By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COEYMANS — The proposal to build a new town hall in Coeymans will go to a vote and will be on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election.
The public referendum will take place as a result of a petition signed by 227 Coeymans residents, which forced the issue to a vote.
Former Town Clerk Cindy Rowzee helped organize the petition and a team of about eight volunteers helped distribute it and collected signatures.
The proposed town hall project would build a new two-story, 12,000-square-foot building on the same plot of land as the current town hall, which would be demolished after construction is complete. The town board voted unanimously July 14 on a resolution giving the board permission to build the structure at a cost of up to $7 million and to borrow a maximum of $4 million to pay for the project.
Several public hearings were held on the project and three people attended and voiced concerns, but after the resolution was approved in July, it set off a firestorm of controversy on social media and in the community that prompted the submission of the petition.
“So many people, after the resolution was passed, felt like they wanted to have a say on it,” Rowzee said Thursday. “They felt it was a lot of money for the town board to just go ahead and spend without being able to have any input.”
The project is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning a petition must be signed by at least 5% of the number of town voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The required number of signatures was 145, and the 227 residents who signed the petition exceeded that number by 82.
None of the signatures have been challenged by the town, Town Clerk Candace McHugh said. The town clerk is tasked with validating permissive referendum petitions.
The petition has been validated and was sent Aug. 5 to the town attorney and the Albany County Board of Elections. The issue is expected to go to a vote on Election Day, the town clerk said.
“We have requested that it goes on the ballot in November,” Candace McHugh said. “It was in on time, however I haven’t had confirmation of that (from the board of elections). But it was submitted on time to be on the Nov. 8 ballot.”
Democratic Commissioner Kathleen Donovan at the Albany County Board of Elections confirmed Friday the issue will be on the ballot and will not be challenged.
The town board does not approve or reject permissive referendum petitions and the town does not plan to challenge putting the issue to a vote, Town Supervisor George McHugh said Friday.
George McHugh also noted that there were several public meetings and hearings on the issue that garnered little input from the community prior to the petition.
“I wish more people had come to the town meetings,” he said. “We had three public meetings on this issue and no one came, and we had two public hearings on this issue and only three people came out and voiced an opinion. I wish they had come out and voiced their opinions more, but nevertheless, this is the democratic process and I certainly support it.”
Rowzee said there was sentiment among some in the community that voicing opposition to the project at the public hearings would have had little impact.
“Yes, there was a public hearing but I feel that with this current town board, their minds were made up before they got to the public hearing and that saying anything at the public hearing doesn’t do anything,” Rowzee said. “I originally hadn’t planned on getting involved in this but when so many people were saying that they wanted to do a petition and with my prior experience, I felt I could help them. I went ahead and created the petition and put it out there for people to go around and get signatures.”
Rowzee is the former town clerk and ran for town supervisor in the last town election. She said she worked with several others in the community to organize the petition and collection of signatures.
George McHugh said the town will abide by the will of the voters in November, but said moving forward with the project would have no impact on the tax rate.
“We have plans to build a town hall if it is approved using fund balance and it will not affect the tax rate,” he said. “There will not be a tax increase as a result of building this town hall. But it is up to the people to decide and on Nov. 8 they will decide and we will certainly honor that decision and move forward.”
Voters will have their say on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election.