Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Paltz finds too many leaders leads to trouble |

New Paltz finds too many leaders leads to trouble |
My living inside the village has done nothing to convince me that the occasional trash pickups are worth the extra layer of government - or that we can't still have them anyway.


Martin McPhillips said...

When I moved back to the village in '04 and local politics emerged from the general blur of being upstate after 25 years in the City, one of my first reactions was, "Why do they still have two governments up here?" Referring to the village and town.

As time went on it started to make sense. The village is a dense population center with distinct political concerns and a considerable infrastructure. The town outside the village is a mix of rural and exurb and much more diffuse political concerns.

That view developed while the village was under the Jason West administration, an outfit for which I had zero use. When local grandees rose up in reaction to West they reopened the idea of getting rid of the village. However much I disliked West's administration I did not think that getting rid of the village was the smart move.

I am a villager, a citizen of the village of New Paltz, and whether I agree or disagree with whoever is running the government at any particular time, I want the immediate pollitical interface of a village government.

I think we are damned lucky to have it. If we let go of it we will never get it back. And I loathe the idea of a town-wide political bureaucracy running the village.

The village government is not an "extra layer." It is a small, right there, immediate government. It responds. And despite being carved out of the town and having jurisdictional overlaps with the town, the village is the more important government of the two because of the importance of the core population and commercial district it looks out for.

Finally, on the issue of saving money through combination: Never happen. Creating larger bureaucracies creates bureaucratic hunger. Look at the school district, for intance. Or the cop shop. Much wiser to keep things as small as possible.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the incompetent New Paltz town government should be abolished and combined with Rosendale that seems to have more on the ball. Maybe the village would make more sense if the village limit boundaries were made based on rational concerns.

Pete Healey said...

Village boundaries and lines aren't so clear cut as Martin says. For example, Huguenot Street above Mulberry is quite rural in character, and there are town residents who live close enough to the downtown and the commercial districts to walk everywhere. The commercial district is basically split between the 'uptown'(in the town, not the village) and the 'downtown'(in the village AND the town). The problem with consolidating these two OVERLAPPING municipalities is that the state doesn't give us good options. Martin seems to assume that unification means dissolving the village, and that is emphatically not what it means to me. Village government under state law is much more flexible and accomodating and town law is inflexible and outdated to modern needs like ours. What we need most, I think, is a mixed system of at-large representation and representation from the traditional boundaries of town and village. Luckily, our populations are roughly equal, about 6,000 in the village and about 7,000 in the town outside the village, so I like to think an equal number of reps from each could work.

Martin McPhillips said...

Unification means precisely dissolving the village into a town-wide jurisdiction, whatever name is attached to it, and no matter how districts are arranged.

The issue of the boundaries of the village being imperfect is irrelevant to the larger question of there being a distinct, separate political and government interface for the village.

There are already mechanisms in place for dealing with the overlapping village/town jurisdictions and the contentiousness that lies therein would not be lessened by unifying; it would simply give a town-wide bureaucracy the prerogative to bully the village for what the bureaucrats considered the "common good."

Villagers have a distinct knowledge of what is good for the village and they have it for a good reason: they live in it.

Nothing would be made easier, aside from government bullying of citizens, by unification, and there would not be any savings, either. Bureaucratic hunger increases at a disproportionate rate to the increase in the size of the bureaucracy.

Exhibit A: the school district.

Anonymous said...

The idea of cost saving by disincorporating the Village is a chimera.
If the Town were to take over all the Village functions, we Villagers would be assigned districts for street lighting, sidewalks, parks, drainage, fire, water, sewer, etc. Each of these districts would have budgets and administrative costs that would most likely surpass the total cost of Village government as it now exists. The few bucks it costs us to pay for the mayor and trustee's salaries and incidental costs would soon be added to the cost of the Supervisor and councilpersons because of their increased responsibility.

What the Village needs is to grow: State law needs to be changed to make it mandatory that densely built up residential and commercial areas contiguous to the Village boundary be incorporated into the Village (if the Village wants them). The Village should ensure that the area south of the College that is now under planning for residential ( and maybe some commercial) development be incorporated into the Village. The Village needs to expand its water and sewer infrastructure to accommodate new development - added income will cover the cost of bonding the job.

