Timing of Village Elections Again Questioned

Cold Spring to purchase water from NYC

By Michael Turton

During the public hearing on the proposed 2015–16 budget for the Village of Cold Spring on April 14, Michael Armstrong suggested moving the village election from March to November, an idea that was discussed by the previous village board. During Mayor Ralph Falloon’s tenure, trustees did vote to have Putnam County run the March 2015 election but stopped short of changing the date to November.

“One of the biggest and almost always overlooked reasons the Village Board has such a hard time tackling the toughest (budget) questions … is the calendar,” Armstrong, a village resident, said. “This board, elected in mid-March, with three new members, will own a budget they have had no hand in making. Change the election date to November and the problem is solved,” he asserted.

In an email to The Paper, Armstrong pointed out that such a move would save taxpayers money since Putnam County absorbs the cost of running November elections. In contrast, the village paid the county $5,000 to administer the March election. Armstrong also suggested that a fall election would “boost voter turnout,” because it would be held in conjunction with state and national elections.

He added that changing the election date would give trustees time to consider priorities outlined in the 2012 Comprehensive Plan and to receive public input prior to establishing the budget. Armstrong said that strategy would create “consensus on the big opportunities, such as the best way to provide police services.”

Cold Spring resident Kathleen Foley had a different view. “The beauty of a March election is that we don’t get consumed in all the ‘hoo-haw’ of a national election,” she said. Foley suggested that holding the election earlier than mid-March would permit a better discussion of budget issues.

Mayor Dave Merandy said that the board would consider the pros and cons of changing the election date.

NYC water supply

Village officials have received a draft agreement from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that will enable Cold Spring to temporarily take its water from the Catskill Aqueduct, which supplies water to NYC. That measure is required in order to make repairs to the village-owned dams at the upper and lower reservoirs located on Lake Surprise Road. The reservoirs must be lowered significantly in order to complete the work. Greg Phillips, Cold Spring’s superintendent of water and sewer, told Philipstown.info that he hopes the project will get underway by this fall.

The Catskill Aqueduct supplies water to New York City and passes beneath the Hudson River, emerging at the base of Breakneck Ridge as shown here. Cold Spring will tap into the aqueduct in the fall while repairs are made to the village dams. (File photo by M. Turton)

The Catskill Aqueduct supplies water to New York City and passes beneath the Hudson River, emerging at the base of Breakneck Ridge as shown here. Cold Spring will tap into the aqueduct in the fall while repairs are made to the village dams. (File photo by M. Turton)

The Catskill Aqueduct crosses the eastern edge of Nelsonville near the intersection of Fishkill Road and Route 301 — and the cost of tapping into it could be substantial. The price has not been determined yet, but a rate quoted in 2013 put the cost at more than $1,000 per million gallons. Phillips estimates that the village uses approximately 270,000 gallons of water per day. How long the dam repairs will take won’t be known until the design phase is complete, but Phillips said it would likely be “several months.” At the April 14 Village Board meeting, he hinted that restrictions on water usage might be imposed for the duration of the project in order to help curtail the cost.

DEC deadline extended

Merandy told Philipstown.info that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has verbally agreed to extend until April 29 the deadline by which the village and the Cold Spring Boat Club must come to an agreement regarding the lease of the property, a step DEC requires before cleanup of toxic coal tar on the site can begin. The village owns the property.

The Boat Club, established in 1955, has eight years remaining on a lease that grants use of the site. Negotiations have been ongoing, including a proposal by Village Attorney Bill Florence that the lease be “suspended” for the duration of the coal tar remediation, to be renewed upon completion of the work. The Boat Club building will be razed as part of the project, and its leadership has asked that a 20-year lease be considered once the cleanup is done in order to facilitate financing of a new building.

Two meetings this week

The Cold Spring Village Board will hold a special meeting on Monday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m., at which Phillips will update trustees on a number of ongoing and pending water and wastewater capital projects. The board will also review the draft agreement with DEP for tapping into the Catskill Aqueduct.

