By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
A $1,000 argument broke out Nov. 3 at the Cold Spring Village Board meeting. Trustees Airinhos Serradas, in person, and Charles Hustis, in absentia, continued their sharp criticism of Mayor Seth Gallagher over issues involving the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan-Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. And again the mayor continued to respond forcefully.
At stake this time: A budget supplement for the Special Board, whose fiscal 2010-11 budget is $11,000. The Special Board was seeking $1,000 more to allow Green Plan, the Comprehensive Plan consultant firm, to attend a Nov. 16th forum being held to brief the Village Board and the standing boards (Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), and Historic District Review Board (HDRB), and Recreation Commission). As he presented the request for the $1000, Gallagher said that Special Board members “have been good at spending the money. They’ve been diligent about not wasting it and really saving us as much money as possible.”
“For $1,000 at this critical time to make sure all the questions are answered properly — I don’t think it should be a problem at all,” Trustee Bruce Campbell agreed.
The resolution under consideration proposed taking the $1,000 from extra funds in the recycling program. The Village Board routinely approves such transfers from one account with a surplus to another with an unexpected need. At its October monthly meeting, it unanimously authorized 10 such transfers. However, the Special Board proposal drew fire from Serradas at the meeting. Hustis, who did not attend the meeting, wrote a notarized letter in protest.
Serradas announced that he had a list of questions regarding the Special Board and began with criticism of the $1,000 supplement. “I’m a bit confused as to why the Comprehensive Plan is coming to the taxpayers, quite frankly, and the village for additional monies,” he said. “The Comprehensive Plan does have money right now.” He recommended using funds designated for the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act analysis, or SEQRA, which would be conducted to gauge whether the Comprehensive Plan would have an adverse impact on the environment. “I think setting money aside for SEQRA is premature,” Serradas said. “The money is already there. Why not use it?”
Hustis made a similar argument in his letter. “Asking for an additional $1,000 when you have remaining funds that can surely fund a SEQRA review, as well as having a consultant there for the 11/16 meeting, is just ridiculous and a waste of the Village Board’s time and efforts,” he stated. “Use what you have left in the Special Board budget right now, meaning spend smartly and not foolishly.” In his letter, read aloud by Serradas, Hustis also asserted that “the Special Board answers to the Village Board of Trustees and they are not above the law.”
Gallagher said that the SEQRA money “is spoken for. We have a contract. It cannot be used for that” Nov. 16 meeting instead of its ascribed purpose, he said. “It’s something that has to be in there” in the Special Board account, reserved for the SEQRA analysis. After several minutes of increasingly contentious debate, Gallagher urged they move on. “I’d like to cake care of this as quickly as possible,” he said.
“Can I finish what I was saying?” Serradas asked.
“You can go on to the next point,” Gallagher said.
“No, I can’t,” Serradas replied.
“Yes, you can. You have to ask,” the mayor said.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Serradas asked. “I was not done.”
“I have not recognized you,” Gallagher shot back. “If you cannot behave, this is not going to work.”
By then they were shouting at each other and when Serradas continued talking, Gallagher informed the trustee he would be instructed to leave if he did not follow meeting protocol. As Serradas persisted, Gallagher told him to “please leave.” Serradas did not comply and Gallagher called a five-minute recess.
“I’m just looking for an amicable resolution,” Trustee J. Ralph Falloon said as the session got back underway. Serradas resumed his objections to the $1,000 allocation. In the Special Board budget, “every dollar is pretty much spoken for,” Campbell reiterated. “This is [for] work that wasn’t anticipated.” Serradas cited the $4,914 in the Special Board coffers. “I think that just tweaking this for giggles is ridiculous,” he said — provoking more outcries. They finally voted several minutes later, approving the $1,000 supplement 3 to 1, with Serradas as the lone “no” voice.
The Special Board released its draft Comprehensive Plan on Sept. 29 and held two subsequent public information sessions as well as a two-part official public hearing to obtain feedback from residents. (Since fall 2006, there have been about 25 special public meetings on the Comprehensive Plan initiative.)
Audience member Stephanie Hawkins subsequently chastised Serradas for his attitude toward the Special Board, saying his conduct could make residents unwilling to volunteer for village committees. “You’re tone has been very accusing and insulting,” she said. “You are addressing these very small things in a way that suggests you don’t have a perspective of what the important things are here. Be a little more resident-friendly, please.”
“I assume that goes for the rest of the board, right?” Serradas answered.
Again Gallagher urged them to move on. The board subsequently approved payment of bills, 3 to 1, with Serradas dissenting. However, on a resolution of support for a grant application by Scenic Hudson, which owns the West Point Foundry site in the village, the board displayed unanimity. The resolution passed with all four board members voting “yes.”
Editor’s Note: Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong, who covers village governmental affairs, served on the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan for two years and her husband now chairs that board.