Gabrielli versus Bettez

Robert Gabrielli and Neil Bettez.

Robert Gabrielli and Neil Bettez.

Candidates for New Paltz town supervisor give their views

 

Why did you decide to run for office?

 

Gabrielli: I was asked by the Independence Party to run. I asked why and was told that I had a reputation for being able to argue and disagree but to always remain civil. I knew then that I wanted to serve and set a new tone for New Paltz politics and for dealing with the problems and opportunities that affect us all as a community.

 

Bettez: I decided to run for New Paltz town supervisor because I think we need our government to function efficiently and effectively, using a transparent, evidence-based approach to plan for a future that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. I would like to use my background as an applied environmental scientist to help enact policies that not only solve current problems but also plan to enhance what makes our community unique.

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My wife and I decided to move to New Paltz and raise our daughter here because of its mix of charming walkable downtown and surrounding rural lands as well as its excellent schools, and strong sense of community. We couldn’t be happier to have put down roots in such a special place, and I want to do what I can to help this community continue to thrive.

 

What skills, experiences or qualifications do you have that make you believe you would make a competent supervisor?

 

Gabrielli: I’m a lifelong resident of New Paltz. I recently retired as Deputy Inspector General at the NYS Office of the Workers’ Compensation Fraud. I supervised statewide operations and administrative functions with oversight of a 1600-person state agency and a six-billion-dollar budget. With the Inspector General, I created a new state office to detect waste, fraud and abuse, ensure ethical and legal compliance and save money. My responsibilities included direct supervision of attorneys, forensic auditors and investigators.

My experience also includes direct ownership and operation a real-estate brokerage agency. My past and current service included being president of the Ulster County Multiple Listing Service, chairman of the Joint Office Committee of Ulster County Realtors and MLS, vice-president of the New Paltz Police Benevolent Association, treasurer of the Ulster County Agricultural Society, treasurer of New York State Crime Stoppers, and treasurer of the NYS Police Chiefs Foundation.

As a former New Paltz town board member, I uncovered out-of-county and hazardous materials dumping at our town landfill. This resulted in the cessation of illegal dumping. Together with the entire board, I helped pass a revision of the master plan, established a civilian police commission, established the ethics commission, negotiated a five-year impasse of one municipal workers’ contract, and a three-year impasse of another union contract for our employees. I also served as an original member of New Paltz Clean Water and Open Space Committee.

 

Bettez: Many of the skills that I have used as an environmental scientist for the last 20 years are directly related to those needed to be a good town supervisor. I have spent the bulk of my career working on large collaborative grant-funded, ecological research projects on issues like air and water quality. A large part of doing science requires not only skillful grant writing but accurate and efficient budgeting. These projects also involve directing dozens of scientists, students and technical staff to work collaboratively. This means that I spend lots of time in meetings and on conference calls figuring out the questions, writing proposals, working on budgets, analyzing data, and effectively communicating results to other scientists and the public at large.

An effective supervisor does the same thing- carefully analyzes the problem, confers with other elected officials and with town citizens and uses evidence to plan and execute policies and projects that are important to the town.

 

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? What are your thoughts about Wildberry Lodge, CVS & Five Guys and the Mohonk Foothills project?

 

Gabrielli: Development should progress slowly. In that way, we can retain the rural character of our town, and still grow sensibly.

As I grew up here, I have seen changes that nobody is more displeased about. But I don’t want to live in a town with negative growth, or no growth, or too much growth. So, call it Goldilocks or balance but the answer is just sensible growth.

I am not opposed to architectural review, but we have to have community members with professional expertise and a track record as an addition to the board, for sound, professional and controlled growth.

I want to make sure that projected growth includes protecting existing businesses. For instance, Abdul at Jack’s Meats, Marilyn at Manny’s, and Jack and Bill at Dedrick’s are our friends and neighbors, and we owe them consideration for all their contributions to our community.

 

Bettez: I do not think development is an either/or proposition. What makes New Paltz a unique and special place is its vibrant, walkable downtown with village neighborhoods and its beautiful rural character with working farms, stunning scenery, and quick access to outdoor recreation. We are lucky here in New Paltz that we do not need to choose only development or only preserving rural character, but this does not mean that we should not plan for what we want. I think we want to plan for developing local enterprises that will support our economy and quality of life in the right locations, while restricting development that takes away from our community and exacerbates existing problems. It is not by chance that New Paltz is the way it is.

New Paltz is special because time and time again its citizens have come together and fought for things they believe in. We need to be more proactive and less reactive when it comes to development which means we need to come together again, decide what we want our community to look like over the next 25 to 50 years, and update our comprehensive master plan.

I think projects like Wildberry Lodge and the Mohonk Foothills are the right type of projects for New Paltz. The two projects complement each other and play to our existing strengths. Both projects were proposed by local community members who care deeply about New Paltz and both will bring people here to visit who are then going to shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants which is good for our economy.

Wildberry Lodge will provide hundreds of new jobs, and since it will be located east of the Thruway, it avoids contributing to our downtown traffic problems (and shuttle buses will allow guests to visit downtown without needing parking), and will have almost no effect on the aesthetic character of our town.

