By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Cold Spring Village Board Tuesday night (April 5) agreed to alter its draft 2011-12 budget to add $2,500 more to the mayor’s compensation; later it engaged in lively interaction with audience members over ideas for enhancing village revenues, including paid parking. But the two-hour workshop ended with friction over the Cold Spring Fire Company’s refusal to provide the village government with more than one key to the firehouse, which the village owns.”
Taking up an issue batted back and forth for several years and initially raised when Anthony Phillips was mayor, the board voted 4-1 to modify the draft budget to augment the mayor’s overall pay with a stipend for being village budget officer. Should someone other than the mayor be appointed budget officer, the money would go to that person. The mayor makes a base salary of $9,000 a year and gets another $1,000 for committee work. The board intends to bring the entire budget to a final vote on April 26. The draft budget also contains raises for various village employees. A public hearing on the budget is slated for tonight (Thursday, April 7) at 7 p.m. at the village hall, 85 Main St.
“The office of the mayor is something that requires a lot more hours than it used to,” Trustee Bruce Campbell commented, before proposing a motion to add the $2,500. “I think it’s justifiable to ask for an increase of $2,500.” A few weeks ago, the board had briefly talked of a $5,000 increase for a job that, as Mayor Seth Gallagher observed, provides no health insurance or benefits. Trustee Charles Hustis questioned the need for even the lesser increase, though he later voted for it. “Isn’t that the responsibility prescribed for the office of mayor, being budget officer? Why would you want $2,500 for that responsibility if it’s prescribed as your responsibility?” Trustee Airinhos Serradas objected to the proposal. “To me a raise is a raise,” he said. “I don’t car e how you couch it. If this is going to be done, it should’ve been done before an election, not after. I take umbrage to that. I think every resident would be offended by that.”
The board conferred on the matter last year, Gallagher recalled. “We said we were not going to do the raise” at that stage, “we’re going to do it next year  after the election,” which occurred March 15. A year ago, “there was no dissent,” Gallagher added. “There were nods of ‘yes, that’s the better time to do it, because you don’t know who’s going to be mayor, so it’s not directly affecting one person.'” A year ago, “I didn’t agree to any raise” for the mayor, Serradas said. Nor did he agree this year, calling out the lone “opposed” vote while Campbell, Hustis, Gallagher and Trustee J. Ralph Falloon all backed the measure.
Ways to generate village revenue –parking meters?
On other money-related matters, Tom Rolston, a village resident who owns the Depot restaurant, urged the board to support new ways to bolster village finances. The proposed 2011-12 budget would increase taxes about 1 percent. “It should be zero,” Rolston urged. “Being creative with our revenues, we can keep it at zero” in the future as well, he said. Over the years, “there’ve been a number of proposals made about how to increase the revenue of this village and they’ve all been set aside,” he said. “The main thing, which would be $200,000 extra to this budget, was [paid] parking.” He proposed both installation of modern parking meters on Main Street and better enforcement of parking restrictions. About two years ago, the Village Board discussed use of a modern parking meter system, which would use a single machine for a number of parking spaces (similar to the arrangement at the Metro North lot). In one version, drivers could buy a sticker from the machine and place it in their windshields to indicate they had paid for parking; the machines would accept coins, dollar bills, credit cards and perhaps other tokens for payment. Some might also be programmed to allow free, short-stay parking or to otherwise accommodate residents’ needs. In any case, the result would be “win-win,” Rolston said. “If I look at this budget and add $200,000 to the bottom line, that’s a lot of money.”
His comments prompted extended debate among residents in the audience and board members, with calls for a means to exempt residents from parking meter payments, creation of parking zones in which residents would not be charged for parking, or similar provisions — some of which would reportedly conflict with New York State laws. Thomas Ambrose cautioned that metering some areas of the village would only push drivers to park on other, unmetered residential streets. “How do you mitigate that?”
Mayor Gallagher, a long-time paid-parking skeptic, said that both better enforcement of parking restrictions, which currently limit the hours a vehicle can stay, and paid parking could inconvenience residents. The hour-limit rule “is enforced somewhat on Main Street but not the side streets,” he said. Through better enforcement, “you can give tickets, but you’d be giving tickets to everybody. You’re going to hit residents. That’s not what they want.” As for paid parking, “the reason we wouldn’t want it is that I think it can change the character of the village. I just think there’s a downside,” he said. “It may work out in the end, but it’s not a no-brainer. I have reservations about it.” However, he noted, “I just need to be convinced. I’m just one vote, also.” The trustees seemed more favorably inclined.
“I think we could raise a tremendous amount of revenue. I will take on the task” of researching the options and get the matter back on the table, Serradas promised.
“It’s a wonderful idea. We need the money. We need meters,” Hustis said. “So let’s go.”
“I have mixed feelings,” Campbell said. “Lots of people are against it. But there are so many good ways it could be beneficial to the village.” He proposed efforts to educate the public as to what would really be involved, including the positive aspects.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Falloon put in. However, “you don’t want to just shove it down anyone’s throat. I’ve heard the complainers “¦ long-standing residents and business people. So there’s some work to be done” to gain acceptance. He termed the programmable meters “the key to the whole thing. It’s letting people know that what’s not working can be changed. I think that’s a huge selling point.”
Boat Club as income source?
Rolston also recommended that the village use the waterfront as a money-maker. “The dock could be a tremendous revenue-builder for this village.” Furthermore, he said, “we could get creative with the Boat Club, without offending anybody in the Boat Club — me, a member, also.”
“Too late. You just offended them. You brought up their name!” Falloon quipped, drawing laughter throughout the room.
Undaunted, Rolston continued. “We don’t have to take the Boat Club away from them to generate revenue from the Boat Club. And they know it.”
On a related topic, Gallagher announced that the captain of the former Coast Guard buoy tender, who had sought to moor it in Cold Spring several months a year and give tours, decided to headquarter it in Peekskill instead. When broached in December, her proposal seemingly generated backing from the Village Board and from members of the public and would have dropped about $9,000 a year in rental revenue into village coffers. But local opposition subsequently developed. Gallagher said the captain is still interested in having her tour boat make stops in Cold Spring.
The keys to the firehouse
The meeting ended with verbal sparring over the Cold Spring Fire Company’s changing of the locks on the firehouse and refusal to supply the village office with more than one key. “We want to have more than one key. We want to have the police have a key,” Gallagher told Fire Chief Chris Tobin, who came to the meeting to inform the board of the fire company’s position. “We’re the landlord.”
“I don’t know why you’d need to be in there,” Tobin replied. Likewise, “we don’t want the police in our building.” He compared it to renting an apartment, which “does not give my landlord the right to come in my house and go through my stuff. There’s no reason that people need to be coming in and out of the firehouse.” [Gallagher subsequently told Philipstown.info that the firehouse is not a residential station — no firefighters live there. Instead, he said, it is both a firehouse and a public facility.] “We do have a right to come in there,” he told Tobin at the meeting.” It’s our building.”
Tobin assured him that the Village Board had not heard the last of the matter. “All five of you are going to get letters from the fire company.”
Photo by L.S. Armstrong