Village Mulls November Elections Again

Deputy mayor adds topic to agenda

By Michael Turton

The Cold Spring Village Board is again discussing moving the village election from March to November after Deputy Mayor Marie Early added the topic to the agenda for the board’s Tuesday (Dec. 1) meeting.

Trustee Michael Bowman objected to the last-minute addition, commenting that the public should have been notified in advance. Early responded that ultimately voters would have to approve a change in the election date through a referendum.

A move to fall elections was discussed during Ralph Falloon’s tenure as mayor but the elections were held as usual in March this year. For the first time, the election was run by the Putnam County Board of Elections (PCBOE). The village had previously run its own elections.

Early listed a number of pros and cons of a date change. On the plus side, she said, a November election would give newly elected trustees “four full months to discuss the new budget.” Currently, trustees elected in March must approve the new budget a month later.

Early also pointed to the cost of having with PCBOE run the election in March. Village Clerk Mary Saari said the cost to the village was $6,579.65. When the village ran its own election in 2013 and 2014, the cost was $4,092 and $4,370, respectively. If Cold Spring switches to November elections, PCBOE would absorb the entire cost.

Early also suggested that a fall election would enable candidates to campaign in more favorable weather than in late winter.

On the negative side, Early said that in a November election, discussion of Cold Spring’s issues could “be lost within the discussion of the general election.” She also said that if the village election is conducted in tandem with the general election, “village politics would take on the appearance of [being associated with] national parties,” whereas candidates now run independently or as part of local coalitions.

Last March, Trustee Fran Murphy ran independently while Early and Mayor Dave Merandy ran as The People’s Party. A year earlier, trustees Bowman and Cathryn Fadde ran as BOFA. Early also wondered if the residents would suffer “voter fatigue” in a November election that would bombard voters with the national debate while detracting from local issues.

If March elections were abandoned, the first vote held in November would result in some members of the board serving terms longer than voters had originally endorsed. Merandy commented that the appearance that some trustees might benefit from extended terms is one of the worst aspects of the potential change.

The discussion will continue at the board’s Dec. 8 meeting.

In other business …

  • Tectonic Engineering and Surveying Consultants briefed trustees on its proposal to assess and design repairs to the village dams on Lake Surprise. The firm has done work related to the dams since 2010, including inspections and assessments, maintenance plans and an emergency action plan. Tectonic estimates that their services would cost approximately $200,000. A second firm, O’Brien and Gere Engineering, had to postpone its presentation before the board. It will now appear in early January.
    Representatives of Tectonic Engineering outlined their proposal for repairs to the village dams. (Photo by M. Turton)

    Representatives of Tectonic Engineering outlined their proposal for repairs to the village dams. (Photo by M. Turton)

  • Trustees voted to extend the comment period on a proposed amendment to the regulation of snow and ice removal from village sidewalks. Residents now have until Tuesday, Dec. 15, to comment on the draft law that includes a requirement that all sidewalks be cleared within 18 hours of the end of snowfall; businesses keep sidewalks clear at all times between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.; and a prohibition on use of rock salt and salt-based materials. The law calls for fines of $25 to $250.
  • TriFilm Pictures has requested permission to film in Dockside Park on Saturday, Dec. 12. The proposal includes building a fire on the riverbank. The Cold Spring Fire Company will be asked to review the request.
  • The board’s Nov. 24 meeting included a review of proposed lighting upgrades as part of the Main Street Project, scheduled to begin this spring. A week earlier, trustees Fran Murphy and Marie Early led an evening tour of Main Street to discuss lighting issues with several business owners. Brighter LED lighting will not be used to replace the existing incandescent lights mounted on Main Street poles but the traditional, softer lighting maintained as recommended in the Comprehensive Plan. A number of area lights such as those mounted lower on Main Street poles will be added in areas requiring additional lighting.
  • The village Christmas tree will be lit at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6, at the bandstand. Cookies and hot chocolate will be served, and Santa Claus is expected to make an appearance.

