Infrastructure improvements, a fortified work force, expanded cable and cellular services, technological upgrades, and new opportunities for volunteers are among the accomplishments of local government during his four-year tenure, said outgoing Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran in a wide-ranging November 29 interview.
Moran declined to claim responsibility for any of the achievements, deeming each the product of a “team effort.” Said the two-term supervisor, who will leave office at the end of the year, “I knew as an axiom before entering the job that you can get a whole lot done if you don’t mind who gets the credit. I learned that the same is true if you don’t mind taking the blame.” Moran’s informal credo was not to take things personally — neither people’s respect for the office he held nor the anger or frustration they occasionally vented at the titular head of government.
In Moran’s view, improvements to the town’s infrastructure include a fresh focus on the facilities and operations of the Water-Wastewater Department; the Maintenance Department’s construction of a split-rail fence to protect the Great Lawn at the Comeau property; a sale agreement with a nonprofit organization that created a park in the California Quarry area while retaining the town’s right to obtain rubble from the site for use in emergencies; and the restoration, mainly by volunteers, of the historic bluestone sidewalk along Rock City Road.
The supervisor observed that residents have also benefited from a new franchise agreement with Time Warner that has extended cable service to Upper Mink Hollow Road in Lake Hill and other outlying areas; the addition of T-Mobile as a third provider of cell service from the town-owned tower on California Quarry Road; a recent upgrade, to “state of the art” status, of the public access television studio at the Community Center; and the installation of improved technology at the town offices, including modern computers, an interdepartmental database, and a large-screen, wall-mounted monitor for PowerPoint and other presentations.
When employees left the ranks of town government, solid successors replaced them, said Moran, citing as examples police chief Clayton Keefe; water-wastewater superintendent Larry Allen; the assistant director of the Youth Center, Patrick Acker; maintenance supervisor Alan Van Leuven; Planning Board secretary Therese Fernandez; and building inspector Ellen Casciaro. Meanwhile, Woodstock officials have worked cooperatively with counterparts at the county and state levels, and the town established a productive “sister city” relationship with Carhaix in the Brittany region of France following Moran’s 2009 visit there.
The supervisor said that he took special satisfaction in the appointment of about a dozen task forces to study issues facing the town, ranging from economic development to the need for a dog park. “The task force is something that I have promoted and incorporated into the workings of government. Many volunteers have specific skill sets that they can offer on a limited basis, without the commitment of serving for five or seven years on a board or commission. The work of some of the task forces has led to grant awards for the town, including a grant for the (upcoming) habitat mapping study that was generated by the Open Space Task Force.” Another innovation, noted Moran, was the formation of interdepartmental Safety and Insurance Committee — the brainchild of former building inspector Paul Shultis — that has enhanced local safety while reducing the town’s insurance costs by up to $19,000 annually.
Disappointments, mainly in the form of unfinished business, also marked Moran’s tenure, which began with his election in November 2007 and continued with his reelection two years later. Plans to refurbish the Community Center languished, while the proposed renovation of Town Hall, the home of the police and emergency dispatch departments and the justice court, remains in limbo. (The project’s architect and engineer are expected to submit final plans at an upcoming Town Board meeting in December.)
Moran favored alternative solutions to the enduring “facilities” problem — relocating the town offices to the former Elna Magnetics building after the town purchased it, or selling Town Hall and erecting a new building to house town departments — but failed to marshal the support of a Town Board majority.
Following a local businessman’s offer to buy Town Hall, the board declined to pass a resolution to offer the building for sale to the highest bidder, although any proposed sale would be subject to a townwide referendum. “I’m disappointed that my colleagues wouldn’t test the water on a sale, with an offer of $800,000 on the table,” said Moran, “and if we had bought the Elna Magnetics building we would be in there now. On the other hand, we have a thriving local industry that employs some 40 people at that location.” (Innovative Products of America, a tool company, bought the building in 2009.)
“Town Hall is Town Hall, and Woodstockers don’t like change,” Moran continued, alluding both to the building’s sentimental value and what he views as a local character trait. “So, politically, it’s probably most expedient to work with what you have, which is why I have supported this new round of plans for a renovation. We do have bonding authority for a renovation, but the project would have to conform to the original plan, including a geothermal heating system. We could also explore the use of our capital reserves.”
For Moran the most frustrating facet of his job was attempting to keep the town’s revenues and expenditures in a semblance of balance at a time of constantly increasing costs, many in the form of mandatory contributions or unfunded mandates. That task relates directly to what he considers the supervisor’s main responsibility: the management of the budget, toward the goal of making services, which are the sole product of government, as cost-efficient as possible.
“In business you can try different approaches, but in government it’s really painful to choose between increasing the tax levy and reducing services, or trying to reduce ‘entitlements’ like pension contributions and employee benefits,” he said. “Employees have expectations of benefits that are based on promises that the town made to them at the outset of their employment. Ultimately, our task is to continue the town’s sustainability. If entitlements keep escalating, will they make the town less sustainable? We must balance our commitments. We can’t just keep raising our taxes.” (The 2012 municipal budget, as recently adopted by the Town Board, has an overall tax increase of 6.5 percent.)
Residents tend to be vocal in their opposition to tax increases, but reticent about which services they would cut in order to avoid big tax hikes, said Moran. “Because we haven’t made the difficult cuts that have to be made, the general fund’s expenditures exceed its revenues by about 10 percent, which results in a tax increase of around 5 percent every year. The dispatch and police departments, for example, account for a huge part of our budget, but so far, very few people have offered opinions about cutting town services.”