Unfortunately, our current mayor wants to shrink the Village by dumping the Fire Department into a Fire District - that is a recipe for disaster - fiscally, and politically. He also opposes incorporation of the potential development south of the college into the Village - a very shortsighted view n his part.

Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to have already decided whether or not there would be cost savings or efficiency from consolidation. Shouldn't we at least keep an open mind to the possibility that a detailed analysis would show a different conclusion? There might also be fresh ideas, like having enough money to hire a professional administrator to properly manage government business affairs. Someone who is elected to Mayor or Town Supervisor may have some political skills, but that doesn't necessarily translate into management skills. This is something we all know too well.

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Brittany Turner said...

Martin, there are actually 3 options when it comes to "unification" as I understand it.

You are correct with the first - dissolution. This would eliminate any Village boundaries and structure whatsoever and is not something I support nor do I believe it was what Pete was advocating.

The second is a city, which in my opinion is problematic due to the complex process that may require approval by the county and state government, as well as the various nuisances associated with being a "city."

The last, which I advocate for, is what has been referred to as "coterminus," or for normal people, "town-wide village." This would expand village boundaries to encompass the town essentially dissolving the town (as we know it), not the village. I believe this is the best approach due to the village-specific concerns you mentioned, as well as the fluidity encompassed by laws regarding village governance. There is much more flexibility (such as the opportunity to run it's own elections, as we currently have), as well as much flexibility in the structure of the government (including a larger board with officials elected proportionally, as just one example).

Pete Healey said...

So that's it, we're done here? It's ok now to look at other possible ways to have one municipal government instead of two? People will now accept that I haven't been lying for years about wanting, or rather not wanting, to dissolve the village? That there may be a reasonable and democratic, and fully representative, way to do this 'unification'? Can I get an amen?

Martin McPhillips said...

Quoting myself from above:

"Unification means precisely dissolving the village into a town-wide jurisdiction, whatever name is attached to it, and no matter how districts are arranged."

The village is a distinct geographical municipality with a distinct raison d'etre. Making it the size of the town and "dissolving" the town effectively makes the village the town, which means what? That there is no longer a distinct geographical village municipality with a distinct raison d'etre.

We have two New Paltz municipalities, an inner and an outer municipality with some jurisdictional overlap (from town to village). These two municipalities accomodate two different sets of local interests -- a population and infrastructure dense village and a much more diffuse town outside the village.

Both municipalities have mechanisms in place through which to accomodate their common interests, and their separate governments also allow them to compete, somewhat, in providing services.

The distinct governments, even when their leaderships are politically compatible, have the advantage for citizens of keeping an eye on each other.

Combined, they lose some or all of their distinct political natures and become subject to a central bureaucracy. An abstract promise that that will not happen doesn't impress me even as it asks the question "What is gained by unification if the previous interests are still in competition?"

Certainly no one is naive enough to believe that a larger town-wide bureaucracy saves money. Nor that one can gain or retain political power by relinquishing it. Or by diluting it, or otherwise distorting its true raison d'etre.

So to repeat my original point, calling a town-wide bureaucracy a "village" does not preserve the distinct geographical municipality nor the meaning of the village of New Paltz.

And then there are the transaction costs of unification, which would be to a new unified municipal government what the building of the Moriello pool bathhouse was to construction projects.

Pete Healey said...

Alright Martin, you say 'I don't care what you say, it still means what it means to me'. And I'll say 'You're just being silly now, just to be oppositional'. And we'll both be right.

Martin McPhillips said...

I have no idea what you're talking about.

Steve Greenfield said...

What you're missing, Martin and Anonymous, is that while Townies don't live in the Village, Villagers do live in the Town. You have to vote for 10 representatives instead of 5, which means you have to become informed on two separate areas of authority and two different types of expertise to manage the zoning and systems under their authority, keep track of numerous term lengths and election days, support two sets of salaries in many areas -- not just the board members.

