Town Board backs VFW sale and Fjord Trail
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Philipstown Town Board last Thursday (May 7) heard a first-ever “State of the Town Speech”; gave a final sign-off to the sale of the VFW and agreed to pay $90,000 to veterans being dislocated; and worked its way through a long agenda covering everything from road improvements to the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, Continental Village tax disparities and more.
The board also voted unanimously to fill the empty chair on its dais. (See Robert Flaherty Chosen for Town Board Vacancy, May 10.)
State of the Town
The evening began with a new twist — delivery of a “State of the Town” Address by Shea, who outlined highlights of the five-plus years he has been town supervisor. His current two-year term ends in December and his speech resembled the State of the State and State of the County versions delivered by governors or county executives and, like those, called to mind a political campaign speech.
Shea cited as accomplishments:
- the adoption of a new zoning code, reflecting the town’s comprehensive plan, thus assuring that “the things we value most — clean water, incredible scenic beauty, an unparalleled quality of life and a small-business-friendly environment — will be preserved for our children and future generations”;
- obtaining more than $1 million to rebuild roads and bridges damaged by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy;
- in trying “to do our share to combat climate change,” ensuring that the town government purchases its electricity from renewable sources;
- investing in town government infrastructure, demonstrated by such completed projects as a new roof for the Recreation Center and energy-efficient boilers; and
- providing numerous recreational and cultural services “for residents from age 1 to 91,” including three parks, a children’s camp, exercise courses, art classes, sports and outreach to the elderly, including buses to ferry them to shopping sites.
He also stated that when he became supervisor, the town had deficits in both of its main budget accounts and that through such measures as freezing hiring, eliminating some jobs, capping salaries, getting employees to contribute more toward their health-care coverage and instituting “operational efficiencies, “we now have positive fund balances.”
Likewise, he said that Philipstown will meet the additional local government efficiency mandates imposed by the State of New York for 2017, 2018 and 2019, and “our residents can rest assured that they will receive their rebate checks,” dispensed to taxpayers whose local governments meet the state requirements.
Capping several months of waiting and wrapping up of legal details, the board unanimously approved an agreement giving local Post 2362 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars $90,000 in compensation for the veterans’ exit from the town-owned VFW building on Kemble Avenue. In October 1989, Post 2362 took out a 50-year lease on space in the building; thus about 25 years of rental remained.
In separate action, the board voted 5-0 to authorize Supervisor Richard Shea to sign the contract selling the VFW building for $285,000 to Kim Conner, a Philipstown resident who operates a business on Main Street in Cold Spring and serves on the town’s Planning Board.
Town Attorney Stephen Gaba had informed the town that without the veterans’ acceptance of the lease termination, the building could not change hands. Post 2362 convened a special meeting and the 12 members present voted unanimously to relinquish leasing rights, if compensated, allowing the completion of the sale.
The veterans “have been really diligent on this. A lot of thanks goes out to them,” Shea said.
Tax disparities and sharing
On another tax-and-finance front, Councilor Michael Leonard reported that ongoing meetings and efforts are underway, involving him and Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra and Continental Village residents, to deal with an inconsistency in the taxing system that recently left Continental Village residents footing a 7 percent increase in school taxes while counterparts in Westchester County in the same Lakeland Central School District got little or no increase.
Councilor John Van Tassel reported a request from new Nelsonville Village Trustee Danielle Pack McCarthy to discuss ways the Nelsonville and town governments can share services — a form of local streamlining advocated by the state. The Town Board informally agreed to confer with Nelsonville’s leaders.
Becoming a frequent topic at Town Board meetings, road maintenance, especially for dirt roads, surfaced both in Shea’s address and routine business. Shea referred to Philipstown’s “extensive network … roughly 50 miles of rural roads, half of which are dirt” and typically narrow. “Dirt roads, although close to our hearts, do present a special set of challenges. No one would want to see large-scale paving of historic roads like Indian Brook and the Old Albany Post Road,” but housing developments have sprouted along some dirt roads, triggering more traffic — including large trucks — that creates hazards, he said.
“While in rare instances” solving dirt-road problems means “paving small sections of road, we will continue to listen to all sides on maintaining these roads while balancing whatever is necessary to safeguard our residents, especially our children, who ride these roads to school on buses each day,” Shea promised. He also noted that efforts continue toward getting Manitou Station Road repaired, a complicated venture involving not only the town but the county and Metro-North railroad. Officials from various jurisdictions were expected to discuss the situation there on May 14.
The board also passed a resolution endorsing the recently released master plan for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, a hiking-biking path to link Cold Spring and Beacon. The resolution declared that Philipstown officials “consider bicycle and pedestrian transportation and safety to be of utmost importance to the region by providing … recreation and transportation opportunities, as well as the possibilities of economic and community development,” and pledged Philipstown’s continued assistance. The trail would parallel the river, train tracks and Route 9D highway.