Sunday, January 13, 2008

January Blog

‘sorry it has taken me so long to write a new blog – it seems that the end of the year gets soooo busy. In November we have elections and budgets, then end-of-year stuff (including a little presentation to our Town Clerk, Dottie Mekeel, who retired after nearly forty years – it was real nice), then reorganization and - wow, here it is January 2008!

Anyway, it has been a busy two years and I do think that we got a lot accomplished; but, there is still so much to do.

Town Engineer / Town Attorney / Town Comptroller: I have to say that since we have established and filled these positions things have really come together.

For instance, our Town Engineer, Scott Bryant, although he has been really good at managing the Town’s projects – he has been excellent in working on what he calls “the big picture.” Take water for example, he has maps and reports and has been working to identify water sources and distribution systems to create an integrated town water system. Not more than a year ago, before Scott came on board, projects in front of the Planning Board were being considered with no thought as to resources that they could offer the Town. Since, that time we have found water sources that we are working to access and we are working to put together a distribution system which will provide water to areas in need.

You know, I read about other Towns getting rid of their contract engineering firms – I don’t think that that is the answer. I find that with Scott on board the communication and oversight with Morris Associates has improved tremendously (Morris has some very talented people on staff; I find that engineers generally have their specialties – no one engineer can know everything about water, wastewater, structural engineering, etc.).

Our New Town Attorneys, Tom Wood and John Klarl (of Wood and Klarl), have many years of municipal experience. Tom has been terrific in advising us on everything from land use, affordable housing, and open space preservation to water district formation, and General Municipal Law and John has a tremendous amount of experience in Planning, Zoning, and, also, General Municipal Law. Together they have brought an incredible amount of experience and knowledge to our legal affairs.

Our Comptroller, Christine Mitchell, and her staff have been excellent in recording and verifying our fixed assets, verifying and paying our bills, working with our insurance company, analyzing our revenue and expenses, and putting together budget projections, as well as identifying problems that may arise. In fact, two weeks ago I told Christine my concerns with the economy – I think that we are all a little concerned. I said that we had better look towards tightening our belts even more – the economic outlook is sure to be “challenging” (unfortunately our recent Sales and Mortgage Tax revenues are down a bit this period – not a good sign).

In-house: Many of the changes that we have implemented are changes to policies and procedures done in-house. Some examples are: cash collection for many of our departments is now done in one office, road bonds are reviewed regularly before they come due, and bills that are submitted for payment are receiving a higher degree of verification than before. I asked Scott and Christine to do an analysis of how efficient our Highway Department is at blacktopping compared to the private sector (it turns out that they are pretty good), we are now comparing our catch basin cleaning operations with the private sector, and we have decided that it is more cost effective to outsource our water department operations. I have discussed this outsourcing with many people. Presently, we are at a crossroads with the water department: do we expand our water department (at considerable expense) to handle current and growing responsibilities or do we find a company whose core business is the water business. We have spent a lot of time interviewing several companies that have responded and we have impressed upon them the very important matter of service to our customers. One company, VRI, seems to hold those same values - they have put in a lot of time helping us and reviewing our systems at no charge. We have contracted with them to oversee our water districts – they have a large staff and a lot of experience in the field and I think that they will do an excellent job. We are trying to be sure that taxpayer money is well spent and that we operate efficiently.

MS-4: We have hired John Paraskeva as our MS-4 Officer. John has been following the MS-4 program (yep, that big unfunded mandate from the state) for sometime now and he has the background to put that knowledge to use. John will be working under Scott Bryant and Walter Artus, our MS-4 Coordinator, in the development and administration of our MS-4 program.

Grants: Our grantwriter, Michael Hegarty, announced that we have been approved for a $7,500 grant from the state to engage the services of a Planner to work on our Hopewell Hamlet Plan. Unfortunately, Dutchess County has recommended that our application for a Community Block Grant to help with our proposed Senior and Recreation center be denied. Michael is currently working on more grant applications and it is great to have him on board.

Sagamor: The Sagamor Wastewater rate issue is a very emotional subject for many people in that neighborhood. In an effort to provide relief and rate stability, the Town made a proposal to take the system over. On Saturday, January 5th, a vote by the homeowners in the district was held on that proposal. Due to low turnout and a contingent of homeowners in the district opposed to Town ownership the proposal failed. The Sagamor Wastewater District will continue to be owned and operated by a private company.

