Croton Blog: Are Croton's Officials for Real—Or Do They Just Play at Being Officials on TV?


Years ago a major accident occurred on the Union Pacific Railroad a hundred miles from Omaha. Two trains, one eastbound and the other westbound, collided head-on, causing many deaths and injuries. At the inquest that followed, the not-very-bright towerman responsible for switching trains to their proper tracks, took the stand.

“Please tell the court what you observed on that fateful day,” the district attorney asked. “I saw the westbound City of San Francisco streamliner barreling down Track 2 at about 65 miles and hour.”

“And please tell the court what else you saw.” The towerman replied, “I saw the all-Pullman Overland Limited heading eastbound on the same track at about the same speed.”

“And what did you think about that?”

“What did I think? I thought it was a helluva way to run a railroad.”

Croton-on-Hudson also has some not-very-bright towermen. Recently 34 residents of the village were sent phony water bills—all in the randomly chosen astronomical amount of $1,096.45. Their purpose, conceived by non-elected, non-resident officials of the village, was, in their own words, to “get taxpayers’ attention.” In order to create the offending water bills, the figure of $1,096.45 was arbitrarily selected by Abe Zambrano, Village Treasurer, with the blessing of Richard Herbek, Village Manager. Presumably, too, a fictitious amount of water usage also had to be calculated to justify the fictitious dollar amount.

Crotonblog thinks that this shabby, heavy-handed action is a helluva way to run a village or to treat residents. The village created spurious billings for the sole purpose of coercing residents in whose homes the village had not installed electronically-read meters to make arrangements for such installation. The village’s elaborate scam—and there is no better word to describe it—resulted in rapid response from about half the number of residents who were concerned, upset and angry. They had every right to be unhappy.

But before the officials involved throw their shoulders or spines out of joint patting themselves on the back and require the Mayor’s chiropractic ministrations, Crotonblog would like to point out that mailing inflated invoices demanding payment for undelivered goods or services is a fraudulent act. False billing is a clear violation of law and is adamantly prosecuted, most notably in the health care industry. If the village’s computerized billing system can be so wittingly manipulated by officials, what protection does the village have against felonious acts?

Politicians are fond of making campaign promises to run government “like a business.” But any business that did what Croton officials did would quickly find itself enmeshed in the toils of the law. What the village did resembles nothing more than a mindlessly malicious Halloween prank belatedly played by village officials on residents. The technique has all the subtlety of a whoopee cushion or an exploding cigar. In keeping with the tone set by this low-class performance, perhaps we can open Village Board meetings with a round of fart jokes. Surely the village had not exhausted conventional avenues of communication before embarking on this elaborate swindle. How about the old-fashioned method of ringing a bell or knocking on a door?

We’ll skip the mention of the mental anguish or fright that intentional false billing could cause in elderly, infirm or ill residents. The village can collectively breathe a sigh of relief and count itself lucky if no recipient of one of these phony inflated water bills brings an action against the village for its callous, intemperate act. To underscore that Crotonblog is not alone in being concerned about this unhappy incident, the story has already been picked up by major newspapers and news services (see: Google News), making Croton the laughing-stock of the entire country.

Crotonblog has to wonder whether this official scam was put before the Mayor, the Village Board of Trustees or the Village Attorney before being carried out. The inherent deceit underpinning this sorry affair is bad enough, but the unseemly public chortling and exultation at the effect their scam had on unsuspecting residents was inexcusable. We repeat: This is a helluva way to run a village. Perhaps the proper coin of the realm with which to pay counterfeit water bills would be counterfeit money.

What is unintentionally humorous about the whole affair is that in the past the village has frequently overbilled water users erroneously for incorrectly calculated water usage. Now that the village has given its blessing to the creation of intentionally fictitious water bills for punitive purposes, residents cannot be blamed for wondering whether future village-generated bills are authentic or only another example of creative municipal accounting—mere figments of Abe Zambrano’s imagination.

Under the circumstances, Crotonblog is again compelled to ask Mayor Doctor Gregory Schmidt, “What’s Up, Doc? Who’s minding the store?” Your attention to this municipal embarrassment that took place on your watch would be appreciated at the next Board meeting.


Dec 28, 2006 11:13 AM:

Let us hope that none of those who received the fraudulent bills takes legal action against the village. We are already over extended on litigation costs and absolutely can’t afford more.

Did any of the board or administration check with our attorney before authorizing this foolish scam? Was the additional sewer charge added to all water bills calculated on this fictitious amount or on the real amount? We’d better hope not because wasn’t the percentage amount (from 10 - 15%) to be adjusted according to the amount of money needed to balance the water and sewer taxes? How much staff time will be required to adjust or reimburse for false and inflated payments? Is a similar scam and fraud planned to collect unpaid taxes? (The latest posting of unpaid tax bills represents a whole lot of money.) Maybe taxpaers will be frightened into paying them. Maybe they’ll pay them with a “rubber check” and then be charged the fee for a bounced check. This would bring additional funds into the coffers and fear into the hearts of the delinquent responders.

We expect responsible government - not petty game playing with our tax dollars. We should be up in arms against such reprehensible action.

-- bojangles

Dec 24, 2006 09:31 AM:

Editor’s note: Please also see the editorial in the Saturday, December 23, 2006, edition of The Journal News titled “The $1,096.45 solution in Croton on Hudson” regarding this purposeful act of fraud.

-- TeaDrinker

Dec 23, 2006 09:44 AM:

“Well isn’t that special,” as The Church Lady used to say. These idiots have committed 34 counts of mail fraud and were laughing about it. Croton residents who were victims of their stupid scheme to intimidate citizens can file a Mail Fraud Complaint form with the U.S. Postal Service. This form is available on line and covers all forms of mail fraud including the receipt of a false bill or notice for taxes, which is what their scam was. The punishment is “a fine, imprisonment for not more than 20 years or both.”

This is the same crowd that screwed we Senior Citizens out of our rightful tax exemptions (see: “Doesn’t Croton’s Assessor Talk to Other Assessors in Westchester?”) for several years and then gave themselves big salary raises. Wake up, Croton! These people don’t even live in Croton. This village is not their toy to be played with.

-- theladyeve

Dec 22, 2006 05:20 PM:

Government is supposed to set the example for busineses and ordinary citizens. In the course of my lifetime I’ve witnessed a lot of dumb actions by persons in business and government, but this pathetic hoax played by supposedly responsible government officials on citizens who pay the jokesters’ salaries really takes the cake. We pay Messrs. Zambrano and Herbek annual salaries of $115,500 and $167,647, respectively. It would seem that we may be paying too much for what we get—a pair of clowns, ZuZu Zambrano and Happy Herbek. If that’s what’s in the tower of the railroad that is Croton’s government, maybe some licenses ought to be recalled before we experience a train wreck.

-- oldtimer


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