Three candidates vie for two open New Paltz Town Board seats

Marty Irwin, Julie Seyfert Lillis and Ray Lunati. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Marty Irwin, Julie Seyfert Lillis and Ray Lunati. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Voters in New Paltz will have to decide between three candidates vying for two open Town Board seats in November. Marty Irwin and Julie Seyfert Lillis will appear on the Democratic line and Ray Lunati on the Republican line. Here are their responses to questions from the New Paltz Times.


Marty Irwin

Why did you decide to run for office, and what experience would you bring to the job?


Our Town Board team was down one player, I was retired, and I felt my skill set would be beneficial to furthering the work of my government. Before retiring to New Paltz in 2002, my business primarily focused on developing, owning and managing senior housing. Terri and I also owned and operated assisted-living programs in two of these communities.


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

Let me say, first, that the differentiation between town and village varies depending on the context. While there are two separate governments, I represent 14,003 town residents — both the 7,000 living in the town outside of the village and the 7,000 living within the village. I’d like to point out that by the town and village sharing services we are not consolidating the two governments. Having said that, because the new municipal center will house both governments in one location and some functions in shared offices, any future interest in consolidation is more readily facilitated.

“Shared” and “collaboration” are keys to success. There really are no downsides to the village and town working collaboratively wherever an opportunity presents itself.

Since being appointed to the board in June, I’ve been allowed to take the lead in creating a new municipal center and now this is a collaborative effort of both the town and village. The town’s Municipal Space Committee, led by Dave Lent, has been assisting the Town Board for several years on space requirements, including the relocation of the police department, and now on creating a new home for our governments. Membership is being expanded to bring village residents on board, as the committee will be an instrumental part of the project. If there are village residents interested in helping, I’d suggest they contact Mayor Rogers or Don Kerr.

Regarding shared services, our goal is to find as many opportunities as we can. By combining the town and village offices, and including the police and justice court into one location, folks will no longer drive to one building only to hear they need to be at the other. This allows government to become more responsive to residents’ needs. By sharing services, we will be more cost efficient, which, through attrition and transfers only, will lead to reducing the costs to provide services, thereby reducing property taxes.

Another collaboration that is just starting to move is to write a new Comprehensive Plan. The approach we’re taking is to bring together a group of town and village residents who can help write an RFP (Request for Proposals) and assist the village and town in identifying and retaining a well-qualified planner to create a truly comprehensive assessment of the entire community. The next step would be to update zoning laws and regulations, for the both the town and village, so there is uniformity.


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

Aging infrastructure is an ongoing problem. Absent local property tax increases, there are very limited state or federal funding sources, which the town and village have been successful in obtaining.

But this is like many of our governments’ responsibilities as these are ongoing efforts. They become like legacy retirement benefits — items that just must be attended to.

The village deals with water-main breaks on a fairly frequent basis and are prepared to respond quickly. Relating to your question on sharing services, here’s a great example of the town and village working collaboratively. The recent multiple water-main breaks near Village Hall were repaired by the village with support from town crews. That’s sharing services that lead to quicker return of service and reduced costs. We all won.

Among the other present issues are sewer system repairs and expansion and storm water management. These, too, are issues that are with us every day. Fortunately, we have very knowledgeable and dedicated staff and a vast number of volunteers serving on committees, commissions and boards that make things run. They all do a great job of addressing these issues.


If elected, would you want to serve on the Police Commission, or return it to a body that is independent of the Town Board?

I’ve asked many folks what they think about this. It’s not surprising that I hear different, mostly philosophical thoughts, all with validity. But I am not hearing any complaints about the present arrangement. My own experience since joining the board, where the Police Commission is made up of the Town Board members, is that everything is working great. So, were I to be asked to vote today, I’d keep it as it is.

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

We’re just starting our budget cycle, so creating a balanced budget is at the top, at least through November.

Creating a new municipal center, as it is a complex process and very costly. It’s a long-term effort because it will take about a year for planning, designing and funding the building and then another year to build it.

Maintaining the quality of the environment and thereby affording a very good quality of life. Since 2009, when I joined CWOSP (Clean Water and Open Space Program), I’ve worked to achieve the vision of Seth McKee and Michael Zierler to create the Mill Brook Preserve. I think most have heard that the core parcels of land have been acquired. Still again, another collaborative effort of the village and town, with each one buying a parcel and then working collaboratively to apply for New York Parks grant funding. I commit a lot of time to conservation related volunteering, including serving on the Board of Managers of Mohonk Consultations, as a founder of the Friends of the Mill Brook Preserve, supporting the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance since its formation and as a community representative on the Wallkill Valley Land Trust’s Conservation Committee.


