New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez expects that 2020 will be year of clearing projects from the to-do list, or at least moving them forward to a certain conclusion. Relocating town police and courts, which in turn opens up options to finally close down the temporary trailers put in by Susan Zimet to replace the moldy old town hall, will be the centerpiece, but other major infrastructure projects are also moving closer to a conclusion.
Bettez wonders if word has gotten out about the new court and police building planned for next to the firehouse on North Putt Corners Road. “Does everyone know?” he asked. “Two days ago I mentioned it to someone, and they had no clue,” despite the public meetings leading up to borrowing the money and purchasing the property. The lot has an existing steel warehouse building, which will be converted for all the town’s justice needs by the end of 2021, if the supervisor has his way.
Police and court officials have worked to finalize the design, and “energy modeling” is being paid for through a state grant. The supervisor said that this modeling will help them get “the most green building possible for the budget.” That might include deciding how much insulation to use, for example, or how to lay out the rooms to maximize the benefits of ultra-efficient mini-split heat pumps. A consultant paid for with the grant from the New York State Energy Development Corporation will propose specific ideas to incorporate. Bettez believes the building could achieve a net-zero energy status.
The return on that investment should be rather quick for the police portion of the building, as it’s in constant use and represents a much larger energy drain than most other town services. That savings might be accelerated because by the time the new building is open for business, community choice aggregation will already be in effect. That’s the system under which, as of January, town residents who haven’t entered into a contract with a separate provider will start saving money on their electric bills while using energy entirely from renewable sources.
Any contracts with an energy service company will remain in effect. Bettez recently learned that he’s got such an arrangement, about which he had forgotten. He’d signed an ESCO contract to secure green energy for more than the market rate because he considered it worth the cost, but over time, “that cost has crept up,” and now by switching back to the default he’ll get the same environmental benefit while also saving money each month. He’s also a participant in community solar, which provides a credit on his bill in return for purchasing local solar power; this is also not disrupted by this group-purchasing effort.
On the other hand, the protection afforded those ESCO relationships can be used to take advantage. New Paltz residents have been receiving more mailings from such companies since the CCA process was started. “I think it’s pretty shady,” the supervisor observed. The CCA process is a “100% governor initiative,” but local laws must be passed to use the new structure to save money. Some residents have questioned its legitimacy as well, but letters about the process were mailed out in accordance with state law.
Another energy initiative, building solar over the capped town landfill, will not have ground broken in 2019. That’s not because some people questioned the wisdom of taking down trees in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint, but because the preferred vendor came back with a much smaller plan after actually walking the site. As the new proposal would result in less energy being produced than even the second bidder offered, negotiations with principals of that vendor, Hesp Solar, have begun in earnest and are expected to be concluded by the end of April.
Town taxpayers should also look to save money on the cost of lighting streets sometime in 2020. The current arrangement involves paying for lights rented from Central Hudson, but another gubernatorial initiative has opened the door to purchasing those lights and paying for the electricity and maintenance directly. Ownership will allow for faster conversion to light-emitting diodes, which use significantly less power than older bulbs. Moreover, the conversion will result in each light having a meter, with actual energy charges being assessed rather than a general amount based on the number of lights.
Control over lights will also mean control of direction and brightness. A full audit of town lights will be performed once the deal is sealed, Bettez said, and the new LEDs could even allow for brightness to be adjusted remotely based on the needs in a given area throughout the course of a day.
The cost of renting the lights is $25,000 a year, which the supervisor said “is enough to buy and install a new light.” The purchase will be financed through the New York Power Authority, but the exact cost can’t be nailed down due to complex rules imposed on these transactions. How they’re maintained is also not quite finalized: the requirements include using union electricians, and a consortium of several local communities has been formed to secure a contract with an appropriate vendor. However, Bettez is confident that the final price will mean that after four or five years, the debt will be paid and the ongoing costs will only be for maintenance and electricity.
