day. “For us to have an intelligent conversation, we need to know if Rockland Green can do this and if we can get their charter changed.”
The arrest of Hi-Tor president Debbie DiBernardo on multiple felony charges has complicated the question of what’s next for Hi-Tor, even as supervisors seek to bring in professionals to handle installation.
She was charged with filing false documents regarding the operation of the shelter. She is accused of submitting 17 false business documents relating to animals brought to the Pomona shelter as part of the center’s financial aid contract. She is also responsible for submitting a fake voucher as part of animal documentation to the Rockland Health Department.
The issue revolves around fostering kittens from New Jersey, but signing paperwork claiming the felines came from Rockland.
But problems have arisen over the years, even before DiBernardo became chairman of the board.
Tension between board, staff and volunteers has been a feature of the nonprofit shelter that began 50 years ago. In 2018, many volunteers quit after a shelter manager was fired by the board for “abandonment”. The shelter is facing a discrimination lawsuit.
In February 2021, Rockland’s five municipal supervisors expressed concerns about the shelter’s management, costs, and finances. They argued for a takeover of the facility by the county. Cities pay fees to the nonprofit’s animal services in their jurisdictions.
Orangetown stopped using Hi-Tor to house animals in 2021 in favor of sending dogs to the Hudson Valley Humane Society, a no-kill animal welfare facility on Quaker Road. Clarkstown and Ramapo pay for Spring Valley, which has the most stray dogs.
When the Rockland District Attorney’s Office seized financial records in August, Day said Hi-Tor management and the county government shared a number of concerns about operations at the shelter.
Day supported DiBernardo as they worked on the new facility together. She pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Day said his indictment affected the shelter’s ability to raise funds and retain volunteers and staff.
“We are awaiting a resolution from the district attorney’s office and counsel supports it,” Day said. “Disputed financial entry has become a crime. Circumstances interfere with Hi-Tor’s ability to operate. We are concerned about animals.”
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police and investigations. Contact him at [email protected] Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with the support of our readers.