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Government efficiency group rules out New Paltz as city

by Erin Quinn
January 20, 2011 01:22 PM | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The New Paltz Government Efficiency Committee held its first meeting of the year last week at Village Hall. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
The New Paltz Government Efficiency Committee held its first meeting of the year last week at Village Hall. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
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The joint New Paltz town-village “Re-Inventing Local Government” steering committee met this past Monday morning to move forward on a thorough study of either a co-terminus town/village or new and better shared services between the town and village.

Already the ideas of turning New Paltz into a city and the dissolution of the village have been shelved by the committee and Fairweather Consultants.

Fairweather Consultants was hired by the town and village to guide them through the government efficiency study, which is funded by a $50,000 New York State Department grant.

Supervisor Toni Hokanson wanted to go on record that she was not in favor of taking the dissolution of the village off the table.

“The grant specifies that we were to study all options and then present them to the public,” she said. “Now we’re taking so much off of the table that I think in the end we will suffer for it when we go to the voters and they will say, ‘what about other options?’”

Peter Fairweather said he understood Hokanson’s point, but that “dissolution” was not off-the-table, as it could be the end result of a co-terminus dissolution. However, the “process for getting there” was taken off the table by the committee because only village residents could vote for it, whereas the co-terminus option would have all “town and village residents” able to participate in the vote.

Trustee Shari Osborn said that having all residents participate in the vote was “critical,” and that in her estimation, “dissolution of the village, since I’m the one saying things that no one wants to say, is not appealing to anyone in the village that I’ve spoken with or am friends with.”

Several members of the steering committee, particularly Nancy Cohen, shared concerns that the very rough estimate of potential tax impacts for consolidation of the town and village would result in a ballpark ten percent increase for town residents and a significant decrease for village residents.

“I don’t care how we get there, or what the government structure is, but no one I know wants to see their taxes increase,” she said.

After much discussion among steering committee members it was agreed that the baseline fiscal analysis, while daunting at times, presents a framework for determining ways to achieve full consolidation that eliminates or minimizes any potential tax rate increases for residents.

Gerald Benjamin said that “we know what the problem is, and this (potential ten percent tax hike) is the problem. The question then becomes, how do we proceed in a way that finds a solution to that problem, whether it be a new program sponsored by the governor, or a government framework,” or, potentially a phase-in of efficiency and a state-funded consolidation that helps to ameliorate residents’ tax rates and concerns.

The supervisor, noting that she was a minority at the table of the ten-person steering committee, reiterated that she felt it was too early on to eliminate village dissolution from the “thorough study.”

Benjamin said he understood Hokanson’s point and suggested that a full explanation and summary and detailed analysis be provided by the consultants as to why the committee took that option off of the table. That way, voters could be educated as to why the choice had been eliminated and why other choices were considered to be, by the committee, not prudent to pursue.

The consultants agreed that this would be part of their analysis and public education, and outreach documents.

As for shared services, the committee concurred that there needed to be great detail in how, if certain departments were merged into one -- for example the highway department and village buildings and grounds -- that union contracts would be handled, employees would retain their jobs and the cost of equipment shared.

They noted that it could leave many employees unsettled to think that consolidation of their departments would result in job loss. So there needs to be a plan laid out to explain what jobs, if any, would be lost. And if they are lost, a timeline should be given for when those jobs might expire.

Hokanson noted that it put the town in a difficult position in the particular example of the highway department. “Our employees make less than the village employees. And if we were to merge, the village union would not accept a salary reduction, so the town would have to increase their wages, which again, results in a town tax rate increase.”

The consultants said that these were the finer points of the detailed fiscal analysis that needed to be looked at when considering shared services or a co-terminus government.

Shared services, as outlined in the grant, also include the New Paltz Central School District and SUNY New Paltz as partners in efficiency and effectiveness of services expanded by the various entities and supported by taxpayers’ dollars.

The co-terminus or “unifying” government option is one that would allow the consolidation of the town and village into a single entity, making the boundaries of the village and town the same. It would have only one board and one executive -- a mayor or supervisor, depending on how the laws are written -- to govern both municipalities.

The consultants, the steering committee and the citizens advisory committee will now begin to research, educate and analyze how these options might be achieved. They’ll also publicly announce what the financial impact of each option and what sort of return the taxpayers could get from restructuring the government.

The committee meets on the second Monday of every month at 9 a.m. Meetings are open to the public. The next scheduled committee meeting is Monday, Feb. 14 at Town Hall.

The project also has a citizen’s advisory committee that will have its next public meeting on Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. in Village Hall. You can learn more about the Government Efficiency Project at http://newpaltz.ning.com.

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