In anticipation of the Nov. 2 election, we asked the four candidates for two seats on the Philipstown Town Board for their written responses to the same four questions.
The Democratic candidates are Jason Angell and Megan Cotter, and the Republican candidates are Sarina Tamagna and Neal Tomann.
Why are you seeking a seat on the board?
Jason Angell: I believe that local government can play an important part in finding local solutions to problems such as climate change, the economic squeeze more and more people are facing, and growing social divides. My experience working on the Town Board has been about trying to find the best ways to improve the lives of the most people.
Before being on the board, I worked to help move Philipstown and 10 other Hudson Valley communities closer to 100 percent renewable electricity that is also saving residents money. I’ve worked to create farms that donate food to address local food insecurity. I’ve created nonpartisan spaces where we can bridge divides to come together around common priorities. This board seat is an extension of the community work I’m doing.
Megan Cotter: Being a champion for the working class is the primary focus of why I’m seeking a seat on the board. I was lucky enough to grow up in Philipstown and experience what makes this place so special: a caring, small community where neighbors help each other. I’m running for Town Board to carry this basic premise forward.
Representing my community on the Town Board feels like a natural next step for me. Over the past few years in particular, I’ve found more and more residents approach me for guidance on local issues, ranging from disability access to enhancing our village/school parking to expanding Philipstown athletic programs for our kids. While I’m adamant about being a representative voice for all Philipstown residents, some fundamental issues I will fight for are: (1) Enhancing our main walkways and local transportation to be fully accessible; (2) ensuring people who’ve lived here their whole lives aren’t displaced because they can’t afford the taxes; and (3) developing our communal spaces so seniors, visitors and the school district will benefit. I want to give my kids, and all our youth, a safe and healthy space “to just be kids.”
Sarina Tamagna: I am seeking a seat to bring balance back to the Town Board that includes a more rounded agenda, opinions and views. My platform is built on a more-connected community with a voice for all parts of Philipstown. I recognize the importance of protecting our environment, but also recognize the importance of ensuring that we have basic necessities for our town.
Philipstown needs practical choices for our services and safe infrastructure. Philipstown needs water, which some parts don’t have. I have spent many years volunteering on local boards that made concerted efforts to take the politics out of the decisions and to do what is best for our town. We got things done! I plan to do the same for our Town Board and I thank everyone for the opportunity.
Neal Tomann: I’m running to bring diversity of opinion to the Town Board.
What do you see as the two most important challenges facing Philipstown in the next four years?
Angell: Over the last few weeks, I’ve personally knocked on nearly 2,000 doors across Philipstown. I’ve met a lot of people who are facing struggles: businesses hit by the COVID-19 shutdown, families with not enough food in the refrigerator, households falling behind on mortgage payments, or the elderly and others facing social isolation. People can be frustrated because they believe that no one cares.
Well, I do care. That is why at our last Town Board meeting I proposed a Committee on Community Care to spearhead a local effort to identify residents that need support and connect them to the helping hand they need. I think this effort could be seeded with American Rescue Plan Act funding that Philipstown receives. I also think that addressing and preparing for the broad impacts of climate change will be one of our most important challenges.
I worked on Philipstown’s greenhouse gas inventory and helped launch the Philipstown Fights Dirty campaign to move toward our town’s goal of local carbon neutrality. I want people to understand that the challenge of facing climate change is about building a more secure local food system, growing a more diverse local economy, investing in infrastructure like biking and walking lanes, and creating networks to look out for each other — all things that will improve our quality of life.
Cotter: (1) Affordability to live and work here. From advancing sustainable homeownership to strengthening small-business growth, I want to make sure Philipstown is an affordable place to live and work. Our elected officials need to identify and enact ways to bridge our increasing wealth divide considering the inflation surge and other pandemic-related factors. (2) Safety and accessibility. From kids to seniors to strollers to people with disabilities, we need to ensure all community members and visitors can safely move around Philipstown with ease. This means making Philipstown’s Complete Streets policy planning (adopted in February 2020) a key priority.
Tamagna: Having gone door-to-door since July, I have listened. The first challenge is to create a balanced comprehensive plan that lays out a successful blueprint for Philipstown that will achieve a less-siloed future view. We need to evaluate our infrastructure requirements and how that impacts housing and economic development. We need to take a balanced view on tourism and how it relates to our businesses that affect taxpayers. In my career I have been trained to see the interoperability for all parts of a solution and will do this for the comprehensive plan. Secondly, let’s hold the line on taxes by attracting the right businesses for our area, organize government to work more efficiently and forge partnerships that work to reduce the burden on the taxpayers. How about we give back to the taxpayers instead of looking for ways to spend more money?
Tomann: The water supply at Garrison’s Landing is important. Several people have shared their frustration about not being able to shower, flush toilets or do laundry. They should have a reliable water source. The Town Board has been making the best of a bad situation here. There have been several attempts to fix the system but we’re not there yet. The water supply itself is an issue, there are aging pipes, much of the system runs alongside or under Lower Station Road and they go under the railroad tracks. It’s not an easy fix. It might be good to have a fresh set of eyes take a look at this project.
