New Paltz town supervisor Neil Bettez has passed his first public test on budgeting. After a public hearing on overriding the state-mandated tax cap, the town board voted unanimously to accept his preliminary budget as the tentative one to be presented at another hearing in November. While Bettez promised that other cuts may yet be found, in its present form the roughly $11-million spending plan will be 5.38% over that of the present year.
The tax cap would have left the maximum tax increase at .68%, or $53,300, according to comptroller Jean Gallucci. Simply keeping up with contractual pay hikes negotiated under supervisor Susan Zimet — which Bettez said he also supported – would have outstripped that maximum. “You have to pay people,” Bettez said.
Under the tax-cap legislation, overriding the limit requires a local law. That’s why a public hearing was held at this point. Former supervisor Carol Roper reminisced about the eight percent tax hike she presided over, saying, “No way municipalities can stay under these conditions.” Council member Jeff Logan, himself a budget hawk, said he found very little left to cut after Bettez and Gallucci went over the budget line by line.
Several people spoke in favor of assuming the cost of employing Phoenix Kawamoto, executive director of the Greater New Paltz Community Partnership. Her salary had been funded through a grant which has since run out. Kawamoto facilitates programs related to drug abuse and drug prevention. Those familiar with her work spoke highly of her contributions.
Josh Honig did remind board members that “tax caps don’t make government services cost any less,” by which he meant that excessive spending is not affordable whether or not there’s a cap by which to track it.
State tax-refund checks to some taxpayers, according to deputy supervisor Daniel Torres, had in the past been timed to arrive ahead of an election. That program is now over. Even if had been still in force, virtually no one in New Paltz would have received one this time around. All the taxing authorities must stay under the cap. Torres also pointed out that those refund checks were themselves taxable income.
Council members also heard from Paul Strothenke of Mid Hudson VIP, the town’s health-insurance consultant. By shifting most of the town’s coverage to Guardian with additional retiree options through MVP, the cost increase in that category will be kept to a minimum, he said. Healthcare is one of the fastest-rising costs year over year in municipal budgets.
Bettez said that he was “not really happy, but actually pretty proud” regarding the budget. While he expects that department heads to be dissatisfied, there won’t be any layoffs or significant cuts in services. Some $115,000 from the fund balance has to be used to cushion the shock, leaving that rainy-day money about as low as it can be without worrying the state comptroller about the town’s ability to pay for emergencies.
Logan did recommend one additional cut. He didn’t think recreation director Chuck Bordino’s position should have additional hours. Bordino has made the same request to two prior supervisors, Logan said, and was rejected by both. Bettez felt it was time to honor the request, because more recreational spaces than ever are being overseen by the town. With Julie Seyfert-Lillis absent, the remaining board members tied on the question; Bordino will get his additional hours.
College cops give village tickets
A book of village parking tickets is being sent to the university police department. It had been requested to issue tickets for cars parked illegally on Tricor and Mohonk avenues. Mayor Tim Rogers said “it seemed like a nice gesture,” as it will likely increase village revenue.
University police officers are not subject to supervision by the town police commission, which until recent years was made up of residents appointed by the town board but is now filled solely by the elected officials. Freedom of information requests for university police activity goes through the SUNY administration, as those documents are not kept by town officials.
March against rape culture
The village board has approved a “slut walk” for November 5 at the behest of resident Molly Black, who appeared to speak for the group organizing the event. While the official description downplays the controversial name, it’s part of a wider movement in response to such issues as the case of college student Brock Turner, who received a very light sentence after being caught in the act of raping an unconscious woman, and remarks by presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“I’m uncomfortable with the word,” conceded Rogers, “but it’s okay for me to be uncomfortable.”
Rezoning the box factory
The former box factory at the bottom of Water Street is presently in the flood zone. Owners Kip and Adele Ruger want it rezoned as part of the gateway instead. According to mayor Tim Rogers, they wish to replace it with a mixed-use building.
The only business there now which would remain would be CHBO Drums. Rogers said it would be expected that the Rugers would pay for a consultant to analyze the stormwater and other issues, but that the professional would be hired by the village directly. It was not immediately clear if any such plans would preserve access to the rail trail from Water Street and Plains Road at that intersection.
Lower the speed limit on Route 299
The New Paltz town board want to see the speed limit on Route 299 from Springtown to Jenkinstown roads reduced from 55 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h. This issue, raised frequently at planning-board meetings about the Mohonk foothills project, was given additional urgency when bicyclist Gabriela O’Shea was struck by an automobile from behind on September 11.
It’s a cumbersome process. The request must be approved at the county level to be passed on to state transportation officials. The state will only act after conducting its own analysis. The political pressure which resulted in widening shoulders on a portion of Route 299 may yet yield a positive result in this case, if it continues.
Bad news related to Moriello Pool
New Paltz’s town board has approved spending $9500 to determine the best way to get Moriello Pool open next year. There’s no clear plan yet to pay for those repairs. Christopher Marx, who oversees buildings and grounds, promised that the pool will not be open on time under the best of circumstances, and not at all if significant work is not done. Leaks in the liner delayed opening this year. That liner will not be usable at all for the next season.
The engineering study will weigh options such as a new liner, or using another material such as gunite cement instead. A search for grant funding will take place. Board members recommended a formal request to members of the village board to contribute toward the cost of repairs to the co-owned pool.
No gifts allowed
This week, both the village and town boards denied requests to reduce water and sewer bills. The town council received a request regarding the Meadowbrook apartment complex. Both the water and sewer bills were the same amount during one billing period, and someone at Meadowbrook thought it was a double bill and only paid half the amount. By the time the error was understood at just that, late fees had accrued. The request was to waive the late fees alone.
Village officials were asked to waive late fees assessed to BOCES, but these were actually levied by that organization’s bank, not the village treasurer. An undetected leak at 59 Main Street led its owners to request a reduction of the water bill for that property.
In all cases, the requests were denied. State law does not permit a reduction of water or sewer fees if the service was used, as that is deemed a gift to the user from other taxpayers. The BOCES fees would not be refunded because it was not assessed by the village. Comptroller Gallucci advised that the late fees for the Meadowbrook bill could be forgiven, but the boards declined to do so in order, in the words of council member Marty Irwin, to “be consistent.”
Not happy with pipelines
Council members unanimously approved a resolution opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. “We’re not happy with the Pilgrim Pipeline here, either,” said town supervisor Neil Bettez. It was an easy sell to the elected officials.