Improvements to Henry W. Dubois Drive
Henry W. Dubois Drive might get some lighting changes to accommodate the Empire State Trail. It will certainly be getting other improvements, specifically a pedestrian path alongside the state-spanning bike path. Funding for the project was secured early in the year, and since town officials have been finalizing details and complying with state requirements such as forming a committee to issue the request for quotes and rank the bidders. Alta Planning, the contractor for the overall planning of the Empire State Trail, was awarded this work. Public meetings on the details will be held as that project unfolds.
Relocation of Town hall
Even as plans move forward to relocate the town court, there is another project which will put the main village firehouse right next door. That will leave much of 23 Plattekill Avenue vacant, and Bettez wants to move the remaining town offices into the courthouse space if at all possible. Outgoing town council member Marty Irwin, who has expressed his developer’s skepticism that the entire building could be refurbished to become a joint municipal center, has agreed to advise on the question. Whether or not a fully shared space comes to pass, the court is town property and the supervisor wants to get town employees there rather than in aging rental trailers if at all possible.
“Maybe the building is too far gone and expensive,” to remodel, Bettez acknowledges, “but we’ll check it out.” In the worse case, he thinks it’s a better site for building new than the location of the old Town Hall on Veterans Drive. Keeping town offices adjacent to village employees provides opportunities for sharing costs such as for copying machines, but the supervisor has no intention of trying to merge local governments in the wake of the disastrous attempt made only a few years ago. “We’d have to earn [residents’] trust before ever talking about consolidation,” he said. As for Town Hall itself, he wants a firm plan in place by the end of 2021.
Sewer district six and water district five
Another lingering town infrastructure problem is also nearing resolution: sewer district six, which serves only a relatively small number of households in Ohioville. With how special tax districts are set up, repairing a plant that has been long neglected by public officials could only be paid for by residents of that district. The solution Bettez prefers would be to connect those homes to the village system at North Putt Corners Road. Making that palatable will require analyzing infiltration and inflow into aging pipes, which adds strain to sanitary systems by forcing the unnecessary treatment of runoff. The eight- to 10,000 gallons of raw sewage might prove to be a smaller amount if leaks are identified and repaired. This work is ongoing in the village due to a consent order, but there is a “perverse incentive” to avoid looking at the issue on the town level, because sewer bills are based on water meter readings only.
All of the town water meters will coincidentally be replaced thanks to the taxpayers of the City of New York. It’s part of a deal to make sure New Paltz has enough of a backup system to weather shutdowns of the Catskill Aqueduct. The meters will allow for more frequent billing and thus faster leak detection. Another part of that wider plan, water district five on Plains Road, could be built in the next year or two. The last of three lawsuits filed by neighbors has reached the point of final appeal, and if the decision goes to the town, then work may be able to proceed. The district would only serve a small number of households, but is being set up to provide a backup supply that would expand the buffer from the present 3-5 days to as much as ten weeks. Dave Roehrs, who owns the land that will be sold to install that infrastructure, has promised to build a soccer field there, too.
Soccer fields at the Field of Dreams will be completed in the spring, thanks to the donated time and materials coordinated by Paul Colucci and involving a number of other local contractors. The supervisor understands that they could be ready for play in the summer or fall. For those who like to walk around without chasing a ball, two bridges will be installed in Mill Brook Preserve thanks to grant funding.
Reining in costs
Not everything can be paid for through grants, and town taxpayers have been feeling the pinch as the budget has increased faster than the tax cap for several years. The primary drivers for this are health insurance and retirement contributions, and the supervisor is seeing some slowdown in health care costs in particular. “I’m hoping the days of ten to 15 percent increases in insurance are over,” the supervisor said. New staff positions aren’t being created and there’s a focus on efficiency instead. In the long term, Bettez believes ending the expensive lease for a police headquarters and rental costs for trailers to house town hall workers — each a problem he inherited from a different predecessor — will also contribute to efforts to rein in costs.