The following night at 7 p.m., trustees will meet with the Planning Board regarding the plan of subdivision for three homes to be built on Paulding Avenue as part of the Butterfield development. The agenda will also include adoption of the 2015 budget and what may be final consideration of the lease agreement with Cold Spring Boat Club as it relates to the coal tar remediation project.

Fjord Trail update

A community meeting to review the master plan for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail will be held at the Chalet on the Hudson on Route 9D at Breakneck Ridge on Wednesday, April 29, beginning at 7 p.m. Maps of the proposed trail will be presented along with results of an online survey that sought public input regarding the draft route presented last October.

A meeting will be held at the Chalet on the Hudson on Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. to review plans for the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, which will connect Cold Spring and Beacon with Breakneck Ridge, a destination that has been called the most popular day hike in the country. (Photo by M. Turton)

A meeting will be held at the Chalet on the Hudson on Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. to review plans for the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, which will connect Cold Spring and Beacon with Breakneck Ridge, a destination that has been called the most popular day hike in the country. (Photo by M. Turton)

15 thoughts on “Timing of Village Elections Again Questioned

  1. Echoing Kathleen Foley, holding the elections in November would drag the Village elections into all of the hoopla. November elections are awful enough anymore and we do not need to drag the Village any closer to the national and state circus that masquerade as elections. Some of the recent Village elections were bad enough to suffer through we do not need to go down that road. Keep elections separate and in March. The 2012 Comprehensive Plan does not need to determine election dates.

    • Perhaps November Village elections would have more “hoopla” than we have now, perhaps not. (I’m in the camp that thinks it is unlikely, but perhaps my view of human nature is less optimistic than yours.) What is certain, though, is that November elections would save money and, most importantly, allow time for a sound review of the Village Budget, by newly elected officials who have just come off the campaign trail. They would have time to consider how the Village is doing with its Comprehensive Plan, and to weigh the tough issues worrying the public — not just budget nits, as happens today because there is no time for a review.

      Please think carefully about why the Village has such trouble making headway on the biggest questions. I believe the basic calendar is of critical importance, so obvious is gets hardly any attention. But this could be fixed by a simple majority vote of the current board of trustees.

      • I agree the village budget review process is, and has been for some time, inadequate and therefore flawed. However there are other ways, I would hope, to improve the process short of altering the election schedule. A budget review cycle might be initiated late in the fall, well in advance of the March election. Or as a more extreme approach the village fiscal year might be changed to start in January. Either way, this might work easiest in years the mayor is not up for a possible re-election effort. In years of a mayoral election it might be useful to establish a tradition for the mayor not to be the budget officer, perhaps passing that responsibility to the deputy mayor, or to another trustee.

        It’s up to the village board and the residents to show their interest and judgment here.

        • Starting the budget review process early in the fall is something the Trustees could have started years ago, but never have. Village governance has its seasons, with the fall generally preoccupied by operational matters. That is followed by a two-month hiatus, for holidays and then the winter doldrums, when public participation declines due to poor weather.

          What is really missing from a fall start of the budget discussion, with March elections, is that it doesn’t really fix the problem of new boards not owning the budget they inherit in April after March elections. Newly elected officials have barely a week or so to review the proposed budget, before they must approve it.

          The January fiscal year is not an option for the Village, as the State mandates May 31 as the end of the fiscal year.

          I think the anxiety about merging village elections with the town, county, state and national elections in November is overblown. Turnout will improve, for sure, and it is useful for the public to consider at one time what elected officials at all levels are doing for the Village.

          • Thanks for the information. I see this question is not going to see an easy solution, for various reasons. Probably will require more thought, and input and discussion from a larger number of residents.

    • I too believe village elections should not coincide with state and national elections. The cost of the election is small compared to the benefits and advantages of an undistracted, local democratic process. In fact, thinking further along these lines probably there would be advantages to holding county and state elections separately from national elections. In my mind this may be the only way to break the hold the two major national parties have upon the system today.

  2. I think enough of the two-party system’s campaign noise (and related disappointing online and offline behavior by a loud minority of partisans) has already found its way into our Village elections, much to the detriment of the community.

