As New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers sees it, virtually everything he’d like to see accomplished in 2016 depends upon working with someone else. Whether it’s relying on the expertise of his staff or elected officials in the surrounding town, for every problem there is someone with more knowledge, a different perspective, or greater authority over a particular aspect that he needs to work with in order to make it happen for his constituents. Collaboration is the watchword whether the project is a backup water supply, joint municipal center, a zoning code that is both enforceable and enforced, or a comprehensive plan for the entire New Paltz community, rather than the needs of a particular governmental entity. To that end, he wears on his lapel an enamel pin bearing the seal of the town, a reminder of the part he plays. “I’m a town resident and a town taxpayer,” he said.
One thing Rogers has come to realize in his first six months is that the mayor must be a generalist, able to respond to any manner of issues on a moment’s notice. The very morning that he was to sit down with the New Paltz Times, he picked up the phone and heard from a woman who, upon trying to leave for work, discovered that a college student had broken into her car overnight and vomited in it. “The job is more exciting than I had expected.”
Many of the projects which will move forward in 2016 depend on intermunicipal cooperation. That includes the creation of a water district on Plains Road to ensure an emergency backup water supply for the village when the DEP shuts down the Catskill Aqueduct for two periods totaling as much as 20 weeks during 2017. The district isn’t a sure thing, because not all of its regular users are convinced it would be an improvement over their wells, but some of those wells may become unusable when water starts pumping from the underlying aquifer and into village and town water system-connected homes. It will also be needed if the village ultimately signs on to create a new municipal center jointly with the town, a move that could save money for all concerned, not to mention make life more convenient, if the many details for such a complex agreement can be worked out. That cooperation is evident in the town upgrading its water meters to ones that can be read remotely, but agreeing to have it done by village employees to save the need to buy another copy of the software that the village already owns. “I can’t imagine this job without daily town communication,” said the mayor. He believes that a joint municipal center will only make that routine more effective at all levels. “I don’t subscribe to the paranoia that employees can’t share space. Elected officials have butted heads, but not employees.”
For his own employees, Rogers has nothing but praise. Development and planning issues helped propel him into office — while he’s already completed a term on the school board, the mayor says that even five years ago he would have been amazed at the prospect of running for any position — and he’s quite satisfied with the work of two recent hires, planner David Gilmour and building inspector Bryant Arms. Gilmour watches the big picture, while Arms supervises the inspectors who enforce the details. Roger says he leans upon their expertise, as well as that of longtime employees Nancy Branco, the village treasurer, and superintendent of public works Bleu Terwilliger. Without the deep knowledge represented among the village’s employees, Rogers said that his own “clever ideas” would never get the vetting that is needed before being tried out.
As the village seeks to finally end a decade-long DEC consent order regarding problems with inflow and infiltration into its sewage system, Rogers hopes collaboration will take the form of green infrastructure solutions, and paying a grant writer to apply for funding to pay for such measures. Another aspect of lifting that consent order will be the installation of geographic information system (GIS) mapping to track problems, but Rogers believes the technology could be used for nearly every department in his government to make jobs easier, and to get a handle on the value of the village’s many assets. Local company SamSix is partnering with the village to make that happen.
“Every mayor thinks his community is at a tipping point when they take office,” Rogers said. “I subscribe to that view.” In addition to potentially historic projects like the joint municipal center, village residents will gain unprecedented access to nearby natural beauty in 2016 in the form of the River to Ridge trail. “It’s a game-changer,” Rogers said. “The views are stunning, and the access, divine.” The trail could bring more tourists directly into a village that still could use a shot in the arm economically, and access to the great outdoors is good for mental health as well, he noted. People who in the past were likely to only enjoy the natural vistas might become more interested in the unique character of the village itself, which brings both problems and opportunities.
“It’s a frightening and exciting time,” Rogers said. “People recognize that so many other places don’t have what we do,” such as a walkable Main Street, Historic Huguenot Street and now, convenient access to the Mohonk Preserve. “It’s not just cookie-cutter national chains,” he said, and he’s given thought on how to preserve that. Past village boards have looked into banning chain stores, but Rogers thinks that might be missing the point. Rather, he’s looking into legislation that would recognize the “unique community assets” in the village and seek to protect those. “It’s not about banning, it’s about protecting what we have,” he said. “It is an important economic driver.”
However, Rogers says that he is mindful that some priorities are more of a priority than others, such as the water and municipal center questions. There’s also the problem with parking, which is “feast or famine” in the village, where “the sweet spot is hard to find” between those extremes. A case in point could be the large municipal lot near Starbucks, which used to be packed all the time before it was metered, and now is more commonly closer to empty whenever payment is required to use the spots. Traffic, too, tends towards the extremes from moving at a crawl and empty streets.
“Humility is incredibly important in this line of work,” the mayor said.