New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers has his village’s fire station on his mind, but it’s only one of several large projects that will be started, concluded or be moved significantly forward in 2020. As “head cheerleader” for the village, Rogers sees his role as supporting the near-tireless and very enthusiastic municipal employees who are ensuring that a number of critical infrastructure projects get done to keep the water and sewer systems flowing and emergency services responsive.
Fire station #2 on North Putt Corners Road
Building a facility that is large enough for all the fire and rescue equipment needed in New Paltz has been in the works since 2013, and is built on plans that go back much further. Breaking ground to realize those dreams should be happening in 2020, with the current station #2 on North Putt Corners Road being replaced with a modern fire and rescue facility that will then be the sole firehouse in the community. Thanks to a state grant, it’s possible that the building might even achieve net-zero energy consumption.
Funding was awarded through the New York State Energy Research Development Agency to hire a consultant to look into improving the new firehouse’s carbon footprint. Given that the building was designed under the purview of Alfandre Architecture, already known for award-winning green buildings, it’s likely any suggestions to improve energy efficiency while remaining under budget will be welcomed. If the building can’t actually be constructed for net-zero energy consumption, the mayor said it would be a “whole lot closer” to that mark once that review is complete.
Much of the money for this project — $5 million — comes from the state treasury. Governor Andrew Cuomo, in 2013, earmarked money to help with recovery efforts and resilience projects in the wake of the storms Irene, Lee and Sandy, and comes from the allotment for both town and village governments because the village fire department provides those services in the remainder of the town under contract. It’s the busiest department in the county, and firefighters have been parking four trucks in the three bays they have available on Plattekill Avenue for longer than that. Plans to find more space for this service predate even those storms of early this decade, with money being the biggest impediment to their realization, and newer equipment that fits in the existing space can be hard to find.
Concentrating municipal offices to the Plattekill Avenue complex
Once all the fire activity is centered at the corner of North Putt Road and Henry W. Dubois Drive, other possibilities will be opened up for that space, especially since the justice court operations are also slated to be moved from the town-owned portion of the Plattekill Avenue complex. Like his colleague Neil Bettez, supervisor of the town, Rogers hopes a way to concentrate municipal offices on that campus can be realized, to improve convenience to all town residents, as well as provide opportunities for efficiency and innovation by working in closer proximity. While the village has been likened to California and the remainder of the town to Connecticut, the mayor would like to see their workers in much closer proximity than that simile suggests.
Fire station #1 is also the traditional end point for the popular Halloween parade. If the building is renovated and that large space where volunteers hand out Hershey bars and apples goes away, it may be time to consider a different route. Rogers considered that question on the fly, and thinks that Huguenot Street might be an alternative. The pedestrian-only section is already alive with trick-or-treaters prior to the parade, and with funding in hand to improve the historic neighborhood’s visitor center he believes it could be a good fit for post-parade action as well. He did not in any way suggest that he’s made a proposal to Historic Huguenot Street board members; however the parade route is ultimately changed will depend on some formal talks. It could also shift some of the economic realities around the village, with some homeowners seeing fewer children at the door on Halloween, and others getting a marked increase.
2019 closed out with another big state grant, $3 million to replace failing water mains. This is good news, but it was also occasion for the mayor to reflect on the imperfections he sees in the system for doling out state aid. Cuomo reorganized all awards to be vetted through one of ten regional economic development councils, setting up an inter-regional competition to get the most money by offering up the most compelling argument for economic development. Rogers never had to obtain state aid under the old system, which involved applying to a variety of state agencies directly and also relying on funding earmarked by state legislators. Overall, he believes that this structure is more transparent and results in a more equitable distribution of available funds. “I approve of the spirit of the process,” he said.
Within each region, council members score applications based on various criteria, and Rogers thinks that those criteria aren’t capturing some important data. The village has been under a consent order to fix sewer problems since 2003, and based on how often grants to replace sewer lines get rejected, the mayor doesn’t believe that this fact is given due weight in and of itself. He also thinks that a history of past awards should be considered: one state grant made it possible to identify the worst sewer main problems using cameras, but the project which was proposed based on those findings “is now not a priority,” which suggests some kind of disconnect.
Disconnecting inferior old water and sewer mains
Disconnecting inferior old water and sewer mains will be a priority in the village in the coming year, as this new grant comes even as sewer work already planned for this year will be done on some of the same streets. What’s on the mayor’s plate is prioritizing and coordinating the work. All of it has to be done with specified deadlines, but no one wants to rip open a street twice if all the work can be done at once. There’s also another $2 million which must be borrowed as the required match for the water main grant, and that must be carefully managed to keep the village’s credit rating — and borrowing rates — as good as possible. Doing this work could make other needed improvements possible, too. The mayor is eyeing the North Chestnut water main, which he’d like to connect to the one on Huguenot Street if he can. Any time one can turn a dead-end pipe into a loop, it increases pressure and water availability for users, especially the ones who live all the way at the end of a line.
As that consent order is still in effect, village officials are looking for innovative ways to complete this necessary work. It was good news that a grant to do camera work to identify problems in town sewer lines was awarded, since many of those feed into the village system. An innovative grant was also awarded to use these cameras to identify leaking laterals, the pipes that connect private residences to the public system. Some village residents have been told point-blank by a mayor that village money will never be spent on a private sewer problem, but in applying for this money that objection was successfully overcome. This pilot program will cost $334,000, 25% of which will be funded through local tax dollars. Bonticue View Road, Harrington and Prospect streets top the list of areas worthy of this closer look. Rogers hopes he can coordinate with town officials to get all the camera work done at the same time, to cut the cost still more.
There is a precedent for using public money on private property in New York, whereby health department money was used to replace lead pipes leading into homes. State environmental officials helped shape the application using a similar rationale, that the public benefit is large and the incentive for a private property owner to do the work is often not. After 16 years of replacing mains to eliminate the inflow and infiltration into the village treatment plant, the mayor said, the volume of liquid was still triple normal during a recent rainstorm. Private property represents a critical next phase in addressing this longtime environmental issue, which at its worst has resulted in raw sewage flowing down village streets and into the Wallkill River.
Upgrading opportunities to charge for parking
Rogers is also looking forward to being able to upgrade opportunities to charge people for parking. Right now street parking is controlled solely by mechanical meters and changing the prices on those is cost-prohibitive. The Plattekill Avenue lot has gone through many changes since it was wrested from the world of free parking during the Dungan administration, but village officials were extremely dissatisfied with the last kiosk installed there to separate drivers from their money. It jammed, it broke, it occupied a lot of time for staffers in the village clerk’s office. He calls that a “hiccup,” one which will be corrected when a new kiosk arrives. That will open up the possibility of taking payment via mobile phone, and to exert more control over how much is charged than can be managed through the meters. The mayor said he’s hearing that people want that option and he hopes it will at last be provided in 2020.
In short, construction could well be rampant over the next two summers, but the work will make the village a safer, healthier place to live and work, whether one walks or drives to get there.