New Paltz voters will have to decide in November whether they prefer Susan Zimet or Randall Leverette as their town supervisor.
Zimet, the incumbent Democrat, served as supervisor in the late 1990s, then became an Ulster County Legislature member from 2003 till 2011 – until she ran and won another term as supervisor. People in town know Leverette, who has experience in communications, marketing and public-policy analysis, from his roles as chairman of the town’s Police Commission and his service on the New Paltz public access committee.
Zimet has been a staunch advocate of merging the town and village governments. She’s lobbied against hydraulic fracturing, and she’s tried very hard to get Albany to bend on property-tax reform.
Randall Leverette is a registered Republican who sees himself as a moderate. He helped form a “Republicans for Obama” group.
One of the likely issues in this year’s election is Park Point, the proposed student rental-housing complex seeking a tax break from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency. Another focus is how Zimet’s administration handled consolidation talks for the town.
Zimet sees an agreement to pursue a joint town-village master plan as progress on consolidation, which she fervently supports. Leverette thinks his opponent bungled consolidation talks. But he agrees that two municipalities could work more cooperatively, either through a merger or through shared services.
Leverette will appear on the ballot under the Republican and the Common Ground lines. Zimet is on the ballot on the Democratic line and the Working Families line.
Here’s what the two candidates for town supervisor had to say about the issues and why they’re running.
NPT: Why did you decide to run for office?
RL: Republicans, progressives, Democrats, independents – people who are pro-consolidation, anti-consolidation – they all approached me to run. They were perhaps dissatisfied with my opponent’s performance in office – or they had buyer’s remorse. I decided that I would do it. I also had encouragement from the party, the GOP. And I had people suggest I create an independent line.
NPT: Should Park Point get a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) – yes or no? Also, how should New Paltz be developed in the future? Should it be kept more rural, or should it be more built out? What kind of businesses would you work to attract to town?
RL: Park Point does not need a tax break. Although not located inside the bounds of the village, the Park Point location isn’t quite rural. It is located adjacent to an urbanized area – served by water and sewer – and located close to the center of a walking community.
The issue is not about keeping the town rural, nor is it about developing Route 299 (Main Street), which is a commercial corridor. I think development should be the types of businesses the community wants here. We’re very specific about what we’ll allow, because we’re very environmentally conscious. We’re adamant about our open space – and we certainly don’t want to bring businesses here that would create environmental problems for us.
With any business we bring in, the ultimate goal is to develop the tax base, create jobs. In that regard, I would hope we could bring businesses here that would be a magnet for the students we have at the college. If we can keep them here – make them taxpaying citizens of New Paltz – that would be great. But the businesses we bring here have to be low-impact environmentally. They should be good neighbors. And they should contribute more than just paychecks.
It’s about time that New Paltz stops being the bridesmaid. New Paltz deserves to be the bride and choose who it wants to move here in terms of business and development.
NPT: What’s your position on consolidation or a town-village merger?
RL: When I ran two years ago, I believed some form of consolidation was a good idea. I still believe that, despite what opponents might offer as a scare tactic to voters. I want to make sure that whatever we do in this regard is fully vetted and people in this community understand what will be done and the impacts – positive or negative. The information to the public must be clear, concise and accurate. It’s a serious matter.
Before people are asked to cast a vote about whether or not they want to merge their form of government, they should understand it fully. If we do merge – if that’s what the voters want – I would stress that it be beneficial for everybody. Nobody should lose in a consolidation.
NPT: What are your ideas for long-term infrastructure repairs to water and sewer?
RL: The best idea for long-term infrastructure repairs for water and sewer is to correct the abuse of these budgets by removing the general tax-levy expenditures that have been hidden in the special taxation districts. A careful study should be undertaken to determine the extent of the debt each district carries – and to determine if there are opportunities to bond for infrastructure repairs or improvement.
The Carmine Liberta Bridge is also an infrastructure task I’d like to examine. My research tells me that the last time that bridge had any substantial work done was back in 1989. I was stuck in Fourth of July traffic a year ago, and I was smack dab in the middle of the bridge – and it was bobbing up and down.
So that’s infrastructure. Potholes are infrastructure. Plowing and roads are infrastructure. Mowing the grass is infrastructure. You’d be amazed at some of the things that people tell me when I was walking around campaigning or getting signatures.
That’s what government is about – it’s the small things. People want to know that their government is operating efficiently – that their basic services are being provided.
NPT: How do you feel about a shift of town police costs to the village? Are you for or against that? Why?
RL: Let’s not play a shell game with public safety. The police department is a town-wide department and does a great job providing public safety for all the residents, businesses and visitors to New Paltz. The decision about the village not having its own police department was settled more than a decade ago when the two municipal departments merged.
There is an opportunity to consider establishing a special police protection district with a special tax levy in the commercial and entertainment areas of the community (both the town and village), but it is not about transferring costs from the town to the village. It’s not about divesting the town of responsibility for the police force.
Now, while a special tax levy might be an option, we should make doubly sure that all taxes owed and due are being paid – and that there aren’t other areas where we can accomplish savings to accomplish what’s needed in the area of public safety. Raising taxes should always be a last resort and public safety should never be compromised.
NPT: What are the top three challenges facing the Town of New Paltz right now?
RL: 1) High rate of taxation and affordability; 2) economic development that will help us expand the tax base and create jobs in ways that are appropriate for our community; and 3) working together collaboratively to solve our problems.