Mayor Dave Merandy spoke with reporter Michael Turton on Wednesday (Dec. 16) about the challenges that faced Cold Spring in 2020 and those that will follow in 2021. His responses have been condensed.
How has COVID-19 been most difficult for you, as a person and as mayor? I know your son is a nurse in New York City.
He contracted COVID and was pretty sick but pulled out of it. He gives me insight into what’s going on at the hospitals, what those people are dealing with, the deaths they face every day, how serious this is. I don’t think the media has presented what we’re facing very well. I don’t envy governors who have had to make huge decisions. I did my best to try to control what I could, which wasn’t much. We limited visits to the office, closed off the dock area in the spring, later eliminated big events. But I felt pretty helpless and overwhelmed.
Officer Scott Morris resigned earlier this year from the Cold Spring Police Department because of an incident years earlier involving the death of a young man in New York City. Could that situation have been handled differently? Would a community-wide conversation have reduced the tension?
The tension is still there. The Village Board did the right thing; I’m not sure what could have been handled differently. I wish people had looked into it more, not just reacted, but gotten all the facts. The way it came to the fore was not ideal. It was negative and forceful and, with the climate at the time, there was nothing to do other than have him resign.
You are reviewing Police Department policies under a statewide order by the governor. Are you confident the board can work with its consultant, Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke and the community?
I have all confidence in Larry. With the consultant’s help, the board we have now and with the community involved, I’m confident we’ll come up with good policies. Our police deal with different issues than large cities, but the policies will have to address things like chokeholds and the use of deadly force. There has to be policies to handle bad situations. I’ve thought a lot about whether we need a full-time police force. It’s needed in the good-weather months. We could possibly shorten the night shift, especially in winter. I’d need to have a long, hard conversation with everyone involved before I did anything.
What do you think of Zoom versus in-person village meetings?
Zoom is great for enabling people to attend and for more community input. But we’re social animals and I miss the interaction with the trustees, the public and my boards. Is there a place for Zoom after COVID? I think so, for things like public meetings when there’s a big topic. Zoom can help get the message out.
Any updates on village parking?
The new parking committee will have its first meeting in January. It will probably be a five-person committee, with input from others along the way. I’m all for looking into a parking app that [Deputy Mayor] Marie Early described. Cornwall uses it and a trip there could sort out pros and cons. The committee needs to look at residential parking permits. Twenty percent of village parking spaces must be available to the public. That’s where we run into trouble, finding those spaces. How residential permits would be divvied up is a big piece of the puzzle — considering multi-family houses, families with three cars, residents with and without driveways.
What’s happening with short-term rentals?
It’s being considered in parallel with the code update. We’ll break it off as a topic and move ahead on it before the update is complete. Limiting the number of people that can stay in a rental is key. People have tried to fit as many people as possible in a house; that’s a problem. How rentals affect neighborhood character is also important. How many rentals should be allowed on one street?
What are your thoughts on managing weekend crowds?
This was the worst year I’ve ever seen. The number of people was incredible, parking on every street, even above 9D. You feel powerless. I can’t stop people from coming to the village; it goes back to how we regulate parking. Some people park for the whole day and go hiking. The large number of people going up and down streets is hard to control. A lot of residents don’t even leave their houses on weekends. I’d like to survey residents, determine what they want Cold Spring to be. Do we want to be a Cape Cod? There’s a lot to that question. Policing is part of it, but not the biggest part.
Are events such as beer, food and wine fests good for the village?
Last year was the first time we’ve allowed them. We now have a better idea of the pros and cons. They bring in revenue, but there are a lot of headaches. Does it make sense to bring in more people on weekends that are already busy? Are the events good for residents? Good question.
Have you given up on Putnam County providing funds to help deal with tourism?
I don’t think Putnam County likes us very much, and I don’t think they’re going to give us anything. In a year when you have to be fiscally responsible, the legislators give themselves raises. We ask for $7,500 for garbage collection and they cut it. They didn’t even have the courtesy to say, “We cut it to make ends meet.”
The comprehensive plan recommended the Cold Spring Boat Club integrate more with the community; some residents have complained about how the club operates. Should public input be part of the lease renewal process?
The club wants a long-term lease, but they now pay nothing to the village. We’d like rent that’s not equal but close to market value. You’re spot-on about how some residents perceive the club. The tricky part is if the village receives monthly revenue, how much can we ask the club to do about being more a part of the community? These are questions for the new board. Where do they want to go with the lease? Would they like public input?
What are your priorities for 2021?
The code update is top priority, although it will probably be the death of me. Second is getting the parking committee together. Also, the review of the Police Department. I’d love to do the survey, get answers from the whole village, and understand what residents want the village to look like.