Candidates discuss issues facing village
On Wednesday (Oct. 13), the two candidates to become the next mayor of Cold Spring, Kathleen Foley and Vinny Tamagna, appeared at a virtual forum moderated by The Current. Below is a transcript, edited for brevity.
Let’s start by having you share your qualifications and why you want to be mayor.
Foley: I want to be mayor because I deeply love this village. I came onto the Village Board in 2020 but am certainly not new to Village Hall. I have been on as a standing board and other boards in the village for 13 years. When my daughter was about a year old, I needed things to distract my mind from having a 1-year-old and I got involved with the Historic District Review Board and served on it as a member and then as vice chair. I’ve been involved with writing the tree ordinance. I was involved on the special board and one of the committees of the comprehensive plan. I volunteered with the Tots’ Park. I am a class parent at Haldane and a Girl Scout leader. I’m kind of all over the village because I need to be. I’m committed to this village because I’m raising my children here. We’re here for the long term. And I’m ready to do the work.
Tamagna: First of all, I love the village. I have great passion to do things to bring this village to the next level. We have so many things that we can do and I’m running for mayor because it’s almost a legacy for me. I’ve dedicated my life to public service. I was your [Putnam County] legislator for 18 years. I have been on the administrative side of county government. I have done consulting. I’ve been in the private sector as a project manager. I go from experience in construction and facilities to county government and really think that we can make a difference. So I have a network in place. And I know that I can bring a lot of our infrastructure projects to where they need to be to improve the quality of life for all of our residents.
The Parking Committee recently presented a plan to the Village Board to add metered parking on Main Street on weekends and holidays, create a residential permit program east of the Metro-North tracks and add reserved parking on The Boulevard and Kemble Avenue for business owners and employees. Can you share your thoughts on the plan? Is it fair? Will it work?
Tamagna: First, I want to thank the volunteers who worked very hard on this plan. As I understand it, we’re going to have a package — once the new mayor gets to Village Hall — that is ready to go. We need to try what we have, knowing that a lot probably needs to be adjusted. There are unintended consequences to everything that we do in government, so there will be tweaks. For instance, the Spring Brook apartments, down in that area, there’s a real problem with residents’ parking. Many of them have the one spot and much more is needed. So what is the permit program going to be? We need to put the residents first. Are we going to be moving people to streets where there aren’t meters, for instance, such as Constitution Drive or some of the other areas? Certainly nothing is perfect, but hands on, I think we can make the adjustments that are needed.
Foley: The Parking Committee did work very hard. They met the deadlines and they came up with good solutions. It was a very democratic process. I was impressed with the way the committee responded to feedback and modified the application to improve it. We have to start somewhere. We live in a village that was designed before cars, and we don’t have enough linear feet of street for all of the vehicles. And now some families have two and three cars. The real challenge is on lower Main Street, especially on crowded weekends. We have streets in the upper village that are empty while folks are looping and circling on lower Main, and that causes pedestrian hazards. We also have to think about the carbon footprint of cars turning and looping around. We must do something; we can’t push it down the road any longer. And we must identify revenue sources for the village and this is low-hanging fruit. We’ve talked about metering for a long time; it’s time to do it. I’m committed to implementing the recommendations.
Tamagna: I don’t think residents should be paying for the tourists. Part of the law right now is that every resident has to get a resident permit, and there’s a charge. We need to look at it. They already pay taxes here. Maybe we need a resident’s sticker, but at no charge. I want to take a look closer at what the revenue means. But we’re looking at pennies here and we need to raise thousands of dollars for our infrastructure.
The geography of Putnam County sometimes makes it feel like there is a western and an eastern part divided by the Taconic. What might be done to strengthen the relationship between the village and the Legislature in Carmel?
Foley: We first have to recognize the work of our legislator, Nancy Montgomery, who is tireless in her efforts. She is pulling back the curtain on what happens in Carmel, and we now know more about what actually happens with our tax dollars that don’t get back and how they’re wasted. It’s tough because we are largely blue in a red county. That is an unfortunate and time-wasting element that separates us. But regardless of what the legislators do, and what the county executive does, the not-for-profit and private organizations are building ties organically, east to west, with things like Sustainable Putnam and efforts to support our police officers. With a sense of investment, people engage in government more. I am looking forward to this growing-from-the-bottom-up approach, which is healthy and needed. We need more people engaged at the county level, asking the hard questions, as our legislator does, and as our Village Board and Town Board have done.
Tamagna: I have 25 years-plus experience working with many, many great people in Carmel — county executives, legislators past and present, all kinds of nonprofits — and the state and federal realm. I don’t see it as a divide; I think we need to build bridges. We need to stop going in with a bat and a club and trying to get what we want because we want it, and present a plan and develop coalitions. What I would suggest is a roundtable with the mayors and supervisors to bring western Putnam together, because we do have different needs, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it has to be adversarial. And I think you get a lot more when you present a firm plan. Last week, I went to a legislative meeting. We had a need for Constitution Island. Next year is going to be an exciting year for us, much like the Putnam History Museum and the Southeast Museum. I asked the county for some support and we got it. You have to ask; you have to present a plan that makes sense. It’s not an open checkbook. And I’ve found that there are very reasonable people there, and I look forward to working with all of those relationships to bring much more to the Village of Cold Spring.
