Following years of trying to get their jobs done while suffering from one mysterious ailment after another on account of black mold contamination of the old Town Hall, supervisor Susan Zimet and her municipal staff are breathing literal sighs of relief as they embark upon a new year in a new — if temporary — workspace. While healthier air should foster greater productivity, the Town of New Paltz faces major long-term infrastructure challenges, including figuring out how to get a new, permanent Town Hall and Justice Court built, while simultaneously trying to ratchet down the tax burden that is making this town an increasingly unaffordable place to live. But Zimet relishes a challenge, and is looking to enhance the tax base by forging a winning combination of business-friendly infrastructure expansion and increased help from New York State to offset the town’s high percentage of tax-exempt properties. Consolidation with the village is also high on her agenda.
What are the major issues currently facing the Town of New Paltz?
In a March 26, 1998 article in the Huguenot Herald (New Paltz Times) entitled “Women in the Spotlight,” I was quoted as follows: “The most difficult part of the job was all [the] personal attacks motivated by politics…the general nastiness I had to encounter. I was not prepared for that, because I had never operated in an environment like that before.”
It is now 17 years later, and that environment has gotten even worse. The vitriolic discourse created by a few individuals is very personal. The use of Facebook escalates the frenzy. What is most disconcerting to me and most of the general public is that misinformation is put out intentionally to create emotional responses, including fear and mistrust, causing some elected officials to react to Facebook instead of staying focused on solving the underlying issues.
To quote from a small book with big ideas, Common Sense for Community Change, “The opposition will often use any perceived lack of knowledge or expertise to their advantage.”
In our community, this discourse turns good people away from civic engagement, keeps them from getting involved and perhaps most significant, inhibits them from expressing themselves. It also stops any honest conversations from transpiring and discourages the most qualified people from running for office and/or volunteering.
Is it possible that we can wake up one morning in New Paltz and the day will not be the same as in the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray wakes up to relive the same day every day? You ask what are the major issues facing New Paltz. They are the same issues facing the town/village year after year, decade after decade. I recently looked at the Herald from 1989, and 26 years later the issues are still taxes, water, sewer, infrastructure and consolidation. It’s still Groundhog Day in New Paltz.
What are your top three priorities for 2015?
The biggest issues facing the town are how to stay within the tax cap while maintaining the services everyone is accustomed to, the building of a new Town Hall/Justice Court and hiring a finance director.
The current Town Board has done a great job managing the budget and keeping taxes flat. However, we have reached the brick wall. It is my belief that we may be able to squeeze one more year before we will have to seriously look at cutting services.
Without major legislation from the state to help offset the cost of emergency services for the land off the tax rolls, the few remaining taxpayers will continue to be crushed by the weight of the ever-increasing tax burden. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear someone tell me they can no longer afford their taxes.
Florida just surpassed New York in population, and many of the transplants are us. The sad part is, people do not want to leave their homes or the place they chose to raise their families. But they are not being given a choice.
Consolidation is going to have to be discussed no matter what, because the governor’s tax policies are designed to strangle local governments and school districts to force them to consolidate.