Meet the New Paltz village trustee candidates

Terry Dungan, Don Kerr, Jack Murphy and Dennis Young. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Terry Dungan, Don Kerr, Jack Murphy and Dennis Young. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Village of New Paltz Election Day is coming up soon, on Tuesday, May 5. Last week, the New Paltz Times brought you profiles in their own words of the four candidates running for mayor (to read the interviews, visit www.ulsterpub.wpengine.com). In this issue, again in question-and-answer format, we present profiles of the four candidates contending for the two seats on the Board of Trustees that are opening up for 2015/16. Terry Dungan, Don Kerr, Jack Murphy and Dennis Young all have long track records as civically active residents of the village and will need little introduction to many. But it is our hope that their thoughts expressed herein on the challenges facing the community at this time will help New Paltz citizens make an informed decision when they step into the voting booth.

 

Terence Dungan

Why did you decide to run for the position of trustee of the Village of New Paltz?

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1) Continuity of government: In a small local government, the constant changeover in board members can cause serious loss in “institutional memory,” with government wasting needless time and expense by repeating work already done by previous administrations — for example, the search for a water supply. From work done in previous administrations, we already knew that the area around the water treatment plant would not be a good source of water; but how much time was wasted by this administration exploring that option? Over 50 years ago the village established a wellfield out on the Flats, only to abandon it when the water quality proved unsatisfactory. But how much time and expense was wasted by this administration exploring that option? The knowledge and experience that I will bring to the board can help our government function more effectively.

2) Continued responsible village finances including grant acquisition: In the same way we currently share some municipal services with the town, it would be helpful to look for additional ways to consolidate more services. Also, we need to look at using income capitalization rather than assessed valuation for commercial properties, including roominghouses. If all properties were correctly classified, we could adopt “homestead” legislation to provide needed tax relief to our already overburdened homeowners. During my time as mayor, Village taxes went up at less than half the rate as town or school taxes.

An extremely important part of the financial mix needs grant money. When I was mayor, the previous administration had acquired only about $100,000 in grants, but I was able to bring in $1.1 million. Grants allow us to do vital infrastructure work without overburdening the taxpayers. As a trustee, I will continue to work for a budget that provides the services we need at a cost we can afford.

3) Community: We currently have four local governments in New Paltz: the village, college, town and school district. It’s essential that we try to bridge our differences and work together in good faith, finding areas of common ground on which to improve our quality of life for all of us. As mayor, for example, I made a point of working to improve the relationship between the village and the college. One important result of better communication and trust was a review and resulting changes, which significantly reduced the number of fire calls from the campus, helping to reduce the burden on our volunteers. All levels of government in New Paltz need to be engaged in good-faith discourse for the betterment of the community. As a trustee, this will continue to be an important focus for me.

 

What skills/experiences/qualifications do you have that make you believe you would make a competent trustee?

I am a retired teacher, with 30 years of experience in the classroom. I am experienced in the struggle to function well in a bureaucracy with limited means and much regulation, and the importance of effective planning to achieve meaningful long-term results. An important aspect of teaching is having to accomplish those results within the framework of a limited annual budget — all of which served me well in my past experience in government, serving as a village trustee from 2005 to 2007 and mayor from 2007 to 2011.

 

What do you see as the top three challenges facing the Village of New Paltz?

1) Water Supply

  1. a) Reliable and secure water supply at under guaranteed fair conditions. Key will be the terms and conditions of the IMA.
  2. b) In the past the village has born the brunt of fines from New York City because we had exceeded our water allotment. The town must finish and verify the required process for Town Water Districts 3 and 4 to become approved water districts. Until all Town Water Districts are fully approved, the town needs to guarantee that they will be responsible for any fines resulting from the current unapproved status.
  3. c) The new water contract with New York City needs to guarantee the option of resuming purchase of New York City water at a fair price, if that may become a desirable option in the future.

2) Fire protection: Over the last eight years our volunteer fire department has experienced a decline in membership. If this trend continues, how much longer will it be before we have to end the volunteer firefighting tradition in New Paltz and transition to a much more expensive paid fire department? With the decline in the economy there has been a nationwide decline in volunteerism, including fire departments. We need to consider strategies implemented in other communities, such as the town of Cortlandville’s bunking program, to find creative ways of addressing this need. We also need to replace our antiquated firehouse, which is so inadequate that it’s actually unsafe.

3) Responsible growth: Growth is normal and necessary for the health and well-being of the community. New Paltz’s desirability as a place to live gives us the leverage to insist that developers respect our laws and build projects which will enhance the quality of life in our neighborhoods and in the village at large. We need to better enforce our zoning laws to require development which is sensitive to aesthetics of the area in which it is being built and preserves the natural qualities of the landscape. Development in the village should complement and enhance the character of our community. Our Master Plan needs to embody these ideals. Despite the pressure from developers, we deserve quality development over quantity.

 

If elected, what would be your top three priorities?

1) Preserve and protect the character of village neighborhoods: It happens that people will be attracted to New Paltz as a quaint, walkable Victorian village with an extensive tree canopy and a stunning surrounding countryside. It’s only after they buy a home and settle in that they become aware that the village and some particular neighborhoods are under virtual attack by developers. There are zoning laws, state and local, in place to protect our neighborhoods from this onslaught, but they are not being effectively enforced. The result has been some atrocious, neighborhood-destroying development in recent years. I will work to reverse that trend and give our neighborhoods the protection that they are entitled to.

