Dan Hust | Democrat
THREE DIFFERENT CAB operators and possibly a fourth interested party attended Monday’s worksession on adding more taxis in Monticello. Everald VanDunk is seen here talking to the board about his company, A2B Taxi. In the background beyond him is Sureway owner Gary Putter, while Yellow Cab owner Alan Kesten is sitting in the row right behind VanDunk. In the immediate foreground is Chris Jacques, a Middletown man who is reportedly interested in starting a cab service in Monticello.
Monticello board argues over taxis
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The addition of up to 10 more taxis serving Monticello may be dead before the issue has even made it to an official village board meeting.
On Monday, the board held a worksession to discuss a public outcry for more taxis in the village, a desire echoed even by the two companies, Yellow Cab and Sureway, which are licensed to operate in Monticello.
But the presence of a Middletown resident at the public worksession led board member Scott Schoonmaker to fear he’d been “sandbagged.”
Chris Jacques, who was once in the taxi business but now is involved with a school bus transportation company, was unfamiliar to most of the board that evening, until he began talking at length about the ethics of regulating taxi service.
Suddenly, board member Carmen Rue recognized Jacques’ face, having seen him meeting with Mayor Gordon Jenkins at the Blue Horizon Diner the prior Saturday.
Jacques confirmed after the meeting that he is a board member of CORE, the Congress Of Racial Equality. Jenkins chairs the local chapter of CORE, though it could not be confirmed at press time whether Jacques serves on the Sullivan County chapter’s board or one in Orange County (Jenkins said he was not aware of Jacques being on the local board).
When Schoonmaker was told these facts, he angrily stated he may squash a proposal to create as many as 10 more medallions, each of which would permit one more taxi to legally serve Monticello residents.
Schoonmaker felt he was being “sandbagged,” though he didn’t know why.
When contacted this week, Jenkins affirmed Jacques has an interest in running a cab business in Monticello, but he denied the meetings on Saturday and Monday were anything other than aboveboard.
“You know how many developers I meet at Blue Horizon?” Jenkins remarked, noting the visibly public nature of the restaurant’s dining area and the fact that he’s also similarly met with Gary Putter, owner of Sureway, about the situation. “It’s all honest play.”
When asked why he didn’t inform his fellow board members of Jacques’ interest, the mayor/manager said he’s very busy and that the other board members rarely visit village hall.
“How could you tell them everything you do?” he wondered.
(No mention was made by Jenkins at Monday’s worksession either, however.)
Jenkins also accused Schoonmaker and Rue of being too suspicious and of having friendships with local taxicab owners relationships that he felt called into question their own motivations.
Jacques did not reveal any interest in bringing cabs to Monticello at Monday’s meeting, and he could not be reached afterwards to confirm Jenkins’ assertion.
Cab operators argue over more medallions
The mayor said other companies are also interested in starting taxi services in Monticello, which right now oversees 21 medallions 16 for Yellow Cab and 5 for Sureway.
“I have no favorites on anyone,” Jenkins remarked, including A2B Taxi, a South Fallsburg service whose wish to expand into Monticello brought about Monday’s worksession.
Noting he is not related to A2B Taxi owners (a question by Putter that touched off a furious exchange between him and Jenkins on Monday), Jenkins said he’d like the village to get out of regulating the taxi business entirely.
“Just look at it and be fair about free enterprise,” he said.
His comments echoed that of Jacques, who remarked on Monday that restricting the quantity of medallions is an unfair infringement on healthy competition.
“Monticello has instituted a law to limit free enterprise,” Jacques said.
Alan Kesten, owner of Yellow Cab, pointed out that New York State allows municipalities to set down special rules for taxis, including medallions, as a way to ensure proper inspections, accommodations, service and other items of public safety.
Kesten admitted, however, that the rules aren’t always enforced, and Monticello has a number of cab companies illegally offering transportation services to a populace with growing demand.
Kesten felt there is a need for more taxis, if only because new Medicaid requirements mean more taxis are taking customers on Medicaid-approved (and reimbursed) trips.
“If you’re giving out 10, I’d like one or two,” he said.
But he feared a limitless medallion system or the absence of medallions at all would lead to traffic “nightmares” in the village and create competition that would irreparably harm all the taxi companies, new and old, leading to an even greater reduction in service.
Putter, on the other hand, joined with A2B Taxi representative Everald VanDunk in pushing for a less restrictive medallion system.
Putter has been asking for more medallions for years, but last year, ex-Village Manager John Barbarite conducted a study indicating no new taxis were needed, and when the board went with that report, Putter stopped plans to add a garage and 15 employees to his Monticello operations.
Instead, he has focused on Liberty, where Sureway has 15 of the 30 available medallions (though he’s giving up 5, he said, due to lowered demand).
A2B, according to the Town of Fallsburg, only has two taxis operating out of Woodridge and South Fallsburg, but the company has been coming to Monticello board meetings for months now, trying to secure medallions in the village.
Board members agree, disagree
Jenkins and fellow Trustee TC Hutchins seemed interested in giving more medallions out, whereas Rue wasn’t so sure. (Trustee Victor Marinello could not attend Monday’s worksession.)
Schoonmaker, however, felt a few items needed to be settled first: how much a medallion is worth, how many to create, and how to distribute them.
Knowing that Kesten and Putter had both bought and sold Monticello taxi medallions for $30,000 apiece, Schoonmaker was worried that Hutchins and Jenkins’ idea of charging $500 for new medallions would devalue existing medallions potentially harming the cab companies.
(Though the village technically owns the medallions, they can be bought and sold between taxi operators.)
Schoonmaker also expressed dissatisfaction with Sureway’s reputation, touching off an angry debate with Putter, who said his company has provided exemplary service to the village and seen nothing but stonewalling in return.
Hutchins proffered a compromise 10 medallions, with three given to Yellow Cab, three to Sureway, three to A2B, and one for any other new company interested in serving the village.
“What I would like to see is no one business monopolizes all the medallions,” Hutchins explained.
Schoonmaker, who initially didn’t want to offer more than three total, eventually agreed.
By this time, Putter and VanDunk had left in frustration, and Hutchins began pondering not limiting the medallions at all.
“We’re here to be fair to everyone,” he explained.
Jacques supported that idea, while Kesten continued to argue that only a few more should be made available, especially in a village where the busy season lasts a mere eight weeks.
Board members agreed to have Village Attorney Jacob Billig draft a document to increase the medallions to a maximum of 10, possibly to be offered for $500 apiece, potentially for consideration at this Monday’s village board meeting at 7 p.m. at the village hall.
Whether or not the flap over Jacques’ presence will affect that, however, remains to be seen.