Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Claims that Bind

There's been a fair amount of discussion about the Village suing the Town, because Terry Dungan has found what looks like about $75,000 in taxes to Village residents that the Town shouldn't have charged us.  The notice of claim is available at Town Hall or that link, and has all the relevant details.

Of course it's not the Village suing, it's a number of residents (not including, as some have noted, His Honor).  I wonder how many of those residents asked who would be paying to prosecute this suit, or to defend against it?  Because whether or not they're right, once it's on, attorneys get involved, and you can be sure that the Town is going to have an attorney answer this notice of claim . . . and they'll charge it to the "A" fund that we all pay.

Now I understand that the situation is complex - that's why Terry needed to have "lawsuit parties" where he would spend an hour or so explaining it to a group of people before asking if they wanted to sign on or not.  But in the clusterf*ck that is one government within another, does it occur to anybody on that notice that the only people that are going to pay to litigate or settle this mess is us?  This is financial masturbation, plain and simple.

How about the two boards sit down and talk it out?  Figure out a solution - and leave your damned egos at home, thanks.  I understand that some of your are steamed about being sued, and some of you are irked about being swindled, but every person in New Paltz will be paying to fix what was likely a mistake.

Terry Dungan is known for not telling his own Board anything, and I think he probably didn't make a real effort to work with the Town - or if he did, no one knew what he meant.  He's smart, but not a real communicator.  Toni Hokanson will defend the Town's interest fiercely, and despite her protests will forget that the Village is part of the Town.  We can't afford to have Terry push forward with a suit that's premature, nor can we afford for Toni not to work out a solution that benefits the citizens.  I don't really give a damn which government gets the money in the end, as long as it doesn't end up in my tax bill.

Let's watch how this unfolds carefully.  If, by the next election, it's not settled with NO cost to the taxpayers, can we agree to vote out of office anyone who comes up for election?  And to continue on that route until all ten have been replaced?  This is the reason why unification needs to happen:  I don't want them fighting over how much of my money they get to piddle away hating each other.  I know that not every sitting Board and Council member is responsible for this debacle, but we need to send a message that they will all be held accountable if this is not ended now.  I'm sure that cooler heads will prevail if it's clear that people in New Paltz are serious.  It's an embarassment, an unnecessary expense, and should have been avoided by working it out like adults.  Okay, mature adults.


Martin McPhillips said...

It's a righteous shoot, as they say in the cop business.

As for Toni Hokanson's approach to this sort of thing, when the town wetlands law was under consideration there was no real faction that simply opposed it. But there was a faction that wanted it to be a little less severe. They made a very good case, and were well organized and asked for reasonable modifications. Hokanson played dumb through her first campaign for supervisor and then voted for the law as a member of the town counsel after the election during a Don Wilen run lame duck session.

Those opposed to the law as it was written promised that without some modifications that they would litigate, and indeed they did litigate, and the law was thrown out.

Even Jason West, when the village's version of the same law was challenged, went out to the environmental specialists at Hudsonia for an opinion, and they did the study and I remember well the night that their rep came to the village board and told them that the village, but for certain well known wetlands (the Ox-bow and the area by Woodland Ponds) the village was, what, it was dry. There was no need for a comprehensive law in the village like the one that had been written. (The law was, as written, an exercise in local tyranny, in my opinion.)

One of the things the critics of the town law wanted was a study and a mapping similar to what Hudsonia did for the village.

People of a slightly different political angle got a taste of how Hokanson treated critics (not opponents) of the wetlands law when she greased the rails for the Crossroads project and then suggested that the huge public showing in opposition was insignificant. I believe her dismissive comment was along the lines of "that only the people opposed to something show up and complain about it." Duh?

The implication was that there was a "great silent majority" in the town who really supported the huge project.

Terry Dungan went to the town board, and wrote to Hokanson, about this double taxation problem (it's not the only item the town is handling this way) and brought it to their attention and was, I think his words were, "blown off." There were exchanges in that newspaper about it, and then Toni and Erin Quinn appear to have decided in concert that a PR campaign needed to be waged against Dungan. Erin has never forgiven the mayor for defeating her champion two years ago. And Toni, as anyone who watched the Crossroads situation, doesn't like to be questioned or put off.

As for the competing municipalities: there's no need for that if the town does what it is supposed to do and doesn't try to jack up village residents, raising their taxes while keeping the taxes in the rest of the town lower. The village is not in a position to tax anyone outside of the village, of course, so while it can contest what it considers to be unfair taxation, or double taxation, it cannot put a tax on town residents.

Dungan appears to be doing what a good representative should do on behalf of his constituents. And the town and its attorneys will now have to answer the claim.

Finally, the village as a discreet inner municipality is a very good thing and should not be gotten rid of, under any of the unification models. It's that small stoical government seeing to the mundane tasks of the historical village that keep it small and beautiful and historical. And there will never be any "savings" if the two municipalities are merged. Increasing the size of bureaucracies just gives them greater hunger. Did the merger of the police forces produce any saving, or is the combined police bureaucracy now larger and hungrier than ever? The answers are no and yes. Is the huge centralized school district, with a budget more than twice the village and town budgets combined a big savings for local taxpayers? Or does it spend more than twice the national average per student?

The village government is a great asset. Getting rid of it will not save a penny beyond some intial unverifiable handwaving about how the savings are just terrific. And if you like little old New Paltz, the quaint village, you should know that once that village government is gone, you'll never get it back. And the town government, or any town-wide government, will be an over-arching government bureacracy that will treat the village as an abstraction. That was precisely what it did do with the "One-Way Main Street" proposal, which was a revolting idea with the added attraction of doing nothing to help traffic. The village board stood its ground, again with Toni and Erin breathing down their necks with non-arguments, and staved that bloody thing off.

Whatever Dungan's faults -- and lord knows none of the rest of us have any -- he does have a sense for facts and doing the right thing in the face of them.

Terence said...

I'll concede, Martin, that you're much more knowledgeable on the history of the wetlands laws than I am. I also can't disagree with your characterization of Toni Hokanson's approach to Crossroads. And for the record, I like Terry and think his ability to analyze data like these is invaluable. I know I couldn't have made heads or tails of that kind of information.

But are you kidding me? How is launching a lawsuit without mentioning it to the Board "the right thing" to do? I understand that Toni simply will not budge if she believes she is in the right, but there are other steps that could have been taken.

Take your Crossroads example. If this is a real issue (and I suspect it is, but won't assume), was the "silent majority" in this case the ones that wanted to go to the extra expense of an intermunicipal lawsuit, or the ones that wanted to just pay more taxes, or perhaps the ones that understand that the only people that make money in court cases are attorneys?

There are ten elected representatives in this picture. Surely one from each side could have sat down and talked it out? I hesitate to put them all together in a room anymore, but surely two of them could do it without the courtroom nonsense. This is essentially a family fight, one that should not even be a fight, because Village residents are getting screwed no matter what at this point. I believe Terry probably has his figures straight, but his sense of "doing the right thing" leaves me scratching my head.

And as for the Village . . . yes, I really do like the community character, and it's absolutely something that would have to be preserved if we did away with a government. Why not create councilmanic districts and give the village core additional levels of protection that could only be undone by voter referendum?

And I agree, I do not know if unification would be cheaper - you may recall that the Village Board declined to let grant money pay to answer that question. But I do know that the village could not sue the town over taxes if only one existed.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Terence, for pointing out the obvious. After Terry first put forward the Notice of Claim in January the Deputy Mayor, as he has so many times before, intervened with the Supervisor and the Rescue Squad. He and they came to the conclusion that the discrepancy was closer to $10,000 than to $77,000 and there was a general agreement that the next contract would remedy the complicated and confusing formula and contract language.

Terry is doing this now in an apparent attempt to head off a resolution of the problem, just in time for him and the Nyquists to find an opponent for Toni Hokanson.

Pete Healey

Martin McPhillips said...

