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.
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.