With the May 5 election for village mayor right around the corner, candidates Amy Cohen, Sally Rhoads, Tim Rogers and current incumbent village mayor, Jason West, are pushing hard to get their messages out and get residents voting.
West, who has served two terms for the Village of New Paltz and was arrested, while in office, for marrying same-sex couples before it was legal back in 2004, believes collaboration is key when it comes to addressing and fixing the issues facing the Village of New Paltz. He says, “There are things we can do at the village government level that obviously are more powerful than what an individual can do.”
During his tenure, West has implemented many green alternatives into the infrastructure of New Paltz and he plans to continue these efforts if reelected. He says, “being an environmentalist is no longer an option, it’s a necessity.” West, who is responsible for the array of solar panels on Village Hall and the daylighting of a stream in Peace Park to absorb excess rainwater, says his next environmental project is to clean up the Wallkill Valley River.
West is also worried about a lack of affordable housing.
“We’re approaching a point where we’re going to be a community of wealthy homeowners and poverty-stricken students and nobody in-between. There’s no room for the recent graduate, or the young professional, you have to be already established in your career or subsidized by student loan debt to be able to afford to live in the village.” According to West, the Village Housing Board and his office are working together to explore other options to decrease the overall cost of living in the village.
West also believes SUNY New Paltz being ranked number one for on-campus drug arrests is nothing to brag about. He says, “[The ranking] Is nothing to be proud of, because I think most of those arrests probably shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I understand there is a categorical difference between marijuana and heroin,” he said, “And I think SUNY, like all of us, should treat drug abuse as a public health issue. If people are abusing drugs or are addicted, arresting them and kicking them out of school doesn’t help anyone.” West then described how the college’s drug policy should change to shed a different light on marijuana use. “Frankly, it’s just a matter of time before it’s [marijuana] legalized in New York State anyway, so I think it should be treated in a different category than all other drug use.”
Amy Cohen, founder of Parents of Playground Projects and New Paltz planning board member, is also running for village mayor. Cohen, who is the C.E.O. of The Groovy Blueberry, says her 25 years of business and management experience is what prepared her for the responsibilities of village mayor. She says her role as police commissioner and an international textile buyer has primed her for dealing with the public.
The lack of a “welcome mat,” in conjunction with the expensive and limited parking found in the Village, is one issue driving away tourists, says Cohen. But Cohen has a plan to fix that, she says, “We can start by pulling our parking meters out since the revenue seen by them can be replaced with the sale of art in our New Paltz Village Fine Art Gallery. What I’d like to do is pull out the parking meters and still chalk tires in two and four-hour zones, so there would still be parking tickets…instead of having the meters that take up a lot of space, look very unattractive and are expensive to upkeep, we would have locked donation boxes painted and designed by local artists in place…and I believe that a lot of people, especially visitors, would be happy to put any amount of money into those donation boxes. Especially if we thank them for their patronage and ask them to keep New Paltz beautiful with their contributions.”
Another issue facing the Village is the lack of signage says Cohen. “People don’t know where they can do long-term parking,” she says. This is where her idea for the installation of informational and directional maps (see below) throughout the Village came from. “Ideally I’d like to set up one map in front of Village Hall and another outside the Water Street Market, in front of The Groovy Blueberry.” These maps are intended to make visitors feel more welcome by providing a clear outline of the town and everything it has to offer.
Courtesy of Amy Cohen
Cohen criticized the Village Board for not coming up with a solution for the planned 10-week shut off of the Catskill Aqueduct in 2016 and 2017. Without NYC water, the village only has a large enough back-up supply to maintain for five days.
“The Village Board had approximately seven years to figure this out, but they were too busy promoting laws such as the plastic bag ban, which was promoted for three blocks and the University.” Although Cohen supports the plastic bag ban, she thinks it should have been implemented differently. “Honestly, I support the plastic bag ban on a County level or a State level, but as a very small village, I feel like we didn’t have the money or the time to legislate this. It costs $6,000 minimum to pass a law, on top of the fact that our village also contributed $2,500 for plastic signs that read ‘no plastic bags’ for business owners to hang in their windows.”
Cohen also disagrees with the recently passed housing law that states no more than three people who are not related by blood, marriage or adoption can live in a residential house together. Cohen believes this violates her civil rights as a homeowner, as well as makes living in the village too expensive for residents.
“I’m sure this is aimed at students, however it does infringe upon the rights of homeowners,” she explains. “In order for me to be able to afford my home when I’m older, I would like to be able to rent rooms out to adult friends of mine, but with this new law, I won’t be able to do so.”
Another idea proposed by Cohen is the ability for the New Paltz Town Police and University Police (UPD) to work together to make the village a safer place.
“I think the police department on campus is way too aggressive and personally it seems way to excessive. Now, if they were allowed to come into the village and help out our town police with the students late at night when things tend to get out of control…providing those services, would take some of the financial burden off of the town and village.”
Cohen, like West, is also unhappy with SUNY being ranked number one for drug arrests. She believes that SUNY New Paltz is not home to the most drug abusers, rather home to an overactive police force.
