Mayoral Candidates Favor Consolidations, Options for Boat Club and Village Garage

See new firehouse as involving more than village

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Differences of degrees rather than huge divides separated Cold Spring mayoral candidates Dave Merandy and Barney Molloy Monday night (March 2) at a forum where they concurred on the need to consider local government consolidation, opening the Cold Spring Boat Club and Village Garage sites to public use, and inter-municipal cooperation to construct a new firehouse.

Hosted by Philipstown.info, the event drew about 90 attendees, filling the Haldane Central School District music room.

Molloy, running as the VOTE Party with Bob Ferris, a candidate for trustee, and Merandy, who forms the People’s Party ticket with trustee candidate Marie Early, both bring substantial government-related experience to their campaigns. Merandy, who operates a construction firm, is a member of the Philipstown Town Board and formerly was president of the Haldane School Board.

Molloy chairs the Cold Spring Planning Board and is on the village Code Update Committee, works for the Westchester County Board of Legislators, and previously held positions with private businesses and nonprofits. Merandy cited his school board success in completing complicated and pricey improvements; Molloy highlighted his role in getting the long-controversial Butterfield redevelopment project to the point of public hearing, nearly culminating a multi-year Planning Board effort.

Consolidation

Both men backed the consolidation of government functions at a time when New York State is pressuring municipalities to cut and streamline. However, they chose different initial targets. Molloy picked the village police, while Merandy favored the building department. With a population under 10,000, Philipstown has three justice courts, two highway departments, two village governments, one town government, four fire departments and two school districts.

Mayoral candidates Molloy and Merandy.

Mayoral candidates Molloy and Merandy.

Going forward, merely meeting the state tax-hike cap won’t suffice, Molloy said, since Albany maintains that “you need to consolidate services, you need to share costs. We need to start looking at consolidation of services, whether it’s the courts, whether it’s the police, whether it’s fire districts,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to have to address … regardless of how we feel about it philosophically.”

He described the Cold Spring Police Department as “low-hanging fruit” ripe for consolidation, “as difficult as it may be” to imagine. Of the overall village budget of $3.8 million, some $1.5 million comes from taxes, and of that $1.5 million “almost half a million is dedicated to police services,” Molloy said. “That right there is the first place we could look for some type of consolidation, some type of sharing of services.” He observed that “we have the sheriff’s department, we have the state police” and “we’re going to have to look at what police services cost” Cold Spring.

Merandy proposed that “everything should be looked at,” with a review of “every department there is, to see whether or not it’s feasible to do it, or whether or not it makes sense financially” to consolidate. To begin, he said, “one area … is the building inspector [offices].” He recalled that last year the Town Board offered to merge the town’s department with the village counterparts. (The idea foundered when opposition surfaced in Cold Spring.)

Merandy doubted that replacing the village’s part-time police officers with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department would save money. “If we have to hire full-time sheriff’s” deputies, plus supply their cars, “I think the cost would shoot us over $400,000 in seconds,” he said.

Waterfront

The village government owns two key properties — the Boat Club and Village Garage parcels — along the Hudson and is negotiating with the state over control of a third, Dockside Park.

At the Village Garage, perched on a bluff, equipment has “a beautiful view of the riverfront,” Molloy observed. It “really is an underutilized property. That is an opportunity, and when we look at consolidation of services, sharing services with neighboring municipalities, it is something we should consider. That is a valuable piece of real estate that could be generating revenue for the village as well as providing amenities,” and garage functions “should be moved off the site,” he said.

Merandy similarly said that “one of the most beautiful pieces of property” in the village houses the Village Garage. “I’d definitely be open to moving that,” he said. The challenge, he added, is determining how to do so and join with others. “It’s easy to say we’d like to take over that property and move but we have limited space in the village and I’m not sure where that would go,” Merandy said.

According to Molloy, at Dockside, even if the village were to manage it day to day, “there’s really not a lot we can do with that property,” given the state ownership. “It is dedicated parkland,” and the village could not install a permanent income-producing building there, he said, and whatever else it attempted would probably not offset the costs. Moreover, “we have unrestricted access to the site now and it’s on the [state] park department’s dime. I’d be very cautious.”

