NOBODY VOTES IN SUMMER, do they? Okay, maybe in Afghanistan; but Hillsdale? And yet, there’s a special townwide election to consider a proposition next Friday, August 28. The ballot question asks voters whether the town should buy the Roe Jan Library building in the hamlet and make it the new town hall.
The town has the $245,000 to buy the building and has squirreled away enough tax money so that it also has the additional $205,000 officials estimate it will cost to remodel and upgrade the vintage 1925 structure. The property is already tax exempt, so it would have no effect on the tax rolls.
If voters approve the proposal, the money the town pays the library association for the old building will help fund the new library now under construction on Route 22 just north of the empty Roe Jan school. So this deal ploughs tax money right back into the community by improving a vital local service.
Sound too good to be true? Some reasonable people think so and have raised questions that deserve answers.
Perhaps the biggest question is whether the town can effectively adapt the library so that it becomes a more suitable space for conducting town business than the current town hall just down Route 23 by the traffic light. Town Supervisor Art Baer makes the case that it does, starting with the issue of accessibility.
The space used for the town court, town meetings, and the offices of the town clerk and assessor would all be located on the first floor, according to Mr. Baer, a space that already meets the standards of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. His office and the offices of several other officials would be in the basement, but there would be a special room on the first floor set aside for meeting with folks who would have trouble making it downstairs.
The supervisor says the architect estimates the main meeting room in the renovated library would hold 85 people. Only 49 people can legally cram into the former firehouse that serves as the current Hillsdale Town Hall. Overall, says Mr. Baer, there is 65% more “usable space” in the library building than in the current town hall.
Questions have also come up about the impact on traffic if the library becomes the town hall, because the building sits across the highway from the entrances to the two biggest businesses in the town: the supermarket and Herrington’s. No one has studied this issue, so everybody is guessing on this one. But most town functions take place in the evening when the two businesses are closed, and with a town hall occupancy limit of 85 people, any traffic congestion would likely dissipate long before the last politician was finished bloviating.
Then there’s the big question: What’s the hurry? Why not get all the facts, including the planned independent evaluation of the status of the building and a traffic study, etc., before spending money on an old building that might present taxpayers with unexpected costs in the future?
This one is harder to answer, because it’s less about facts than about politics. Mr. Baer, a former business executive, has a record as town supervisor and as chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, of moving decisively–some say hastily–on big projects. Whether it’s the hamlet sewer district project, which had languished for years, or the county’s controversial purchase of the old Ockawamick school or the proposal to move Pine Haven Nursing Home to Valatie, his reputation precedes him.
But this proposal differs from the others. The consequences are much clearer, and all town residents can benefit from the sale, starting with increased opportunities to attend public meetings where decisions are made that affect everybody’s taxes. The sale also keeps a historic building originally intended for a public purpose in the public domain.
Equally important, it will allow the construction of the new library to continue on schedule; a delay or defeat would not kill the library project, but it would add substantially to the cost–money that goes to banks rather than local library services.
The people who demanded this referendum have done their neighbors a service. The public should get to vote on something this big. But this is a winning proposition for the whole town, and it deserves support. Vote Yes on the library sale.