Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Pool and Playground for Everyone

For quite a few years now our town pool, Moriello, has been an issue of debate and contention. So much so that after awhile many of us get so sick of talking about it we throw up our hands in frustration and refuse to talk about it. The overpriced, shabby bathhouse took years to build. Many people take issue with the fact that the pool is not open to the public till noon. But those posts are for another day (or never).Today, I want to write about a possible solution to the playground problem.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the playground at Moriello is only open to pool members or those that pay a daily fee. This is problematic for people who believe all town residents should have open access irrespective of pool usage, in particular, many of the private donors who contributed funds towards the building of the playground.

In order to provide an equitable solution, I propose we explore the possibility of funding the pool through the tax levy instead of membership and user fees. So, the key question is: What would the added cost be to taxpayers if we eliminated memberships and user fees for town residents at the pool and spread the tax burden to all taxpayers so that everybody could be let in?

I asked Toni Hokanson and here are some preliminary numbers, her words: if the estimated pool revenue is put back into the budget to be generated by taxes then a $245,000 house would pay an additional $16; a $500,000 house, $33; and a $1 million dollar house, $66.

So, these figures seem reasonable to me, would allow access to all town residents to the playground regardless of their desire to swim, and would allow for many people who cannot afford a membership now to be able to use the pool all season long. (A family membership this year costs $150.) However, there are concerns that this system would increase usage so much so that maximum capacity would be reached too often and people might be turned away.

So, I have requested this discussion item be put on the agenda for the 7/23 Town Board meeting and for the following information to be made available for the discussion (perhaps ambitious to get by then – I made this request yesterday – but what they could get by 7/23 should be enough to start the conversation):

* Revenue generated by memberships and day rates paid by town residents for the last 5 years
* (Confirmed) Estimated increase in tax rates if these revenues were collected as part of the tax levy and not user memberships and fees
* Pool usage figures for the last 5 years: daily head counts, average daily head count
* Pool usage figures (above) broken down by members/residents paying fees/non-residents paying fees and adults/kids
* Dates in the past 5 years when the pool exceeded max capacity
* Documentation on how max capacity is computed (how do they compute that anyway since people only sign in and not out?)
* Projected population figures for the town for the next 5 years

I passed this idea by my fellow Gadfly Terence, and here are his thoughts:

Generally, I support this notion and believe it to be affordable, but some thoughts to consider:
* $16 is not very much, but that same reasoning could easily be applied to any number of excellent projects. It doesn't take much for collective pittances to become a pit of taxation that isn't very affordable. As long as we're bound to the medieval system of taxing land instead of wealth, we must approach any increase, no matter how small, with the big picture in mind.
* We could probably fund this easily by simply making the police stop buying gas hogs and put them back into cars like the rest of us. Crime fighting cars to be sure, but ones that get 40 MPG minimum would be nice.
* The plastic pool house continues to be a problem, but it could cut either way:
- It barely increased restroom capacity and is the reason why the playground and barbecues must be accessed only through the pool, we're told (although removing the fence around the playground wouldn't increase liability beyond what Hasbrouck Park now faces, so I doubt that argument).
- Because it's so substandard, it may just keep people away, encouraging them to go to the county's pool, which has a building made of permanent materials instead of Lego.
* Plenty of people aren't paying for the pool now, so the figures aren't remotely accurate. All one has to do is sign in on the member list to gain access, and this is the way that many kids (and probably some adults) get in a swim. Rather than cracking down on the offenders, I would think that moving to taxation is a way to get the necessary funding without punishing overheated poor people.
* Kids are much less likely to carry wallets with ID, and it's important to make access easy for everyone. Our current, and ineffective, gate system would work quite well if residents didn't have to pay. The few non-residents who use our pool in favor of the county's would actually be a much lower number than the percentage of non-payers we currently enjoy.

Thoughts? Please comment here… and come to the Town Board meeting on the 23rd.

kt Tobin Flusser and Terence Ward

Will the Village Board please show up?

We've got a fiscal crisis in our little village, and it's a really controversial one. Terry Dungan unilaterally issued a spending freeze to all departments, including our firefighters, which has caused all manner of to-do. The fire cuts have the Town Council screaming even as they slash things like the library and the YMCA funding for similar reasons. People are pointing fingers, assessing figures, and laying blame.

Well, today I have a special request for the Village Board. I'd like you to show up.

Erin Quinn reports this week that when a motion to modify the controversial spending freeze came up before the Village Board, one that would have permitted department heads to make important purchases with approval, it failed. Here's how the vote went:
  • Terry Dungan: aye.
  • Patrick O'Donnell: aye.
  • Jean Gallucci: nay.
  • Shari Osborn: unable to be found at the time of the vote.
  • Brian Kimbiz: didn't even show up.
I don't have a problem with a vote for or against, as I assume that any vote cast was done with some thought. I do have a problem with a vote this important failing because two board members weren't around to vote.

