With the help of an outside neutral body, citizens and a steering committee, a master plan is being devised to consider a feasible and responsible way to have one efficient government and municipality title. In other words, one town or one village.
According to a High Priority Planning Grant Application for Efficient and Effective Government, these two municipalities (the town and village) seek to study Merger, Consolidation, Dissolution and Shared Service options.
The $50,000, provided by New York’s Department of State’s Local Government Efficiency program, explores ways to reduce property taxes, improve government responsiveness and figure out how to efficiently deliver services all while maintaining community character, according to the grant. So far, it has been shown that the town property taxes could increase 10 percent and in the village they could decrease about 20 percent, according to Peter Fairweather at the Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting.
Meanwhile, civic engagement aids the public in understanding the ramifications of any action the grant is trying to achieve. Citizens talk to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee is a group of 30 people, with an ideal 15 people being from the village and 15 being from the town. They then communicate to the Government Efficiency Committee, according to Shari Osborn, village trustee. Osborn said the Government Efficiency Committee, which has 10 members, is charged with overseeing consolidation options and how to share services effectively.
On Monday, Jan. 31 there was a Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting at the village hall to discuss budgetary concerns, but it turned into a discussion for citizens to voice their concerns about transparency. Citizens felt it was their duty to be ambassadors to the public about these merger options. The word the study is using is “coterminous” when dealing with town/village unity, but one person said he couldn’t even explain what that meant to others.
“The key issue right now is how to engage the public,” said Amanda Sisenstein, a resident of both the village and town.
Still, many felt that the meetings should be transcribed and the minutes be made available. Also, some said that they didn’t mind paying more if the meetings were taped and either put online or on public channel 23 for a wider audience, for those that cannot attend the meetings due to other obligations.
A resident of the village and adjunct professor of sociology at New Paltz, KT Tobin thought the meeting identified issue areas and that the Steering Committee is now going to act on them.
“I hope to see a more efficient and effective government,” said Tobin.
New Paltz has a long history of community discussion of dissolution and consolidation. In 1966 and again in 1983, the Village Board considered resolutions on the issue. A public referendum on dissolution was held in 1993. Four hundred and eleven opposed and 283 were in favor of dissolution, a 59 percent to 41 percent outcome. The residents of both the town and village have strong anecdotal histories and pre-existing beliefs for staying two separate entities.
Whatever the case, there will be a series of issues that still need to be addressed towards unification such as the elections slated for May, the different budget cycles for the town and village and the state of the existing infrastructure.
“I’m not completely opposed [to one government] if done so well,” said Sisenstein. “If it has significant benefits. Moderate to none or not significant for improving the quality of life, then no.”