Friday, December 30, 2011

Reevaluating recycling

I haven't talked nearly as much about the New Paltz Recycling Center as I should have.  Hidden behind the highway garage on Clearwater Road, it's so unknown that Google Maps confused it with the BMX track.

Recycling in New Paltz has had a tumultuous history.  When it was part of the highway department, it was never all that clear how much money it was making or losing, or exactly how many deer carcasses town employees dumped around back.  After it was split off and the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange signed a lease, it didn't get much better, because HVME paid little or nothing and again, it wasn't clear how much the place was making or losing.  Now HVME is gone, and the trailers of stuff belong to the town and are sold by the "ReUse Center."

The center makes most of its money by selling bulk scrap metal and other recyclable materials.  The retail aspect could continue to grow, but I think the way the town collects recycling is bass-ackwards.

Town residents shouldn't pay for a permit, and shouldn't pay to dispose of anything that the center can sell for money.  It's insulting to charge me money to drop off something that you can resell.  Make the permit to recycle free, and charge for garbage, period.  The town of Rochester has a free permit, and they keep it free because supervisor Carl Chipman doesn't want his recession-plagued residents to start dumping garbage on the roads.  You can market the free permit and encourage more people to drop off those cash cows.  It's even been suggested to me that the town could invest in a bottle machine, or some other method, that would allow the often-idle employees to collect more money by retrieving deposit bottles.

The center makes money, and even if it didn't, it improves the quality of life in the town by keeping crap off of our roads.  Let's drop the barriers to recycling and increase how much this underutilized service can make.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Police commission: needed?

Move to dissolve Town of New Paltz Police Commission sparks controversy | New Paltz Times

Is having a police commission, which is not very common, a good thing? My gut is "yes," but I agree that it doesn't work as well as it could. The commission is two broad areas of concern, as I recall:

  1. fiscal issues such as the departmental budget and personnel promotions, and
  2. personnel issues, like promotions and citizen complaints.
A side note here:  this is a recollection because I couldn't easily find it on the town web site.  I didn't see the link to the town code anywhere obvious, but that thing's search function is so horrible I would rather have the law quoted right on the police commission's portion of the town site.

Five volunteers aren't really able to do both of those jobs justice, and I think they're both critical to maintaining a thoroughly transparent and absolutely right-sized force.  
  • Given the size of the budget, I think it's worth making sure that financial professionals, the kind that will probably never get elected and is willing to work for free, look over this immense spending plan.
  • At the same time, having a group of people reviewing complaints makes sure that monitoring our protectors doesn't get lost in the wash of town business.
Jeff Logan says that "more government doesn't equal better government," and I imagine he disagrees with his father on the issue of consolidation, but I digress.  More government is a problem if it prevents things you want to encourage, or encourages things you want to prevent.  A citizen board reviewing complaints makes it easier and faster for a citizen to register one, and for the officer to have the matter resolved.  The fiscal oversight in no way slows down the town's budget process - the police commission found savings which weren't implemented because the budget wasn't passed on time.  More government in this case means better service for the same cost.  What's the down side?  The town council is reviewing a thoughtfully prepared budget?

I agree with Ira Margolis that the commission isn't perfect.  There's too much emphasis on money, at times, and not enough on the long-term consequences.  
  • Jeff Logan called the donation of a new police dog "the gift which keeps on taking."  
  • Our local police, like departments nationwide, have strong incentives to prioritize crimes which will generate income.  Specifically, they get to keep money and property seized in drug crimes, or some portion thereof.  It's the flip side of "running a government like a business:"  some crimes are literally worth more to the police than others.
  • Every part-time officer we've hired has eventually become full-time.  Part-timers are hired because hey, they're so much cheaper because there's no benefits to pay.  Too bad it never stays that way.
  • Giving SUNY security police status created another police force in the heart of our community, one which has no citizen oversight and heightens the sense that the college is apart from New Paltz.  Better to have them pay for the same police protection as the rest of us, just as they do for fire protection.
With the dual responsibilities the commission has, these kinds of decisions and events don't get the scrutiny they deserve.  Should we be mitigating for the external pressures on our police?  Do we consider the logical progression of our own decisions?

I'd rather see the commission stay.  The fact that they've annoyed our elected officials shows they're looking deeper than expected, and I like that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Retooling and back to work!

Okay, break is over, everyone back on your heads.

The New Paltz Gadfly has been gestating, and is being born anew.  There are going to be a few changes to the blog, but never fear, change is good!

  1. First off, it's just me here on in.  I enjoyed having kT Tobin blogging alongside me for over two years, but she's decided to move on to other things.  I hope she decides to weigh in as a commenter from time to time so that her viewpoint will not be entirely missed.
  2. This gives me a chance to get away from politics!  The Gadfly drifted political, but politics was never my personal preference.  I prefer talking about government.  What does that mean?
It means I'm not going to get caught up on nonsense like political campaigns.  Only once has a local politician that I've supported actually been the person I thought he was after he was elected; that was Mike Nielson.  It's impossible to tell what someone is really like when they're sidling up to you to curry favor, so I'm putting the curry aside.

This reinvigorated gadfly is going to be interested in what these people are doing once they're in office.  If I interview an elected official I am going to try to avoid using direct quotes, which should minimize how much they can use this blog to look good.  Instead I will focus on observing their actual behavior, and just paraphrase their excuses.  No puffery, just a critical eye.

There's a lot of local government to talk about.  The village, the town, the school district are all definitely local, and largely what I've focused on in the past.  However, my political campaign helped me to understand how much county government impacts us, so I am sure to pay some attention to our local legislators; one of them is too steeped in the development world to even have an opinion on the most important issue to effect our senior citizens (sure wish he'd mentioned that during the campaign, hmm?) and the other will have plenty of opportunities to show his colors, whatever they may turn out to be.

It's the dawn of a new era, and like a phoenix, this gadfly is ready to set the world on fire.