Water bills soon can be paid by credit card
By Michael Turton
Four mayors and more than 10 years after the process began, the Cold Spring Village Board authorized Mayor Dave Merandy to sign the contract for the Main Street Project at its April 12 meeting, awarding the work to Con-Tech Construction Technology, a company based in Yorktown Heights.
The company’s bid of $516,500 was the lowest of seven proposals.
“We’re very, very close to shovels in the ground,” said Deputy Mayor Marie Early, adding that once village officials meet with the contractor, a public meeting will be held to outline scheduling and construction details.
The work is expected to take five to six months and should be complete by October, Early said. The project will repair the worst sections of Cold Spring’s badly deteriorated Main Street sidewalks and curbs and will also add Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant ramps. Improvements will also be made on Furnace Street, including paving, new sidewalks and improved drainage.
Cost of policing
The April 12 meeting also served as a public hearing on the tentative village budget for 2016-17, which features general-fund spending of $2.8 million. Village taxes collected will total $1,519,854, an amount within the state-imposed tax cap. Village Accountant Ellen Mageean noted the tax rate will actually decline by 0.74 percent due to an increase in the Fireman’s Service Award next year. Trustees will vote on the budget at their Tuesday, April 26, meeting.
Resident Michael Armstrong read a prepared statement regarding the budget and the process used to draft it, urging trustees to take into account the 2012 Comprehensive Plan.
“The village urgently needs to have a conversation about where it stands in meeting its goals and objectives,” he said. Armstrong also called for long-term capital planning and stressed the need to re-examine the cost of police services. “The county, state and Metro-North all provide police services to the village, and yet the village still proposes to dedicate $1 in every four of its property-tax revenue to continue … another layer of 24/7 protection — one that none of our neighbors in Nelsonville, Garrison or Philipstown seem to miss.”
In other business….
- Village residents will soon be able to use a credit card to pay water and sewer bills. The village will contract with InvoiceCloud to provide the service. Early said the system should be in place in time for the July water bills.
- The board adopted a much-discussed new law authorizing metered parking at the municipal parking lot on Fair Street.
- Trustee Fran Murphy reported that a request has been sent to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney for funding assistance under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act for further repairs to Cold Spring streets and the Lunn Terrace bridge that spans the Metro-North tracks. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” she said.
- Big Belly is back. Newly elected trustee Lynn Miller is re-examining the potential benefits of using the solar-powered trash compactors in high use areas of the village. The computerized system can also compact recyclables. Big Bellies have been discussed at length in the past as a means of reducing the cost of garbage pickup by village employees during the tourist season.
- Merandy and Trustee Steve Voloto met recently with representatives of New York State Parks regarding the village taking over management of Dockside Park. Merandy said the meeting helped clarify that the village “can make money” at the site without handing all revenues over to the state. He also said the state is not opposed to buildings being constructed as long as development is “within the spirit of state parks.” The mayor said that a workshop will be held on the future of Dockside and that the village will deal with the issue this year. “It’s an incredible piece of property,” he said.
- The mayor also reported that the village will not have to provide funding for the shoreline stabilization project being planned for Dockside.
- Trustees turned down a request from Green Mountain Energy to set up a sales table on Main Street on Wednesdays. In denying the request trustees cited the disruption that will be caused by the upcoming Main Street Project. They also pointed to problems in the past when some merchants have set up sales tables that encroached onto Main Street sidewalks beyond the three-foot limit allowed in the village code.
My full comments on the budget follow, with some additional explanation.
I’d like to thank the Village Board for its hard work on this budget, as well as Ellen Magean and Mary Saari, who consistently demonstrate competence, integrity and dedication in this important work. Please understand that my suggestions are all made with gratitude for the work done, and respect for those who have done it.
The budget is a plan for the coming year’s revenues and expenditures. As such, it should be developed from, and based on, an annual review of the Village’s Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in January 2012. The Village urgently needs to have a conversation about where it stands in meeting its goals and objectives. Since adoption, no administration has undertaken such a review. This is contrary to the commitment that the Village made at the time of adoption, and a great loss to the Village.
Consider the following:
1) There is no proper multi-year capital budget projecting infrastructure investments, establishing priorities, and setting forth a schedule (preferably of twenty years) of necessary actions. Such a plan would identify all Village assets, their value, condition, depreciation and replacement horizons. It would assess the potential of valuable village properties such as the Boat Club site and the Village Garage site.
Such a plan is called for in the Village’s Comprehensive Plan, and is essential to managing the cash flows for debt repayment, leasing, scheduling engineering studies, and timing the replacement of equipment such as garbage trucks. It is also needed to frame the Village’s policy toward debt financing.
