Tim Rogers gets excited about infrastructure. He’s been known to wax enthusiastically about sewer digester covers to anyone willing to listen. This is a man who gets a spring in his step when village employees plug a leak that’s losing five gallons of water a day. Infrastructure is exciting, because in his heart Rogers’ favorite part of being mayor of New Paltz is the role of municipal manager.
Infrastructure in the village, particularly the pipes carrying water to residents and sewage from their homes for treatment, is in need of a lot of loving care. Many of the pipes are a hundred or more years old, and that’s led to problems: village workers have to make emergency repairs on water mains more than they’d like, and there’s a longstanding consent order requiring improvements to stem problems with the sewer system. These and other issues are expensive to resolve and difficult to track, and as such have shaped how Rogers approaches the job of mayor.
“What I do is try to figure out how to pay for water and sewer,” he said, and do it without causing the cost of those services to skyrocket for users. That often means securing grant funding, but every grant comes with its own rules, compliance with which can also present challenges.
The culvert which was replaced under the village-owned portion of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail illustrates that challenge. The project received grant funding, and with it came reporting requirements and inspection protocols intended to make sure the money was being well spent. “Those add time and expense,” Rogers said, and in the case of the culvert, the deadline for completing the work loomed large as those other steps were completed. The project had to be finished in 2017 to get the funding.
Another aspect of municipal management was also needed to get that project done: cultivating relationships. A Central Hudson-owned utility pole needed to be moved to complete the work, and thanks to Rogers’ relationships, workers were there the same day he called. His contacts at the electric company also got the water coming over the Dashville dam lowered during construction. The mayor hopes to continue fostering positive relationships in the coming year.
Rogers has been trying to close out another grant, this one for sidewalks, since he first took office. It’s a federal grant, and the engineering and inspection requirements are particularly complex, but he recognizes that it’s in fulfillment of a promise made back in 2008. “Mark my words,” he said, “we will break ground on that 1500 feet of sidewalk in 2018.”
Village officials first committed to replacing a section of sidewalk on Huguenot Street in 2008, Rogers said, and he’s loathe to put off fulfilling that promise any longer. Former village planner Bren White obtained the grant, which also will pay for sidewalks on Henry W. Dubois Drive by Church and Prospect streets. A plan to use stone from Plattekill Avenue walks — which would have been replaced with concrete — has been removed from the proposal, the mayor said.
Water remains an area of focus for the mayor. That which is extracted by New York City workers and sold back to village residents via the Catskill Aqueduct comes at a higher and higher price every year, and Rogers wants to increase the 40% share which is sourced directly. City officials would prefer not to have their water be the primary supply for the village, he believes, and to that end he wants to see as many as four village-owned water wells producing by the end of 2018. Moriello Park is one spot he hopes to see explored, but as a jointly-held property, the interests of all town residents must be considered. Village-owned Hasbrouck Park is also a possibility, but of less interest geologically for water exploration, he said. A wellhead under the ground would be necessary to prevent the park’s enjoyment for its users.
Reducing what’s called “non-revenue” water is another continuing priority. Eliminating leaks is part of that, as is replacing old and inefficient water meters. One idea now being tried is to offer a bonus to all village employees should the amount of wasted water is reduced to from 44 to 36 percent or less. Given how highly Rogers regards those employees, he expects to be paying out.
The quest for a joint municipal center still looms large, as does the cost of making that happen. A number of high-value grants have been pursued for that purpose, and each time an application falls short Rogers believes it makes the next stronger. Sharing space is simply more efficient, saving money and increasing convenience for all residents.
One project lingering through much of 2017 that the mayor would like to put to bed next year is the security deposit law. “Writing laws seems easy, but it never is,” he admitted. “It’s easy to overlook the details.” In the case of this law, which is intended to make it clear that landlords must speedily return security deposits or offer a legal justification why they aren’t, trustees hope to come up with a law that won’t be challenged in court by modeling it on one already on the books, in Ithaca. “Renters assume they won’t get their deposit back,” Rogers said, but “that’s not what it’s for.” Threats by landlords to raise rent if this law is passed, in the mayor’s mind, “prove it’s part of the business model. It should not be.”
Manager minutiae may be his mastery, but Rogers is also a fan of memorializing resolutions, those official acts which don’t necessarily have any legal force but nevertheless can send a strong message. This past year, he and his colleagues on the village board passed one calling for the state comptroller to divest state pension funds of a company managing investment into the controversial Pilgrim Pipelines, for example, and he’d be open to consider other such messages in the coming year. In the case of the pipelines, there’s no direct investment of state funds in that project, but $1 billion is in funds managed by ARES, a company backing that project. “It flies in the face of [Governor] Cuomo’s sourcing power goals,” the mayor said. While he applauds the comptroller’s staff for avoiding fossil-fuel investments, “Our role is to ask them to do more,” and in fact, “They need us to push them” to make those changes. “We do have a soapbox here.”
2018 will start off in a way that embraces both the managerial and aspirational sides of the job, with an event that is focused on water issues. There will be a panel, as well as speakers, discussing regional water issues, and Rogers is proud of that fact that, “They’re not all white men.” Most of the speakers will be women, which the mayor considers especially important in light of the recent wave of sexual-harassment allegations levied against men in positions of power. “One way to deal with that,” Rogers said, is to “put more women in senior roles.”
The details of running a village government are many, but a surprising number of them tie into water. Look for 2018 to be a year when water independence is pushed like never before.