In anticipation of the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, The Current asked each candidate running for the Philipstown Town Board to respond in writing to questions posed by reporter Michael Turton. The candidates are presented in alphabetical order. (We also asked Richard Shea, the Philipstown supervisor who running unopposed, about his priorities for what will be his fifth two-year term.)
With two open seats, incumbents Michael Leonard (D) and John Van Tassel (D) are being challenged by first-time candidate Tim Greco (R). Board members serve four-year terms.
Which of your strengths should residents keep in mind as they vote?
Greco: I’ve had various roles in the Philipstown community, worked with different groups, researched, reported on and been clear in my position on most issues facing our town over the last several years. It’s given me the opportunity to hear, discuss, and debate with many of my fellow residents and changed my mind on some, and hopefully given me the chance to change a few minds, too. We all benefit when there’s discussion, diversity and tolerance in our community, right? Why couldn’t the Town Board benefit, as well?
Leonard: Clearly it is my experience that helps to provide high-quality results. A person needs an extensive knowledge of how land use and municipal operations work. Having more than 15 combined years of serving on the Planning Board (including as chair), Conservation Board and Board of Assessment before joining the Town Board provided me with the skills necessary toward making good, structurally sound decisions and to provide possible alternatives so that residents and businesses could achieve their land-use goals.
Van Tassel: The one strength that I possess as a candidate is my ability to listen to the residents at a multitude of venues. My involvement as a business owner, emergency services provider, father, coach and homeowner allows me to see and hear from so many different people in our community. I use this exposure to help guide me in making decisions that best serve our town.
What are two important issues facing the board over the next two years?
Greco: A lack of vision and a lack of inclusion. Many residents I’ve spoken with feel as if the Town Board “just goes through the motions” on the “bread-and-butter” issues that should be its focus, such as finances, roads, infrastructure and planning. Instead, it seems it gets caught up too often in wasting time and energy on issues and playing politics on things that have nothing to do with running the town, are not within its jurisdiction, and are distracting and needlessly divisive.
Leonard: The revitalization of Town Hall, a historical structure, along with improved operations and a handicapped-accessible public meeting room, has and is going to be a major undertaking for the board. Improved service, increased working space to adequately perform duties properly and proper records retention will be all clear benefits from the upgrade, and residents and businesses will definitely benefit. Also, continued support and assistance to the Highway Department in regard to infrastructure improvements toward roads and bridges, which have already and will continue to result in a significant and noticeable change to our town-owned highway system.
Van Tassel: First, the preservation of the health and safety of our residents and our environment and, second, repairing Town Hall and the highway facility to make them code-compliant and energy efficient while keeping the budget in check.
What role should the board play in such issues as immigration and gun rights?
Greco: Unless the current Town Board is considering establishing Philipstown’s own foreign policy — sorry — my point is that we have an aging population, the opioid crisis impacting our children, the highest assessed property values in Putnam County and talk of a county-wide property revaluation, to name a few issues before us. I’d say we have more important things locally that impact our residents right now, which the Town Board should be concentrating on.
Leonard: Legally, immigration policy rests with the federal government and gun rights are a shared responsibility between federal, state and county governments. The desired expectation of your local town board is to ensure its residents understand that it shall treat everyone in an equal, fair, safe and civil manner and reserve the right as exercised to advise higher forms of government when it feels the safety of its fellow residents may be at stake due to flawed processes that require corrective action. Town boards certainly can provide educational assistance and tools to help residents in all life safety and equality-of-life issues that do not violate existing laws.
Van Tassel: The Town Board needs to stay focused on issues that we can control directly. I do support the board revisiting the Safe Storage Law that was proposed and coming up with a plan that will secure the safety of our residents and most importantly our children without taking away a person’s right to defend themselves. The Town of Philipstown does not ask for or retain any individual’s immigration status or set protocols or procedures for any policing agency, and that eliminates us from any involvement in immigration procedures.
Are three municipal governments needed for a town and two villages with a combined population of 10,000 people?
Greco: Objectively, no, and if you ask each of the three municipalities they’ll say the same. However, each will probably tell you that the other two “aren’t really interested” or “have some issues.” Even then, the Town Board doesn’t have much of a track record in this regard. Remember the on-off-on-off-again Butterfield-Town Hall drama, the Graner emergency services study, ambulance corp. funding or the Garrison Fire District saga? The ongoing dispute between Cold Spring and Nelsonville regarding fire coverage? Also, the town’s abandoning of the Fair Street sidewalk project in Cold Spring? Not to mention the duplicative costs of two independent school districts. All of these are pocketbook issues that have cost residents time, hard feelings and lost opportunities.
Leonard: It’s important to point out these administrative positions are part-time. This allows for a number of residents to be able to serve at different times, providing both a wide range of talents and experiences. Both town and village governments have discussed and acted on consolidated services such as combined building inspector duties, resulting in improved overall efficiency and service availability. The multiple current layers of government provide a higher, capable level of personalized service for town and village matters but also respect and are open to the wishes of town and village resident majorities should a change in structure feel warranted.
Van Tassel: The three municipalities are unique and it’s important for them to retain their identity. I do feel that there are several more opportunities for sharing of services, which will reduce costs and provide better service to everyone.
The Philipstown Community Congress gathered 40 ideas “to preserve and promote a strong community” Which two should be priorities?
Greco: An updated Comprehensive Plan and local civic engagement. These two initiatives would provide the framework for all interested residents to participate in, make their voices heard, discuss, reach consensus addressing the issues and move Philipstown forward as a more dynamic, diverse and tolerant community.
Leonard: Clearly, environmental suggestions lead with 14 proposals and Climate Smart Community provides the overall structure for the others to develop from. The Town Board has already begun its structure, and positive developments benefiting everyone should be a result. Infrastructure improvements came in second with seven proposals and public transportation begins the development of a town-wide transportation and alternative travel system providing essential services and resources for all.
Van Tassel: First, clean water for obvious reasons. Without a clean water supply, our community would suffer dramatically. The town is about to renew our aquifer study to assist us in protecting this essential resource. Second, Philipstown has had far too many drug-related tragedies. A drug czar, someone qualified to guide us through this growing epidemic, would be a worthy cause that I would have no problem subsidizing it if necessary.