I've been pondering municipal volunteerism in New Paltz a lot recently, particularly in the village. A community of this size relies quite a bit upon volunteers. They run into burning buildings, preserve what's left of our non-human environment, interpret and enforce our laws, and expend a tremendous amount of effort on tasks that are at the same time mind-numbingly dull and critically important. If you know someone who is volunteering for one of our local governments, please seek them out and thank them for their efforts.
Mayor Dungan has been working to resolve that last problem with his rental reforms. The argument as I understand it is that tougher enforcement of safety standards in rentals will make some properties into less attractive investments, which will reduce housing prices for the many apartment residents who wish to own homes. Likewise, the opening of Woodland Pond may exert some downward pressure on housing prices. Whether either of these things will come to pass remains to be seen. The impact on the local volunteer pool, if it does manifest, probably won't be felt for several years.
In the meantime, there's a dearth of volunteers right now, and I don't think all the reasons are demographic.
At a recent village board meeting, Dr. Thomas Rocco indicated that he was prepared to resign if he didn't get what he wanted for the task force he chairs. Was this a petulant outburst? Hardly. Dr. Rocco wanted a survey his task force had spent months preparing to get into the village's water bills. The request had been made originally more than three months ago, but the March bills were sealed before the survey could be inserted. Three months later, the night before the next round of bills were to be sealed and mailed, Dr. Rocco was utterly frustrated that they were at the same crossroads. He indicated to the village board in public session that he didn't believe it was a good strategy to leave village volunteers wondering if their efforts were appreciated.
Concurrent to the problems expressed by Dr. Rocco is the resignation of Planning Board chair Ray Curran. What few may to remember about Mr. Curran is that he was a minority voice for environmentally-sensible development, and that he took the chairmanship reluctantly upon the death of George Danskin. Since I have never been chairman of that board, I have to wonder if I would have done any better. Why should a man be expected to put more hours in as a volunteer than he does at his paid job?
The question of the proper funding and support of our firefighters has been discussed ad infinitum. It seems to be Patrick O'Donnell's sole purpose as a village trustee. Regardless of your position on the funding question, can you doubt that the firefighters themselves are more than a little disheartened by the whole thing?
I don't think it's just that we have a smaller pool of potential volunteers. The people who do step up are asked to do too much with too little. Instead of broad support of volunteers by the municipal government, we see these fine people and their work reduced to pet projects of one or two board members. Occasionally, such as during this contentious time for the Planning Board, the political will exists to get some level of consensus. Mostly, though, volunteers are left to sink or swim with little or no support.