Rockland lawmakers set to override bus contract veto

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef speaks during

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef speaks during a news conference in Piermont. (Aug. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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Rockland County lawmakers are poised to override County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef's veto of the Legislature's decision to award a lucrative bus contract to Valley Cottage transportation company Brega Transport.

On Sept. 19, the county Legislature voted 14 to 1 to give Brega the five-year, $70 million contract to operate county buses Transport of Rockland and Tappan ZEExpress routes. The company's proposal was about $7 million lower than the next-lowest bidder. Two other companies sought the contract: Coach USA, based in Westwood, N.J., and MV Transportation, based in Dallas.

Last week, Vanderhoef vetoed the Legislature's approval of the contract, saying some of the minimum bid specifications for the bus system were altered during the Legislature's review, which could be a violation of state and federal laws.

"Funding for this essential public service may be jeopardized by any violation of these federal regulations and laws," the Republican leader wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Vanderhoef recommended that all three bids be scrapped and that the review process be started over again. He suggested that the Legislature vote to extend the county's busing contract with the existing providers while a new review is done.

The 17-member county Legislature needs at least 12 votes to override the veto when it meets Tuesday night. Given the initial vote on the contract, the board appears to have the required number of votes.

"There's been no new information offered, and I see no reason to change my mind," said Legis. Frank Sparaco (R-Valley Cottage), the board's minority leader, who said he voted to award Brega the contract because it was the lowest bidder.

Legis. Ilan Schoenberger (D-Wesley Hills) said lawmakers are frustrated by the slow pace of awarding the contract.

"We just want to get this resolved," he said Monday. "We've been going around on this for more than a year."

In August, Brega was awarded a separate $12 million contract to bus disabled children to county-run school programs. Brega's bid, which was the lowest of four submitted for the contract, was supported by Vanderhoef's administration.

Richard Brega, the company's owner, couldn't be reached for comment Monday, nor could representatives for USA Coach and MV Transportation.

Susan Meyer, a spokeswoman for Rockland County's Transportation Department, said the county is concerned that awarding the bid without following required federal and state guidelines would leave the county open to litigation from losing bidders.

"We believe that to move forward without following those processes would be a mistake," she said.

Even if lawmakers override the veto, there is still litigation regarding the contract that has yet to be resolved.

Earlier in 2012, Brega sued the county over the bidding process, claiming discrimination against small companies. A State Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of Brega, but the county appealed the ruling. The appeal is pending.

Also, the Federal Transportation Administration, which provides funding for the bus system, could intervene in the process if any of the bidders should file a protest or if the FTA determines that the county has violated federal regulations.

"Right now, we are taking a wait-and-see approach," said FTA spokeswoman Amy Bernstein said.

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