Same thing with our dams. The Upper Cold Spring Dam needs maintenance. Much like the potable water issue at Garrison’s Landing, this dam project has several layers of frustration. Repairs are expensive and we’ll need both temporary and permanent easements for construction access and maintenance. The review and permitting process with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state dams agency moves at the speed of a glacier and pre-construction costs, or “soft costs,” are anything but soft.
There’s been some thoughtful discussion about how to spend the $700,000 that has been made available through the American Rescue Plan federal relief program. I’m not familiar with the spending restrictions of the funds, but I’d suggest we park as much of that money as possible until we’ve had time to get our bearings on these two issues. I think we’re going to need it.
The Town Board is considering whether to opt out of a state law that would allow retail sales and on-site consumption of marijuana. Regardless of the vote, do you feel retail sales and on-site consumption should be allowed in Philipstown?
Angell: The Town Board is being forced to move at a frantic speed based on an arbitrary state deadline. Obviously, marijuana is now legal and people can carry it, grow it and smoke it anywhere cigarette smoking is allowed. Over the last few months, in forming my opinion, I’ve held a public conversation on the topic. The board has held both a workshop and public hearing on the issue. I’ve also talked to a councilperson from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, who had firsthand experience approving a local retail dispensary. He reported that crime or youth use of marijuana didn’t increase, but acknowledged that this is a high-vehicle-traffic business that should be planned for accordingly. I am open to a retail dispensary in the future, but I believe we must do the necessary zoning and planning work to mitigate any potential negative impacts.
Cotter: I don’t feel we’re there yet. There’s no question this is an economic opportunity. I recently read that recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts have surpassed $2 billion in only three years. However, I strongly believe we first need to build a solid infrastructure foundation that encompasses not only physical limitations (like accessible walkways and parking) but also our mental health and addiction resources (like the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub).
Tamagna: We have a responsibility as leaders to protect the character of the community and ensure it remains unchanged. We live less than a mile from multiple schools and the consideration of retail sales and on-site consumption is concerning. New York State is not ready with regulations. We are not geographically equipped to handle the opportunity. If these two propositions are passed, we put a lot at risk. I hope all voters seriously consider all of the factors before Election Day.
Tomann: The Town Board has been doing a good job navigating this issue. It’s had a public hearing and a workshop, it’s invited input throughout the process. It’s a tricky subject and the “opt-in/out” timeline provision for dispensaries adds to what is already a statutory headache. I’ve heard compelling input from senior citizens who use cannabis medicinally and can’t easily get to another town to buy it. There is an important health-and-wellness component in this conversation about having a marijuana dispensary that I think can get lost along the way. My take is that if it helps seniors, or anyone, get closer to some relief from a medical issue, and the recreational sales are closely regulated, we should opt in.
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 town and the Legislature in Carmel?
Angell: The Town Board has a strong relationship with our county legislator, Nancy Montgomery. Nancy appears regularly at our board meetings and is a strong advocate for our town’s needs. The truth is that politics gets in the way of a lot more good being accomplished by the government. The best way to strengthen the relationship is just by starting to work together more. For example, to bring more services to support Philipstown’s seniors, I’ve begun to explore ways to work more closely with the county’s Office of Senior Resources and the Friendship Center in Cold Spring. Sometimes you just have to make the road by walking.
Cotter: This has certainly been an age-old discussion I can recall, even as a little girl. Maybe we consider sharing more resources? Maybe our elected county officials be more present throughout Putnam beyond their specific jurisdictions? Maybe we hold more count-wide events and/or do a better job communicating happenings on each side of the Taconic? Maybe we require east and west representation on county-focused task forces, committees, etc.?
Tamagna: Of all the candidates, I am best positioned to understand this perceived divide. Having been appointed more than five years ago by the Putnam County Legislature to sit on the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) board, as well as being the only representative from our area, meant the Legislature was acutely aware of the different requirements and saw the necessity in appointing a skilled person from Philipstown. Without it, there was no inclusive understanding to support the IDA’s mission. If the view is that the relationship isn’t there, I hold the current leadership of Philipstown accountable.
However, I do have hope. The county Legislature and the Town Board can still achieve a cooperative, symbiotic relationship. We need to focus on having respectful conversations, collaborative views from all sides, the acknowledgement of our requirements and trust in what the county Legislature requires to move us in a positive direction. We also need to look closer to home. Having been raised in Continental Village and having lived in all parts of Philipstown, there is a view that some are left out of important, townwide decisions. I have listened to individual areas’ concerns on taxes, infrastructure and lack of choices in basic services. These issues are different for different parts of Philipstown. By bridging these local divides, we will create a new chapter of a balanced government. When elected I will only be satisfied when Philipstown is a more-connected community. Please vote Nov. 2.
Tomann: Town Board members could look to attend more county meetings. I can see that being helpful. Look for areas of common interest in county projects, program initiatives and equipment. Also, I’d encourage everyone to consider their personal interests — the environment, health, lowering taxes, emergency management services, agriculture — and see what’s going on at the county level. Get on a mailing list. Talk about things.
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Questions for Candidates: Philipstown Town Board
Questions for Candidates: Putnam County Legislature (District 1)
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