Consolidation Draft Under Review

The preliminary report released by Fairweather Consulting on April 19 defined the potential models for a restructured government in New Paltz.
The preliminary report released by Fairweather Consulting on April 19 defined the potential models for a restructured government in New Paltz.

A preliminary report on the effectiveness of combining the Town and Village of New Paltz was released by Fairweather Consulting on April 19, offering its recommendation on the future of New Paltz’s governments.

The interim report defines the potential models for a restructured government in New Paltz as part of the Study of Full Municipal Consolidation Options for the New Paltz Government Efficiency and Effectiveness project.

“It’s very, very preliminary,” newly-elected village trustee Sally Rhoads said. “But I believe if we all come together and work this out, town taxes will not go up. When you mash two budgets together, you don’t take the duplication out.”

The report represents nine-months worth of work by the Community Advisory Committee, Steering Committee and Fairweather Consulting. It states that while the report is preliminary, it can serve as an “important resource to guide and inform the subsequent efforts of the research team.”

Town Supervisor Toni Hokanson said the recent draft took the budgets of both the town and village and combined them while eliminating duplications and other areas of expense with the goal of seeing how a consolidated government would be.

She said the idea of consolidation is something she has considered but said more public education needs to happen before any changes could be made.

“It makes sense to eliminate bureaucracy and redundancy, but not at the expense of transferring the tax burden from one segment of the population to another,” Hokanson said.

The report, released last month, identifies a recommended structure of potential consolidation. Options considered included the dissolution of the Village of New Paltz, the merger of the town and village – resulting in the newly formed City of New Paltz – and a merger of the town and village into a coterminous town/village of New Paltz.

Article 17 of New York State Village Law identifies the hybrid town/village municipal structure of a coterminous town/village. Under this, both the Village and Town of New Paltz would retain its legal entity and would survive consolidation. The resulting structure would be considered a consolidated municipality that is governed by a single board, according to the law.

This approach was recommended by the report, citing flexibility and new provisions under general Municipal Law Article 17-A. Under this law, the town and village could establish a consolidation agreement and would present it to voters through a referendum from each government entity. If agreed upon, this would establish the new Town/Village of New Paltz.

Former mayoral candidate Pete Healey, who ran his campaign on the platform of consolidation, said the Community Advisory Committee will need to consider the report’s findings now that the consultants have gathered the information and organized a form that is understandable to the 10 members currently on the committee.

“The coterminous option that we’ve studied and advocated previously is being proposed by the consultants as a potential way forward,” Healey said.

Healey said he believes the consultants were “too careful” in their claim that there were no automatic savings by the merger of two governments. He said by adding the town’s tax levy to the village’s tax levy and distributing them equally, the villagers are no longer paying for their own government and receive help from town resident’s whose taxes go up “by several percentage points.”

Healey believes finding “harmless” solutions that keep taxes at a similar level to those currently imposed and finding savings by cutting duplicate departments and offices that would result from consolidation would be the best course of action.

Hokanson said while there is more work to be done before a final decision can be made, she did appreciate the importance of the study.

“I think we don’t have enough information to make a judgment [regarding consolidation],” Hokanson said. “We are still looking at what forms of consolidation we should pursue.”

The report states the immediate next step will be to receive comments and suggestions from the Steering Committee and compile a revised report for the town and village boards to review.

At the same time, Fairweather Consulting and the Government Law Center will work with the Steering Committee to complete another study on shared services for highway and street maintenance and equipment planning and maintenance.

After both of the simultaneous reports “approach their conclusion,” Fairweather Consulting and the Government Law Center will review their respective final versions and work with the Steering Committee to develop potential consolidation or shared service plans.