Here's a news flash: we elected you, and pay you, to show up and meetings and vote. That is what you are supposed to do. I understand that things come up, but maybe it's time to reassess your priorities.

I don't think expecting 95% attendance at meetings would be unreasonable. Things come up, and sometimes they're actually more important than the residents of the village. Missing one meeting a year should cover emergencies. If your life is such that this is unduly burdensome . . . maybe it's time to resign.

It's a tough job, it's an underpaid job, and it's a job that makes you a target more than it makes you a hero - and you all knew that when you decided to run. Make a commitment to show up. This is a small enough village that I don't think it would be that tough to make a really, really tough attendance policy the law, but I would rather see you just do your jobs.

This isn't personal - or rather, it's very personal when the lives of the people you have pledged to represent take short shrift because you just couldn't make it to the meeting, or you were far too busy to attend the entire thing. No, I have seen other former board members pull the same stunts, and it's time to suck it up and do your jobs.

On behalf of the village, I"m begging you - don't miss another meeting. We trusted you with the job, please . . . do it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Let's shed some light on our ongoing developments

The Village's Environmental Conservation Commission has come up with a novel way to legally gain access to sites under development: make one of them an acting building inspector. It's an idea that reminds me of Terry Dungan's brief stint as acting meter maid parking enforcement officer, with one big difference: it would work.

I think that most of what Terry does comes from good intentions, but suffers from a classic case of don'tknowhowtoshowmyworkitis, which is all too common among teachers. In fact, it's the teacher's "shoemaker's children" syndrome.

But here's the rationale behind the EnCC request: Village Code provides a section about acting building inspectors, which reads:

§ 86-4. Acting Building Inspector.

In the absence of the Building Inspector, or in the case of his inability to act for any reason, the Mayor shall have the power, with the consent of the Board of Trustees to designate a person to act on his behalf and to exercise all of the powers conferred upon him by this chapter.
The rationale behind appointing an EnCC member is thus: the Village is in need of a Building Inspector II, for which there is budgeted $44,986.50. At least three people have been interviewed, and none have been hired. By appointing a member of the EnCC to act as a building inspector, the Village would be able to take a significant chunk of work away from the understaffed building department, allowing Kathy Moniz to focus on other equally important areas. The EnCC already has an interest in enforcing all of the requirements agreed to in the site plan by the developer, and building inspector status would require that individual to do what members of the EnCC are rarely allowed to do: inspect active construction sites for violations.

EnCC members have been granted only very limited access to these types of sites, because there isn't any way to legally require landowners or developers to agree to inspections to make sure that all the mitigations which were agreed to are also adhered to. The building inspector does get to inspect these sites.

The code provides for such an appointment in the case of the building inspector's "inability to act for any reason," and I can see two very obvious reasons why one of the two building inspectors in the Village's budget may not be able to act. For one of them, he or she has not yet been hired, and so is unable to act. For the other, Kathy Moniz, she's trying to do the job of two people. She's absolutely going to have to make very hard decisions about priortizing her work. She can never, ever be two places at once. Through no fault of her own, I am certain that there are times when Kathy Moniz is simply unable to act.

Removing site inspections from Kathy's plate would permit her to focus on things that are more likely to imperil people's lives, like overcrowded rentals and gas leaks in restaurants. I like the idea of her being able to do more of that stuff, if it comes up. Whichever EnCC member is selected and trained for the position, they would already start out with amply knowledge about the environmental aspects of site development. It's obvious that the budgeted $44,986.50 isn't enough to attract the right candidate, and that number isn't going to change soon. Set aside that money to sweeten the pot when you post the job next year, and let a dedicated EnCC member do what he or she wants to do anyway in the meantime.

If anyone knows when this is going to be on the agenda for the Village Board, I would definitely speak at the public hearing in support of this idea, if it comes to that.

Dems Say Thanks But No Thanks

Breaking News: The New Paltz Democratic Party announced last night that they have decided to NOT endorse a slate for town board and are looking for other candidates.

The Democratic Caucus is set for September 14th, at the high school.

Announced candidates that Gadfly is aware of: Toni Hokanson for Supervisor, Kitty Brown and Jeff Logan for Town Board (2 seats available), Phil Johnson and Mike Nielson for Highway Supervisor. All but Mike are incumbents. Readers aware of any other candidates please update the Gadflies!

Background here, here, and here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Meeting(s) Online

The Town Board and Town Planning Board meetings are now being posted online at New Paltz Living. Very cool.

Also, you can send an announcement to be posted on the Public Access Channel 23 bulletin board here.

Update: As per Bob Fagan, NP Public Access Coordinator, "Planning board was just a test, but may be online in the future".

The Grant Has Landed

The Town and Village of New Paltz have been granted $49,500 to study shared services and consolidation.

