Monday, December 29, 2008

Tale of Two Grants

There's a mad dash in New Paltz to grab some cash from a New York State grant fund aimed at helping local governments become more efficient. The money looks like it's going to survive Albany's deep budget cuts, and two different applications are vying for approval by the two New Paltz governments. If our fearless leaders can weigh these proposals in an objective way, we'll probably get some money to look into a simpler New Paltz.

Despite all the budget cutting by the state, it looks like the 21st Century Demonstration Project is alive and well. David Paterson is looking at a lot of ways to cut costs, and he's serious about getting taxes down as part of his plans. I don't like Paterson's property tax plan very much, but this program takes a look at another way to cut costs: eliminate redundant services - the problems that arise from overlapping governments that occasionally don't communicate well.

These types of grants have popped up before, but this time there may be two different proposals jockeying for position. Terry and Toni each appear to be supporting one of the applications, and it's not clear if there is support for either one by both governments. I had a chance to talk with some of the principles, and I got a sense of what the two applications are looking to do.

Consolidation of Services is what Jonathan Wright and Terry Dungan want to study. Wright feels that a feasibility study that looks at different ways to share services throughout New Paltz still makes sense. He told me that he'd like the study to look at all options, from simply improving communication to a complete unification, and formulate the best plan for New Paltz from the study findings. If unification would create the most cost savings and strengthen the protection of the village core through more effective zoning, he would support that option; but he doesn't rule out that a full study might not point to a different solution altogether. And of course "unification" can mean a few different things: the village could be dissolved, the village could expand to encompass the entire town, the entire process could be determined by the outcome of an Othello game . . . who knows? Jonathan tells me that both boards are poised to pass the necessary resolutions supporting the application by their joint meeting on January 21.

However, not everyone thinks more study is necessary. That's why there is also a proposal to create a
Townwide Village, as suggested by Pete Healey and Toni Hokanson. Healey's vision for this grant money is to use it to formulate a plan of action for unification of all government services under the village, because villages are not subject to the highly restrictive New York State Town Law. He would use the grant to work out the exact plan of turning two governments into one, figuring out how much it would cost and how long it would take. Healey reasons that unification will need a referendum, so it makes sense to obtain a grant to find out what unifying would actually cost, and actually save. It's kind of like studying all the options, except Pete would like to drill down on the one that he thinks makes the most sense and not focus the grant money elsewhere. He tells me that Toni is helping to write this application, and that he feels it's the most cohesive proposal.

Now this looks like it's going to be a terribly dramatic fight to the finish, and if this were a newspaper article I'd probably be trying to gear up the drama - anything to help you make it to the dry, tedious finish. After all, this two applications are both going after the same money, and even though these grants are non-competitive, it's pretty unlikely the state would give us the money for both projects. "s#it or get off the pot," they'd say. Either one isn't going anywhere if it can't garner the support of a majority of each of our governments. So what are the chances of them both getting the green light?

I hope the chances are pretty good. I'd like to see both applications get submitted. I don't expect us to get the money twice, but if we have two proposals I think it will improve our chances that they'll like at least one of them. Either way, it's free money. If we get the Wright-Dungan plan, we'll look at all the options, figure out the best way to go and, if it's necessary, we'll have a referendum. However, if the state likes the Healey-Hokanson option, we'll lay out a unification plan and bring it to referendum. If we get a referendum it will pass if and only if the plan saves people money and preserves the community character, a tough bar to pass. Why not give ourselves the best chance possible to use free money to make the best possible plan for everybody?

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