Despite the protests of Mayor Jason West, a majority of the New Paltz village and town boards agreed to take one step closer to consolidation. They agreed to officially vote on what shape a merged “townwide village” government would take at their Jan. 24 meeting.
“The truth of the matter is, is that the work that needs to be done is only half done — and the work needs to begin,” explained Susan Zimet, the town supervisor. “Eight members of these boards have spent a lot of time and a lot of energy trying to answer those questions … I believe we’ve done enough work to have the basis of starting to work now to say, ‘What would this new government look like?’”
In early 2012, town and village officials — along with citizen volunteers — met on subcommittees to fill in gaps left by the original Fairweather report. According to town Councilwoman Kitty Brown, the additional year of extra work was needed.
“In none of these reports do we mention the fact that the Fairweather report is a government efficiency report. And many of you picked up on the fact that the report said over and over again this is not necessarily the way to save money — this is the way to create a more efficient government,” Brown said. “That was the proposal that we sent out. That was the proposal that we got back.”
For skeptics of consolidation, the fact that the final year of consolidation study was not done by a professional firm raises some concern. Brown noted that the subcommittee work would have gone beyond what Fairweather Consulting was asked to do.
“It was never the assignment of the consultant or the committee to come up with a reduction in taxes,” she said.
However, proponents of consolidation point to the qualifications of the Finance Committee’s members. Former town supervisor Dave Lent was on it, as was Supervisor Zimet, Deputy Mayor Sally Rhoads, budget hawk and Police Commission member Ira Margolis, Ross Pollack and village Treasurer Nancy Branco.
Most of 2012 and the work that went in those consolidation subcommittees was to dig into the nitty-gritty details and see if a town-village merger would actually save money.
A majority of both the Village Board and the Town Board — many votes have gone 8-2 — want to pursue consolidation. Some hope for tax savings for their constituents. Some just want a streamlined “one-stop shop” government experience for citizens, who might not know what falls into the village’s jurisdiction or the town’s.
Village Board members Ariana Basco and Brian Kimbiz support consolidation but with some conditions. They want the merged government to have non-partisan elections. The Village Board has had a history of a variety of third-party candidates serving with mainstream party candidates. The current Town Board is 100 percent Democratic — although one of its members left the GOP to become a Democrat.
“You shouldn’t have to be afraid of what your party politics are to be able to serve your local government. There are tons of great people who don’t necessarily prescribe to the D line and should be able to serve this community,” Kimbiz said. “Partisan politics just needs to leave immediately. It doesn’t work for us in Washington — it doesn’t work for us here.”
But according to Gerald Benjamin, the director of SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, non-partisan elections might not be such a big point of contention. Currently, plans call for a village that oversees all of New Paltz’s affairs if a merger occurs. The change would be the elimination of the current Town Board and the expansion of the village outward to the town boundaries.
“Non-partisan elections are the default option for villages,” Benjamin wrote in an e-mail to board members. “If we operate as a village and do nothing, we will have non-partisan elections.”
Village Trustee Kimbiz also noted he saw practical advantages to having one local government.
“We have two master plans. It doesn’t make sense to have two master plans. We’re one community that needs to have a vision of the future, and where we’re going to grow together,” he said.
Officially, the boards voted to discuss adopting the recommendations of the Fairweather report. Doing so would commit to New Paltz becoming a townwide village, but it would also allow for a discussion of what shape the unified government might take.
It’s currently undecided what number of members would serve on the new village board — it could be five, seven or nine. Whether those people would be elected to represent a specific neighborhood or ward is also undecided.