2) In preparing this budget, the Village Board engaged in no serious discussion of the Village’s options for policing services, services that consume over one quarter of our property taxes. The County, State, and Metro North all provide police services to the Village, and yet the Village still proposes to dedicate one dollar in every four of its property tax revenue to continue to add yet another layer of 24/7 protection – one that none of our neighbors in Nelsonville, Garrison, or Philipstown seems to miss, while – for lack of money – we’ve even stopped talking about the new firehouse called for in the Comprehensive Plan.
3) The Village has never evaluated how this community pays for solid waste management, and has neglected recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan that urged consideration of giving residents incentives to recycle. This would entail shifting garbage and recycling out of the general fund and to a separate account like water and sewer, and billing residents directly for this service on the water/sewer bill. Other communities have shown that incentives (and there are many options under direct billing) can raise recycling rates to 75 to 80%, while Cold Spring’s rate is stuck in the low 30s. My rough estimate is that we could save well over $20,000 annually.
Capital planning is needed to clarify the real needs of the village. I have long urged the village to seek additional, non-property tax sources of revenue, such as metering the parking on Main Street. The slow progress of that effort suggests to me that many — and perhaps most of — the residents have no idea of how badly the Village’s infrastructure — dams, sewers, water distribution system, etc. — needs attention, and serious money. We will pay off the $3 million 1997 debt for the water filtration plant in 2017, but the cash flow that is freed up has been entirely absorbed by the bond anticipation notes for the recent water main relining on Main, upgrades to our waste water treatment plant, and the coming replacement of water meters. Apart from jacking water rates through the roof, how are we going to pay for all that is needed?
This is why savings must be found. The extravagant cost of the the village’s police services is an obvious place to start. Reorganizing the way we pay for garbage collection, and giving residents incentives to recycle, is another way to reduce costs (and one that will improve the environment). Why aren’t these issues even on the table?
It is more of a struggle to create the budget and make the major decisions for this village than people understand. Trying to do what is right for all residents is a daunting task so decisions are not as black and white as many believe.
Mike Armstrong brings up some very good points and they are based on long hard work by the Comprehensive Plan. But many of the decisions derived from the plan are driven by believing that everything the Comprehensive Plan states will always be what is best for the Village. For example, consideration of abolishing the police department just for cost may not be what everybody in the village believes. Nelsonville has free 24/7 police because it can rely on us. We could not expect the same service and response time from the other agencies mentioned above. The other policing agencies do not have dedicated cars for the village, they can not guarantee response times for the village and we would have no control of when and where the cars would patrol. As a Village with low crime it is always worth the conversation as a cost cutting measure but is it worth the risk is a very important question?
As far as the Comprehensive Plan goes, it becomes incredibly hard to make important Village decisions that are best for everyone while trying to satisfy the plan. It is highly unlikely that decisions are made that purposely go against the plan.
The Putnam County Sheriff has a permanent, dedicated station in Nelsonville, in the former fire station, and has had one for several years; it was beefed up a year or so ago. At the time, when the Sheriff’s patrol cars were added, no one in Cold Spring seemed to take any notice. That should have triggered a serious discussion about what made sense as far as Village expenses for policing. Normally, police patrol staffing is governed by reference to the number of calls during the shift. What are the numbers in Cold Spring?
In business, when you cut costs you go first to where the biggest expenses are, not the smallest. The time spent working on trimming there will yield a far higher return than time spent on $2,000 items.
The Comprehensive Plan was made with enormous public outreach (over 30 public meetings) and public input, far more than any budget prepared in the past 10 years. So which better represents the will of the people? Would it really be so difficult to begin the budgeting process each year with a review of how the village is doing with respect to the Comprehensive Plan?
Some of the most straightforward ideas in the Comprehensive Plan that would save serious money have simply been ignored. I gave the example of garbage and recycling collection. It should be a simple matter to shift the account for garbage collection out of the general fund and move it to something like the water and sewer fund, then add charges for collection to residents’ water and sewer bills. This would allow the village to provide incentives to residents to recycle more. A close analysis might even show that if the proportion of recycling was reduced, through incentives, the trucks might only have to make two routes, not three, each week — adding to further savings.
I agree with Mike Armstrong that Cold Spring needs to take a hard look at its police department and realize some long-overdue savings. I’m also encouraged that the sidewalks also seem to be actually getting the attention they deserve.
While that is happening, I hope the village will also take a look at the available handicapped parking spots on Main Street and consider adding some more. About a year and a half ago I received a NY State handicapped parking tag, the result of a back condition that was aggravated, ironically, by a fall I took on a rough Main Street sidewalk near the driveway of Carolyn’s Flower Shop.
Before we moved away from New York last year, my experience trying to find “blue” spaces on Main Street was almost never productive. Because the entire street is on a hill, having to walk even a block or two with an impairment is especially difficult, and the few spaces that did exist were well downhill.
I know a lot of people in government find ADA compliance issues to be tedious and costly, but for those of us with crippling conditions it means the difference between shopping and not shopping in a given area. Perhaps the Main Street store-owners can get behind the idea of improved parking for those with disabilities.