Recently, a very simple thing has caused hours of debate, handwringing and consternation between the town and village governments in New Paltz — pretty flowers. In early May, members of the Community Improvement Team came forward with its plan to hang baskets of flowers lining Main Street. The flowers have been an annual tradition, but this year they sparked a mini turf war between the dual governments. Town Board members declined to fund the watering of flowers hanging in the village, instead paying for only those in the town — which was only about nine of the planters.
The rest of the 30 or so planters hang in the village. At $25 per hanging basket, the village recently voted to dole out $975 to pay for the whole mess of them.
In an e-mail sent to CIT member Sue Stegen, Supervisor Susan Zimet cited a recent dispute between the two governments as justification.
“The village made it very clear that the town has no right to tell them what they can do on ‘their streets,’” Zimet wrote. “Sorry it has to be like this, but that is what the village wants.”
Members of the Community Improvement Team recently lobbied both the village and town to change that decision.
Joyce Minard, the former New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce president, came to the meeting to ask the Town Board to pay for the watering of the flowers.
“How better to encourage people to shop in your own community than to beautify it?” Minard said. “We’d like to water them. We can’t put the hanging baskets up unless we’re guaranteed to water them.”
The former chamber president was joined by other business owners and members of the CIT who wanted to see the flowers bloom again.
New Paltz resident Ira Margolis got up with a different message about the flowers.
“The people that benefit from the baskets are primarily downtown merchants. They’re the ones who benefit from the tourists. They’re the ones who benefit from the money. All the income goes to them,” Margolis said.
He asked the town to consider asking the downtown merchants to chip in at least a couple hundred dollars toward the expense of the watering.
To complicate things further, a truck formerly used by the town to water the hanging flowers was decommissioned due to age. Chris Marx, the highway superintendent, said it would be costly to have his men do the watering — it would tie up resources and a vehicle.
By one estimate, having the town Highway Department water the flowers would cost $11,000.
“So at $11,000, this is ridiculous,” Supervisor Zimet said.
Town Board members instead decided that watering could be done by a part-time employee riding down the sidewalks on a golf cart — as was done from 2003 till 2009. To get away with that, the Town of New Paltz would have to add more insurance to its existing policy to cover.
Councilman Jeff Logan did not like that idea.
“It’s going to be our liability. I have no interest in that whatsoever,” Logan said. “This is an incredible liability I am not willing to take.”
Ultimately, Logan did vote to pursue a golf cart-based plant watering solution. He asked that the Village of New Paltz store the equipment for the town in its garage. Paying for the watering and the part-time labor will come in between $2,600 and $3,100.
To the outside observer, the grudge match between the village and town would seem to break every campaign promise made last year about the two governments working together. Recently, the village and town have fought about flowers, parades and Moriello Park Pool.
“Should we be having these conversations? Absolutely not. It’s ridiculous to have these conversations, because we’re one community,” Zimet said. “You’re forced to have these kind of conversations because of the two governments.”
To some degree, however, those fights come part and parcel with the statutory conflict inherent in having two local governments. The town will always look to fight for its interests, even when it conflicts with what the village wants. The village will do the same.
The supervisor said she thought these small in-fights made a case for consolidating New Paltz under the banner of one municipal government.
“That’s wasted time from accomplishing what needs to be done. And in these tough economic times, we don’t have time to waste on this nitty-gritty insanity,” she said. ++