You don't have two governments that serve as checks on each other. You have two governments that in many ways are in a contest with each other. Town has the police and EMS, Village has fire and water. Both sets of government officials know somewhere between little to nothing about the operational end of all of that, and end up using all four as financial and political leverage against each other, as per the requirement that they serve in the best interest of the jurisdiction they're in, with little regard to simply delivering the most water and safety to the most people for the least amount of money. There are lawsuits going on, in multiple layers -- who ripped off whom? How much? In which service? Did the mayor use public time, money and facilities on something that can only be done privately? Hey, I know how to make it all work -- let's just sue each other till the cows come home, and let the volunteers and employees dangle while trying to save life and property. Great checks and balances you have there. The two entities can't even agree to pave a road because of the hard borders the roads cross, so we all drive on crappy roads. And if the state wants to fund anything, both entities have to agree or it doesn't get done. So all the state money goes to other municipalities instead of to us, and we never get back any useful part of the taxes we pay to Albany because we can't get together and agree to accept it when they offer. We're being drained by our Albany taxes -- all out, nothing back in. I would have thought an anti-tax libertarian type like you claim to be would be pretty upset about that.

One of the biggest issues for the Town is there is actually no comparison between the populations of the two municipalities. The Village has an overwhelmingly transient population, with the transient proportion growing every year, since there's a strong financial incentive and tax benefit to chop up and rent instead of inhabiting Village houses, and hardly anyone shows up for elections. The whole election system in the Village has become entirely haphazard. Hardly anyone runs anymore. At least half of those who do are students or damaged, and they all get elected because they're running unopposed. And the quality of life for us Townies ends up suffering a great deal, because we all want to shop and eat local, but we can't park, and we're stuck in traffic because the road directions are not designed to move the amount of traffic we have. Many of us live as close to Rosendale and Highland as to downtown, and the Village isn't doing much to beckon us to where our money will do the most good for New Paltz. And the decision-makers that rule on that stuff for the other 7000 of us take office with little or no competition and fewer than 100 votes.

When you subtract SUNY, which is not subject to Village jurisdiction (or taxable), the rural land along northern Huguenot and the rail trail, and the undeveloped tracts behind Duzine and running all the way to N. Putt, the amount of "village core" property and permanent residents is quite tiny -- certainly not beyond the administrative capacity of a smaller, unified government.

I'm not taking a stand right now on the best way to unify, because I've got a lot on my plate that's more time-sensitive than this, but there are few, if any, meaningful arguments for continued separation, and if there are any, they are more than fully overwhelmed by the enormous arguments against it.

Martin McPhillips said...

You write "What you're missing..." and then the first thing you name is something I'm clearly not missing.

Then this:

"You don't have two governments that serve as checks on each other. You have two governments that in many ways are in a contest with each other."

What's the difference? Holding to the side for a moment the fact that both municipalities, like the county, are creatures of the state, the tension of American political society is based on a struggle or contest over power between the states and the national government. You could look it up, as Casey would say. A mini-contest between humble municipalities is a way to mitigate un-humble power grabs.

A contest over certain matters is the grit that makes politics visible in the first place. Otherwise, it all gets lost in back rooms and bureaucracies. And people who fancy themselves insiders always like it that way.

It's clear to me that there are politicos in the town and village who have designs on the future that might easily get shoved down the throats of the citizens of either municipality without the separate political interfaces and the grit between them.

There is a tremendous amount of force that comes at New Paltz via the college and the Thruway and the nexus that creates, including the momentarily at rest development pressures, and the people with big plans want a smoother ride. The two municipalities make that harder. And that is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Martin, as a village resident I want to share my thanks and appreciation for your ability to effectively and articulately cut through the mess and present a point of view that completely resonates with me.

Martin McPhillips said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I'm not surprised that someone agrees with me, but I am surprised that anyone is still reading this thread.

Speaking of surprise. One of the things that surprises me about New Paltz (one of the positive things) is how little it has changed, physically, over the last several decades. When you think of the obvious pressures brought by the college and the Thruway and the decade of exurban thrust from NYC preceding the current recession, there's something wonderful about how New Paltz hasn't been devoured by "change." I credit the localist impulses of the citizens in tandem with certain geographic (natural and political) characteristics.