On Monday, April 20, Village of New Paltz mayoral candidates Tim Rogers, Jason West, Sally Rhoads and Amy Cohen assembled at village hall to speak on issues and questions proposed by the audience. Moderating the event was Laura Walls, former Supervisor of Gardiner, NY. The forum was sponsored by the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) and the SUNY New Paltz political science and international relations departments.
The forum began with opening statements from each candidate outlining their experience and aspirations for the village.
Amy Cohen drew attention to her business experience and communication skills, along with her successfully branded business which started on Main Street. Cohen said she has also served as New Paltz Police Commissioner and currently serves on the New Paltz Town Planning Board.
Sally Rhoads made it clear that she has “no axes to grind” in her pursuit of the mayoral position, with her intentions being to address and solve the issues of the community collectively. Rhoads said she has served the community for over 40 years.
First elected as village mayor in 2003 at the age of 25, Jason West said that he has spent most of his adult life as an activist in the community of New Paltz. West has run for New York State Assembly as a Green party candidate to address issues that would otherwise not be addressed. Two main concerns for West include the cost of living in New Paltz and pressing environmental issues, he said.
Tim Rogers indicated that his 40-plus year perspective growing up in New Paltz gives him a unique quality. Rogers is a part-time landlord in New Paltz, which adds to his broad perspective on New Paltz living, along with having two children in the New Paltz school system, he said.
Discussion on the changed definition of “family” in the village housing code served as the second question prompt.
According to West, the revised definition of family in the village code, which was added in 2013, is a “terrible definition” that should not have gotten past the village board.
“With a village of 75 percent renters and 25 percent homeowners, to define a ‘family’ that narrowly would be damaging to the housing stock,” West said.
West, Rhoads, the village attorney and building inspectors have been meeting since December to rework that definition of family to more accurately reflect what the realities are in the village while avoiding overcrowding, West said.
Rogers said that the definition of family prior to the change provided a broad and flexible definition and should have remained as such.
“I don’t understand what the intent was,” Rogers said. “When we make legislative changes we have to be mindful of the unintended consequences. It was unfortunate and unnecessarily confusing to end up with a impractical definition of family for the village of New Paltz.”
Rhoads drew attention to the major housing shortage in New Paltz and how it has evolved into the landlords’ market where rents can be very high. She said that her interests on housing are in the safety and quality of living conditions that are provided. Rhoads wants to address the communicative relationship between the building department and college housing department so that renters, whether student or not, are subject to receiving aid and have a place where their problems can be solved.
Although the college is in the village, the relationship between the administering bodies is not what it could be, according to West. West said that the local village government and the college are not communicating to the best of their ability.
In terms of infrastructure and services, SUNY New Paltz pays for water and sewage which is, according to West, a large help because it would be extremely unaffordable for the village to provide these services to the college for free.
“There has been some small movement in this in the state legislature to have the college pay the host municipality more directly for their impacts,” West said. “There is no argument that SUNY brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy. To the village economy it can cause more problems than benefits sometimes.”
West explained that the village board recently introduced a bill which would have SUNY pay money to the host municipality for some of the services that they use. According to West, if SUNY paid taxes at the same rate as those in the village, the village tax rate would be considerably lower than it is currently.
Agreeing with West’s statement, Rogers said that a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) paid for by the college would be a “fantastic solution” that would mitigate some of the expenses that is absorbed by the village as part of the community.
“I know that other communities that have colleges have benefited from such a PILOT,” Rogers said. “We are used to thinking about PILOTs that spur economic development, but this is actually a PILOT that would be paid for a user of our local emergency services.”
Rogers said that what concerned him most in regards to the Park Point project was not that the college felt they needed to increase the percentage of on campus students to come more in line with other SUNYs, but that the college felt it was part of a larger initiative where public education was being defunded instead of Albany paying for housing via New York State residence hall authority.
“I am in much more in favor of our tax dollars that go up to Albany pay for public education broadly,” Rogers said.
As a municipality, Rogers believes that the village can communicate this sentiment with SUNY and Albany while working in collaboration with other municipalities and other SUNYs.
Cohen also voiced a desire to charge the college for village services.
“I’d like to see an appeal to college students’ parents asking for donations to the fire department,” Cohen said. “If the college cannot make it its business to communicate with us and give us checks for the services they need, I would suggest an appeal to SUNY New Paltz parents and alumni.”
According to Cohen, most of the $5.4 million New Paltz Police Department’s services are utilized for late night patrol of the downtown village making sure bar-goers and pedestrians are not “out of control.” The University Police Department is not allowed by law to come patrol into the village, Cohen said. Cohen also said that she felt that college President Donald Christian should meet more often with village government.
Rhoads similarly spoke on ideas relating to improving communication with the college.
“I believe I am the only candidate running who has concrete proposals on our platform regarding our relationship with SUNY New Paltz,” Rhoads said. “One thing that I am proposing is an association of SUNY communities.”
The association would consist of a group of college representatives, community representatives and the village board, Rhoads said. The main objective is directed toward talking about problems of which each of the represented communities all have in common and therefore finding solutions that will work for everyone involved.
“Communication with each other is often the solution to these problems. I already talked about wanting to strengthen the relationship between the building department and the tenant landlord,” Rhoads said. “The college is a major factor and a major contributor and I think the college is willing to help us where they can.”
Candidates reiterated their platforms and what they intend to achieve as village mayor in their closing statements.
Rhoads expressed once again that she believes in the community of New Paltz and that it is the duty of the local government to serve the community. She explained that she has been known by those who work with her that she always carries out her jobs with integrity, honesty and the community in mind.
“You have to be able to focus on the small details. The constituent letters that come in, the potholes people tell you about, the bent street signs that need replacement, that is part of the role of village government.” West said. “It’s the combination of the small detain and the big picture that makes this job so exciting. I would look forward to serving a third time, and seeing these projects through.”
West also cited the importance of works projects such as public power utility, cleaning the Wallkill River, replacing street lights with solar power and other initiatives geared towards improving the quality of life in New Paltz even in the far future.
“I believe I am uniquely qualified in that I have the right blend of skills and values — values that are shared by many of us in the community,” Rogers said. “I have an identifiable track record of seeing things through to the end. However, I do not take this responsibility lightly. I think that being the mayor of this village is a difficult job.”
Rogers said that he believes that municipal law is often unintuitive. He believes that it is important to be able to work collaboratively with village staff, board members, the town board and members of the community.
Cohen in her closing statement, read from a letter from a supporter that called Cohen “egalitarian, that without prejudice she has an embracive outlook on the well-being of the village.” The letter also stated that Cohen “has the ability to lift New Paltz out of the device of a negative state and into better harmony, and better vibes.”
The village mayoral election is set to take place on May 5. All residents, including students who are registered to vote in New Paltz, are encouraged to vote.