I don't know if Terry "mentioned it to the board" or not, but I've been expecting to see a lawsuit for months. I had no special information other than watching bits and pieces of board meetings and reading that paper. I was actually worried that he would drop the whole thing.

If the facts alleged in the Claim are in error, let the town government show why that is the case when they answer. The Claim isn't costing the village anything, unless there was some sort of filing fee, because the claimants are not represented by an attorney. In any case, the suit was signaled months ago.

Peter: The citizens of the village are entitled to a response to the Claim. If the town has an answer that it can back up within the terms of the law and the facts, then let it make the answer or admit the error and make restitution. There are three years at issue. If the mayor is correct, then that is not something to just be attended to at the next contract.

And this is not a matter that the Rescue Squad per se has anything to do with. They should never have been brought into it other than as the budget line in question vis a vis how the taxation issue is handled. This has to do with the state law and the town's budgetary practice. Period. The Rescue Squad is just the particular service in question. No one is accusing them of anything, and they have no role in the resolution of the matter. They shouldn't take it personally, or institutionally, as the case may be.

Further, as the mayor has said repeatedly, if anyone was listening, this is just one item where the town is employing this practice. There are others. And from where I sit his effort to get both the immediate issue and the larger issue straightened out is what he is obliged to do as my representative. He's the administrator here, the executive, and he is acting on behalf of the village taxpayers in that capacity.

So, let's see how the town responds when it's a legal instrument that's on the table instead of some casual "everybody's O.K." agreement.

And if the New Paltz Democrats can't find a better candidate for supervisor than Hokanson then, really, that would make it a failed political party. The obvious choice is Michael Zierler, but he's apparently not interested. My concern is that if they replace Hokanson as their candidate that it will be someone worse, just as she is worse than Wilen. That whole town government just gives me the willies.

Terrence: the village government is not, for starters, an extra expense and cannot simply be replaced by council districts. That would never give to it, or substitute for, the coherent authority it has as its own municipality. Any combined government would take off and grow much faster than the two separately, with the combined bureaucracies. Again, look at what happened with the combined police forces, and look at the freestanding centralized school district, as examples.

And everyone had best start getting hip (if it's not too late already) to the fact that if nothing is done with that school district you are looking at the next Scarsdale, because while we're quibbling over some possible cheating of village taxpayers by the town government, Maria Rice has instituted (accelerated, really) a middle income taxpayer pogrom that will cleanse New Paltz of those unfortunate types and resettle their homes and properties with a Better Class of Taxpayer. Just to add some perspective on what is really happening here.

Guy Kempe said...

I cannot agree with several of the interpretations of history I have read here. I think the lawsuit issue is unnecessarly confused by the issues of protecting wetlands and proposals to consolidate governments.

As to the rescue squad budget allocation issue, I base my opinion upon my experience some years ago helping to prepare the Town budget. Supervisor Wilen received recommendations to move the rescue squad allocation from the "A" (townwide) fund to the "B" (town-outside-village) fund in writing from the State Comptroller and verbally from the town accountant. Although it seems clear that the Mayor mishandled the issue as it relates to the trustees, I believe this claim against the Town by resident taxpayers of the Village is meritorious and valid. I think the mistake should be corrected. When Village taxpayers are wronged by the Town there is no choice but to turn to the court for redress. That's why we have courts in the first place.

Steve Greenfield said...

Just like the Reaganites who still, over twenty years after the last ledgers were summed, ignore the fact that a 190 year old national debt had tripled in just 8 years under the policies of their "low tax, small government" champion/fraud, Martin is not looking at all the cost inputs of having two separate governments. It's not just the ones on the open books like salaries and equipment purchases. There's also the very high costs, both economically and socially (which always have financial impacts), of the competing interests that lead to reckless policy formation and all their totally predictable cost consequences.

The Village is in control of almost all the revenue-generating assets -- water, sewer, even parking and parking tickets (which for some reason makes no provision to encourage local shopping by distinguishing, through window stickers, between New Paltz residents and visitors). They sell Town residents access to those services at unconscionable rates (forced to do that to keep Village taxes under control), and we Townies take notice and start looking for ways to build our own water and sewer districts. We'd also be better able to attract light industry without having the Village be in control of the water and sewer rates we could offer, and more industry helps keep residential property taxes (Town and especially School, a much bigger burdern) under control. That's how you end up with Town leaders pushing for Crossroads and seemingly not caring what happens to downtown businesses. If the Village gave a bit more of a crap about Town businesses and Town residential taxes, you'd see more cooperation instead of competition, and property taxes could remain more stable for both the Town and Village. The Town cannot control its own financial destiny without either cooperation with Village services or forming its own wholly-owned services. Crossroads was offering a Town water supply without the Town having to hit its own taxpayers with a bond to build it. This in turn would have made it possible to attract commerce to the N & S Putt and Ohioville areas that the Transportation and Land Use Study targeted for tax-generating business growth. I'm not saying Crossroads was a good idea -- obviously I've been very public about opposing it -- but I'm not so blind as to have missed the only "public benefits" its supporters were constantly citing in favor of the PUD was water and sewer.

So was the Town being insensitive to the Village? Or was the whole thing caused by The Village having a financial and political interest in keeping its own property taxes under control by maximizing revenue from its assets? This would end on Day One of a unified governance structure. The Village would not lose its right to be "special." There is no chance a merger referendum would get ahead without zoning (maybe even designating the entire district as historic) The Village under different terms than other areas. We don't need to segregate the council seats.

The majority of the Village residents now live in dorms or privately owned rentals with absentee landlords. There are relatively few year-round families and primary residence taxpayers within the confines of the Village. There is also the unbelievably huge problem of The Village having a higher percentage of the land within its boundaries as non-taxable than perhaps any governing entity in the state. Merging eases those problems, reduces the opportunity for electoral mischief by transients, allows Planning and Zoning boards to not only be fully staffed (seven is a lot easier to achieve than 14), and makes it possible for us to actually have contested elections for Council seats, which, in the Village, have become a thing of the past and led to terrible governance.

I'd personally like the elections in a merged entity to be non-partisan. This will force candidates to run on the issues, and if protecting Village interests were one of those issues, we'd see healthier politics, as well as cheaper (in the final tally) governance.

And the one-way was not the proposal. A study of a one-way was the proposal. You have no idea whether it would have helped or hurt, and neither do I, although we have differing speculations on that -- which is why a study would have been appropriate. The people who own businesses on Wall Street and Fair Street in Kingston like their one-way circulator sytem just fine, and it increases parking (which all Village business owners agree is their #1 issue). The people who shut down the study acted on impulse and short-term political expediency, not on knowledge. Making decisions that are not data-driven is the most expensive thing of all.

Martin McPhillips said...

"I think the lawsuit issue is unnecessarly confused by the issues of protecting wetlands and proposals to consolidate governments."That is unfortunately true, in this blog thread. The Claim will find its own resolution.

The broader context of village-town issues was raised in Terrence's orginal post and I went back through the way the public objection was handled in the wetlands law case and again in the Crossroads case to make a point about who listens and who doesn't.

Dungan has the fiduciary duty, as the village executive, to make sure that village taxpayers are not paying twice for the same service. If his best judgment is that that is what is happening then, whether he is mistaken or not, he is obliged to pursue it on behalf of village residents, all of whom end up paying either directly or indirectly.

As a prima facie matter, I think that the mayor is correct. When the town answers then there will be two official points of view in the legal record. The town attorney does not work for the supervisor. He works for town residents, which includes the village residents who are making the claim of double taxation. I want to hear his opinion on this matter freely given and not as a political response on behalf of the supervisor. Then we'll see what the story is.

But I predict more BS from the supervisor through the local paper that will attempt to confuse the matter.

Let the town attorney offer something that rises above that, while recalling who he works for, which includes the individuals making the claim.

Martin McPhillips said...

The village was clearly created, oh, 140 years or so ago precisely to create its own infrastructure because it is both the commercial and residential center. A sewer system, water mains, sidewalks, street lighting, etc. That is the very nature of the village as a discreet municipality. And back then the farmers outside of the discreet inner municipality wouldn't have to pay for it.

