Runs unopposed as Philipstown supervisor
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
First elected as Philipstown town supervisor in 2009, Richard Shea, a Democrat, seeks another, two-year term. Philipstown.info interviewed him on Wednesday (Oct. 21). The questions and his answers follow, edited slightly for conciseness.
After six years as town supervisor, why do you want to continue in office?
I still have work to do. I still enjoy the work, so there are things I’d like to finish. The Fjord Trail is one thing I’m very excited about. The improvement to Town Hall is another thing I want to see through. I don’t want to hand off these buildings, in the condition they’re currently in, to the next person. Yes, the infrastructure projects are things I’d like to see accomplished. That’s going to take more than myself, to take board members, everybody working together.
I think I have a good financial record with the town. I’m fiscally responsible and we’ve established fund balances and just done a lot of good work over the last six years to bring the town to rights.
What experiences in your time as supervisor qualify you for another term?
The real test by fire was Hurricane Irene. My first term we dealt with back-to-back disasters, Irene and, the following year, Sandy. They were devastating events. A lot of people lost property and houses and we were able to get our elected officials here on the ground quickly. We got Sen. Charles Schumer here. He brought the regional director of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
And that sort of thing is not done through luck. It’s done through perseverance. It made a huge difference to have him [Schumer] here. And we’ve been made whole again; we got a lot of FEMA funding. It was a lot of work to get the money, but he set it in motion.
I’ve done infrastructure projects. I did the Garrison water district. I’ve done a comprehensive insurance review for the town that saved us over $1 million over the past 10 years. I’ve been a great steward of the budget over the years. Every year the tax cap has been out, [and] the year prior to that, we’ve been under the cap. These are all experiences during tough economic times that give me the skill set to continue.
What are your priorities?
It’s always going to be about taxpayer dollars … trying to give the best service for the least amount of money.
What did you want to do in January 2010 that you’d still like to do?
A lot of the things we’ve set out to do we’ve done. We started with the [new] zoning. That was a big, heavy lift and was eventually passed with a lot of consensus. I think that goes a long way to preserving the things everybody values here.
We’re not the kind of board that when an overwhelming majority of people have a bad feeling about something, we pursue it. One of the efforts we had recently was the mass-gathering law, this well-intentioned idea to try to help non-profits do some things they wouldn’t normally be able to do. The public came out strongly against it. We got a lot of input and it just seemed like it was too problematic to pursue, so we didn’t.
I saw someone calling it a “government over-reach.” I don’t know where they come up with this stuff. This is not national politics; with a lot of these initiatives, it’s just [something] on a local level. It leads to discussions among citizens and the Town Board and it either works and goes forth on its merits or it doesn’t. When people start throwing around these national-level terms, I wonder what’s driving that. It’s politics: trying to create a sense of unease, or that something is wrong, or that the Town Board is doing something wrong, which is not true.
We don’t have closed-door meetings. This is your local Town Board, somebody you can see at Foodtown. You can call them. You can come to a meeting. It’s sort of the best form of government because you have direct access to your elected officials.
One of the things talked about in the past was a property re-valuation. Is that still on tap?
We’ve been chipping away at it. The assessor is collecting all the data. We’re trying to set ourselves up so we save some money when we do it, because doing a re-val is really expensive. We do need to do it. But where do you come up with the $250,000, when you have all these other priorities?
There was a hard look and change made in Continental Village to assist people in the Lakeland School District. People don’t realize how much higher the Lakeland school taxes are than either Haldane or Garrison. We went in and re-assessed a whole block of homes and were able to drop their assessed value about 7 percent. That was wiped out in the following year’s school budget. The assessed values there and the school tax bills are just outrageously high. We don’t have a lot of control over school taxes.
New York State is pressuring local governments to share functions, run more efficiently, and consolidate. This has been discussed for years in Philipstown; yet little has happened. Why?
You can consolidate. It doesn’t always lead to savings. People are saying: “Why don’t we consolidate highway departments?” You could do that. I’m not against exploring the idea, but these things don’t happen overnight. Just because you consolidate doesn’t mean you’re getting rid of personnel, equipment. Village streets still have to be taken care of. Town roads still have to be taken care of.
So I don’t know how much of a savings you’d actually generate … whether you’d realize any benefit at all. It’s something that would have to be studied. We already share services for highways with the village when they need things we have. We share with the county – we loan them equipment, they loan us equipment. So there is some consolidation.
With the building departments, I think it would be an easier lift. We discussed it with the Village [of Cold Spring]. We made an offer; at that time they weren’t ready to do it. Now our building inspector has taken over doing the inspections on Butterfield, so we’re doing some consolidation there. We’ll probably wind up this year doing something with Nelsonville.
I think the [justice] courts could pretty easily be consolidated. Maybe when the Butterfield project is done, everybody can look at the potential for a courtroom there. But then there’s the expense of setting up a courtroom. Even with the courts, I don’t know that you’d see huge savings. I think it needs to be looked at: Will we actually yield some savings, or wind up with better service for the same amount of money? Those would be two reasons for doing it.
There’s always talk of further consolidation [in emergency services]. That sort of thing has to come from the inside, sort of organically. You can’t make these huge leaps overnight.
You are running unopposed again. Why do you think the Republicans and minor parties have stopped fielding candidates against you?
I can’t speak for anybody except to say that perhaps people are satisfied with the job I’m doing. I just feel like there’s this sense of “what is it that someone else would do differently or improve on?” It’s a lot of work to run for office. It’s a big toll. A lot of people don’t want to take on the burden of the work, either. You see what happens.
We’ve gone through some meetings this year that were less than pleasant. I was a little surprised and disappointed at some of the discourse, things I’d not seen in the past. Some things said during this discussion of paving were just out-and-out wrong. You can’t defame [someone’s] character… It’s not right. So it was a little discouraging.
Any other thoughts?
I still enjoy the job. It’s an honor to work for the people of Philipstown. And it’s been extremely rewarding to see things get done.