Town Approves Laws For Parks and Reduces Assessor Positions

Shea reports Old Albany Post Road funding secured 

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong  

The Philipstown Town Board last week approved new laws codifying rules for conduct at the Town Park and reducing the number of assessors from three to one, to be appointed not elected. The actions, both on 5-0 votes, followed brief public hearings at a workshop Wednesday July 20. The board also got an update from Supervisor Richard Shea on long-awaited but once-doomed federal funding for Old Albany Post Road repairs.
       Previously, the town code called for three assessors, chosen by public election. The terms of two incumbents end this year. “It’s an opportune time to act on something like this. Long term, this will save the taxpayers a lot of money,” Shea said before the vote. “It also probably will help get the re-val [re-valuation] off the ground. That’s the drive behind this. We do have to conduct a re-val,” or review of property values for tax purposes, and want proceed as efficiently as possible, he said.  During the public hearing, Joe Regele, a Garrison resident, wondered about a decrease in accountability if “we’re going to consolidate to a single assessor” who no longer faces the voters. 
       “In essence, he’ll still report to the public,” through the elected Town Board, Shea responded. “And if the public’s not happy, it’ll let the Town Board know.” He said the sole assessor position would continue to be part-time. However, Board Member Nancy Montgomery assured the small audience at the hearing, “the same service will be provided to the public.”
       Regele also questioned the ramifications of a re-valuation for certain areas of the town — such as Garrison — vis-í -vis other areas. “Is there an expectation that the tax balance is going to change?” he asked, recalling that Shea has spoken previously of ongoing disparities that allow some residents to pay too little. “I don’t think it’s possible to say that this portion is going to go up by this amount,” Shea said. “Some people are not paying their fair share; it’s true.”   

Philipstown park rules
The board also turned rules for Philipstown Town Park into a full-fledged law, Chapter 130 of the town code. The law bans alcohol consumption, dogs, smoking, golfing, illegal substances, fires, dumping or leaving of trash, selling food or other items without Recreation Department permission, and amplifying sound on playing fields or driving cars on them. The law would also require groups of six or more persons to obtain a permit from the Recreation Department and likewise require approval for anyone using the park after dusk. Violators of the law could be fined up to $250 or jailed for up to 15 days, or both. Before voting, the board struck another provision barring non-residents from the park without prior authorization.
       Montgomery said that such a prohibition could pose legal problems and the demand that groups of six or more to gain approval, would help prevent problems at the park, located on Route 9D in Garrison. So far, with the schedule often filled by town groups, “there isn’t a lot of room for large groups of non-residents to use it,” she said.  She said that transforming the rules into law reflected advice from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, which patrols the park. “The sheriff’s been great and helps enforce the rules, but it’s difficult for them” when rules lack the force of law, she said.
       The board later decided to draft a law for the town’s newer park at Quarry Pond, on Route 9 in North Highlands. “There’s some abuse,” especially from over-fishing of fish 4-to-5 inches long, Van Tassel said. Anglers “are taking pails full of them out on a regular basis. The fishing’s great. They’ve just got to throw back” the smaller fish, he said. 

Old Albany Post Road
In other business, Shea announced that after numerous complications federal funding for repairing a stretch of Old Albany Post Road has been confirmed, with authorization of a June 29 agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). After a 2009 storm severely damaged part of the road, through its Highway Department, Philipstown filed for $135,000 in federal funds, he explained. Aid appeared to be forthcoming, then doubts developed at the Highway Department over points in the agreement, “and we couldn’t come to terms,” Shea said. “At that point FEMA said ‘no, we’re pulling the funding.” In a conversation in June as the funding re-emerged, he said that “it took me more than a year to get that back.” Finally, he told the board on Wednesday, with help from the staff of Sen. Charles Schumer, “we did re-secure the $135,000 and will be able to do the project.” 
       The supervisor pointed out that as part of the work, a 400-foot stretch of Old Albany Post Road will be paved. Like Indian Brook Road, Old Albany Post Road dates back about 300 years, he noted. As the funding process evolved, he said, “the one thing that became clearer to us is that these roads are rated federally as two of the most significant roads in the entire country.”  But unpaved roads sift dirt into streams and make maintenance difficult, especially with increasingly heavy traffic by modern vehicles, Shea said. Thus, the town wants to strike a balance between preserving their historic character and acknowledging usage, he said. 

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