This year comes to a close with Village of New Paltz officials singing a happy tune, after more than $1.2 million in state funding was awarded for community projects. The work being funded includes upgrading additional village sewer lines, engineering planning and camera work to assess which parts of the sewer system should be repaired or replaced next, and more than three miles of trails and bridges in the Mill Brook Preserve. That preserve project was jointly applied for by the village and town, with village planner David Gilmour doing most of the paperwork; it’s the kind of collaborative approach Mayor Tim Rogers has been advocating since he took office. While several big projects that involve both town and village governments have not been completed in the past year — Rogers is fond of saying that “everything costs more and takes longer than anyone could possibly imagine” — the mayor believes that things continue to move in the right direction.
Water is a big deal in New Paltz. All village residents, and a few outside its limits, depend upon a municipal water system that is mostly just buying water from New York City reservoirs. The need to shut down the Catskill Aqueduct for maintenance has spurred the quest for a backup water supply, but the ever-increasing cost of that water has led Rogers to also seek an independent primary water supply, as well as reducing how much is actually used.
Close to half of the water paid for by the village is non-revenue: firefighting, municipal buildings, public water fountains and leaks. Even with an aging infrastructure, Rogers said, a target of 10-15% “slippage” is achievable. DPW workers can now repair in six hours a water main break that took six times that long to fix 25 years ago. Improved meters measure usage more precisely, and will also help users find out about leaks sooner.
Even though a lot of state aid has been used to make infrastructure improvements, a lot is still funded by taxpayers. A pressure valve in the water system had to be replaced to the tune of several thousand dollars, and the massive digester covers at the sewage treatment plant went into the tens of thousands. Those covers push water out of treated sludge before it’s hauled away, which saves money because disposal charges are assessed by weight. The covers also manage the risk of methane accumulation.
Sharing a municipal space with town officials is an idea that the mayor still believes is achievable. “We know what does not work,” he said, in terms of affordability for taxpayers, and right now he feels “pretty good about repurposing the square footage of village hall.” Since an entirely taxpayer-funded structure isn’t feasible, local officials are trying to be responsive to whatever state funding is available. Repurposing the half-empty village hall complex to serve two governments is what people working for the Department of State want to fund right now, which makes the idea of adaptive reuse attractive to Rogers.
Each time a new strategy has been developed — the combined new building at 1 Veterans Drive, or the application for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, for example — the mayor said that they have learned more about what’s possible. He’s committed to the offices being in one location if for no other reason than the convenience of New Paltz residents, who often can’t keep track of whether they need to talk to a village or town official about a particular issue. With the village’s main fire station slated to be moved from Plattekill Avenue, he is very optimistic about this idea.
Relations between village officials and firefighters has had ups and downs over the years, but Rogers meets with volunteers monthly in an effort to understand their needs. He and Supervisor Neil Bettez took the elected officials’ firefighter training this year, and got to experience being in a blazing-hot building fire firsthand. The mayor said that he’s astounded how many factors must go into planning even the bare-bones firehouse that will be paid for through NY Rising, and he’s appreciative that the architect is a firefighter himself, and “speaks their language.”
Rogers is confident enough that he predicts that ground will be broken for the new fire station — which will replace station 2 on Henry W Dubois Road — in 2017. A new station 2 is simultaneously being planned for village-owned land on Mountain Rest Road, providing emergency services on both sides of the Walkill during floods.
GIS, or geographic information system, is still something Rogers would like to see implemented in the village. Using the precise mapping technology, every manhole cover, street sign, fire hydrant and other village asset could be tagged with location, age and maintenance history. That would make capital planning much easier, and minimize how often critical parts aren’t replaced until after they fail. It’s an expensive system, but the mayor said that it will save quite a bit of money once it can be implemented.
The mayor is pleased that the River-to-Ridge trail is now being built. Very little of it is in the village, but trustees agreed to lease the boat landing on Springtown Road to the Open Space Institute to anchor that project. The River-to-Ridge trail will make it possible to walk or bicycle from the village line through the flats and foothills and into the Mohonk Preserve.
Another area in which Rogers has pride is how the process of building and planning has improved. With a number of thoughtful hires, the culture of the building department has transformed to one of service to the community, starting from enforcing the laws but also working with individual property owners to find solutions. The mayor also worked with planning board chairman Michael Zierler to hire Richard Golden as planning board attorney. Rogers said that in New Paltz, “there’s a history of consultants spending lots of money via escrow,” meaning that applicants have little choice but to pay the bill. The mayor wants the new message to be, “Our applicants are not your meal ticket,” and he believes Golden represents that ethic while still demonstrating excellent knowledge of planning law.
The coming year could also result in a new way of managing Moriello Park. Right now all the day-to-day decisions are made at the town level, but capital projects get split 50/50 with the village because the land is jointly owned. That’s also led to some political squabbles in the past, and since there is no direct village control over the park anyway, Rogers is open to giving the village share to the town. That would allow for capital projects, such as the liner needed this year, to be budgeted by just one group of elected officials, rather than two which operate under very different fiscal years and tax bases.
With a large chunk of state funding and a good relationship with the town supervisor, Rogers expects that 2017 may also be the year that thorny issues such as the water supply and how to replace town hall will also be solved, but in a way that benefits all New Paltz residents through collaboration. While the mayor has no interest in revisiting the failed attempt to consolidate the two governments, he strongly believes that working more closely together will benefit everyone.