Village residents paid for that and maintained it, and they continue to pay for it and maintain it. The idea that town residents are somehow ripped off by this arrangement is nonsense.

In the town sanitation is largely by individual septic systems and water is from wells. When that becomes otherwise, over that large a geographic area, then you will know that you don't live in rural New Paltz any longer, but in some Westcheter-ian real estate zone. Some town residents are close enough to buy water from the village system. That is done on the basis of an inter-municipal contract. The village is still the commercial and residential center, it's still much smaller in area, it still has its fundamental mission as a municipality, and a good thing that is.

As for the One-Way Main Street thing, before it was "studied" again, its opponents raised more than sufficient objections to it that were never answered. Its proponents just kept saying that they recommended it because they recommended it, and please study it again. As rational creatures, that's not a sufficient reason to spend more money, whether it belongs to "other people" or not. I spent plenty of time raising those questions: didn't get one single answer. (And what Main Street, New Paltz has to do with Kingston and its streets, which are a confusion wrapped in a disaster, is anyone's guess.)

The comment about "Reagan" is so very cogent, but what does it mean?

Brittany Turner said...

Steve thinks there's a such thing as non-partisan elections? Adorable!

Steve Greenfield said...

Thanks, Brittany. School Board elections are non-partisan. Although Rod Dressel is not running, in the past he has received substantial support from registered Democrats. I received substantial support from Republicans as well as Democrats and Greens. At the moment the School Board consists of one moderate Republican, three Democrats (two liberals and one corporate technocrat type), a Social Justice-oriented Green and a Green-oriented independent. That is a) a good reflection of New Paltz; b) a rational path to progress; and c) proof that positions on local issues can indeed viably substitute for national parties in local elections. When Tom Nyquist was Mayor, his deputy mayor was a Republican. They ran together on local slates. The Republican, as much as he deservedly came to be reviled and removed over his infusion of Jerry Falwell into New Paltz politics during the same-sex marriage activity (now being validated throughout America, thank you Jason et al for being the leading edge), was probably among a tiny handful, and possibly even the only one in the whole country, of Republicans who voted in favor of his local version of one of the hundreds of anti-Patriot Act resolutions, which was widely (and incorrectly) portrayed as partisan. Our local police chief at the time, also a Republican, raised no objections when the matter was brought before him. Local issues and ideologies do indeed regularly cross party lines here and all over America. Would that that could be true in state and national elections.

Non-partisan elections work at the local level. There are people in municipalities all over America seeking to have their partisan elections made non-partisan. It facilitates dialogue and cooperation at the local level, and helps get things done.

You are a knowledgeable and committed person who could make valuable contributions to the civic arena. Your flame-throwing absolutism, and the degree to which you and your closest associates revel in it, is your insurmountable obstacle.

Martin, by comparison with the Town at the time The Village was incorporated, and even until much more recently than that, we are suburban, although in the contemporary sense we are exurban. There are over 13,000 people here now. I doubt there were as many as 1000 back then. There's a little thing called The Thruway that made all kinds of formerly far-off places commutable. Hardly any of the old farmland is in cultivation, nor under current state and federal policy could it be profitably returned to cultivation, and the pressure is on from landholders to allow all of it to be subdivided for residences, which is a vast net tax loss proposition. Only a tiny fraction of residents not employed at the college or school district actually work here, while back then everyone did. At the same time, the impact of the property and population in the Village that does not pay taxes has become astronomical. Part of that burden is being offset by selling water to the denser-grown inner parts of the Town at the highest markup of any water provider in the state, which in turn forces the Town to pursue its own municipal services infrastructure without due regard for the impact on the Village's economy and character. And so on, etc., not even counting the problems in recruiting, training, and retaining multiple sets of volunteers for every committee, and the nonsense of the Chief and President of the fire department having to spend so much time negotiating two separate fire contracts and being caught in the middle of the annual months-long arguments to reconcile them with precious, disappearing volunteer time they're supposed to be using to recruit and train firefighters, maintain equipment, and respond to emergencies.

The issues that made forming a Village a good idea for either entity are long over and done with, and the modern realities that make it a bad idea have been dominant for a long time and grow more burdensome every day. What we need to do is protect Village zoning and merge.

As far as the questions raised by opponents of the one-way, the reason supporters couldn't answer some of them is BECAUSE IT NEEDED TO BE STUDIED -- THAT'S HOW YOU FIND OUT ANSWERS TO THINGS. We wanted to have actual data. We had scored outside funding from an independent agency (NYDOT) that had no horse in the race, but that got shot down, because people like you were too afraid that the answers might not conform to your uninformed starting position. You never wanted answers to those questions. You still don't.

The health of the Village's economy and character year-round and long-term is based on residential support, not the drive-by's on seasonal weekend peak hours. If I live in New Paltz but outside the Village core and I can neither drive or park on Main Street, there's a pretty good chance I'm heading to Kingston for my shopping and dining. Then the character and economy of our downtown is exactly what it's already become -- a noisy, congested tourist trap of little interest to local residents and entirely dependent upon gasoline prices and outside economies.

As I suggested in my previous post, go explore the uptown Kingston one-way pairing of Wall and Fair. Watch how the traffic flows, and where and how quickly patrons park. Talk to the business owners and the Kingston Mayor and Council. That will give you some of the answers you claim you're looking for. Or else do nothing and be positive you're right. That's a sound way to make policy.

Brittany Turner said...

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck... there is no such thing as a "non-partisan" election.

Terence said...


I apologize for my part in muddying the waters, and appreciate the insights your own experience allow you to bring to this dialog.

I agree wholeheartedly that if the Village residents have been wronged, it needs to be fixed, but your belief that "there is no choice but to turn to the court for redress" is the kind of single-minded political blindness that chills me to the core. We're only 13,000 people, as Steve pointed out, and I can't imagine that we couldn't have fixed this without clogging the courts with another case that I'm going to be paying for no matter who wins.

Terry did manage to get people talking, and make sure the issue is out there, but now that it is, how about a nice meeting to compare the figures in public and get it squared away? No doubt Brittany will laugh, but I still assume that, fundamentally, people want to do the right thing by each other.

Martin McPhillips said...

Amusing, Steve, that you think 13,000 is a lot of people, and that on that number you would decisively transform local governance.

I mean, look at the population of Ulster County now. Perhaps it's time to merge it with Orange County, or maybe Vermont.

I start with the logic of local is better and that the more local you can make it the better it will be. I like living in the village and having a separate government that sees more specifically to that village and starts out with a tradition of understanding, an institutional memory, if you will, of exactly what that village is.

It is, for starters, something subtly but nicely and importantly distinct from the outer municipality that is the town minus the village.

I would happily cut village expenses to preserve the inner municipality. And I would happily see the village get out of the arrangement with the town on the police department and make other arrangements.

The municipal mini-sovereignty of the nice little village of New Paltz ought to stay that way precisely because ambitious busybodies want to do away with it. It's in the way of no one but people who think that a larger town bureaucracy is the way to solve problems both real and imagined.

I think that the discreet village government is best for the village.

And if you think that the One Way Main plan was the solution to local traffic problems you ought to be able to explain why you think that, not just reach for the all-caps key.

You say you gleaned something up in Kingston that translates to downtown New Paltz? You say you have some wonderful testimonials?

I looked hard, very hard, at the One Way Plan, which smelled funny from the moment it walked in the room, and I spent a lot of time taking it piece by piece and asking the questions about it that needed to be asked. And the answer from proponents was: we recommend it because we recommend it, and we want to study it more.

In other words, proponents of the One Way Main plan couldn't defend it because they didn't even know why they were proposing it.

But it was a self-evidently bad plan, that called detours a "circulating loop," took highway traffic up into the central core of the main park and churches and schools and the college, and by that alone it was too ugly for the village. Way too ugly, but good and stupid, too, taking people off of Main Street only to put them back on it a few hundred yards upstream, while taking away (among others) the one key alternate route to the southside of downtown. It's problems only begin there.