If elected, what liaison positions would best suit your strengths when you begin your term in January?

I’m presently the board liaison to the Clean Water and Open Space Protection Commission. I was obligated to resign when I was appointed to the board, in June.

I’m also the liaison to the Municipal Space Committee, which is supporting our town and village’s collaborative effort to create a new joint municipal center.

We’re seeing climate change necessitate making resiliency a paramount concern. As a part of the town’s team, I’d like to continue supporting our efforts though the New York Rising program, which includes several already-identified projects being funded. We’re currently working with The Microgrid Institute in a state competition to be awarded funding to build a microgrid to provide emergency electricity for essential services during power outages. This is another collaborative effort of the town and village.


Julie Seyfert Lillis

Why did you decide to run for office, and what experience would you bring to the job?

After 20 years I have a deep connection to New Paltz. I was inspired to join town government because of my work on community-led initiatives, such as the Mill Brook Preserve. Working with dedicated individuals with the best interests of the town in mind has shown me how much can be done when people come together to work toward a common goal.


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

I want to work to protect what makes New Paltz a great place to live and visit, including our thriving downtown, local businesses and open spaces. Thoughtful planning is essential. A joint town/village Master Plan will be key. We have many forward-thinking residents who want to do right by our town and the larger world. I would like to harness that energy to create a greener town with citizens working together to reduce our carbon footprint, bring in new businesses and jobs — especially green businesses — and protect the environment. I have been very involved in the establishment of the Mill Brook Preserve. This project represents a commitment to open space and the environment. I have been working on making it accessible and inviting, especially to school children. Giving children having increased opportunities to get to know the natural world right in their backyard is an investment in future green initiatives.



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

I bring to the job a background in research and well-honed analytical skills. I spent ten years working in research for Sesame Street. My experience includes management positions. In addition, from working on volunteer joint town/village initiatives, I have strong relationships with community leaders which will are essential for working on collaborative projects involving both local governments. I am very supportive of the town and village working on a joint Master Plan as soon as possible. The decisions and policies of one have great impacts on the other, so it is essential that we come together to plan. This is something that wasn’t able to happen in the past, but with the upcoming election, the future is very promising. I am in favor of the joint municipal center and shared services when they offer cost savings and/or environmental benefits. The opportunity to save money is a primary reason for the joint municipal center, but it will also facilitate working together. I’m excited as I would be able to walk through the Mill Brook Preserve to work!


If elected, would you want to serve on the Police Commission, or return it to a body that is independent of the Town Board?

I am in favor of re-establishing the Police Commission. This allows for more people to get involved in the work of the town. Also, the town has plenty on its plate already.


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

We have many issues related to infrastructure that require concentrated attention, from water and sewer to roads (traffic) and bridges. As we grow as a town, planning will only become more essential. Growth is good. It helps our local businesses and brings jobs. It’s also inevitable, but we need to make sure we are doing it responsibly with concern for the environment and quality of life. I am very much in favor of involving residents in decisions of local government. There is much to be gained from the passion and energy that residents have. A top-down approach does not fit New Paltz as we have so many involved residents.


If elected, what liaison positions would best suit your strengths when you begin your term in January.

Because of my work with the Mill Brook Preserve, the environmental board would be a good fit. I have experience working on current issues in public education, so school board liaison would also be a good fit. Attending numerous Planning Board meetings as a part of my work with the Stop CVS Campaign has led me to appreciate the important work they do and what the approval process entails. We would just have to see what other board members’ interests are as well.


Ray Lunati

Why did you decide to run for office and what experience would you bring to the job.

Not much has changed since I answered this question two years ago. Integrity — it’s the best policy. Respect — not much of this going around. I would like to see all the boards leave their differences at the door and conduct the business of the people with regard to betterment of the community as a whole and not the portion they hold dear to themselves.

In 2006, I began attending Town Board meetings. Since then, I have seen Town Board members and supervisors come and go. I have sat through presentations, new laws, budgets, warrants, grants, department presentations, etc. I have extensive knowledge in construction, which will be helpful during construction of the new Town Hall. I believe in smart growth while protecting flora and fauna. I am outdoors more than in and love it. If there where qualifications for this job, I would be the perfect applicant and if there was a test, I believe I would be the valedictorian.


