Cold Spring election date debate continues
By Michael Turton
Facing a tax cap of 0.12 percent for the 2016-17 fiscal year, Village of Cold Spring trustees will again be challenged to produce a budget that provides necessary services while staying within the state-imposed spending limit.
As part of her monthly financial report at the board’s Jan. 12 meeting, Village Accountant Ellen Mageean said the tax cap will restrict spending to an increase of $1,882 next year within a tax levy of $1.6 million and a total budget of just over $2.8 million. The budget includes the Main Street project, the majority of which is being funded through a federal grant.
Mageean said there may be a small increase in the spending limit after the state calculates the village “growth factor.” That could result in an allowable spending increase of about $3,000 at most, “and that’s on the high end,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Marie Early underlined the difficulty that the cap presents, pointing out that some village expenses such as the cost of employee health care will increase significantly next year.
The village board can choose to exceed the tax cap but must pass a local law to do so. A tentative budget will be drafted by March 18 with a public hearing to be held in mid-April. The village board must adopt a new budget by April 29. In the unlikely event that trustees cannot agree on a final budget, Mageean said state law requires that the tentative budget be adopted.
The cost of being efficient
Village budgeting became even more daunting when the previous board accepted the state’s challenge to reduce spending by one percent a year for each of three years, 2016, 2017 and 2018, through efficiencies. That has been accomplished so far through measures such as eliminating the parking enforcement officer, improving the office phone system and savings in the cost of general insurance, part of an efficiency plan submitted to the state by the village.
When the one percent challenge is met, village residents receive a small rebate check, although the amount is so small that at Tuesday’s meeting trustees questioned the value of the effort, especially in light of the spending restrictions imposed by the tax cap. “A plan is a plan — it doesn’t (necessarily) mean it gets carried out,” said Trustee Cathryn Fadde. She said the parking enforcement officer, which the parking committee advocates reinstating, is a self-funding position.
Early added that officials from the New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) had indicated to her that the state has no mechanism in place for monitoring municipalities’ adherence to the efficient plans they submit.
The village’s efficiency plan also included possible cost savings that would result from moving Cold Spring’s election to November. If that were done, the Putnam County Board of Elections would bear the entire cost of the election, a savings to the village of more than $6,000.
The election date debate
The discussion over whether to move the village election from March to November continued as a formal agenda item. Mayor Dave Merandy has not endorsed moving the election, but said it should go to a public referendum to settle “once and for all” a debate that has been going for some time. A referendum is required if the date is to be changed; the board cannot make the switch on its own. “I really think the community is split” on the issue, Merandy said. By going to a referendum, he said, the democratic process would decide the issue.
Trustee Michael Bowman spoke against moving the election, arguing that holding it in November would make it part of a contentious national election cycle. “It’s not going to be Cold Spring anymore” if the election is moved, he said. Asked by Merandy for his view on deciding the question through a voter referendum, Bowman said he did not support the idea.
Trustee Fran Murphy disagreed, saying that the best way to answer the question is to let the voters decide. Fadde seemed to support the notion of a referendum. She commented that perhaps voters need to be fired up to get them out to the polls on the election date question and that “if they stay home, they get the government they deserve.”
Although discussion of the election date was on the agenda, only three residents attended the meeting and spoke to the issue. Michael Armstrong argued in favor of a November election while Frank Haggerty spoke against it. Kathleen Foley supported the idea of deciding the issue through a referendum and advocated more public discussion of the pros and cons of changing the date.
Trustees will vote on Jan. 26 as to whether the question will be put on the ballot for the March election.
30 days later …
“What a difference a month makes” is how Superintendent of Water and Sewers Greg Phillips began his monthly report. In December, village reservoirs were at 58 percent of capacity. But the mild temperatures of the late fall and early winter have brought rain rather than snow, and within the past month reservoirs have risen to 96 percent of capacity. The board moved to immediately remove the restrictions on outdoor water use that had been in place.
Phillips also reported that he would make a recommendation regarding replacement of water meters throughout the village by the end of January. The meters, almost 900 in number, are 18 years old and approaching the end of their usable life. New cellular meters will permit the water department and residents to monitor use remotely on a daily basis.
At the wastewater treatment plant, Phillips said the new electrical service is online and powering the facility, including the recently upgraded aeration system. The new equipment and electrical service will greatly reduce the cost of operating the plant, he said.
In other business…
- Former village trustee Bruce Campbell was appointed chair of the Independence Day Committee. Merandy said more volunteers are needed to plan festivities and help out. Anyone interested in serving on the committee should contact Village Clerk Mary Saari.
- It seems a small village produces a surprising amount of waste. In his monthly update, Cold Spring Highway Department Foreman Ed Trimble reported that in December crews picked up 47 tons of garbage and 25 tons of material to be recycled. That works out to approximately 47 pounds of garbage and 25 pounds of recyclables per village resident.
- Early reported that the Code Update Committee hopes to hold its first public meeting by the end of March to review revisions to the zoning code. The code is being updated to bring it into conformity with the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2012.
- Cold Spring Police Department Officer-in-Charge George Kane reminded residents that they should call 845-747-SNOW (7669) after a snowfall or when a storm is predicted to determine if overnight parking is prohibited on village streets. Cars will be ticketed if left on the street overnight when the ban is in effect.
I support Kathleen Foley’s suggestion that the village schedule a workshop on the pros and cons of moving the village election from March to November. Neither media outlet has reported both sides of the debate in any but the most cursory detail, and such a workshop would be an opportunity to build an informed consensus.
Apart from the $6,000 the Village would save by moving its elections to coincide with national elections, November village elections would make voters lives easier, improve their knowledge of the issues, boost voter turnout, and streamline the decision-making of those they elect, especially in budget discussions.
With the March village elections moved to November, residents would consolidate the noise and disruption of the election cycle from two three-month periods each year to one, and they would have to go to the polls once, not twice. Because November elections would draw voters interested in issues at all levels of government, turnout would almost certainly be much better than it is for March elections. I’m not persuaded by the argument that consideration of Town, County, State and even National issues would somehow contaminate or corrupt the local election. (Some have even claimed that this would “destroy” the village.) Political debates – both those presented by the local media outlets, and the informal discussions over coffee among voters – would be better informed, because all levels of government would be under review at the same time.
Finally, moving the elections from March to November would shift a highly disruptive event, the election, from falling just before the village budget is due (April), to a schedule that would provide an ample window for an in-depth review (December through March). Our current calendar is strongly biased toward a superficial budget review that buries itself in minutia and hardly glances at the Comprehensive Plan. Voting is really part of the village decision-making process. No business would endorse a calendar that regularly chose new leadership only after the plans for the new year have already been pulled from the oven. Neither should our village government.
A working group of the Village’s Comprehensive plan prepared an analysis of municipal solid waste collection that covered 2006 and 2007 (I wrote the report). The Village collected about 16 tons of garbage and 4 tons of recycled materials on average weekly in 2007. That compares with the weekly average for December 2015 of 9.4 tons of garbage (47 tons divided by December’s five collections), a big reduction, and an increase to 5 tons per week for recyclables. These limited statistics show a significant decline in the volume of trash, part of which can be accounted for by a big increase in the amount being recycled; perhaps composting by residents accounts for some of the rest.
By the way, this back-of-the-envelope review of 2007 data suggests there might be practical value in assessing where the Village stands with regard to the Comprehensive Plan.