It was a bad plan and no amount of study was going to improve it. But it was a good bet that the DOT, where all sorts of fads and contagions are no doubt afoot in any given season, was going to come back with some sort of new delirious rationalization for it. It was a bad plan. That was always the bottom line on it.

Martin McPhillips said...

"I still assume that, fundamentally, people want to do the right thing by each other."I think that is a good fundamental assumption, Terrence, but not with this town government.

The proper Shakespearian cliché is, I think, that "there is something rotten in Denmark."

Further affiant sayeth not.

Guy Kempe said...

"I agree wholeheartedly that if the Village residents have been wronged, it needs to be fixed, but your belief that "there is no choice but to turn to the court for redress" is the kind of single-minded political blindness that chills me to the core."

Terrence, I apologize if I have chilled you, but I observe in front of God and everybody that intermunicipal cooperation and collaboration in the interest of community has been, sure enough, vanquished by intermunicipal combativeness and the self-serving mean-spirited political impulses of our Town and Village leaders. I have to think that you and I have some measure of responsibility here, and paying our share of court costs and legal fees is certainly a burden we deserve.

Martin, we need not look to proverbial Denmark for something rotten, because if you're a Villager you are also a Townie. The Mayor and the Supervisor and all of these rascals report to us. If we lack the political capacity or stamina to hold them accountable, the shame is ours.

Anonymous said...

Martin McPhillips would like us to believe that this lawsuit doesn't cost anything, but the village attorney billed at least $1,000 to draw up the original paperwork. Then of course there is all the aggravation time put in by the board, then by the deputy mayor, to sort through all the conflicts created by the mayor in this effort. And Martin would have us believe that the rescue squad shouldn't be dragged into this matter, this is strictly between the town and village, and the town is solely the culprit and guilty party. Actually, my understanding is that the complicated formula involved was created by the rescue squad itself, since they do charge money for their services and have a budget and operating income and are basically self-sufficient. So it's unfair to claim, I think, that the rescue squad isn't an interested party.
Since much of what you've claimed here is inacccurate, and not for the first time, I'm going to discount much of what you claim in future as well, unless of course you can offer evidence other than your assertions.
pete healey

Steve Greenfield said...

Wow, Brittany, that's some pretty profound reasoning on your part, atop a mountain of convincing evidence. Good work.

Except -- what party had the greatest impact on this Village election? How did the winners incorporate partisanship into their strategies? What strings were pulled by the Nyquists in establishing their candidacies? To what degree can Pete's come-from-ahead loss be attributed to partisanship? What methods and measurents contribute to your conclusion?

Oh yeah, I forgot. You looked at and listened to a duck.

It's possible that your flame-throwing absolutism is not the thing most holding you back.

Terence said...

It's possible, Martin, that further severing the Village from the Town would resolve many of the issues created by this governmental structure. Having one government within and overriding the jurisdiction of another is confusing for the citizens, inviting for opportunists, and impossible for real comprehensive planning. Pete Healey has always maintained that simplification, not cost reduction, was his unification goal. Do you think that could be achieved by getting our own police force, and other services now obtained from the Town?

I also have a question for you that isn't relevant to any public discussion and hope you'll email me at

Anonymous said...

As interesting as the discussion is between a few of you the suit was responded to with the controllers report 1988 NY comp. LEXIS62; 1988 NY ST. Comp 137 Opinion no 88-69. which states that using the A line is correct and Guys thought that the suit cost the Village nothing is incorrect - the lawyers are paid out of the A fund (that means village and town). link -

Brittany Turner said...

Steve, you're absolutely right. My evidence was non-existent and about as relevant as your "Because I said so" rationale.

Martin McPhillips said...

Peter: If I'm wrong about the attorney cost of the lawsuit, that's based on the Claim stating that the plaintiffs are not represented by an attorney. So far, I don't see $1,000 (a fee I had no way of knowing about) as a bad bet to recover $75,000, or to correct the practice.

And the Rescue Squad is not named in the Claim, which appears to be specifically about how the town budgets for that line.

I'm not claiming any special knowledge beyond what the Claim says, and drew my inference from that. But my larger impression, based on my gut feeling, is that this is a much more serious matter than is so far explicit.

Terence: I don't think that the village needs a big deal police force. I don't know how the state sets things up, so I don't know if the village is eligible to elect a sheriff. I'll assume that it can once again have it's own rudimentary police force or constable's office. Major crimes (homicides, armed robbery, rape) can be handled by the state police, which has more resources for that sort of thing anyway. The main policing problem right now is the downtown bar scene. That could be largely covered by the campus police, which is a full-fledged police agency, and would be appropriate because that is indeed a college-generated scene in large measure. Then there's the Ulster County Sheriff for certain miscellaneous cases. Then a village police or constable's office to handle everyday policing and referrals to the other departments.

Since the town is moving the police department out to South Putt Corners road, about a mile and a half from the main location of police problems (downtown bars), the better bet is to just let the campus police take that as a cooperative jurisdiction sort of thing.

Our village DPW is a great outfit, but there's always the possibility that its union will price it out of the market, in which case there are plenty of private firms that could bid on the work as it came up. I'd hate to see that, but I'm not that sentimental after looking at my tax bill. Perhaps the DPW union would want to take it up with the NP teachers union, which has taxpayers locked in to what looks like an extortion racket, to me.

I'm not confused by the town-village mix. I would like the village to have less and less to do with the town and to have very clear guidelines and fairness built into any overlapping responsibilities.

Most of all, though, I want to see the village continue as its own political jurisdiction, and would even find neighborhood associations as sub-units of that government appealing.

We've already seen how the town bureaucrats, catching a consultant-driven/DOT contagion, tried to replace downtown roadways with a traffic concept. That's the sort of thing I mean when I say that the town does not understand the village, and treats it as an abstraction. Just the idea of running highway traffic up past Hasbrouck Park, the main outdoor space for public gatherings in the village shows the character of town bureaucracy vs. village governance.

There was also the "pedestrian mall" aspect of that "Loop" concept, which at once doesn't get that the social space in the downtown Main area is interior (and there is a lot of it) and that such a "mall" creates an immediate tragedy of the commons effect, something that no one wants, I'm sure. It was a typical planners fantasy, in any case, and if you've ever seen the illustration of it you'll know what I mean.

Also, I see the village as the more important municipality, not in any way the junior partner. It's the commercial and residential and cultural and historical center. It needs to be able to conduct its own affairs without the gross interference of the town.

Martin McPhillips said...


The 21-year-old opinion cited above by "anonymous" from the NYS comptroller's office is not on point with respect to the facts of the village resident's claim against the town.

Steve Greenfield said...


Just as you cited demographic, geographic, and commercial conditions from 140 years ago to bolster your claim for the "need" to have a Village, your claim that the Village is not the Town's "junior partner" and needs to conduct its own affairs without "interference" from the town ignores two other realities: 1) the Village is IN the Town, not apart from it, and Villagers vote in Town elections (is that "interference" with the Town? Hmmmm); and 2) hardly anyone votes in Village elections, a system Village candidates are all to happy to exploit by not campaigning.

No campaigning and a turnout of less than 200 two years in a row. There are only two explanations: either Villagers aren't willing or able to conduct their own affairs, or the number of Villagers that are actually primary residents in Village homes (as opposed to houses that have been sliced and diced to host thousands of transients for the profit of absentee landlords who are only paying residential rate, rather than commercial rate taxes) has become so small that that's really all that's left. Either way, given that Town elections typically see 2500 to 3000 people voting, it's pretty clear that full-time resident Villagers either don't exist anymore or completely do not share your belief in Village self-governance.

I personally do not want the decision over whether or not I can get my car (or emergency vehicles) down Main Street made by 5 people elected by 94 people. If that's how it is, I'd just as soon let the Town Board build our own pre-fab Village at the Thruway circle, and the hell with it.

Martin McPhillips said...