"The project will consider all potential governance models and make recommendations on ways to improve efficiency and reduce taxes."

Congrats to our local elected leaders who worked hard to make this happen - Kitty Brown, Terry Dungan, Pete Healey, Toni Honkanson, and Shari Osborn. Congrats to the fabulous grant writer Nikki Koenig Nielson. Former Village Deputy Mayor Michael Zierler said the grant Nikki wrote was the best one he had ever read.

Now what? Gadflies will be watching closely as this process unfolds -- and hoping it happens quickly.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Metered Parking or Skinner Box?

Sometimes I'm slow in coming up with good responses to intelligent questions. Such was the case of the metering of the Plattekill Avenue parking lot.

I told Terry Dungan that I didn't like the idea of metering the lot, because the stated objective was to open up more parking downtown, but the means was just a way to increase revenue for the Village. I don't believe governments should use taxation and fees as a means of behavior modification - if you want us to do something differently, just make a law telling us what's what instead of hiding it behind a way to charge us more money.

Terry explained to me that to regulate the parking entirely with enforcement would be impossible, as the officer wouldn't have any way to keep track of who was parked where, and for how long. Chalking isn't really viable, and just walking around noting down plate numbers would take forever.

However, we've got that fancy new meter on the lot now, and I don't know why it needs to charge money in order to work. If it were set to free, it would still be able to allow people to type in their plate number, and it still would be able to print out a report for a parking enforcement officer of what spaces should be empty. It still could deny people the right to enter the same plate number for the same spot for two consecutive periods, and presumably it could still help the officer identify scammers who just lie about their plate numbers in order to park for a longer period of time.

If we were to take Jason's idea of building a hidden parking garage, the money would make more sense because it would be to pay for the building, but given that the Thruway was paid off in 1986 but still has tolls in 2009, I don't trust my politicians not to pull the same kind of shenanigans.

Therefore, I have to assume that the Village Board really wants the money, and doesn't have the nerve to just ask the citizens for it. Fees hidden in behavior modification are among some of the most offensive of governmental bait-and-switch tactics. If you don't want us parking, the technology exists to deter that behavior without charging us more money. If you want more money, the legal mechanisms exist to honestly and open raise taxes without hiding it in parking fees. It sure would be nice to separate the two so that we could transparently look at these unrelated issues.

Contest Extension

We've only gotten one-and-a-half entries to the banner contest for the Gadfly blog, so it will be extended. Please feel free to comment here if you have an idea for a more exciting prize that might appeal to graphic artists. I know I can specifically ask some (Matt Maley and Bill Mulcahy come to mind), but I'd rather just seek help in advertising the contest and getting entries.

Contest will continue until, oh, the rain stops for three days in a row. No, that's horrible, just kidding, let's push it out through July or until we get give entries, whichever comes first.

Write On, New Paltz!

The other day while attending a seminar on small business marketing I got my first election pen of the season. I was surprised, because with the cold, rainy season we've been having, it just doesn't seem like it's late enough in the year to be handing out election pens already.

Climate change aside, I think pens as campaign tools are a very important symbol in New Paltz. We recently decided, if my count is correct, a third race with a write-in candidate winning, and that's pretty amazing. We know how to write in a candidate in New Paltz, and I think that it's the purest form of democracy. I think we should consider institutionalizing it.

Yes, I would like to propose that, instead of voting for a party slate, we just get rid of candidates on the ballot completely. Here's how it could work:
  1. Town or village clerk publishes the requirements for the position. This is already available, but it's got to be easy to find on the town and village web sites, as well in the local newspapers.
  2. Voting machines wouldn't have a single name listed.
  3. Instructions for writing in a candidate would be posted in large boards outside, and small posters inside the booths.
  4. Votes would be counted as always.
  5. Votes for candidates found to be ineligible would be discarded as always.
So what's the benefit? I can see a couple.
  1. Voters have to think before they vote.
  2. They can't assume someone is qualified because of the line they're running on, because nobody's listed.
  3. Candidates will have to really work to win a seat, like Jeff Logan did.
I understand that Jeff might not like this idea, but he was blindsided - the man should have had his party's nomination. In this plan, nominations don't particularly mean squat. I'm sure that the Democrats would campaign for their chosen candidate, and they may even have a leg up still, but it would be a real election. Anyone wanting to vote would have to actually pay attention if he or she wanted to make sure that his or her vote was for an eligible individual. Furthermore, it's possible that you may vote for someone who doesn't want the job, if you're just another mindless voter.

I can't wait to see the reasons people won't like this idea, because I predict that they will mostly be thinly-veiled suggestions that people aren't actually smart enough to vote without help. That's where the Founding Fathers went wrong with the Electoral College, and I challenge anyone to use the "stupidity clause" and put their name to it.

Of course, the pen I was given stopped writing almost immediately, which could mean that the candidate chose promotional products poorly, or it could be an ominous portent. We shall see.