Election Day for offices in the Village of New Paltz is coming up on May 5, and there’s less than a month left for hopefuls for office to collect signatures and file their nominating petitions before the March 31 deadline. The current terms of trustees Ariana Basco and Sally Rhoads are coming to an end, along with that of mayor Jason West, who made it official this week that he is indeed running for reelection to a third term as village mayor.
Other candidates for the mayoral post have been lining up, including current village trustee Sally Rhoads, Groovy Blueberry proprietor Amy Cohen and Board of Education member Tim Rogers.
So far, as of presstime, Environmental Policy Committee member Dennis Young is the only person who has declared his candidacy for a seat on the Village Board. If Basco is running for reelection, she hasn’t gone public yet; her old campaign page on Facebook remains dormant.
“The fourth time’s the charm,” West joked as he announced his candidacy to the New Paltz Times, acknowledging the loss to Terry Dungan in his 2007 reelection bid after having served his first four-year term. He was returned to office in 2011, but halfway through his second term became embroiled in a legal dispute with the Village Board after it responded to his second annual request for a raise by rescinding the salary increase that it had granted the previous year. In his lawsuit West contended that the decision was illegal because the vote had been taken in his absence, and he also sought access to e-mails on the subject of town/village consolidation after village officials failed to respond to his Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.
But effective last Wednesday the dispute has been resolved, with the trustees voting to accept a settlement worked out by legal counsel, in which West will be reimbursed to the tune of $12,345.82 in lost salary for 2013/14. “I’m happy to have it behind us,” he says. “Everything has changed. The FOIL was honored, so that’s off the table. And it’s moot, because they’re no longer talking about consolidation.”
All that being said, the mayor says that he was ready to make his big announcement this week anyway, regardless of whether or not the legal wrangle was put to rest. Nor was he waiting to hear about the outcome of a tempting job interview elsewhere, as scuttlebutt around town would have it. “There was a random opportunity that came up, but that was back earlier, and it fell through,” he says.
According to West, he simply wanted to think things through and test the political waters before he made up his mind. “I was wanting to take the time to talk to people in the community about whether I should run or not,” he says, and the feedback that he got “was encouraging enough that I’d like to give it another shot,” although “you get some criticism at the board about decisions that we’ve made lately.”
The incumbent seems unfazed by the broad roster of competitors this time around, which promises a spirited and possibly highly divisive debate. “Almost every time I’ve run there’s been a big field,” he notes. “This is the third time I’ve been in a four-way race.”
So why run again? “We’re in the middle of a lot of projects that I want to continue working on,” says West. “We’ve been working through the planning and zoning code piece by piece, and getting rid of contradictions and bad policies that are still on the books. And we’re facing a lot of big infrastructure challenges in the near future, including water and sewer projects with the town, expanding the village up 32, infill development projects…”
The verbal wish list quickly expands into a written statement providing more detail about what’s on West’s agenda for his next term, should he be reelected: “Our water treatment plant is undergoing a complete renovation, aging sewer lines on many village streets are being replaced and new lines are being contemplated to allow for high-density, mixed-use development along Route 32 North. We are mapping our stormwater systems and preparing better stormwater management plans to be prepared for the more severe weather that climate change is bringing to our region. We are also in discussions with the town to form a partnership that will expand the sewer treatment plant’s capacity. This project will take advantage of the village’s experience in wastewater management, provide needed infrastructure to entice good businesses to move here and resolve the town’s dilemma about the need to build a new plant.”
“This past year we streamlined our rental property inspection process, which will make enforcement of the Housing Code easier and more efficient, while strengthening tenants’ rights. We also passed an affordable housing law to require projects of a certain size to set aside units for affordable housing,” West writes. “We also simply need more housing, along with more commercial space. That’s why I led the effort to rezone Route 32 North to be high-density, mixed-use and transit- and pedestrian-oriented. In the coming months I will begin work on creating local green building standards, while continuing to identify other areas of the village that are right for development.”
West touts his track record, saying, “I am very proud of the village’s fiscal health, which has been excellent for the past four years. I have worked diligently with our treasurer, department heads and village trustees to prepare and adopt budgets that provide needed services while keeping taxes affordable. We have kept tax increases to about 1.5 percent a year, and in 2014, we cut taxes for village residents. We have an excellent bond rating, and, according to the New York State comptroller, our very low fiscal stress score of five percent places us among the best-managed Villages in the state.
“This past year we streamlined our rental property inspection process, which will make enforcement of the Housing Code easier and more efficient, while strengthening tenants’ rights. We also passed an affordable housing law to require projects of a certain size to set aside units for affordable housing.”
West goes on to list his efforts to make New Paltz more environmentally sustainable, including solar collectors at Village Hall, reedbeds at the sewage treatment plant and green stormwater systems. He envisions solar-powered streetlights, municipal garbage collection and curbside compost pickup among his next projects, along with actions to organize a Wallkill River watershed alliance.
“New Paltz is a great community; amazing things happen here,” writes Jason West. “But more needs to be done.”