Like decision-makers at other levels of governments, New Paltz village officials are worried. Very worried. They are anticipating that revenues for the fiscal 2020-21 year may fall short by $2.2 million as a result of pandemic-related shutdowns.
Trustees approved a $6.8-million village budget in March that included no increase in property taxes, water or sewer rates. It was already understood at that time that the economic impacts of governor Andrew Cuomo shutting down non-essential services would be far-reaching. But trustees opted to adopt the budget as a pre-pandemic baseline rather than attempt to forecast the future.
Now, the data is coming in, and the atmosphere has darkened considerably.
Using a survey offered through several municipal support groups, mayor Tim Rogers, village treasurer Nancy Branco, and other staff members have made estimates of various revenue streams.
They projected a doomsday scenario.
For starters, they expect that property-tax payments will be off by a third. Landlords, who often depend on rent to cover taxes as well as their own borrowing, have seen their incomes languish.
Fees for planning applications and zoning appeals are projected to drop by half. Building permits and safety inspections are also expected to be reduced by half. Water and sewer use has fallen a third, as many students have left the area to continue their studies remotely.
Former mayor Jason West has described New Paltz as a factory town. The factory is presently shuttered.
Between academic and seasonal tourism, the village rakes in more than half a million dollars for parking. That’s expected to be down to just $2000 for this fiscal year. Taxes on the recording of mortgages and on the transmission of utilities are affected. The expected reductions in the general fund will result in a loss of some $20,000 in interest income.
If expenses remain the same and trustees opt to use the remaining fund balance to pay them, there’d be a shortfall of an estimated $700,000. That strategy would leave absolutely nothing left to address contingencies.
The solution? Federal help. “It is truly frightening that municipalities across the country are facing similarly difficult prospects,” Rogers wrote. “Local governments need federal funding.”
The local real-estate market
How will life after lockdown impact the local real estate market? The topic has been coming up during weekly online discussions with Village of New Paltz business owners. Matt Eyler, broker-owner of the commercial real estate firm New Paltz Properties, offered his insights based on his 20 years in the business locally.
It’s been estimated that 70% of village residents are renters, and that the proportion of renters in the remainder of the town is on the rise. Many people have invested in houses for rent, and Eyler believes that most of that investment is on borrowed money.
Depending on when and how completely the college campus is reopened for in-person classes, many landlords might find themselves needing to sell as the rental income dries up. That’s a force that could depress prices.
On the other hand, there is reason to believe that homes in New Paltz and the entire region have become more attractive to current New York City residents. Just as there was an influx of newcomers in the wake of 9/11, the high rates of coronavirus infection in and around the Big Apple might inspire a similar push.
Moreover, this would come after many people have had weeks to master working remotely, meaning that such moves might not even come with much of an economic hit for some. Those buyers could be enough to swallow up the additional supply.
“New Paltz has culture and beauty, and is an easy fit for a New York City person,” Eyler said.
People seeking single-family homes for their own use might be in a position to compete with investors who see them only as cash cows in a college town, particularly if rental demand drops because education is delivered differently at the university.
In the short term, Eyler believes, rents on single-family homes may actually increase. When his family moved to New Paltz 20 years ago, they chose to rent first to allow themselves time to decide on a permanent home. He believes others will follow suit, but only for some properties. “Will they want a place where six strangers share a bathroom and a kitchen? Probably not.”
In the very short term, landlords and tenants are heating up their online rhetoric about what should be expected of whom. Tenants who have lost income or left the area are trying to avoid paying more rent, but landlords have their own creditors to deal with/
Christian holds fireside chat
SUNY New Paltz president Donald Christian offered an online “fireside chat” last Friday to connect with people interested in how SUNY New Paltz is faring during the pandemic. This opportunity was specifically offered to alumni and local residents and others who aren’t looped into the steady stream of campus community communications.
Christian appeared beside a fire in the presidential home. Consistent with this sudden work-from-home culture, his dog Hans wandered in and out as his master spoke about plans and answered questions submitted through Facebook and Instagram.
Some students find it challenging to continue their education while living among family elsewhere. College officials have helped address technology needs, but it’s more difficult to assist with issues around having the time and focus to do the work. Christian has heard many inspirational stories about how people have worked together and separately to overcome the challenges of a remote learning environment.
It’s been a massive adjustment for faculty as well as for students. There are staff members who need to get into the office, and that’s being scheduled to avoid contact with coworkers. Christian praised all staff members for managing this unanticipated transition, mentioning in particular the members of the counseling department.
Due to social-distance requirements, construction projects have largely come to a halt for the time being.
Those graduating this year will be afforded a virtual experience, with the promise of an opportunity to walk the stage next year, or when it’s safe to gather in numbers again. Nearly a thousand students have signed up to participate in the virtual event, and 700 of those have already submitted a photograph to be displayed as their name is read. While it’s not a replacement for a traditional ceremony, “we wanted some form of acknowledgement here in the spring,” Christian said.
Much of summer teaching is online already. The number of people registering for those classes is on par with years past. The biggest question for New Paltz residents is whether there will be classes in person again in the fall. Administrators are working on plans for full attendance, a completely remote experience, and a hybrid model that reduces the numbers on campus. There are areas for which remote education is not possible, such as some laboratory classes.
No matter which model is adopted for the fall, it’s not clear how enrollment will be affected. Some people may not feel safe attending a college, no matter the precautions taken. Others may have lost their ability to pay tuition because of the economy. In-person attendance drives a significant portion of the local economy.
Though Christian hasn’t had a lockdown of luxury, learning skeet-shooting or cultivating a garden; managing the university in absentia has been a pedal-to-the-metal experience for him. He said that working from home was exhausting.
His fireside appearance had some moments of levity. He agreed that he would have a falcon as a pet “in a heartbeat” if it were possible.
Asked whether he’d prefer a fresh-baked cookie or a warm brownie, he replied, “Why not both?”