Monday, October 08, 2007

October (where does the time go) Blog

When our web-person set up our blogspace she told me that I should post a new blog every two weeks. Wow, I have been able to blog only about every two months! There is so much going on that I normally am in the office seven days a week – although only a few hours Saturday and Sunday – (holidays included, although my wife did put her foot down about Christmas Day) and I don’t get a chance to write my blog as much as I should.

Some people have suggested that I should hire an assistant; problem is: I hate to spend the money. As everyone knows, generally, the biggest cost of any business is personnel. Actually, I don’t think that the number of people employed at the Town Hall has actually grown much – but the costs have! A BusinessWeek article that I read last year summed it up pretty well. It said, ‘over the years the private sector paid much more than the public sector. To keep employees without paying higher wages, the public sector provided good benefit packages. Over the last decade, though, as the costs of employee benefits have increased by double digits almost every year, it is starting to look as if the public sector would have done better by paying premium wages’. Who would have thought that benefits would have taken off as they have? With the employee contracts we negotiated this year we have addressed some of the issues with benefits and we will continue to do so with all Town positions.

Oh, before we get too far I would like to thank Assemblyman Marc Molinaro. He has helped us with our application to D.O.T. for our Lake Walton / Robinson Lane turning lanes (still a couple of years away – this is fastrack in D.O.T. terms) and now he has helped in an application that was stalled in D.O.T. for the Hopewell Plaza entrance and with the D.O.T. / M.T.A. resurfacing of the railroad tracks on Rt. 82 at Fishkill Rd. Marc has been very responsive to the needs of our Town and he will be at our Town Hall on October 22 at 6:30 p.m. to meet with the public to discuss issues.

Public Service Announcement:

There is an invasive plant species known as the “Mile-a-Minute” vine that has been found in a five acre site in LaGrange. If you get a chance, “google” this vine. It is almost certain that we will be facing this predatory varmint next year.

New Laws / Moratorium / Montage:

At our September 27th Town Board meeting we adopted our Wetlands Protection, Steep Slopes Stabilization, and the Lot Count Revision Laws. I am very proud that we have taken steps to protect very valuable water resources as well as address slope erosion and to make a common sense revision to our lot count formula. We had taken much public input and faced a bit of opposition, but I think these laws are fair and represent a turning point in the direction of our Town.

In addition, we did vote to raise the building moratorium threshold to allow applications for up to ten lot subdivisions. This was to give the smaller developers and local people relief – residential construction has always been a part of our local economy – although this would never have been considered without the adoption of the three laws cited above. As to the larger subdivisions, that is still a matter to be considered along with the review of our Master Plan.

The zoning application which would have allowed the Montage Senior Housing project to proceed was denied. As Councilwoman Walker put it ‘although we recognize the need for this type of housing, and this is a very nice project, this is not the location for it … the Town Board is taking a new direction in how we look at the impacts on our water and resources’ (this is not verbatim – but I think you get the gist of it). In addition, there were many, many people who spoke against the project and only a handful that supported it. The problems we identified is that approving this zoning change would have allowed this type of development as an “as of right” in three other areas of Town, disturbed over 180 acres of wetland and floodplain, and did not appear to provide housing that was in a price range to help local seniors. I would point out that presently there are two other senior and workforce projects being proposed.


Workforce and Senior Housing Committee:

I have received the final draft of recommendations from our Workforce and Senior Housing Committee which are being reviewed by the committee prior to submission to the Town Board (and then Planning Board) for their review.

East Fishkill Open Space Preservation Committee:

Our E.F.O.S.P.C. had a booth at Community Day. I would like to thank those members that manned the booth – it is so important to get our message out. Although we are just starting, it is important to gather public input and support. We meet on the second Monday of the month at the Town Hall at 7:00 p.m. Normally it is just the seven members of the board and me that meet, but we look to having informational public presentations in the future. Even at this stage of development in our Town it is very important to work to preserve what we can of our heritage and open space.

Brettview Water / Presidential Way Water:

Our Town Engineer has been doing a terrific job in overseeing numerous Town projects as well as addressing some problems that have been issues for years. Scott takes a “big picture” approach that makes a lot of sense. Recently we have been reviewing some twenty-year old studies on water that may offer some new options to solving problems at Brettview and Presidential Way. Although nothing is concrete at this point we are examining some interesting proposals.

Lake City Flooding:

Lake City was hit again in this year’s April N’oreaster. As I understand it, this was a repeat of flooding that had occurred less than two years prior. What really got me is that these two events were unlike past flooding in that I am told that the water came from a completely different direction. This summer I took a kyack trip down the Fishkill Creek from Lake City. I went with a friend who is an outdoorsman and we kept to the Creek that seemed to flow closest to Lake City (the Creek does fork in several areas – seemingly, only to reconnect further on downstream). I cannot tell you how many times I had to carry the kyack over downed trees. As we went we would discuss if this or that tangle of downed trees could actually cause a backflooding event. At one point we suggested that the flooding may actually be a cumulative effect of all the downed trees. Then we came to an area, bigger than all the rest, of a very, very significant damming situation caused by a section of downed trees. This dam was dense, five to six foot tall, in an area of a high stream bank. This was much larger than anything that I had seen in the Creek from the Warren Drive Cul-de-sac (actually bigger than anything I had seen in my trip from the Palen Rd. bridge).

We are taking a three-pronged approach to the Lake City flooding:

We are making an application to the D.E.C. to remove this barrier.
We have replaced some storm drain pipes in Lake City and done some minor grading to be sure the water gets to the Creek.
If we get permission from Con Ed, I would like to see if we can intercept the stormwater before it gets to the Circle Drive residences.

