After a personal plea from the chief, Town of New Paltz officials are trying to give more financial support to the New Paltz Rescue Squad. Town council members approved a three-month contract at its January 19 meeting, in order to be able to revisit the issue once the town financial situation is clearer.
Town officials are in a challenging financial situation: taxpayers are frustrated by the pace of increases, but employees are leaving for jobs with higher pay and better benefits. Health care, pension contributions and fuel costs have heaped expense atop capital projects like the justice center that are seen as necessary to keep costs from ballooning even more in the long term.
The rescue squad is an independent nonprofit organization with money coming in from billing insurance companies, but that’s not enough to keep up the level of service New Paltz residents enjoy. In the past, Chief Matthew Goodnow has noted that the number of calls to Woodland Pond, for example, have been far higher than what was predicted by developers; frequently residents decline to be transported to a hospital, which means that there won’t be any insurance reimbursement for that work. As training standards have risen over the years, the squad’s percentage of volunteers has fallen off precipitously because the cost in time and money to qualify has become too high for most to undertake without pay.
In praising this local rescue squad, Supervisor Neil Bettez lifted up how fortunate those in New Paltz are compared to most county residents, saying, “I think we are the luckiest town,” and describing ambulance service as one of the “number one issues in other towns.” There is a desire “to keep this going,” Bettez said, and that this short contract is in place to allow for an increase. “I will say that it’s gonna go up,” the supervisor said, but, “I don’t know how much.”
The extra time will allow for some union contracts to be finalized, and to assess the state of unpredictable revenue streams such as sales and mortgage taxes.
Volunteer rewards spreading
Town officials are, like their colleagues on the Village Board, ready to consider a tax break for rescue squad and firefighting volunteers. This is now possible thanks to a change in state law, and a hearing on the question has been set for February 2. Under the new scheme, those two types of volunteers could be eligible for a property tax reduction due to that service. Supervisor Bettez said that county legislators and school board members are also considering whether they want to adopt similar measures. The one passed in the village last week was adopted after just one public hearing session, and no comments.
County collaboration continued
New Paltz Town Board members voted, without discussion, to approve a new contract to work with the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team, which according to the official write-up is “an inter-agency task force focusing on criminal activity ranging from cocaine and heroin trafficking to New-York-based gang operations active in Ulster,” and includes personnel from a handful of local police departments as well as a probation officer, US marshal and representative of the district attorney. One of the listed participating agencies is vaguely described as “United States.”
Five years ago, renewing this annual agreement was much more contentious. The sheriff at the time, Paul van Blarcum, had to argue in favor of continued participation personally at a town council meeting in February, 2018, and claimed that the only reasons to end the relationship would be “political.” Concerns at that meeting ranged from the use of minors as informants to whether the town’s sanctuary law would be respected during URGENT operations. Collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement seemed to be a particular red flag to council members at the time.
That was to be Van Blarcum’s last year in office, having lost the position to Juan Figueroa in the November, 2018 election. The county also has a different executive, and district attorney. The tensions that were high in 2018 seem to have eased quite a bit, given that continuing support for URGENT can now be given without comment.
Restructuring in the building department
Longtime New Paltz Building Department inspector Stacy Delarede is retiring and competition is fierce for individuals qualified to do that job. In order to make hiring a replacement a little bit easier, town council members are opting to broaden the search by advertising for a director of planning, zoning, and code enforcement. Supervisor Neil Bettez said after the January 19 meeting that it’s hoped this will allow enough flexibility to find someone who can oversee these interrelated tasks.