"I'd just as soon let the Town Board build our own pre-fab Village at the Thruway circle, and the hell with it."

Immortal words by an ambitious man, indeed. Perhaps private enterprise, rather than politics, is where your energy could be best dissipated.

You and your car should learn how to drive around the village when traffic is heavy. It's pretty easy. I think that most local people who pay attention know how to do it. In five years I can't remember a single problem getting around, or with finding a place to park. The only difficult situation is coming back across the flats from the mountains or the fairgrounds on busy weekends. Even there, alternatives exist if you're fresh out of patience.

Indeed, the village is part of the town, and villagers vote in town elections, and pays taxes to the town. Villagers, handling as much of the village's affairs as possible, pay for village affairs. The town, in those areas, doesn't tax villagers, or isn't supposed to. It's a good arrangement.

Villagers have their own board of trustees who represent them and are much closer to the issues that villagers care about than the town government is. There are different sensibilities involved, different concerns.

This is no small thing.

Even during the Jason West administration, which drove a lot of local grandees to distraction, I did not think that getting rid of the village government was the smart move.

Often, as both Burke and Hayek point out in their different ways, we forget and misunderstand, as a society or community, why we do certain things the way we do them. They are imbedded, so to speak, and we take them for granted. Certainly good to question things, but I've yet to see a non-glib argument for getting rid of the village government. I certainly would not, as a villager, get rid of it so that any power hungry individuals could centralize local power in a town-wide government.

Steve Greenfield said...

Martin, you didn't deal with a single point I raised. You talk of "villagers." How many non-transients are there now, this year? How many of them are involved in managing Village affairs (that one, at least, is known -- less than 200 for the last two years). You're waxing philosophical, but there's no "there" there anymore. The zone has overwhelmingly become a dormitory complex.

When Jason got elected Mayor, turnout was 1000 or more. There were three full slates for Mayor and two Board seats. In other words, from a political point of view, the entity was thriving, and that's why merger was not a more self-selling option during the West years. You're down to less than 200, and hardly anyone seeks a seat on the board anymore (you'd think at least three people a year would want the money in today's economy, but no), and those who do are unusually poor candidates who are not capable of keeping the ship of state afloat, who win by virtue of running unopposed and then the chips fall where they may. Just read the papers.

I know how to dodge Main Street traffic when I'm on my way home from the Thruway. I cannot dodge it when I'm patronizing local businesses, which makes it very difficult for me to do so. It's much easier to go to the Town commercial zones, and zones outside New Paltz altogether. If you Villagers don't start caring about that, and soon, you're going to lose it all.

Main Street locks up any time a car in either direction stops to parallel park. Nobody can turn left onto Church or N. Front when they're eastbound, and nobody can turn left to go westbound on Main from any intersection or parking lot that exits northward. That's not a weekend problem and it's not opinion, it's electronically measured fact.

I'm glad you get lucky with your parking. But everyone else -- residents and especially the downtown business owners themselves -- agrees that the parking problem is the biggest obstacle (physically as well as commercially) in the Village.

Terence said...

I don't hide the fact that I think unification may be a good idea, nor do I claim that my opinion is in any way based on facts. However, Steve, I think it's unfair to paint the Village's political system based on two elections. Voter turnout like you described during West's campaign is gigantic by any American measure, and unusual in all cases. Turnout at Village elections, like school elections, is depressed by the inconvenience of it not being on the same day as every other election (which would be a good platform plank in my opinion). You do articulate many Village problems well, but I have to call shenanigans on you using low turnout as evidence.

Steve Greenfield said...

You can call shenanigans, but that won't make it stick. Two election cycles may not be enough to get a true head count, but there is no evidence against it, so the best you can hope to do is call shenanigans on me in 2009, if results so indicate.

Turnout isn't the only measurement in play here. There are other trends that are well-established. One is that Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and minor party members have long since surrendered Village elections. I got that direct from the party chair back in 2003 when that became the practice. Another is that candidates are no longer running, and some that are have been cajoled into it only to find themselves without an opponent and taking a seat regardless of capacity. This has to be taken as a serious sign given that the job actually pays pretty well for the time involved compared to other public service positions. Another is that a series of capable people, from Rebecca Rotzler to Mark Portier to Michael Zierler have resigned at the earliest convenient and honorable time to do so. Another is that balloted candidates have ceased to campaign -- that is, to keep the Village electorate involved in the making of their own policies -- and even claim there is no reason to do so. Another is that the very people who essentially built, defended, and successfully applied the campus role in Village politics, as well as championing write-in campaigns, have just been completely blindsided by campus and write-in campaigning. I've also just read in the newspaper that the mayor and other board members, with Town support, is moving to sever one of the Village's most significant services out of its own jurisdiction. Nuff said on that.

So there are a lot of metrics we can look at, and voter turnout is just one of them. The others are metrics to observe individually, collectively, over longer time frames, and in the impact they predictably have on voter turnout. I see an overall trend towards The Village ceasing to be self-governing in most ways other than on paper, with that last element only being a matter of time. Seriously. Because it just became clear that 100 students on Facebook could dissolve the Village any time they want, while nobody else is paying attention.

Village governance is in the most unhealthy state in its history. It's possible it can be put on life support, have a couple of amputations, and someday be restored to fair health, but it's also possible that it can't, or shouldn't, and it's certain that it won't if the problem is not acknowledged.

Steve Greenfield said...

Sorry, I meant 2011 in my first paragraph. Metyped too quickly. That's when we'll get our next Village election turnout data, unless someone vacates a seat (it would not surprise me one bit) and an appointed seat needs to be supplanted by a 2010 vote.

We may even have some new census data by then.

Anonymous said...

Pete Healey says,
Sorry to have to do this to Stevie G., but the numbers for the last two elections in the village were about 250, and the numbers for the last three mayoral elections(yes, 1999,2003, and 2007 were all under 1,000. Stevie gets other things wrong as well because he fudges the turnout numbers, or screws them up I don't much care which. Damn those facts, they so often get in the way of my predisposed attitudes and jumped-to-conclusions. But that's how orange fish roll, so I hear.

Martin McPhillips said...

Just a couple of corrections and some comments.

Most of the time I can make a left turn onto Church Street, do it all the time. The only times I don't do it is when I don't want to wait and hold traffic up behind me. Then I can just go up to North Front, and I can always make a left onto North Front, never a problem.

But there is no need to even go onto Main Street, even if you're coming from the south side of downtown. You can just cross over it, if that's what you need to do.

And parking isn't a matter of luck. There are always spaces available. When there's some event going on, like the Huguenot St. festival, you might have to walk a little. Big deal.

Village elections, held in May, don't have the draw of November elections because there are no grand electoral slates to be determined. But the last mayoral election was a thriller. Loved it myself.

Plus, there seems to be some conflation, in your mind, between election turnout and political jurisdiction. The former doesn't somehow negate the latter because someone outside of the jurisdiction doesn't think turnout is high enough.

I also see an awful lot of real people living in homes around the village. And the apartment complexes appear full. Everyone looks like their hearts are pumping and their money is green.

Downtown is a busy bustling commercial district. Lots of life. One of the best parts of it is the strip, the main drag, the ride through, the see and be seen scene. I only wish there was a downtown movie theater, something small. I often drive through downtown just to take it in. The downtown roadways are unique and they work. I love the downtown and will keep a close eye on it.

Finally, the village board, for the past two years, despite the recent rustlings of personality conflict, has been really exceptional. The mayor is a very bright guy. Michael is a stalwart, and will be missed. Jean has a razor sharp mind. And I must say that despite her habit of rambling on, Madam Osborn is very smart and capable. I like her.

I would recommend to the Democrats that they try to draft Michael as their candidate for supervisor. He still hasn't taken the William Tecumseh Sherman pledge ("If nominated I will not run. If elected I will not serve."), so there's always a chance he could be made an offer he couldn't refuse.

