Nelsonville likes the idea

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Philipstown’s Town Board and Cold Spring’s Village Board last week resumed deliberations on merging their building departments, an idea welcomed by a representative of the third local municipality, the Village of Nelsonville.

At an informal, round-table workshop at Town Hall Wednesday night (May 14), a reconfigured Village Board met with its town counterpart, plus Nelsonville Trustee William Duncan.

The previous discussion occurred before Michael Bowman and Cathryn Fadde joined the Cold Spring board in April, and the Cold Spring delegation seemed both interested and wary.

“The town is offering to provide full-time building department services at the price you’re currently paying” in Cold Spring, Shea explained. “The same offer [extends] to Nelsonville.” It would be “a consolidated building department, here in Town Hall, under one auspices,” he said.

Members of the Nelsonville, Cold Spring and Philipstown governing boards meet May 14 to discuss building department consolidation. Photo by L.S. Armstrong
Members of the Nelsonville, Cold Spring and Philipstown governing boards meet May 14 to discuss building department consolidation. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Cold Spring’s building inspector, William Bujarski, is limited by village finances to about half a day’s work per week. Nelsonville’s inspector also serves on a limited basis. By contrast, Philipstown’s building department has a fulltime building inspector/code enforcer, Kevin Donohue, plus a part-time assistant inspector and support staff.

Bowman expressed reservations about combining the offices. “It seems like everything is a long way off,” he said. “It seems like there’s a lot of unknowns right now.”

Shea suggested a trial consolidation. “Since there seems to be some reluctance, we could structure it so it’s a one-year agreement to see if it works,” he proposed. As another option, he said the town could be a vendor to the village, providing building department services. “It would be like you’re hiring an independent inspector,” Shea said. He likewise observed that financial realities may compel them all to move forward. “The state is looking more and more to have some sort of consolidation of services. If they are going to continue to give you state aid, they are going to want to see some action on this front,” he said.

Duncan said that in Nelsonville, “we’re open to the possibility of using Philipstown’s building inspector because Kevin is really good.” And the Nelsonville demand “is small, maybe 10 applications a year. I think we’re for consolidation because we don’t have that much” to occupy a building department, he said.

Falloon pointed out that Mary Saari and Tina Merando, clerks of the village and town, respectively, are jointly “working on a grant to better manage the records in the building department. So that was kind of the starting point” for village consideration, he said.

The mayor, Fadde, and Trustee Stephanie Hawkins all mentioned the limitations of the Cold Spring building department as now constituted. “It’s clearly an issue we need to address,” Hawkins said.

“There’s a true access problem” for residents seeking services and unable to get them readily, Falloon said. “To me, having access five days a week is important. The unfortunate thing is that there is no money and no time to give” Bujarski said.

“I don’t think it is” an adequate operation “simply because he doesn’t have the time,” Fadde agreed.

Then “are you going to take on a full-time building inspector to serve your residents better, or are we going to consolidate?” Town Board Member Nancy Montgomery asked.

Town Board Member Dave Merandy referred to the pending Butterfield redevelopment in Cold Spring. “I think this is a benefit to you,” he said of departmental consolidation. “You guys are going to have a lot on your plates.”

“I’ve got to take a long hard look at what it means at our end,” Bowman said. He cited potentially diminished authority as a drawback: “It’s this idea [that] now we’re the client of the Town of Philipstown rather than the boss of the Village of Cold Spring building inspector. It’s that kind of relationship I think needs to be laid out in concrete [terms].”

“None of your boards would be dissolved or anything like that. You’re still going to have the mandate you currently have,” Shea said. “Nobody’s giving up anything. It’s a shift of mind-set. As a concept, it seems like a good idea.”

Other questions were whether the mayor would go through Shea to interact with the building department (Shea said he would not); how a town-run department would deal with the village’s historic district review process or village code (Town Board members said Donohue could quickly familiarize himself with the historic district standards and code); and how record storage might be handled (optimally, in a shared electronic system, the consensus emerged).

The evening ended with the Cold Springers returning to the village to mull things over and perhaps meet with Donohue before determining what or what not to do about consolidation.

“It’s an open offer,” Shea assured them.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

6 replies on “Town and Village Boards Talk Again About Consolidated Building Department”

  1. Small town and village government officials have to get over the idea that they are an island unto themselves when it comes to issues that affect their citizens. The Village of Cold Spring is part of the Town of Philipstown, which is part of Putnam County, and guess what? The taxpayers who live here are the ones footing the bill for layer upon layer of local government. Why must there be a “turf war” every time some enlightened soul suggests that maybe the taxpayers would be better served by one entity than two or three? It’s not just the building department that needs to be looked at — how about the totally unnecessary village police department? I know I’m going to catch hell for even suggesting this, but can anyone really justify spending more than half the budget on a part time department that doesn’t have the resources of the Sheriff’s department that has a substation just a few blocks up Main Street? These are very difficult times we live in and for the average resident struggling to pay the mortgage, taxes and heating bills, anything that would give some relief seems like a no brainer.

