IT’S HARD ENOUGH living up to the president’s expectations as an “enemy of the American people.” Imagine what’ll be required of the press by Village of Chatham officeholders, who just won reelection by a margin of better than 100-to-one. That’s a 10,000% victory, give or take a few zeroes. Very big.
Nobody’s speaking Russian at the Village Hall or tweeting, as far as we know. The mayor and two board members won fair and square. Now they return to the task of governing, which includes an annual budget and some new policies intended to cover the cost of events in the village and bring the village into compliance with state regulations on how local municipalities handle public assets.
This is a sticky subject for me. I’m a resident of the village and a supporter of the current village government. I’m also on the board of an organization now called Chatham Area Business and Arts, or CABA, which hosts the Summerfest and Winterfest events in the village. Plans are underway for this year’s Summerfest in July and CABA is meeting some headwinds from the Village Board, which has recently displayed a new zeal for following the letter of the law.
I’m not a neutral observer; I’m a confused citizen and it’s likely there are or will be other communities facing similar dilemmas. Simply put it’s: Yo, local Civic Group, how much is this street worth to you?
For at least a decade before the last couple of years, Summerfest was a modest celebration, with a small homegrown parade involving kids. Main Street was closed, and some local merchants displayed their wares on the sidewalk. They were joined curbside by community groups and craftspeople and a handful of food sellers. But in the last couple years CABA has delegated the event to a committee that has put together a more ambitious, well attended gathering.
This has come with real costs to village taxpayers in the form of overtime for the police for traffic control and for DPW employees to clean up afterward. CABA agreed to pay a set fee for the police last year, and although there was what let’s call a miscommunication about the amount, CABA paid the village $900. That seemed fair.
This year the Village Board increased the amount for the costs and raised the ante by considering what the village should charge for use of at least one of the two streets blocked off for the event. (Main Street is state Route 66, and Albany might want it’s cut if the village charges for use of state property). Chatham Mayor Tom Curran explained the village concerns at a recent meeting, saying. “We are not allowed to… give away municipal services.”
Within reason, sure. But where do you set the limits on that kind of approach? Sidewalks are a municipal service. How much will we have to pay to use them? And what about the air? Hey, mister, you breathing here without a permit? Okay, that’s extreme, but we’re talking about the needs of a cost conscious village here, not a budding theme park.
The issues that require attention range from parking fees to preferences, like whether village residents and local businesses should be treated any differently from everybody else. And that leads to questions about the value that an event like Summerfest has for the village. Should it be seen strictly as a drain on village services when it may also promote tourism and other forms of commerce here? And how can we avoid charging so much that people avoid us?
No bad guys in this story. The Village Board works hard to repair and improve infrastructure in a economically diverse municipality that straddles two towns. CABA, an all-volunteer group of businesses and arts organizations, is doing all it can to help its members thrive in a wider community within the boundaries of the Chatham Central School District. It’s a geographical, political jigsaw puzzle that can blur common ground.
And yet there’s so much potential for growth and resilience. CABA has little choice other than to accept the limits placed on the village by politics and its interpretation of the law. But the village board should see CABA not as a special interest but as a contributing partner in the evolution of an economically, socially and culturally vibrant village. It’s not a source of cash. It’s funds are limited to its modest membership dues. It’s a resource, adding value to the community we share.