Fishkill Creek:

I had been attending the meetings of the Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee for some months now (first Monday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at the library). I must say that after two trips down the Fishkill Creek I have seen the damage that development, siltation, and runoff have done to our poor creek.

I will be working with the F.C.W.C. to bring surrounding communities “on board” with an intermunicipal watershed agreement.

I will be having a presentation to our Planning Board on Low Impact Development that illustrates construction designed to minimize stormwater runoff (inviting other communities to attend).

I am budgeting money to begin a long-term Fishkill Creek maintenance project working in conjunction with the Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee.

In my trips down the Fishkill Creek, in many areas I found our creek to be beautiful. Other areas showed distress and destruction and I hope that with new practices and maintenance we can revitalize our Fishkill Creek.

Hillside Lake:

I have written to four companies that specialize in lake remediation. Two have responded, one with a written proposal. I hope to meet with the boardmembers of Hillside Lake along with these professionals so that we can put together another option to the full dredge proposal designed by Morris Associates. The full dredge proposal was projected to cost 3 million dollars and would have an incredible impact due to lake material dewatering and truck traffic on the community. It is my intent to have another proposal in addition to the full dredge proposal for the community to consider. I would like to meet with the board later this year and have a public presentation in the late Winter / early Spring of 2008 to consider our options.

Budget:

I think that we have made good progress in improving our financial house; yet, I have asked our Town Board and Comptroller to consider a bare bones budget. One thing that I think is necessary is to build our industrial and commercial tax base. One example is that we are considering a law that would make an office building use “as of right” in an industrial zone. At the present time, offices are allowed in an Industrial Zone only if the use of the office is accessory to the use of the property. By allowing offices in an Industrial zone we would enable more flexibility in the marketing of those types of zones (I would have no problem with, say, an accounting firm taking offices in I zones).

In addition, we are trying to gage our operating efficiencies. I have asked our Town Comptroller to compile data on the cost of specific Town operations to see if we provide these services in a cost effective manner. Services such as brush pick up (which I hope to bring back), water district services, and paving are being examined to see if we should provide those services in-house or if it is more cost effective (or even possible) to sub them out.

Then there are: UNFUNDED MANDATES. The Grandaddy of these, this year, is the MS-4 program. MS-4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm System something-or-other (I can never remember) a mandate handed down from the Feds to the State to the Towns which says that we have to perform an extraordinary amount of work to be sure that the water that runs off properties into the storm drain discharges is very clean. This means there will be costs for (a lot off) maintenance, enforcement, inspections, and record keeping. Unfortunately, there is no funding provided (except for one $9,000 grant that we will be applying for). I sent a memo to the Planning Board a couple of months ago to establish stormwater districts in subdivisions with such drainage systems to offset the costs of maintenance – a policy which would have been very helpful if begun some years ago – but, who knew? MS-4 will be with us forever and we will be working on best ways to fund it.


Actually, when I look at the breakdown of taxes I see, for example, that last year in Wappingers the School Taxes were 68% of the tax bill, the County 16%, and the Town 14% (that year the Fire Tax was 4%). Although I hear a lot of talk in Albany about changing the way schools are funded (one example is an income-based tax), I do not think things will change until the school boards become more cost conscious and until laws are changed that will allow impact fees to be collected from developers to construct new schools (hey, if they did not build so many houses – we would not need so many classrooms). ‘ just my thoughts.


Philips Road:

Immediately after the Town Board voted not to close Philips Road, the developer filed a lawsuit against us to force us to do just that. The case is now pending in Appeals Court.

Sagamor Sewerage:

We will be having a public hearing on the proposed purchase of the Sagamor Sewerage facility / system by the Town in October. A town operated system will save some money and provide stable wastewater rates. We would also look to see if we could save money by bundling the operations and maintenance with the plant that we are building in the Hamlet.

Reval:

We are finishing the first school tax cycle under the reval. As I have said before, the Southern Dutchess Consortium (eight Towns and Cities) contracted with M.J.W. in, I believe, 2004 to conduct this joint revaluation. To be honest here have been some issues with the process. First, I have had a major problem with the timeliness and the data collection by the contract vendor M.J.W. Ironically, had we the time we could have addressed inaccuracies found in some of the data. Unfortunately our Assessors received huge amounts of property valuations (overall, twelve thousand in East Fishkill) with little time before the vendor sent out notices. Our Assessors worked nights and weekends, right up to the legal deadline, to address these issues. We also found that the vendor response and follow-up was deficient and I am now told that had the data been compiled sooner, the vendor could have included school apportionment calculations which would have provided more accurate projections.

I had asked the members of the Consortium to meet for a “post-reval” conference. We have met twice more since that first conference and we are examining our options. New York State Office of Real Property Services attended the last meeting and they were very helpful. We are putting together a plan to maintain our valuations at full market. This is very important when it comes to taxing across municipal borders (such as school taxes) and reflecting changes in the valuations due to changes in the market. Again, we had not had a town-wide revaluation done in thirty years and valuations got pretty out-of-whack (similar properties assessed at much different values). It is our intent to keep our assessments fair and equitable so that we all pay our fair share. It is a difficult process at best, especially after thirty years. In my opinion, the vendor made a tough process much, much more difficult.

Summary:

Well, that’s about it - I am sure that there is more but that is all that comes to mind. We did install a credit card machine to pay tickets in the Traffic Court (saving time in billing and transactions) and we are looking at appointing a town-wide safety coordinator (which will lower our insurance premiums). Boy, it is a busy Town – until next blog. Thank you.

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