The small village government demands a stoical commitment to the mundane tasks at hand. No need for grandiose designs on big reform. Just respect for the place we live and a desire to hand it on in the best shape possible, hopefully a little better, but not renovated to suit some Department of Transportation fad.

Anyone who looks to a New York State bureaucracy for local solutions will get exactly what they are looking for.

Steve Greenfield said...

You can't have it both ways, Pete. You can't say that 95 people who are transients and bullet voted by write-in in a campaign that deliberately ran parallel to, rather than inside the general race, are part of a meaningful voting trend that validates Village politics as vital and vibrant. Well under 200 people who will actually see the end of Brian's term voted. And my numbers on the decision-making process are perfect: Under 100 votes are delegating authority over decisions on over 6000 people in the Village.

They generally do better than that at the Town Democratic Party Caucus that everyone loves to whip for exactly that reason.

Triumphantly shave turnout hairs may make the point that you don't like me, but it does nothing to alter the fact that turnout is at abysmal historic lows and nobody wants the job, and of those who superficially want the job, none, including yourself, want it sufficiently to go out and get it. Nor does it change the fact that in Town elections turnout is regularly from 1500 to 2000 (please
write back with the exact numbers) and transients, despite having the caucuses scheduled to suit their attendance and having no obstacles to voting, have no meaningful impact on outcomes.

Jason West said...

Steve --

Rents collected from water and sewer rates can't be used to offset taxes. They are separate dedicated funds and the money collected from water rates, for instance, can only be used on water system expenses. Same for sewer.

Steve Greenfield said...

Jason -- we're veering off on a new topic here. I just want you to know that I have no gripes with you, nor do I want any to start.

User fees are never as simple as they appear. When you charge people outside the Village a much higher rate than those inside the Village, you are using the outside rate to keep the inside rate lower than it would be if insiders and outsiders got the same rate. Since the water charge is part of what Village residents pay to their government for their overall package of services (and I realize that people can control water and sewer use, but nobody can eliminate it), then charging higher rates for outsiders is indeed keeping Village taxes lower. The Village water users are having the upkeep on their water/sewer infrastructure paid for at higher rates by the outsiders. Of course the outsiders are putting extra demand on the system, but not at any higher rate than the insiders, nor is there any reason other than the revenue stream to think that any one customer's demand has more or less merit than another's.

Nobody objects to outsiders being charged more than insiders. That's standard practice. The differential is not.

Nor does anyone object to any governmental agency doing what needs to be done to protect its own interests and the interests of its citizens. The problem arises when the incentive for two intertwined entities to compete so exceeds the incentive to cooperate that they reach a point where they risk harming each other, as was the case with Crossroads, or when the incentive to compete forces critical agencies to be footballs, like when bickering parents start putting stuff on their kids against the other parent to help themselves in their impending divorce. I know I don't need to mention the specific agency to which I refer. We shouldn't have to worry about anything but the specific purpose we've volunteered to serve.

It doesn't have to be this ugly. Times change. The number and percentage of people in the Village who live on non-taxable land but demand as much (in most cases much more) public services as those who live on taxable land, and the percentage of land that's both non-taxable and exempt from zoning and environmental regulation have grown fantastically. At the same time the Town has developed commercial strips of its own and has become less agricultural and more exurban. The original intent of having a discreet Village separate from the town doesn't strike me as well-served by the current set-up under the current circumstances.

I honestly believe that some serious Village-protecting zoning in an overall joint master plan and services consolidation is what will best protect the Village as our commercial and cultural center. Most of us Townies want the Village protected -- it's what we think of as our downtown, not just a fun nearby place that Villagers would like us to patronize. We need to be given the incentive to keep it that way. The overwhelming majority of opposition against Crossroads came from us Townies. But as long as the battle over competing "insider" interests of residents of the two entities are the political paradigm, things like Crossroads and Wal Mart are going to keep coming up, and one day the developers are going to offer just the right package of services, prevailing rate jobs, infrastructure improvements, environmental protections, and tax payments and abatement sacrifices to win. Then it will all be involuntarily over for the Village at great harm, rather than voluntarily with improved protections. None of us want that.

Jason West said...

Steve --

I'm not picking a fight - sorry if it appeared that way; I'm just trying to correct a part of your argument that is imprecise. Having kept a close eye on the Village budget, including writing four of them and sitting with auditors and the Cleerk-Treasurer for years, what you wrote is a common misperception. I don't think it undermines your other points, simply that this particular example doesn't fit your argument.

I think perhaps this is a vocabulary issue. Yes, charging Town residents more for water than we charge ourselves keeps Village water rates down. It doesn't have any impact on taxes. If water rents were being used to lower taxes, then the Village auditor and probably the Comptroller would be throwing fits. You have to be very careful to keep all costs and expenses for water completely away from the General Fund (where the tax money goes).

I was the one who negotiated the water and sewer contracts that you write about, and there were several reasons for doing so:

1) The water and sewer systems are owned and operated by the Village residents, and as such, the Village residents through their elected representatives have the right to charge non-Village residents a higher rate for services. Specifically, they can charge higher rents in order to reduce the cost of water and sewer for vilage residents.

The way it works right now is that the Village bills each individual Village property for their water and sewer use, and bills the Town of New Paltz for the 300 or so Town residents that use Village water and sewer. The Town then bills those 300 residents individually, tacking on additional money to cover whatever costs they have. I was surprised at how much money the Town charges those 300 people on top of what the Village charges them. Personally, I never understood it, and the Village Treasurer and I at the time crunched the numbers and figured out that the Village could simply bill those people directly and save them quite a bit of money. I also looked at what the taxes and water/sewer rates would be if those 300 customers simply annexed to the Village. I frankly can't remember exactly what it was, but I believe there was a slight net reduction in their collective taxes/water/sewer expenses.

2) At the time I was negotiating these contracts, I researched what other Village/Town communities rate structures were like. They ranged from 25% to 200% higher water/sewer rates for Town residents to use a Village system. I settled for the lower end figure of charging Town users 50% more than Village users, and after negotiating with two succesive Supervisors, the Town Board agreed to it. However, keep in mind what I wrote above -- that the final bill that a Town user gets in the mail is significantly more than 50% more than what a Village user pays due to additional costs tacked on to the bill by the Town.

3) There is a limited water supply available to New Paltz, with only a relatively small time period before we hit capacity and very few options available for additional sources. I know this only because I had a series of meetings with the NYC DEP when they were going to shut down the Catskill Aqueduct for repairs in 2010 (they subsequently pushed that back to 2030, and called off our meetings). The Village gets water from both the Aqueduct and a series of four dams on Mountain Rest Road. The only other options were we to get off the Aqueduct at Mountain Rest were:
a) connect to the Aqueduct further south at Ireland Corners. obviously a waste of money if we're already tapped in.
b) use underground aquifers, which Village Engineers Brinnier and Larios have studied repeatedly over the past few decades. Their studies insist that there isn't enough water in the Plattekill/Black Creek aquifer to either support much development or justify the cost.
c) link the New Paltz and Highland water systems via Route 299, in order to have a closed system using the Hudson River for water supply, and the Mountain Rest Road facility as backpressure and secondary supply. This is both very expensive (at $8 million in 2005) and opens up a host of bad planning potential in Lloyd. Imagine the type of nasty sprawl that would be built along 299 if they didn't have to depend on wells. Which brings me to my last point.

4) Given the limited supply of water to fuel new development, and the sparse and expensive options to secure new water supplies, who should get use of what water supply we have left?

Given the fact that the zoning in the Town is frankly horrible (as is half the Village), given that because of that zoning, developers have no choice but to build sprawl, given that the projects that come before the Town Planning Board as almost entirely suburban subdivisions that cost more in services than they bring in in tax revenue, and are patently bad for both a sense of community and the environment, is it a wise decision to allow the Town free use of the Village water system?

In my mind, no.

While there are parts of the Village with unsusbtainable zoning (Route 32 North between the Salvation Army and Agway, for exmple), overall, the higher density and encouragement of mixed-use, revenue and community-generating development in the Village make the Village the reasonable place to use what's left of our water capacity. There is a lot of infill that can be done in the village, and that's where the water should be used.