The Mohonk Foothills project is a conservation project- it protects the hugely important link between our town and the ridge from development for housing or retail while providing greater access to our outdoor treasures for visitors and citizens alike through a needed increase in parking and trails, including a trail that will link our rail trail and downtown to the ridge.

The CVS & Five Guys on the other hand is not the type of project we want, at least not in that location. Traffic in the location is already a problem and this type of development is only going to exacerbate it. CVS and Five Guys are large corporations that do not care about our community and they simply replicate services already provided by existing local businesses. Also, the location is unique in that it is already beset by traffic problems and it is the gateway to our community and it is located in the headwaters of the Mill Brook Preserve, which the town has just spent a great deal of money to acquire. Because it is located in the headwaters, any land-use change will have a disproportionate effect on water quality and quantity in the Mill Brook and with the number of trees being removed, the amount of fill being brought in, and size of the parking lots and buildings being constructed it is certain to have a large deleterious impact on our town.

 

What’s your position on shared services and a shared municipal center?

 

Gabrielli: We do have too many governments. The village should merge into the town, or the town should merge into the village. It’s about time for an objective look at consolidation without dueling egos.

 

Bettez: I am in favor of sharing services and a municipal center with the village as much as possible because I think it will be easier for residents to not have to go to two separate locations for service and because it has the potential to save money.

 

What are your ideas for long-term infrastructure repairs to water and sewer?

 

Gabrielli: There are many serious infrastructure items either pending or deferred: The Wallkill Bridge, the New York Rising grants, Sewer 6 (which is catastrophic), long-term infrastructure needs for sustainability including water, sewer, municipal solid waste (msw), tipping fees, landfill reclamation, hazardous soils testing, the Wallkill River, and, of course, probably the most obvious: traffic!

There is no priority list. They are all acutely serious and crucial to our continuation as a viable town.

 

Bettez: I think the best plan to handle our sewer needs is to work with the village since the anticipated town needs regarding future sewer are within the capacity of the current village treatment plant.

 

Would you consider reinstating the police commission?

 

Gabrielli: Absolutely. I was on the board in 1994 when the civilian commission was established. It would be critical to determine why the present commission was abolished and if any continuing problems can be overcome. I would depend on input from the board, the past commission and the police chief and officers. A working chain of command with every link aware of both its responsibilities and authority is essential to the operations of any governmental entity.

 

Bettez: I am strongly in favor of reinstating the police commission because I believe that citizens should have an influence over their governance and citizen oversight in all aspects of government, not just the police, is essential. However, I would like to talk to the chief of police and some of the previous commission members first in order to fix any of the problems that led to its sudden disbandment after it had been in existence for almost thirty years.

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What are the top three challenges facing the Town of New Paltz right now?

 

Gabrielli: Traffic, the Wallkill River, Sewer District 6, sound fiscal responsibility (taxes), helping our neighbors who need help, strengthening the Public Access Channel. That’s more than three because New Paltz is facing more than just a top three.

 

Bettez: I think New Paltz faces many of the same challenges as other towns in the Hudson Valley: jobs, housing, and taxes. The big question is how do we address them in a sustainable manner without losing what makes New Paltz such a unique and special place. It is important to balance economic development with community values and the environment. The way to do this is to update and enforce our master plan, zoning, and code.

 

What will be your top three priorities when you begin as supervisor in January?

 

Gabrielli: One, to reassure the board, the staff and the committee members that we are all on the same team and need to work together. Just because the leak is on the other guy’s side of the boat does not mean that we don’t all have to bail. Two, to reach out to community members and solicit their ideas. I would like to see consideration for a) the implementation of student interns who would contribute their labors to learn about local government; b) the increase of Public Access Channel to include information directed to the noard – perhaps emails to the board during public meetings for questions and comments; c) actively seek professionals, retired or working in other towns, to provide their guidance to our different boards.

Third, address the traffic issue. Immediately. I have met so far with rescue squad members, the fire department, the police chief and several PBA members, and business people, and I have been seeking to meet with the chamber of commerce and others to determine the impacts and consequences of bypasses. It is strangling our community in too many ways but the solution could be just as harmful. We want it fixed, and we want it fixed properly. I know, with the community’s help and the available resources, we can all do it.

 

Bettez: My first priority will be to meet with our newly hired comptroller, and look over our budget for ways to save money. The state’s property-tax cap limits the amount local governments can increase property taxes to the lower of: two percent; or the rate of inflation and for the 2016 fiscal year inflation has been low so the rate will be capped at less than one percent. Although this is great for taxpayers it means we need to be very fiscally prudent.

Also, I want to reach out to Tim Rogers and the village board to make sure we continue to move forward on water and sewer issues as well as possibility of getting funds for the proposed micro-grid project.

Finally, I think it is important to get started on updating the comprehensive master plan. It has been over 20 years since the last plan, and a great deal has changed in 20 years. We need to come together and decide as a community what it is we love about New Paltz and want to keep, and what it is we want to change so that our town remains just as special for our children and their children as it has been for us.

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