Planning Board

  • The Cold Spring Planning Board and the Code Update Committee have swapped regular monthly meeting dates. The Planning Board now meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. The Code Update Committee now meets on the first and third Wednesday.
  • Scenic Hudson has proposed a minor change to its plans for the 12.7-acre Campbell property located on The Boulevard. At the Planning Board’s Nov. 18 meeting, Glen Watson of Badey and Watson Surveying and Engineering outlined plans to use a “lot line adjustment,” rather than the original proposal to subdivide the property. Under the new approach, the land will still be divided into two tracts, with about eight acres being added to Scenic Hudson’s Foundry Preserve. The remaining portion, including the historic Campbell house, will be sold as a private residential lot. Planning Board Chair Matt Francisco told The Paper that Village Attorney John Furst confirmed that the new approach is permissible. The change addresses concerns raised by residents on Constitution Avenue who objected to having the additional Foundry Preserve lands abut their property. The lot line adjustment will mean that the private lot will now border homes on Constitution Avenue. Francisco said that Scenic Hudson has not yet formally withdrawn its original proposal.
  • The Planning Board will hold a public gearing at Village Hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 10, to receive comments regarding Ella’s Bellas, a retail bakery and café proposed for 15 Main St.

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10 thoughts on “Village Mulls November Elections Again

  1. To understand the importance of adding four months to the time from the Village election to the completion of the village budget, think carefully about how rare it is today for the trustees to consider major budget items. The budget process has become largely an administrative function, with the annual for-show battles over $5,000 trash cans, arguments over the cost of toilet paper in the public toilets and repairing the leaky Village Hall roof. When was the last time there was a serious debate about the $400,000 expense for Village police, or about consolidation options for the Highway Department?
    When has a complete (at least 5-year, but preferably 10-year) capital budget plan ever been presented and debated? These things take time, and it is vital that the election process be scheduled to introduce the spending and revenue issues that the newly elected-trustees and mayor, working with incumbents, will need to address before the budget is due.

    The clear, factual value of improved budget-making must be weighed against the speculation that November elections would be more politicized. Who knows? Isn’t it just as likely that there would be greater voter participation and better turnout? Or the speculation that local issues would get lost at a time when national, state and county issues are being discussed. Again, who knows? Isn’t there value in voters seeing local issues (like sales tax sharing, funding for infrastructure projects, police department consolidation) in context, as part of a bigger picture?

    If the concern is that the change in the calendar will favor incumbents, wouldn’t it be possible to agree to make the change one election cycle out, so the benefits would fall to those elected starting in the next cycle?

  2. Here’s a no-cost, no-referendum solution to new trustees not being “prepared” to participate in the budget process when they take office: Start the process earlier in the year and have candidates who are serious about the budget make an effort to show up at meetings in the 10 months out of the year they are not campaigning for votes.

    Village elections work just fine without giving the puppet masters in the town and county political parties an even more explicit role for meddling in village affairs.

    This is a terrible, self-serving attempt to extend terms and somehow align Cold Spring elections with the nonsense and hysteria that happens in November. “Don’t worry, we’re non-partisan village candidates! (nudge nudge, wink wink)”

  3. The solution seems so simple, doesn’t it? Just start the budget process earlier, have candidates attend village board meetings and study the budget well ahead of time, well before the election. Trouble is, things don’t work that way in the real world: they never have and they never will. (And we all know it, don’t we?) As a result, we try to have schedules and checks and balances in place to improve decision making. There will always be trade-offs. Democracy is often not pretty. But we can all try to think carefully about the process and try to improve it.

    Moving Village elections to November is not a “terrible” idea; it is not “self-serving”; it is not an effort to “align” Cold Spring elections with “nonsense and hysteria.” Please, let’s all try to consider this calmly and with some respect for our fellow citizens.

    If state law permits it, simply stipulate in the referendum that the start date for November elections be a date in the future that will not extend the terms of any current elected officials.

  4. “…somehow align Cold Spring elections with the nonsense and hysteria that happens in November. ‘Don’t worry, we’re non-partisan village candidates! (nudge nudge, wink wink)’ “…

    You have just described the village’s current elections. To call them non-partisan simply because candidates choose their own fantastical “party” names or acronyms is naive. Go back as far as you want – the political leanings and “newspaper” preference (and therefore legislative bent) of each candidate is plain as day.

    Currently there are the village elections, the school district elections, primary election days and the national/state/town election day. In the mind of time-crunched people, this adds up to too darn many days. I am for the merging of the March date with the November date for the very practical reason that a consolidated election calendar will likely engender greater participation.

    I do, though, think Mr. Bowman’s suggestion to push the date change into 2017 is sound one in order to remove any sense of illegitimate term extension.