That's why I wrote two laws that forbid the extension of Village water and sewer outside the Village. Because of those laws, there are currently only two ways a non-Village property owner may acquire use of Village water and sewer -- if they annex their property to the Village (thereby coming under the better zoning laws in the Village) or if there is a health emergency (i.e., their wells become undrinkable for health reasons.)

Guy Kempe said...

Once upon a time, I had hope that the Town and Village might establish by appointment an Intermunicipal Water/Sewer Board to establish policy for rate payers, provide oversight for the systems, and make recommendations to elected government officials.

Jason West said...

That may be a good idea, Guy -- perhaps getting other local hamlets involved for a small regional planning element. Carl Zatz had a great idea a few years ago that I explored about an intermunicipal Ethics Board, where ethics complaints were investigated by any local Ethics Board except the one where the complaint was levied. An intermunicipal public transit authority on the model of the Bay Area Rapid Transit may work as well.

Martin McPhillips said...

A "transit authority" modeled on BART?

Are you channeling Robert Moses now, Jason?

I've got to find you a city to take over. Have you considered Detroit?

The last time I saw the loop bus it was still empty. Haven't seen it lately. Has it been decommissioned already?

The village of New Paltz is a nice small town with that big SUNY tumor growing on its back. If it (the village) has a natural limit on its resources then that bodes well for the limits on its future growth, which should be as minimal as possible.

If SUNY has greater and outsized designs on village water resources, then it should be fought relentlessly, until the imbeciles who run the place are beaten back.

Otherwise, if the village has legitimate water resource limits, then those should be its development limits. The interim water situation while the aqueduct is shut notwithstanding.

Though there is probably a lot of undiscovered well water in the village, that is something that would fall to the interest of individual homeowners. I doubt that the engineers have "studied" it as extensively as your comments suggest. I've never seen any subsurface mapping of the village, and no one appeared even to know that its wetlands status was "dry" (other than Ox-Bow and other well-known spots like Woodland Pond area and down the end of Huguenot) until Hudsonia came back with that surprise.

Steve Greenfield said...

Jason --

Nothing about what you wrote made me think you were picking a fight. Quite the contrary -- I wanted you to know, pre-emtively, that I wasn't.

I understand everything you wrote. I lived through it, and I attended a lot of Village and Town Board meetings where all the issues were being discussed. I also understand the reasons why Village water and sewer has to be marked up, and that it's finite, and all the rest -- including the fact that at a certain point the Town is incentivized to find its own water, and when that happens, the Village's revenue stream for, and from, water and sewer collapses. And budget constraints provide a strong incentive for the Town to seek a private developer to provide the water supply, and that means competing with the Village's commercial interests. The whole thing stinks. In the end, everyone loses.

We are definitely dealing with vocabulary. I just got through doing my own budget. It has more budget lines with more constraints and more different sources of revenue than anyone who's never done a budget (obviously not you) could possibly imagine, so I'm also aware of the vocabulary.

But in lay terms, if it supports a service I get from the government, I don't care if it's a toll, a rent, a user fee, or a direct tax on property or income. If it comes out of my wallet and goes to a public agency, I'm comfortable calling it a tax, and that's how most people are comfortable hearing it. The water and sewer fees are a tax.

Guy Kempe said...

I'm glad you think this idea has some appeal, Jason. It is like the BART authority, and could improve decision and policy making. I feel strongly that punishing town ratepayers with higher water/sewer rates because you think the town zoning and half the village zoning was "horrible" was absolutely the wrong approach.

I also feel that access to community water and sewer infrastructure should be available to your fellow town residents who need these municipal services without annexation. I think you overlooked the provisions of state annexation law which established a standard of "overall public benefit" which is an entirely different standard from private need, such as in the case of a town resident suffering a failed septic or dry well.

Martin McPhillips said...

"The water and sewer fees are a tax."

The water "fee" is a commodity price. NYC sells the water wholesale, the village retails it to village residents. It's a local government monopoly and the price is fixed without any competition. You pay for how much of the water commodity you use with operation and maintenance costs factored in.

The sewer is a service for which you pay if you use it. I'm a villager who doesn't have access to it, so I don't know exactly how the fees for using it are structured. If the village decides to pay for some of the sewer facilities out of general revenues (it might already do so, I haven't checked) and that's part of my village tax, then that is a tax.

Different words exist to express different things, and there is a difference between being charged for your purchase of something and being taxed for your use of it. Just as there is a charge from Central Hudson for the electricity that you use, and then a sales tax on that taken by the state.

We have these word thingies to help us make these not so subtle distinctions.

Steve Greenfield said...

Wrong again, Martin. If I'm being charged for something I can avoid using, like a passport, that's a user fee. If I can take Route 17 instead of the Thruway, or just stay local, then it's a toll, and if I'm not using that service, I don't pay it. Even electricity, which there are billions of people today who still live without. But if it's an essential component for survival, like water, and you can't eliminate using it, then it's a tax, not a sale price on a commodity.

Water is not a commodity. Air is not a commodity. There is no person called "New York City." New York City does not "own" the water and "sell" it as a commodity to the Village of New Paltz, who then "sells" it at a mark-up to Villagers and neighboring Townies. I would think that you of all people would know that, Mr. Gun To The Head.

That water is an essential service, even more immediately essential than roads, police, garbage pickup, or anything else we're taxed for, is precisely why I will not, even for purposes of conversation, ever refer to charges demanded for it as "fees," "rentals," or god help us all, "commodity prices." I will continue to refer the payments for it as taxes, because that's what they are.

We do not have these "word thingies" to help us make these distinctions. We have them so that we can perpetrate many layers of fraud upon each other. Is it "civilian casualties," or is it "collateral damage?" Are they "toxic assets" or "legacy assets?" Depends on whether the president is the one you wanted.

I don't involve myself in that kind of shenanigans. I keep it simple. If citizens in general can't live without it, and if a government agency supplies it and charges money for it, then it's a tax. Tax. Tax. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Guy Kempe said...

here it is: Water rents and sewer fees

Steve Greenfield said...

Well, OK, Guy, I know you've spent most of your adult life inside and around the socio-political bureaucracies and machinery by which government functions, and have become comfortable with, as well as adept at, using the vernacular of those endeavors.

However, you sort of illustrate my point. You can't actually rent water. You can rent an apartment, or a car, because it remains entirely in the possession of its owner, and you're paying to use it, but you give it back. Water leaves the possession of it's original owner and is completely consumed by the payer. If anything it's a sale, like Martin imagines, but it couldn't possibly be a rent. I could rent the pipes that come into my house, but I can't rent the water.

Unless, of course, you consider the sewer end of the equation to be a "return" of the product, but: a) that's just gross; and b) if that is how sewage is framed so as to justify the use of the word "rent" for the water, then by charging a fee for sewer you're double-billing. And things get complicated if I "rent" a pint of water for my morning coffee and then "return" it at the office. :-)

Jason West said...

Guy --

I never considered our water and sewer policies as punishing Town residents. Given the long term planning we were engaged in at the time (transportation, a master plan review and a rezoning of the B3 district along 32 North) it made sense to slow down use of water and sewer and prioritize it. You can have sprawl with wells and septic; you can't have pedestrian-oriented mixed use neighborhoods without village water and sewer. I was afraid that over the next ten to twenty years, village water and sewer would be frittered away on suburban subdivisions, thereby ending our ability to create more infill development in and around the village.

As for a higher rate being a punishment, I think we'll have to disagree on that. I think it was part of my fiduciary responsibility to Village residents to re-negotiate water and sewer contracts to the benefit of Village residents who ultimately own the water and sewer systems.

I also still believe that Town users could see much lower water and sewer rates were they billed directly by the Village, and were repairs and maintenance done by the Village DPW. I never saw any need for the additional charges the Town adds to the water/sewer bills of Town residents outside the Village. Though I will admit that I did not research that facet to the issue very thoroughly, given that it did not impact the Village directly.