Lake City: Con Edison will be working with us this year to alleviate the flooding situation from their property onto Lake City. On the other front, I have found it to be very frustrating working with Dutchess County on clearing a huge obstruction on the Fishkill Creek. After months of waiting and unreturned phone calls, this past December we finally made an application to DEC to remove the blockage. Unfortunately, DEC returned the application as “incomplete.” They also included a list of rules and regulations to protect the floodplain and ecosystem. Now, I am the last person that would want to damage the floodplain – and I am a big believer in the ecosystem (hey, didn’t we just pass a wetlands protection law), but this obstruction spans the width of the creek at an area of high banks, is probably five to six foot high, and it is dense - being made up of several LARGE trees and smaller branches. I still feel that removing this obstruction may help the discharge of water through the creek and possibly relieve some flooding.

I must say that I do agree with Mr. Ed Fowler about the problems with the creek and the volume of water that it can handle (last year I was amazed at the grass still hanging in tree branches five feet over my head from the April storm – this was in an area of the creek that was very wide – it must have been an incredible amount of water flowing at that time!). Development and construction have added a huge amount of water runoff to the Fishkill Creek. I will be having a seminar for our Planning Board on Low Impact Development which promotes natural landscaping to keep storm water on site (still, it is like closing the barn door after the cows are long gone).

I don’t know if I ever will be able to remove the obstruction – fortunately, Mother Nature is working on it. I checked the other day and I see that one huge tree that was uprooted up on the bank is now in the creek – the creek has eroded the bank creating about a three-foot wide channel around the obstruction. I guess that the creek will now makes its’ new channel.

Brettview / Presidential Way: We are still looking for a new source of water to serve Brettview and Presidential Way. We have identified areas that can supply close to half the water required – and we are still looking for more. The Town Board and I have directed Scott and our engineers to make the DEC and DOH applications to get the Brettview 2 (Presidential Way) project approvals.

Hillside Lake: Councilwoman Walker, the members of the Hillside Lake Park District Board, and I met with representatives of Great Eastern Ecology to discuss making Hillside Lake a viable water body again. We are looking for alternative proposals to the full dredge plan put together by Morris Associates. It was an excellent meeting – Great Eastern uses natural approaches such as artificial wetlands and special plantings to provide solutions to address the issues of nutrients, and aquatic growth; while sedimentation requires source analysis. They will be putting together some options that we can present to the public in the next few months.

Well, that’s it for now – at least that is all that I can think off (there is still so much going on). I will leave you with a copy of my speech from the reorganization ceremony. I hope that it is not boring (well, it is a speech), but I do look forward to working with my board this next term. Thank you.

Supervisor’s Address:

Two years ago I stood before you along with, then, returning Councilwoman Walker, newly elected Councilman Dahncke, and the rest of the Town Board; at that time we described a new direction that we would be taking our Town. I stand here before you today to say that we have made major strides in our quest – we have instituted our moratorium, enacted legislation to protect our wetlands, created a Senior & Workforce Housing Committee (which has finished a final draft report), created an Open Space preservation Committee, and are currently working to address water, stormwater / flooding, and wastewater issues. Yet, we have only just begun. We have changed many internal processes in our government; we have analyzed many of the services that we provide always asking ourselves how we can do things better. We have tried to make our government more open and responsive and we have brought talented people onto our staff whose bottom-line concern is what is best for our Town. We have done a lot of things in the past two years – but we have a lot of work ahead of us and I am confident that we, as a team, will succeed.

This year I welcome returning Councilman Peter Cassidy and newly elected Councilman John Koch. Returning to the board, Councilman Cassidy brings years of service, experience, and stability. Councilman Koch brings his many years of experience on our Planning Board, dedication to our Town, and new ideas. County Legislator Robert Weiss brings to the Legislature his knowledge of business, understanding of the environment, and community involvement.

I have always respected people that serve from parties other than my own. I feel that if you truly have the best interests of the people in your heart, although we may hold different points of view, we will find common ground. This new board is made up of members representing more political parties than any other time, probably, in the history of our Town. As we see in the newspapers and on television, getting people of differing political parties to work together to address complex problems has become more the exception than the norm causing political gridlocks. I truly believe that this new board will set an example to those other levels of government as we tackle the complex problems that face our constituency. I believe that this Town Board will set a shining example to many levels of government of people working across party lines for the best interests of their community.

The Town of East Fishkill, I feel, is a special place. We have exceptional resources, talented people, an educated workforce, a strategic location, a long and rich history and culture. Yet, we face challenges just like anyone else: environmental problems, economic concerns, and development pressures – just to name a few - and difficult decisions will have to be made. I am confident that these officials new and returning are up to that challenge and I would like to say thank you to all of you, for allowing us the privilege to serve.

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