Chris Marx, the elected Highway Superintendent and appointed Supervisor of Town Buildings and Grounds, wants to start closing town roads permanently and towing cars from the Community Center parking lot.
The problem with the roads, according to Marx, stems from a $240,000 cut to the roads and repairs line of the budget back in 2017. “We’re still not where we were in 2017, and the costs keep rising,” Marx said, and the problem has reached a “tipping point.” In an email Marx sent on February 28, the superintendent listed seven town roads that need an estimated $672,000 of work. Based on an assumption that state highway funding will decline, Marx is suggesting that those dollars be saved to tackle roads with more extensive needs in later years. In the meantime, patching would have to do under that scheme. “It’s not the year to be doing a lot of work.”
Dan Torres wondered about this news being shared now, several months after the year’s budget was approved. Marx pointed out that the amount budgeted for the road maintenance line was reduced from the initial request. Neil Bettez provided some historical context: the supervisor confirmed that from 2016-2021, the amount in the approved budget has in fact fallen short of what was requested, to the tune of $200,000 over those five years. Bettez said that it comes out to funding at 80% of what was requested, on average. Despite those and other cuts, the tax levy increase in 2016 was close to eight percent. For this year’s budget the increase was a much lower 3.8%, but keeping increases within the tax cap remains elusive.
Bettez also pointed out that Marx asked for a much larger increase for the 2022 budget, to add $275,000 when the highest since 2016 had previously been $130,000. The supervisor recalled that finding that extra money proved impossible, particularly since a major truck purchase was baked into this spending plan. Ironically, that truck isn’t expected to be delivered for two years, due to systemic supply chain issues.
Marx lists Elliots Lane as well as Canaan, Pine, Dug, Plutarch, Albany Post and Kleinkill roads as needing the most work, and warned that the projected cost could rise if blacktop prices go up. Posting warnings of potentially poor conditions would be needed if the maintenance is deferred. Marx spoke of using some of the free material received from the rail trail construction to shore up Pine Road, but also said that closing it could be necessary. Bettez dismissed that out of hand, as closing a road with residents living along it, is not possible. Marx also rejected an idea that was suggested by the superintendent “half joking,” to roll back the law requiring town roads be paved. Maintaining dirt roads requires a road grater and there is no longer one in the highway garage.
Not everyone believes that New Paltz roads are doomed to eternal potholes. Bettez believes that the federal infrastructure bill that was passed will result in more highway money coming down the pike. Nevertheless, roads are a core part of the responsibility of town government, and council members appeared to be taking the situation seriously. Based on budget discussions from years past, the continuing challenge is that pension and health care benefits that were committed to by past board members eat up more and more of the tax revenues each year. It’s the same problem faced in many towns throughout the state.
As for the Community Center, the parking lot there is used by residents of the apartment complex next door while the lot there is being plowed. What’s been an oral understanding about when it’s okay to move cars over there for some years turned into some kind of a misunderstanding after the most recent storm. Cars were moved before the Town lot was plowed, making it hard to remove snow and even harder for vehicle owners to dig out those cars afterward. In response to Marx wanting to call in two truck drivers, Bettez suggested memorializing the agreement with the management of that complex. It sounds like Marx knows what should be in it: when Skytop is visible, the storm is over; when the lot is plowed, cars can be moved into it. “I’m sure it can be worked out,” Marx agreed, and then the rules should be posted on signs. Officials are hoping that there are no additional storms this season to test the understanding, as it may take a couple of months to reduce the agreement to writing.