Dockside offers incredible views “and it’s something I’d like to preserve” Merandy said. He urged further discussions with the state to see if Cold Spring could acquire the site. “If we could own the property, I believe we could generate money from it,” perhaps from booths leased to vendors around the edge, leaving the views and open space intact, Merandy said.

Both candidates indicated public sharing of the Boat Club site is in order and that the club might provide the village with ways — their approaches differed — to raise revenue.

A private nonprofit, the Boat Club uses village waterfront land rent-free. Its clubhouse is slated to come down in a New York Department of Environmental Conservation cleanup of toxic coal tar, left underground from a 19th-century factory. The Boat Club generally accommodates owners of larger, motorized vessels.

Merandy pointed out that some residents own kayaks or other small boats and need a facility, too. “I’d hope something could be worked out with the Boat Club” for greater access, he said. “It’s village property.” He also wondered about Boat Club membership. “I’m not sure how many are village residents. It’s something I’d like to know. I think there should be some type of a fee generated — nothing exorbitant — [charged] to out-of-towners that are either in Philipstown or from out of state or wherever,” he said. “I believe a small fee should go to the village.”

Molloy defended the Boat Club as “an integral part of this community” for 60 years. “But the DEC has to do the cleanup,” he said. “I think the village has dropped the ball” about helping the Boat Club minimize the coming disruption. “We need a partnership with the Boat Club,” Molloy said. “We have to find ways to help the Boat Club to help us to succeed, but at the same time allow all residents and our taxpayers to enjoy access and enjoyment of our waterfront.”

Firehouse

The two also discussed a new, multimillion-dollar home for Cold Spring Fire Company No. 1.

Merandy praised the CSFC as “a company that’s really conscious of cost. They really run a tight ship,” he said. Nonetheless, he found their recently presented data lacking. “There is a need for a new building,” he declared. “We have to come up with a number people are comfortable in spending. There is no way the village is going to give an OK of a project that size” when several other crucial and expensive infrastructure projects also loom.

“I think we don’t have enough info,” he continued. When advocates “start throwing numbers around” with few details, “it doesn’t bode well for a project like that.” He suggested the village government “partner with them” and “a committee of some sort” be established, although “it didn’t seem like the fire company was willing to work with the village or other community members when someone asked that” at a public meeting.

Moreover, Merandy said, the project should include something “that works for the village also — meeting space or whatever — and that makes it more palatable as a village as a whole.” He also said that a new firehouse need not be in Cold Spring. “I’m willing to look at any possibility.” Despite his criticism of the CSFC’s financial data, “I do applaud them for getting as far as they did,” he said.

Molloy said “the issue of the firehouse presents a failure of the village government.” In getting architectural plans drawn up pro bono, the firefighters “have gone as far as they can go,” he said. He noted that the existing firehouse on Main Street stands over old auto garage pits. “God knows what you’re going to find percolating under that building” and then the DEC would intervene in another eradication, he said.

Thus, “I almost think we have to look at an alternative site,” consider a fire district, and work with other governments, he added. “I think the answer lies outside the village. Whether people are willing or able to address it at this point, that’s another matter. It’s going to take a collaborative effort,” as well as determining costs and funding sources, “and that might dictate where we build and what we build and who we partner with.”

Economic development

Economic concerns included the boon — or bane — of tourism.

Merandy argued that “if we want more and more tourists to come here, there has to be a benefit to the community.” In that regard, the county refusal to share sales tax revenue “is really the problem,” he said. Putnam does not return to its municipalities any of the sales tax they collect. “Whatever we’re moving ahead with that’s going to generate money, we have to see what the impact is on the residents of the village,” Merandy said. But if Putnam County shared sales tax, “we could promote businesses. It would actually make more sense because we’d be getting something out of it.”

Molloy said the proposed Fjord Trail will bring more visitors, plus “a whole host of economic development opportunities. But it also brings a lot of problems that we’re going to need to address.” He recommended development of additional economic drivers, beyond tourism and Main Street, such as home-based businesses compatible with the historic village and its residents. “We have to change our zoning code to energize that type of activity,” he said. Other possibilities include shared work space and live-work quarters, Molloy added.