    I wouldn’t want to see that get even worse by explicitly tying it to the November battle between the two national parties — when all the political junkies get their war paint on and further pollute the airwaves, newspapers and websites with their nonsense.

    Mr. Armstrong makes great points on the timing of March elections and the impact on the village budget. Perhaps pushing the vote back to late January or early February would solve this? I’m not worried about the impact of the holidays or winter. Perhaps having a buffer at the beginning of the election would encourage folks to keep campaign season short, sweet and focused on issues and not the “permanent campaign” it seems to have become?

    • Moving the Village election to January or February would create a window of time for a proper review of the budget, but anyone who recalls last winter should have real qualms about scheduling any public activity that requires door knocking and getting to public events into such a dismal season.

      There are no perfect solutions. Partisan spirits seem to run high, anyway, in our village elections, and I really doubt things would get any worse if the elections were moved to November. I also doubt they’ll get any better if we don’t find a way of finally addressing the big questions — a problem in large part caused by a calendar that does not serve us well.

  3. While I think that the election schedule and budget review are of concern, the bigger takeaway for me from this meeting was the prospect of buying water from the NYC system to get us through the summer. The dollar estimates that Greg Phillips was providing were significant, and we don’t seem to have budget flexibility to address this need.

    • As I noted at the budget hearing, buying water from New York City would be much less of a problem if our water and sewer rates were set up to better reflect actual consumption. The mix of variable and fixed components in the billing seem arbitrary, and no substantial argument was made by anyone for the current ratio.

      We’ve known for years that this moment was coming, and for years we’ve kicked the can down the road, due in part to a budget process that makes it almost impossible to have an in-depth discussion about budget issues.

      No one wants to talk about the timing of Village elections. It’s boring, technical, invites outbursts about how much folks hate partisan politics, and just seems like something that could better be discussed after we’ve dealt with the the crisis of the day — whatever that is.

      Isn’t it about time that we got serious about Village governance and actually fixed the election calendar, so that those we elect build and own the budget they — and we– will have to live with?

  4. Why not begin the budget process earlier, allowing time for fuller analysis and discussion? Say, September? Why not delve deeper into budgeting rather than making minor tweaks? Undertake a real assessment of needs and revenue sources and plan accordingly? It strikes me that this type of in-depth, thorough analysis should happen regardless of the election schedule.

    • You’re missing an important fact. Even if the budget review were started earlier (and I agree it should be), with the current election schedule the folks who hammer out the budget will not be the ones to live with it. Again, think carefully about the schedule.

      Today, the cycle works like this: First, Board members are elected (mid-March). Second, a week or two after swearing in, in the midst of distractions like appointments on boards, orientation, etc, they must approve the budget that was developed by the previous board. Then they must live with that budget for a full year. The results speak for themselves.

      The process could work like this: First, Board members are elected (November). They are sworn in at the beginning of the year, and spend the next three months in an intensive public review of the budget and how the Village is doing on its objectives and goals. They pose the tough questions to the community, get feedback, and hammer out a consensus that finally addresses the infrastructure challenges and property tax burdens we face together. The Village adopts a budget in April, and the trustees live with what they have wrought.

      Doesn’t that make more sense?

  5. It makes some sense, Mike, yes. But the flip side is that you’d have still have new trustees (assuming new trustees had been elected) reviewing a budget cold, while still getting their footing in village governance. Starting on the budget in the fall would mean that you’d have trustees with time and experience under their belts at least beginning the process, and with a buffer of time to be more deliberative in their review, rather than rushing to get a budget approved on a short timeline. Seems like there are a number of approaches to improving the budget process and make intelligent financial choices.

    • Yes, new trustees would review the budget “cold” as you say — but with November elections they would have four months to do it, not two weeks — and I submit that is ample time. And importantly, they would own the budget they make — they would have to live with it and be answerable to the voters for it.

      Yes, there are many ways to improve the budget process. Those that exclude a change in the election date to November are unlikely to work well.

  6. I don’t understand why Cold Spring doesn’t follow the same calendar and budget process that are mandated for the towns of New York State wherein the fiscal year begins on January 1 and ends on December 31. Why is the Village exempt from this requirement?