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

I’m all for shared services and shared expenses. The village being in the town creates an interesting relationship, which makes village residents town residents. The town runs and collects taxes for many shared services through the A fund, which is town wide. Examples are the Moriello Pool, library, rescue squad, police department, youth center, recycle center, etc. The village provides the fire protection, water from the city aqueduct and use of the sewer plant at the river’s edge. It appears to work until services become political pawns. Currently, there are not enough sets of turnout gear for the firemen. Eight firemen have none. New applications are on the table which will put the department further at risk and non-compliant with OSHA. The village has a responsibility to provide a safe work environment. The town has not paid its portion of the fire tax, which was collected in January. This is just one example of a political pawn. Also, water and sewer rates are higher for town users.

The town and village joining together to construct a municipal center is a wonderful idea. These two governments working in the same building will allow for better communication, coordination and regard for the belief that we are on the same team and not opponents. When the village moves in with the town, a vacancy in the old Village hall could be used for the police and courts. More space for the fire department too.


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

This question was asked two years ago. I looked in the New Paltz Times October 2013 issue. Dan Torres supported establishing an inter-municipal collaboration on water/sewer infrastructure, as well as extending infrastructure to build out South Putt Corners Road. Neither happened. Dan actually came out against a sewer infrastructure in this corridor while collaborating with the school board. Jeff Logan wanted to apply for grants to repair and stabilize the current water and sewer. In addition, create a local community water source. Jeff’s goals were realistic. Grants were applied for and received for sewer district 6. We are in the process of creating a local water source on Plains Road, paid entirely by the DEP. The District 5 users will enjoy clean, reliable water, free hook ups, free service for as many as seven years, fire hydrants which will lower homeowners’ insurance, reduced electric usage by not operating well pumps, saving more money, never having to worry if their pump will go on a holiday when they have company and the expense of repairs. When water production for the town is not necessary, District 5 will exclusively use the community well for themselves. My goals are to continue the work already in progress. When Wildberry Lodge begins construction, they will supply additional water to the community and create a new sewer facility, which may be able to be taped in to by the local community.


If elected, would you want to serve on the Police commission or return it to a body that is independent of the Town Board.

It appears that a Town Board run Police Commission has been successful. I would stay with that.


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

Town Hall, water/ sewer and constant reduction of taxpaying entities.

Town Hall: We need to get Town Hall rebuilt. Modular units only work for a short time, so this is very important. The employees of the town work in this temporary space on Clearwater Road. My observation is that moral is high. Everyone is pleasant and easygoing. We need to keep this spirit alive and provide the employees and residents a Town Hall they can be proud of.

Water and sewer: The water is going to be shut off by the DEP. The Town Board has been actively searching to make sure we have water for the four town water districts and sell water to the village at a fair rate. The result is Plains Road District 5. Sewer District 1 and sewer District 5 are processed by the village plant. Sewer District 6 is east of the Thruway and has a plant on North Ohioville Road. It has been failing for years and flows the affluent into the Black Creek watershed. Repairs have been constant expensive.

Affordability: Taxes are the number-one complaint. The town has been frugal with past tax reductions and for the 2016 budget its under .75%. Other tax entities and non-tax entities need to start relieving the taxpayers. Although New Paltz schools attract home purchases with school age children, the school taxes are chasing away homeowners with no children. The library needs an 18% increase. Foreclosures and empty homes are more frequent than you might believe. Non-taxpaying entities — they use services — the college. Mohonk Preserve and OSI. In a recent trip to California and Canada I was charged through the hotels a transient tax (which is a person staying in a place for a short time), medical use tax, fire tax, etc. I was charged for services as a tourist, not just sales tax. I didn’t mind, and it’s not going to stop me from returning to these tourist areas. When the fairgrounds are used for crafts fairs, the BBQ contest, Taste of New Paltz, there should be a services tax on every entry ticket. When Mohonk Preserve sells a day pass — a services tax. Taxi’s transport tourists — a service tax. Other municipalities have found a way to produce a revenue stream from tourists. We should follow their lead. They will still come.


If elected, what liaison positions would best suit your strengths when you begin your term in January.

I’m pretty well rounded, so I can see myself attending anyone of the boards, committees or commission meetings as liaison — possibly starting with the fire department, the Transportation Implementation Committee, Bike and Pedestrian Committee or Clean Water and Open Space Protection Commission. It would depend on what liaison positions are available.