2) Creation of a townwide Fire District: During my term as mayor, as limitations and weaknesses of our current fire protection system became more evident, [the] village and town had begun to look at the formation of a townwide, self-governing Fire District. At that time it was a proposal which did not gain the needed traction, largely because of the consolidation proposal. I hope that this time around the effort to establish an independent, townwide Fire District will be more successful, and it is a project that I would look forward to working on.

3) Enhance our downtown: The Victorian character and stunning view of the Ridge give our downtown real character. There are things that can be done, such as the creation of “vest-pocket” parks and opening up our waterfront area and making it more accessible, that will enhance the enjoyment of the downtown area for residents and visitors alike. I had begun opening up the waterfront during my term as mayor, and I would like to continue these improvements.

 

Don Kerr

Why did you decide to run for the position of trustee of the Village of New Paltz?

I have attended many village meetings, especially over the past three years. It’s human nature that there have been moments at those meetings spent wondering if the perspective and experiences from my life might have made different and better results possible in decisions by the Village Board. On issues like consolidation, a new parking strategy and the mayor’s salary, the Village Board has invested blood, sweat, tears and treasure to issues and votes that they have later had to withdraw or do over. Our community would benefit from [a] more thoughtful approach that reassures residents in the decisions made by our board.

A more recent example is the plan for an alternate water source during 2017/18 shutdowns of the New York City aqueduct that delivers our drinking water. Over the past year, the Village Board “subcontracted” that project to the town and the town’s engineers with uncertain results. The outcome is a Plan A that may not work and no Plan B. As a water and wastewater professional, I believe that I could have made a positive difference on that issue — and still can.

It is so inspiring when the people’s government works in ways imagined in Philadelphia during 1776. As the son of an immigrant to this country, I have experienced that amazing thrill firsthand during my life (establishing the elementary foreign language program for our schools, as example — that was a good day!) and I am hungry to experience that thrill again. Our water emergency strikes me as more opportunity than crisis. Looking forward, children of New Paltz might have water security for generations if we handle this issue with imagination, vision and determination not to trade our water to New York City for gold.

 

What skills/experiences/qualifications do you have that make you believe you would make a competent trustee?

My status as “the water guy” makes me well-qualified to lead on the issue of an alternate supply of water when New York City closes their aqueduct for maintenance. The current $13 million Plan A seems to have serious challenges. I presented the village with a completely workable $3 million Plan B early this year. We may need a Plan B.

As another example, the recently passed plastic bag law in New Paltz was tricky on some levels. Our businesses had a new mandate, so it seemed vital to give businesses confidence that they had a friend and supportive partner in the Village of New Paltz regarding this new law. The village did a beautiful thing by supplying quantities of American-made reusable cloth bags to Family of New Paltz, food pantries, [the] Salvation Army, et cetera. I worked hard to communicate with our businesses every step of the way, and helped to raise additional funds privately to provide these same American-made bags to our businesses.

A third example is my experience with something called “boardsmanship”: the art of creating the dynamics that can enable a board of five people to be effective and to run on all cylinders. I led a divided Board of Education, but on the most important issues, my board took the time and did the hard work at live public meetings to find ways to agree and get to unanimous votes.

 

What do you see as the top three challenges facing the Village of New Paltz?

It’s hard to ignore the loss of our source of drinking water for ten-week periods beginning in 2017. That would be number one. Preserving our environment and neighborhoods when new development is proposed and finding new ways to make New Paltz more affordable are other major challenges. Ironically, the current cost of buying our drinking water from New York City is one of the larger village budget items and an area where new thinking might result in a more affordable community.

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But the issue that hangs over everything else is electing people who can work together. One trustee candidate recently opened their campaign with a letter to the editor attacking a mayoral candidate by name. It concerns me to wonder what might happen if that trustee candidate got elected to serve under that mayor. When it comes to serving on a board, I think of a quote that I recently saw on the employee white board at Ulster Savings Bank on Main Street: “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” That is never truer than at a board table, when our neighbor’s interests and well-being simply must take priority over egos or personalities.

 

If elected, what would be your top three priorities?

Will answer a different question: If elected, my first two actions would be to react to unforeseen problems with the plan (Plan A) to pump drinking water from beneath Plains Road. Those actions would be: a) to start the clock and begin the process now for the New York State Board of Health to potentially approve treatment of Wallkill River water for aggressive treatment and use as drinking water during the ten-week emergency shutdown periods of the New York City aqueduct. Doing so would be prudent, just in case we need to turn to some sort of Plan B; b) invite an engineer from Pall Corporation, the supplier of our existing water treatment plant equipment, to inform the Village Board about cost and timetable for an add-on module to our current system, which would make our river water crystal-clear. These plug-and-play coagulation/filtration systems are mounted on a skid and arrive on the back of a truck. Such long-proven systems make the dirtiest river water kitchen-clean.

Oh, yes. The third thing that I would do? Sit with the new mayor — whomever that might be — and ask the sincere question: “How can I help you to succeed?”

 

Jack Murphy

Why did you decide to run for the position of trustee of the Village of New Paltz?

I’ve been a longtime resident of the village, having moved here in June of 1967 to attend classes at SUNY New Paltz. I was employed in a number of local businesses over the years, made many friends from the village and town, as well as members of the college community and most of the local business owners. I consider myself a part of our community, and I believe that it is a responsibility of a good citizen to take part in community services and organizations, in order to make my chosen home the best possible place to live. This year I have made time to involve myself in local politics, which is why I’ve entered the race for trustee.