Terence said...

Those superior water rates could also have been achieved by having only one government for one community, of course, but I'm beginning to think that even with such obvious financial benefits and other levels of reduced complexity for the citizens that unification is not necessarily a good idea.

Martin's fears that the larger government would not respect the purpose of the village center is easily seen in Jason's concerns about use of the water to encourage smarter development. In addition, his vision of a single government becoming larger than the sum of its parts reminds me that I'm a strong supporter of Gridlock Government, and that theory is better supported by having two governments with artificially-created competing interests to impede the rate of progress until we can understand its consequences.

Guy Kempe said...

Sorry if this sounds like civic-speak. They are called "water rents" because you dont purchase the water, you purchase the transportation by which it is delivered. There is an old maxim about beer...but I think you get my meaning.

We will have to disagree, I hope respectfully, on this matter. Let me make my point abundantly clear: I feel strongly that when seniors on fixed incomes or working families with children who reside in the Town have to spend more money on water and sewer bills than their neighbors across the street in the Village merely because elected public officials cannot come to terms on community planning, zoning issues, growth or development policies, that's a punishment of those citizens. To me, that's like using food or shelter or medicine or potable water (necessary services) as if a weapon to achieve geopolitical strategic advantage. This should not an accomplishment of which anyone should be proud, rather it represents a failure of political leadership.

There is already an added delivery cost (for maintenance, billing, and the capital costs of the original infrastructure) which impacts water rents in the Town, but that doesn't explain why it costs the Village a penny more to deliver the water across the street.

I recall that Supervisor Wilen accepted in principle that there may be some rationale for the Village to charge higher water rates to Town residents, but insisted on auditing the Village books to understand and establish the rate. The Town CPA could find no justification.

Martin McPhillips said...

Buy bottled water. Or have it hauled in via truck. Or dig a well. Water is a commodity. Paying for it is not a tax.

Words mean things.

Steve Greenfield said...


We found common ground on a point I raised around 42 posts ago: The Village Board's fiduciary responsibility to its own constituency requires that you act in a way that requires the Town Board, on the same basis, to do things that commercially harm the Village. To wit: The Town wants to be able to offer cheaper water to its residents, and also be in direct control of water it can offer to commercial rate payers (who keep the residential levies lower). The cheapest way to do that is to have a private developer build a water supply. The developer upholds his fiduciary responsibility to his investors by marketing to chain stores and seeking his ideal location. So wham, here comes Crossroads. And bam, there goes a good chunk of Village commerce.

Martin: read the above paragraph. So much for needing a separate Village to protect Village zoning and financial interests. It no longer works. It's from a time that's long gone by. It's not symbiotic anymore, and connot ever be so again because of the competing nature of the fiduciary responsibility requirements Jason described. Having a separate Village forces the Village to act in ways that must ultimately harm the Village.

Guy: if the "rent" is on the equipment, then why is the charge by the gallon? My objection is not that it's civics-speak. My objection is that civics-speak is being used to misrepresent the nature of the operation. Until such time as people figure out how to survive without drinking or cleaning, it's a tax.

Martin again: Water is not a commodity. It doesn't matter how many times you say it. It's not. NYC got hold of that water by using eminent domain to submerge whole towns far away from the city. That water only exists because streams and aquifers that cross the property lines of millions of people feed into it. And it gets to their property after crossing millions of other property lines, and transpired up through plants extending over millions of property lines, and then rains down from clouds that hover over millions of property lines, where it then seeps into the ground and runs off into streams that feed the reservoirs. It's a huge natural cycle and nobody can own it or any part of it. It's no different than air -- it's not a commodity.

Somehow NYC, through the excercise/abuse of state power, came to "own" water's continued flow past that certain point. If any of those property owners were to close their portion of the feeder system, or dump toxic chemicals upon it, NYC would have nothing to sell (or rent, or whatever word anyone wants to use).

Water is not a commodity. It's a shame that this unsustainable water-brokering system is causing so much damage to civic relations and delivery of basic services to, and with the support of, the citizenry.

Once more for the West Coast: Water is not a commodity.

Jason West said...

This is getting unwieldy, but it's always interesting to debate fine points of municipal policy with other politics nerds :)

Guy -
The Town's CPA and the Village were making different points: the CPA (I can't remember her name) was working on the premise that the reason for a higher Town rate had to be financial, that unless the Village was losing money by selling to the Town there should be no different rate. My reasons for the higher rate are outlined above, and have nothing to do with the points the CPA was making.

Steve --

Remember that any development in the Village also increases tax revenue for the Town; using the Village water system to concentrate development in and around the Village by infilling with high density mixed use also increases the Town's commercial tax base. I don't see an inbuilt contradiction as you do.

Martin -
A small aside; there is a small section of northern Huguenot Street that is not on village sewer, which you seem to be on. I believe it is the only part of the Village not served by municipal sewer. The reason it has never been run up that part of Hugueot is due to the enormous expense -- the land slopes up, and if I remember right, we would need to build a new pump station to get the sewer to the sewer plant. It didn't make financial sense to spend millions of dollars to extend sewer service to a handful of people who seem to have no problems with septic. Not that you're asking for it, just thought you may want to know why it was never extended down your part of Huguenot.

Billy said...

@Steve Greenfield:
To say that the village doesn't "give a crap" about economic development in the town is letting Hokinson off the hook too easily. The developer, as all developers do, threatened to go with the existing zoning and build a warehouse on the Crossroads property if the town didn't lay down for its mixed use BS. My response was, "Do it!" A warehouse operation would have provided some real tax relief and some real jobs, instead of the tax drain, low-wage retail jobs, aesthetic eyesore, and Main Street-strangling crap chain stores that Crossroads would bring. As a village resident, I'm well aware of the fact that real economic development in the town might help lower my school tax bill (and town tax... we pay those too, remeber). We also paid to build the water and sewer systems, so pardon us for be unwilling to make them readily and cheaply available for every pathetic development proposal for which the town leaders happily roll over.

Steve Greenfield said...


Woodland Pond stands the Village infill theory on its head. Now water & sewer (and gas) are running up N. Putt all the way to Shivertown, which means more things are going to get built as far from downtown as possible without crossing the Thruway, and it was a supposedly density-oriented Village that made that choice.

I'm a big fan of core Village density. You know that. But my eyes are also wide open. What has actually transpired is that over time the Village has treated its water and sewer more like a commodity than like a zoning tool, and it's looking for more customers. The School Board was solicited by the Village Board to hook Duzine up to Village sewer, as if that system doesn't have enough capacity problems as it is. We were going to be charged $1000 per month. We chose not to do it because it was much more expensive than other options we had. But the effort by the Village to hook up any and every customer it can find continues.

What you say makes sense, but the ficuciary pressure to do otherwise is very strong and has consistently won out. As the Town sees everyone scurrying to hook up to Village water, it wants its own water more and more. There's no way to alleviate the pressure without alleviating its root cause, and without alleviating the pressure, the sound zoning Village water could generate will always spring leaks (sorry, it was either that or "won't hold water").

And to tell you the truth, and this is veering off into a whole new area, I don't know if your infill vision, which was part of your ownn mayoral policy, can withstand recent acquisitions and actions by Dino Toscani and his silent partners, efforts he has made clear will continue at breakneck pace until, as he puts it, he owns all of Main Street. It's hard to tell how much of it he owns already, but it's a lot. It's likely that he's the real owner of the Plesser property, too.

Jason West said...

There's no reason to hook up as many water customers as the Village can -- the money raised by adding people to the water system can only be used to maintain the water system, so what's the point? If that's the policy, it's a new one.

And anyone owning "all of Main Street" is a tremendously dumb and dangerous thing to let happen. I wonder if there is a way to write a local law that sets ownership caps of a certain percentage of properties in the Village. Kind of a real estate anti-trust or anti-monopoly law. I do miss having municipal lawyers around to answer these kinds of questions now :)