    • So, if I’m reading the article correctly, it sounds like they have at least partially reconsidered and won’t implement this in a way that extends any of their terms without having to face the voters again first.

      Thank you to the trustees for recognizing that the appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as bad as an actual conflict of interest. This takes that off of the table and now they can at least discuss the pros and cons of this calmly, as Mr. Armstrong suggests, without a pretty big “con” hanging over the whole conversation.

  5. “I do, though, think Mr. Bowman’s suggestion to push the date change into 2017 is sound one in order to remove any sense of illegitimate term extension.”

    That is the minimum they should do if they insist on moving ahead with this. If they don’t want people to call shenanigans on them, then they should at least put this forward in a way that doesn’t add nine months to the terms of the three trustees that are pushing for it.

    Or if that isn’t possible, then set it up to have it take effect in November 2016 and *shorten* the terms of the three want this. It’s for the greater good after all, so they should be all in favor.

  6. New York State election law spells out the date for Village elections as the third Tuesday in March, unless the Village adopts a new date by proposition. Check it out in Section 15.

    • The Village can change the date of elections to November, under State law. If the Village managed the elections, it could decide to do so by a simple majority vote of the trustees. Because the Village recently changed to having Putnam County manage its elections, the Village is required to submit the proposed change in the election date to the voters in a referendum, which it voted to do.

      Trustee Marie Early confirmed that timing the change so it would not allow the current terms of any current board member to be extended was acceptable under NY State law.

      I hope the community will support the change. The benefits — improving the Village budgeting process, saving money, boosting turnout, reducing the number of elections, and providing a better context in which Village issues would be considered by the community — far outweigh the speculative concerns that Village elections would be more “partisan” and more “political.”

  7. I am glad that many have embraced the notion of pushing this idea out to a time when it will not benefit any of the current Trustees. I do not, however, agree with Mr. Armstrong’s assertion that it will improve the Cold Spring budget process. As Mrs. Foley pointed out at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the current Board can start budget negotiations at any time, including right now. We could start talking about all of the big capital projects that Mr. Armstrong cited at any moment. We could have a workshop on the subject of a new firehouse, or Main Street lights, next week. To say that these discussion aren’t currently happening because our elections are in March and not November is misguided.

    The “speculative concerns” about fanning the flames of partisan politics in the community are very real. If elections are moved to November our elected officials in the Village of Cold Spring will now be running on national party lines, in lockstep with their state, county and town party platforms … and their political war chests. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to see the proliferation of political party signs within the Village of Cold Spring, along with their associated ads, robo-calls, etc.

    This will not be limited to November either. Along with November elections come Democratic and Republican primaries.

    Aside from a few notable examples of Village political signage on Main Street and Chestnut Street, or on the side of a van by the subway stairs, or some nasty letters in the local papers, the Village political landscape has been one far removed from the state and national nonsense that occurs every November.

    I ask once again, why fix something that isn’t broken?

    Unless the “fix” is an attempt to push Village Elections onto the same stage as national, state, county and town elections?

    • We need to ask ourselves why Cold Spring budget discussions don’t start earlier, and allow time to tackle the big questions. Many people have urged that it is just a matter doing it (as if many others over many years haven’t said the same thing, and wondered why starting sooner just doesn’t happen).

      Assume, for a moment, that the budget review was begun in September. Assume that the trustees and Mayor brought to the public proposed alternative approaches to the big ticket items on the budget, and presented a capital spending plan for the next ten years. Assume that a civil, free-wheeling discussion settled on some significant changes in the Village’s spending plans. Now assume that we have a March election in which several of the trustees who supported the changes are voted out of office. The new trustees can either discard the prior work (most likely), or they can accept it — with little enthusiasm. The early start to budget discussions does not bind the trustees to the budget, unless incumbents are returned to office.

      By contrast, electing trustees in November, with debate over budget items part of the election, and then having the trustees hammer out a budget by April, will result in committing the trustees to the budget, no matter what. At some level, people understand this, and with March elections avoid budget discussions (whether or not they start early) that address the big issues and opportunities facing the village.

      Clearly, something is broken. The Village shrinks from the big issues at budget time, and has made “kick the can down the road” an art form. I predict that if the Village stays with March elections it will continue to kick the can; from time to time someone will suggest that budget discussions start sooner (and be ignored); and the real potential for the Village will remain locked up.