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Hillsdale ponders effect of pending state aid cuts


HILLSDALE–A Covid-19 update for Columbia County and local road issues dominated the virtual Town Board meeting, Tuesday, May 12.

The board heard a report on county government from Town Supervisor Peter Cipkowski, who said that Columbia County is part of the Capital Region for purposes determining when businesses can safely reopen without risking a new outbreak of Covid-19.

Although Mr. Cipkowski reported at the meeting that the region had reached all but one of seven “metrics” required to reopen some businesses, the following day, Wednesday, May 13, Governor Cuomo announced that the region had met only five of the required seven metrics.

“While we are disappointed at this news, I think we are closing in on the day when the seven metrics are met and we are able to begin opening Columbia County under Phase One of the state’s plan. Everyone is early anticipating that day,” Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said in a release May 13.

The metrics call for a 14-day decline in hospital deaths or fewer than 5 deaths over a 3-day average. Supervisor Cipkowski said he expects some businesses would be able to open in early or mid-June because the “numbers are always changing.”

The state shut-down orders cover contractor teams, although solo contractors are permitted to work. The Hillsdale building inspector continues to issue building permits.

‘We’ve got to give parents a break.’

Jill Sims-Elster

Hillsdale Town Board

Mr. Cipkowski stated the importance of tourism to the county’s finances. In 2018 tourism accounted for $160 million, which he called “a significant increase from 2017.” He added that $20 million of the total 2018 tourism dollars went to workers.

Locally, Hillsdale’s first quarter sales tax deposit was $95,234, a near $4,000 increase over 2019 for the same period. However Mr. Cipkowski advised that the next quarter’s sales tax distribution will be a “rude awakening” because it will mostly include lockdown months.

In other Covid-19 news:

• Columbia-Greene Community College last week was used as an official testing site for people who may have the virus. Healthcare workers and first responders are the priority for testing, which is not yet available to the general public

• Testing kits are not widely available in the county despite the high percentage of elderly residents, a designated high risk group for contracting Covid-19

• Board member Jill Sims-Elster, chair of Parks and Recreation Committee, reported that summer camp program plans are still on hold, awaiting guidance from the state. Ms. Sims-Elster expressed confidence that Hillsdale will be able to offer some kind of summer programming because the town, unlike neighboring communities, has two large buildings that offer “plenty of space for kids.” She stressed that summer camp programs were equally important for children and adults. “We’ve got to give parents a break.”

The board discussed upcoming road improvement projects and how much town revenue to invest initiating them. Highway Superintendent Richard Briggs reported that the state’s budget contribution to Hillsdale was $70, 000 less for 2020 and that the Highway Department’s summer budget is $348,000. Mr. Briggs did not express confidence that the state would reimburse the town for project expenses that exceeded the current level of funding.

However Mr. Briggs did think that a homeowner’s offer to pay some expenses related to moving a section of road at the intersection of Phud Hill and Pleasant Hill, merited consideration. Rainwater floods the homeowner’s garage, located three feet from the one-lane road. Mr. Briggs described the road as 10 feet wide with a 2-foot ditch.

Board member Sims-Elster cautioned, “We’re opening ourselves up,” and added that the board had “run into this issue with others.”

Supervisor Cipkowski conceded that it would “set a precedent.”

Board member Steve Tiger asked what the homeowner has done to mitigate the problem. Mr. Briggs said the only recourse was to move the road and blamed “bigger storms leaving no place for the water to go.” He added that the issue was an ongoing problem of over 30 years for previous owners.

Ms. Sims-Elster countered that the town should prioritize its road projects, noting pending projects for Maple Street and Whippoorwill Road. Those projects “impact more people” and should have higher priority, she said.

Board member Robina Ward argued that Hillsdale’s budget allots $10,000 for the town’s engineer, Tom Field, and that the board should direct Mr. Field to assess all three projects, even though it was unlikely the town could afford to proceed on any of them this year or next.

No one knew what Mr. Field’s hourly rate is. Regarding the Phud/Pleasant Hill property, Ms. Ward did not think Mr. Field would charge for an initial conversation. But Mr. Briggs did not think a conversation without a site visit would be productive.

Based on an email thread with the homeowner, Mr. Briggs said that his conversation with Mr. Field would be along the lines of: “This is what the homeowner wants. What is the town required to do? And the resident wants it finished by fall.”

Ultimately the board authorized Mr. Briggs and Mr. Cipkowski to meet with Mr. Field to determine what he would charge to review the three road projects and present that information at next month’s meeting.

The next Town Board meeting is Tuesday, June 9 at 7 p.m.

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