Town of Ulster applies for an upgrade in status

In Section 10 of the Laws of New York State, the Town of Ulster is identified as second class, a distinction generally given based upon population. The article was written in 2014 and the classification goes back even further. As 2021 draws to a close, Ulster town officials are considering seeking an upgrade to first class status. 

In New York State, a town can be considered first class by virtue of having a population of 10,000 or greater. The Town of Ulster first crossed that threshold in the 1970 census when they were shown to have a population of 11,711, a 38.6 percent increase over their population a decade earlier. The population has slightly risen with each successive census, hitting 12,327 in 2010. According to the United States Census website, the town had an estimated population of 12,598 in July 2019. 

The distinctions are very few. One difference described at the town’s December 2 meeting is that it allows them to create positions — such as a comptroller — without going to referendum.

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“I think it would simplify things going forward,” said Town Attorney Jason Kovacs. “If we created any new positions, if we needed that…we’d have more power, more responsibility.” 

But if the Town of Ulster meets the first class criteria, why are they considered by the state to be second class? According to Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III, the town reportedly passed on being bumped up to first class over 50 years ago. 

“I myself was perplexed when I read in the Association of Towns manual on the distinctions between the first class and second class towns in the state, and I was wondering myself why the Town of Ulster was singled out,” said Quigley during a Town Board meeting held on Thursday, December 2. The supervisor said he discovered that the Town Board asked for a special designation to remain second class despite knowing they were going to be eligible for first class status based upon their population. 

“Since there is no one alive from the Town Board from that era, I did my best to talk to some of the old-timers who could give me only rumor and innuendo as to why it was done, and researched high and low in the town clerk’s office, and could not find anything in the Town’s minute books as to a request from the Town asking for this action,” he said. “Basically, the rumor and innuendo that was explained to me was that the Town Board at that time was concerned about…being imposed with certain requirements when they transitioned to a town of the first class as it related to the police department and other legislative activities that [were] going on at the time.”

Quigley added that he was unable to find further clarification because the state was unable to provide a bill jacket from the early ‘70s relating to the request. 

In the present, town officials are considering seeking first class status for a variety of reasons, including streamlining the process for the creation of new municipal positions.

Councilmen are expected to vote on whether to seek first class status at their meeting scheduled for Thursday, December 16. 

“I would hope that in the future, when this is voted on, we would all reflect on the fact that we don’t deserve to be second class citizens,” Quigley said.