“As of right now, there are approximately 35 UPD officers on campus, which to me sounds extremely excessive. I’m really not happy with students getting kicked out of college for having half a joint in their dorm room. I’m not advocating that they should smoke pot, but I am advocating that they are kids on their own and I’d like to give them second and third chances especially if they’re not hurting anybody,” Cohen says. Cohen is also the founder of the Good Vibes New Paltz movement. “Good Vibes New Paltz was put in place as a community campaign to ensure safety and good neighbor relations in the village,” she says.
If elected village mayor, Cohen would also like to close the gap between students and community members. She says working with students for the past 18 years has benefitted her in many ways, and in order to have a nice community, residents and students alike must work together. In order to promote collaboration among the entire Village, Cohen would like to open over a dozen internship positions in Village Hall specifically for SUNY students.
Product of New Paltz, Tim Rogers, says he has three platform priorities, “The community, defensible environmentalism and management and process.” He believes his experience in both the private and public sectors help ensure his success if elected village mayor.
According to Rogers, “We must work together to achieve common goals. I make a point of listening and learning from community members with differing viewpoints. Disagreement is healthy and expected. We must remember that most of us are here because we care about a better New Paltz. I am someone who can follow through on a task and see that we maintain momentum and not get mired in conflict by style or opinion differences.”
Rogers also believes the lack of safe and affordable housing is unforgivable. He believes the village government needs to do a better job working with inspectors to create a clear and concise housing code before implementing any costly legislative changes.
“Zoning code enforcement and more thoughtful planning is important because we are on a path where Village housing is becoming unaffordable for too many. Our housing market is propped up by artificially-low borrowing rates for investors and a predatory student loan market that is burdening students who, on average, are graduating with debt approaching $30,000. We are compromising the quality of our village’s character when fewer young professionals and working families can afford to remain in New Paltz. An imbalance has been created locally that requires local government awareness because of potentially irreversible unintended consequences.”
Rogers agrees with the rest of New Paltz when it comes to going greener, but he says environmental goals and green initiatives must make economic sense, and taxpayer money must be spent prudently.
“Projects that merely feel green but do not make investment sense are wasteful and give naysayers fodder. For example, why is the village using a $4,000 ‘Big Belly’ solar trashcan whose main function is to reduce collection trips? I would not invest in premium-priced solar garbage cans that accomplish little, if anything, besides seeming green because they are outfitted with solar panels. SUNY New Paltz also has these trashcans that compact recyclables, trash and compostables together – forfeiting the potential for recycling and composting. At least the Village’s solar compactor is next to a recycling bin, but then there is still the same amount of trips because the recycling bin mandates the same number of collections. These expensive solar trashcans are a waste of taxpayer money.”
Lastly, Rogers says no matter what green initiatives or new laws board members are trying to get passed, the Mayor must focus on day-to-day operations to keep the village running smoothly. He also believes the village and town must work collaboratively to develop immediate and long-term provisions for an infrastructure master plan.
“Our community character and tax base depend on intelligent and environmentally sensitive planning for parking, sewage capacity, storm-water management, potable water, and how they relate to existing and potential residential and commercial development.”
Sally Rhoads, who has been a resident of New Paltz since 1970 and a dedicated member of the community since her arrival, says her knowledge of village code and municipal finance is what makes her an ideal candidate.
“My 40 years in public life in New Paltz has been devoted to community building and betterment… I have a working knowledge and understanding of the details of municipal finance and the village code. Most importantly, I know how to manage and lead which are must-have skills for a mayor.”
Rhoads believes finding an alternate water source for the 2017 shutdowns of the aqueduct has priority amongst the various issues facing the village.
She says, “aside from daily oversight of village business; the immediate issues are providing a water alternative for the 2017 shutdowns of the aqueduct, expanding the sewer plant to help the town and village solve their current and future sewer needs.”
If elected, Rhoads says she has a plan to address the village’s parking issues, as well as one that makes New Paltz more environmentally sound. She also believes in order to achieve these goals, the community has to work together.
“Conversations with various stakeholders of the New Paltz community are necessary to collaboratively meet the needs and goals of each individual and the community as a whole. For example, I intend to invite SUNY student representatives to meet with me monthly to talk about students’ concerns as village residents” she says.
Rhoads also believes the village and SUNY housing office should to collaborate to make finding off-campus housing easier for students and landlords alike. In order to do so, she would like to reconstitute the Village Tenant and Landlord Committee and have two students who live off campus, serve on the board.
Rhoads says, “I will also establish a strong link between the Village Building Department and the SUNY housing office to provide students a place to seek accurate information and resolution of housing problems.”
Rhoads believes that SUNY New Paltz being ranked number one for on campus drug-related arrests per capita across the nation, “Is an internal SUNY issue” and should not reflect poorly on the town and village.
Rhoads states her ultimate goal if elected village mayor is, “To build a better, more vibrant village that is welcoming and collaborative with our SUNY campus. Resulting in a community where all residents, of course including students and businesses are able to thrive.”