Foley: Folks who were here on the ground and actually doing the work on this side of the county know that the mayors and trustees work well together. We talk almost on a daily basis. So that is happening. That’s not a new idea. The challenge of Putnam County is that unfortunately, it’s who you know. Part of getting things seems to involve the favors that come in return. On this side of the county, we like our government in the open, in public. We are not interested in patronage. We want to make sure our money is being spent wisely. I’m pleased for Constitution Island. I’d like to see more paratransit services on this side of the county. I’d like our seniors to get fresh meals cooked here in our senior center. I would like women’s services. I’d like to see the DMV. Those were all things that were promised when the Butterfield development was coming. And here we are all these years later without the county services. Why is it that we have to beg? If that is something that Mr. Tamagna is dedicated to doing, why haven’t you?
In August, the Village Board adopted regulations for short-term rentals. The regulations limit the number of STRs allowed in the village through a permit system and also impose other restrictions. The vote was 3 to 2 and, Kathleen, you were in the negative. Passions have been high, with some residents saying they plan to defy the law. What is your view of the regulations? Do we need them?
Tamagna: Well-established property rights are essential to the success of any economic system, and in any community. I’ve been following this issue. Dutchess County did a wonderful job. Saratoga Springs has done great work. Overall, back in 1995 and 1996, when we started tourism in Putnam County, we said that Cold Spring is the gateway. Many people are going to come here for many, many years to come. It’s a beautiful spot, probably the most beautiful place in the world. So we have to develop enforceable rules so we know who’s here. We also have to protect and preserve the character of our community because they’re businesses now, although a resident is different from somebody who’s buying homes and developers. We have a good start and, again, we’re going to be able to tweak and we’re going to be able to listen to both sides of the issue. I don’t think that there’s a need to reinvent the wheel. And I think it’s appropriate for us to develop a hospitality tax to be paid by the guests, so that we get revenue. If we’re going to share this beauty, we should be collecting some of the dollars. Maybe we need to figure out something different from the lottery or maybe we need to make the number of allowed residents participating larger, but I we’re going to learn a lot about that.
Foley: I would just point out that villages in New York are not enabled to collect taxes. That happens through the county, and the county does not share sales tax with us. I did propose a tourism impact fee for short-term rentals that would be part of each of the permits, but that was roundly rejected by my colleagues, alas. But I thought that was a direct way to create a revenue source for the village to help offset the infrastructure and quality-of-life impacts of tourism. I hope that we can return to that as we do tweak that law. I’d like to explain my vote. I support reasonable regulation of short-term rentals. However, the law in its current form is overly complicated, and it’s going to be difficult to implement and difficult to enforce. We’re going to do our best with that, but it’s going to be a steep learning curve. I certainly would like people to be complying with the law and making applications. But I also want to work with people who are running short-term rentals to get feedback on how we can do a better job. The strength of this law is the protection of rental housing. I’m concerned about housing supply, and housing affordability, and that needs to be the basis of consideration going forward.
Tamagna: Kathleen was on the board through this whole discussion and dialogue. And I think there’s an opportunity when you’re working as a team to fix things. If there are issues, let’s talk about them. Let’s not wait till it passes as a law and surprise three other members of the board. When I’ve worked on boards, we do a lot of work to make sure there’s something that everybody agrees to and that it’s as solid as it could be. We have an excellent relationship — at least if I’m mayor — with the county. So I think whether it’s a hospitality charge or whether we can collect it ourselves or whether we find out how Airbnb reports to the county, we will do what we need to do to get our fair share back here again.
In July, the Village Board voted to opt out of a state law that would allow retail sales and on-site consumption of marijuana. Instead, a referendum will appear on the ballot. Marijuana, like alcohol, is now a legal product. Should retail sales and on-site consumption be allowed?
Tamagna: We are unique in Cold Spring in that we have such a small geographic boundary from our school. Wouldn’t it be something if there was a dispensary next to Cold Spring Pizza? There’s a lot to still be fleshed out with regard to where [retail stores] belong. But having said that, it’s up to the voters. I would encourage everybody to make sure that they find the box on the ballot. It’s kind of a slippery slope. And likewise with the CBD sold in some of our institutions. There’s a social risk. I like to be very careful as a leader to protect the health and the welfare of our youngest.
