With a couple of councilpersons returned from winter vacations, the Gardiner Town Board’s March workshop meeting was its first of the year to have all members present and ready to deliver their priority lists for 2018. While securing funding for replacement of the alarmingly deteriorated Clove Road bridge is the most urgent need to be addressed on supervisor Marybeth Majestic’s agenda, other Town Board members placed emphasis on fiscal issues, parks and open space. Tapping civic pride and a resurgent spirit of local volunteerism rather than tax dollars to get things done was also a common theme.
Members seemed to be in agreement that more could be done to optimize municipal resources for common enjoyment, especially parks and other town-owned properties, but that finding funding was often the main factor impeding progress. Councilman Warren Wiegand noted that recent changes in federal tax law “will limit people’s ability to deduct local taxes…We’ll have to find other ways on the funding side. I don’t think we can squeeze more blood out of that turnip.”
Beside seeking additional grant funding from conventional sources, councilman Mike Reynolds suggested looking at crowdfunding options and community foundations as examples of “alternative financing solutions” to address unmet needs. While some long-delayed improvements to the pole barn and pavilion in Majestic Park will be paid for by redirection of a state grant, Reynolds mentioned that the park’s ballfield also needs to be refurbished and lighting installed. He said that, as Town Board liaison to the town’s Parks and Recreation Committee, he hoped to see Majestic Park host an expanded program of summer movie screenings and concerts.
Other town-owned parcels were on Reynolds’ radar, including the transfer station/landfill site on Steve’s Lane. “I think community solar would be a very good use for that property,” he said, adding that a recently established not-for-profit youth program in Gardiner had expressed interest in building trails for hiking and mountain biking on the 80-acre landfill parcel.
Councilwoman Laura Walls also endorsed the concept of doing more with less money by involving local volunteers — particularly with regard to empowering neighborhood associations in areas where road safety is an issue. She cited Dusinberre and Hasbrouck Roads as examples of neighborhoods where “some [drivers] respect pedestrians and some do not.” Walls suggested that instead of trying to legislate away problems or lobby the Department of Transportation to lower speed limits, the town serve as an umbrella for budding neighborhood organizations in need of structure and seed funding. “We need a bank of resources that these groups can use collectively,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity in neighborhoods where they choose to create a culture” that is pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.
Walls agreed with Reynolds that the creation of a community foundation similar to the one recently established in New Paltz might be helpful for funding local needs. But she also contended that property tax revenues were suffering due to “tax breaks to developers,” even when there is no evidence that such incentives are necessary. “Where’s the evidence of jobs?” she asked. “I support careful expansion, but not that we end up carrying people who don’t need to be carried.”
Several other board members echoed Walls’ frustration with Gardiner’s “very old bookkeeping system,” which is incompatible with modern fiscal management software but would be costly to replace. “We had a state comptroller’s audit several years ago that listed several things that we could do” to streamline and clarify fiduciary practices, she noted. “We need a strong internal control structure.”
Councilman David Dukler also stressed a need for more structure, particularly with regard to follow-through on needs and problems identified by the Town Board. “We need to look at the financing ahead of time,” he said. “Some could be two-, three-, four-year timeline plans…. We can’t obligate future boards, but can certainly provide them with a road map.”
Dukler agreed with other members that volunteerism is a resource that the town could tap more fully. “We have a lot of people stepping forward — it’s a hallmark of our time,” he noted, suggesting the creation of “ad hoc subcommittees” for addressing specific community concerns and needs. “I want to share the burden more.”
Wiegand expressed optimism that the Open Space Commission, long dormant, would soon have the required five members to resume operations. He urged that the Parks Committee create a written plan for its proposed expansion of programs, noting, “My experience with these things is, when you write it down, it gets done.” Similarly, he said, “I would like to write short, pithy mission statements for all the boards,” which “could be read at the beginning of meetings, so that the public knows” what each municipal body can and can’t do.
With regard to ongoing recent discussions about revisiting Gardiner’s aging Open Space Plan, Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Law, Wiegand recommended that town officials commit themselves to a thorough review process. “It could be a couple-year thing,” he said. “How do you eat an elephant? You start with one bite.”