  2. For those who’ve been around long enough, you will remember that in the 1980s the town’s building inspector also served as Nelsonville’s. As Will Duncan said, the town’s guy could easily handle Nelsonville’s work. Then they could move on to the courts, which should be a slam dunk. And the planning board. Nelsonville already uses the sheriff for replacing the long-ago Nelsonville police department. And the village contracts out garbage collection, street cleaning and maintenance, at a sizable saving in taxes. As far as full merger, there is a history there and that would require some thoughtful and considerate thought on all three entities.

    By the way, two of the most important consolidations of Cold Spring and Nelsonville, the latter gave up its minuscule fire department years ago and has contracted with Cold Spring since. And of course, both have been using the same water department for more than 100 years. Now, if they could only get together on the sewer situation.

  3. Consolidation is such a difficult and critical issue for us as taxpayers. Interestingly, I have also wondered whether we needed a Cold Spring police. At first I thought we didn’t. But then I spoke to others. One person pointed out that we have a lot of tourists and need a local presence to police the parking situation. This, by the way, made me wonder: when was the last time the village reviewed the dollar value of fines? Are they in line with fines in other similar NYS villages? While we’re on the subject of revenue from police activity: if you put a police car across from Foodtown after school hours, the Village will make a fortune on tickets to drivers who don’t stop at the crosswalk for people. I have stopped my car there only to watch car after car speeding in the opposite direction, never stopping for a pedestrian (not to mention the safety issue). What I really wonder about, is the need for two school districts. Do we really need two superintendents? How much money would be save by consolidating the school districts?

  4. I am sitting here in my Main Street shop on this Memorial Day Saturday and can tell you that just as was the case for the past few Saturdays, there are no cops out there enforcing the parking regulations when it comes to the scofflaws that have their cars parked on Main St. for well over the four-hour limit.

    In fact, there are certain store owners who stupidly flaunt the law and park right in front of their own shops, thus taking away valuable spots that their own customers could use. It used to be that there was one officer who went around putting chalk on the tires, but I guess it wasn’t “profitable” enough to continue the practice. By the way, the police department itself has commandeered seven or eight of the most important parking spaces located centrally on Main Street near the Village hall. There is no parking allowed except for police and town vehicles, even on weekends! How can that be justified?

    Also, you mentioned “making a fortune” by having the police enforce traffic laws. My first question is, why do they need some kind of extra incentive to do their jobs? Think of it this way: if you weren’t paying so much for your police department in the first place, you wouldn’t have to worry about figuring out ways to afford it.

    As far as school-district consolidation, you are right on the money, except that the parents and teachers’ union will never go for it. We worked on this for many years in Putnam Valley and instead of a sensible, money-saving consolidation, we got an unaffordable Taj Mahal high school for a steadily declining student population.

    1. I disagree that “the parents and teachers’ union” oppose school-district consolidation. As you are a resident of Putnam Valley, you may remember the feasibility study that was done back in the 1980s in consideration of bringing Garrison, Haldane, and Putnam Valley into one consolidated district in order to address the need for a growing high school population in Putnam Valley. The results of the study suggested, among other things, that school taxes for Garrison residents would have increased through consolidation, and this would still be the case if Garrison consolidates with anyone. Fresh incentive for Garrison residents must identified if consolidation with Haldane is to stand a chance. Remember, according to New York State Education Law, all school boards involved must agree to consolidation. (To learn more about school district consolidation, visit Guide to the Reorganization of School Districts in New York State.

      And while there may be some cost savings in consolidation, there are also sacrifices. Loss of autonomy for a community to express its own values in education is becoming more important in a time when the New York State Department of Education imposes more and more mandates on education. Individual school districts, such as Haldane, have found ways to meet financial challenges through shared services and by asking employees to wear multiple hats, and perform multiple functions, which means everyone works harder.

      That Putnam Valley overspent on its high school has also been attributed to the loss of the superintendent (who was tasked with overseeing the building project) in the middle of construction. And while declining student population is a phenomenon in some area school districts, that is not the case in Philipstown.

      I am still on the fence about school district consolidation, but I applaud the efforts of both Haldane and Garrison for finding ways to save on costs through shared services. That the Village and Town may find mutually beneficial ways to do the same is also encouraging.

  5. Briefly, in response to the comment about Putnam Valley, we had de facto “consolidation” with the Lakeland School District in the years prior to the high school being built. For generations, P.V. never had its own high school and we paid out tuition for our students to neighboring districts including at some points, Lakeland, Mahopac and even for awhile, Peekskill.

    Over time it became too expensive for the district to offer all these choices, and Lakeland, for many reasons, not the least of which was its proximity to P.V., offered us a deal that we couldn’t afford to turn down — the cost per pupil for tuition was less than what it cost our district in-house per student. Plus, Lakeland had refurbished Panas High School at great cost, with our students in mind. This was actual consolidation by any other name and the pay-as-you-go system worked out beautifully insofar as we only paid for the students that we sent each year. In any year where there were fewer students attending, we paid less. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

    Sadly, the forces that were at work during that period were not interested in repercussions for the taxpayers when it came to the enormous cost of building a high school and staffing it — costs that will be with us forever. There was so much misinformation spread by the district and the superintendent (referred to in the previous comments) that we were able to have the election nullified, something that was unheard of in New York state.

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