Governing philosophy

Both candidates said the mayor plays a unique part in village governance, acting as the chief administrative officer and ensuring accountability, although remaining one of five members of the Village Board of Trustees.

The trustees constitute “the legislative body of the village,” Molloy said. “They set policy, determine the budgets, oversee the executive. The day-to-day responsibility for administering and running the village rests with the mayor. Under the law, the mayor is responsible … That is the distinction.”

Merandy said the mayor sets the agenda and “has to have control of the board, has to work with the board, has to build a trust with the board.” If elected, while collaborating with the trustees he also promised to seek citizen input, as the school board did in holding public votes on major spending decisions. “Going forward with anything in the village I would also recommend that to my board, that would be my stance, that everything go to the people for their support,” Merandy said.


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One thought on “Mayoral Candidates Favor Consolidations, Options for Boat Club and Village Garage

  1. As a non-resident Main Street shop owner, I am somewhat disturbed at what I feel is almost an anti-business attitude manifested by the candidates during the debates. I did not hear any positive acknowledgment of all that the business owners do for the Cold Spring, not the least of which is to provide a commercial tax base that greatly benefits all of the residents, who, according to Molloy and Merendy, for example, seem to grudgingly accept that we exist in the first place.

    To any Cold Spring taxpayer who resents its thriving Main Street, I have two words for you: Putnam Valley. Try living in a town that cannot even support a hardware or liquor store or any retail establishments. The entire PV tax burden is on the shoulders of less than 4,000 taxpayers who are struggling with some of the highest rates in Putnam County. Aside from that, our so called “downtown” a.k.a. Oregon Corners, is an eyesore that has a decrepit abandoned gas station as its centerpiece.

    But back to Cold Spring, which is truly the gem of this County and one of the most beautiful spots in the entire Hudson Valley. I did not hear any of the candidates acknowledge the many challenges that are faced by the business owners including, but not limited to, the deteriorating sidewalks and the inefficient, Third World street lights and wiring that makes it hazardous to walk around after dark. If you listen to the candidates who proclaim that residents like their “peace and quiet,” one would think that they want nothing more than to see Main Street made into a dirt road with only horses and buggies allowed.

    Regarding the issue they all bring up about the County not sharing the sales tax that’s collected: I haven’t heard them speak about the important County services that are provided by revenue derived from sales tax as opposed to property tax. Take a look at your County/Town tax bill and see where your money goes and who gets the lion’s share. By the way, speaking of County services, one of the most important is none other than the Sheriff’s Dept. which has an active presence in Cold Spring and vicinity. Although the candidates spoke about consolidating services, I don’t think any of them mentioned when they touched on the sacred local PD, that the taxpayers are ALREADY PAYING FOR Sheriff’s patrols in their County taxes and that the local department is really duplicative as we discovered in my town.

    Another point regarding sharing the sales tax: Is the local town government really doing such a bang-up job with the millions they are already extracting from us? A quick answer would be to take a look at the $900K grant and see where that money has gone.

    Finally, I heard Mr. Molloy opine (and apparently the others agreed with him because no one objected to his premise) that passengers who come into Cold Spring on the Sea Streak should be charged a tax or admission fee as they enter the Village from the boat. I would like to remind everyone that Cold Spring is not Disneyland or an amusement park, even if it does seem like that at times.

    Even if such a “toll” were legal, which I seriously doubt, who would collect the fee and how could this be accomplished? What about people arriving via private boats or kayaks — will they also have to pay an admission fee? Where would they set up the toll booth? Then there are the vast majority of tourists who arrive by car. Short of putting up the parking meters that are being discussed, are those visitors also going to have to pay for the privilege of walking around town and patronizing our businesses? I am astounded that not only did nobody even question this idea, but there seemed to be tacit approval by the candidates of this bizarre concept.

    Which brings me back to my original point. The business owners of Main Street have invested millions of dollars in their own money, blood, sweat and tears to have their shops on Main Street. They have created a vibrant and stable commercial base that is the envy of many other towns in the County and have done so with their own money and capital. Instead of trying to curtail our businesses or make things more difficult, maybe the people who are running for office to rule us should at least acknowledge all that we do for the Village and try to figure out ways to encourage more investment in the community, not less.