Foley: My colleague Tweeps Woods and I pressed very hard for this to go to referendum because I felt that this decision is too important to be up to five people at a table. The regulatory details at the state level, both from a taxation and a distribution standpoint, have not been fully worked out. You can call the [state] comptroller’s office and they’re hard-pressed to explain to you how this seed-to-sale formulation works for tax. We can opt in later if the community would prefer that. I would like to see us hold on and let the state get its regulatory house in order before we consider sales. In terms of kids being able to access marijuana: Under this new law, it’s legal to have 5 pounds of marijuana in your home. I think parents need to be making sure if they’re having it at their home, their kids aren’t getting it there. That to me seems like a bigger danger than a regulated shop on Main Street. We have regulated wine shops on Main Street that don’t sell to children. Personally, I would prefer that we didn’t have on-site consumption in the village. There are higher and better uses of our Main Street, but we live in a capitalist economy and the market will drive it.
The Cold Spring Police Department costs the village about $433,000 annually, or 17 percent of the $2.5 million budget. Over the years, some people have argued that the police force is largely redundant. We have a sheriff’s substation in Nelsonville. We have the New York State Police. What is your view on the need for a police agency in the village?
Foley: I am deeply committed to having a local police force that is accountable to our elected officials and residents. The Cold Spring Police Department knows our community and knows our children. We did a survey in the spring and our village is largely supportive of our police officers. There are things that can be done better, but people feel safe with a police force here. I don’t want to be waiting for someone to drive from the other side of the county; I want officers here who can respond in a moment’s notice and our officers do. It’s easy to think of Cold Spring as Mayberry, but if you were at the Village Board last night [Oct. 12], you heard that we had an arrest following a check-cashing crime that resulted in the confiscation of crack cocaine. We are bisected by a state road. Because of tourism, we have traffic and crowds to manage. And we have the same real-life social issues that exist in other places. We have an officer-in-charge, Larry Burke, who is an incredibly ethical and good man. He hires good officers and he’s committed to community participation.
Tamagna: I, of course, support our local police and Larry Burke does do a wonderful job. As the rector’s warden at St. Mary’s [Church], I can say that just at the corner there, with traffic such as when we have our Modern Maker’s Market, it goes a long way. All budgets need to be reviewed. We have to look at overtime. We need to make sure they have the training and equipment they need. Look for the partnerships, too. Bring [Dutchess & Putnam] REACT in. It’s a wonderful volunteer organization that helps with traffic control when we have Fourth of July parades or other events. Maybe what we can do with our Sheriff’s Department, to partner and to let people know what’s going on. Very often I don’t think that everybody knows when there’s going to be a big event. We can do that kind of outreach, maybe even a year or six months in advance, to get the help that that our local police force needs. There’s a tremendous burden on them.
Foley: When you’re mayor, you need to know the structure of village departments. We don’t have overtime. We have all part-time officers. I will also congratulate REACT. Those were the folks who, if you were immunized at the Recreation Center, were moving crowds through traffic to get shots. They were here on Community Day, and they were fantastic. So a shoutout to them.
Finally, we’d like to have each candidate provide a closing statement.
Tamagna: You know, there’s a great deal at stake here in this mayoral election. I want to be the mayor because I want to unite the community. I want to collaborate with our friends in county government and state government and federal government. I have the experience to do all that, and I have the network to do that. I’ve worked for you before for 18 years. I was your legislator, quite a successful run of things. And no, I didn’t bring almost $2 million in by myself. I did it with a team of people that believed in the same vision. And I’m going to bring that back again. I’m humbled as I go around talking to people and I know the support is there. People remember me and know how hard I work. And I know that the Better Together team is going to work as a team. We want to make this a neighborly community, a community that’s together and a community that can accomplish things. Let’s use the talent that’s out there. Let’s build on it. I understand some of us have been here for generations; some of us had just found this is an awesome place to live. Welcome to everybody. Let’s get to work. We all want a village government that works for the people. It’s a legacy for me. As I get ready to retire after 25 years, I’m going to do what I need to do to make sure that we address the riverfront, the water supply, the dam — that’s a $4 million project we didn’t even talk about. But it’s something that again, connections that I have with the Department of Public Works will go a long way in helping. I want to thank Mayor [Dave] Merandy and Trustees [Marie] Early and [Fran] Murphy for giving us a firm foundation on which to build. Let’s make this the most vibrant community in the Hudson River Valley.
Foley: I’m here tonight on Main Street, right across the street [from The Current] at Supplies for Creative Living and Now in Bloom, two of our women-owned businesses, and I’m here with supporters and happy to have them here with me and have their encouragement. One of the things about this village is you’ve got to be here. And Vinny, you were on our Legislature for a long time. I think most of us haven’t seen you in the village since you last came to advocate for the Butterfield development. So it’s nice to see you back in the village. But the Forge Ahead team has been here all along, people know us on the street, they know us on the sidewalks and we’re engaged with the community in a real way, with sleeves rolled up, and we bring that love and dedication to the table. We look forward to working in a participatory way, welcoming people to the table, taking advantage of the expertise and the brilliance that is in this community. The best thing you can say as a leader is, “Teach me what you know, because you know more than I do.” So let’s get those folks at the table, have them engaged and listen to them and implement the smart recommendations that are being made. The more people we have engaged in the village, the better it will be. I’m ready to listen. And I’m ready to work hard. And I show up.