An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: September's Kingston Common Council Caucus

Last night at City Hall there was a special finance and audit committee meeting and after that, the caucus, which is when the Common Council members review all the legislation that has come out of the committees in the previous month to answer any unresolved questions and sometimes debate the merits of a particular resolution or local law as a group before voting on it at Common Council, which is usually the next day. This months Common Council will be on Wednesday (instead of the normal Tuesday) out of respect for 9/11 memorial events.

First up, the Special Finance Committee meeting:

Kristin Wilson, the Grants Manager for the City, was present to discuss the Kingston Point Rail Trail, and request funds to complete Phase 1 of construction. The apparent low bidder was Merritt Construction at $1,591,719.50 plus an 8% contingency ($127,337.56) . The Mayor submitted a request for a resolution to fund Phase 1 through an authorization of bonding in the amount of $1,720,000, to award the bid. Any time the common council spends money, there is both a resolution to authorize the Mayor to execute the spending, and also a bond ordinance that allots the funds. It is expected that after grant reimbursement, the actual financial cost for the City for Phase 1 will be $399,992 out of the 1.72 million bonded.

As a reminder, the The Kingston Point Rail Trail will be a 10 foot wide, paved 1.5 mile multi-use pedestrian and bicycle pathway and linear park linking midtown to the Rondout. The vision for it includes trail heads, landscaped park spaces, and other amenities along the path.

The Council had a lot of questions for Ms. Wilson regarding the actual cost of the project, the future cost of maintenance of the trail, as well as the potential cost and liability of maintaining a small bridge that is on Delaware Avenue that responsibility for must be assumed in order to accept the land use permit granted to the City by the NYS Department of Transportation. You see, because the rail trail will be over a stretch of road owned by the NYS DOT, a permit has to be given to the City in order to build the trail. In that permit, the DOT gave Kingston the right to use (and financial responsibility for) the former train bridge and tunnel. The permit was free, but the maintenance will not be.

Ms. Wilson explained that she is working with the Kingston Land Trust to formulate a management plan for the trail, which I hope will include the costs of doing so, and what shared costs and responsibilities there might be with other organizations. Anyone who has been to our local parks lately will agree our parks department doesn’t need any additional burdens-they can’t keep up with what what we have already by the look of some of them. I’m also curious why a management plan wasn’t formulated *before* the creation of the trail was authorized, and especially before spending nearly 2 million dollars including planning and other aspects of the project.

Other items on the agenda included discussion of the pike plan settlement, and the Washington Avenue tunnel litigation. These discussions were held in executive session, because they pertain to ongoing lawsuits against the city in regard to the Pike Plan and the Washington Avenue sinkhole.

Now to move on to Caucus:

The proposed legislation for September 2018 can be found here and almost all of these items were gone through quickly with no discussion. The exception is “FIRST READING OF PROPOSED LOCAL LAW 6 OF 2018 AMENDING CHAPTER 172-5 – BUILDING PERMITS” which generated extended comment from the City Engineer Ralph Swenson. The first reading of this local law would omit a section that refers to forwarding projects that require a building permit to the city engineer for approval if they require excavation. Any project that requires excavation that normally requires a building permit would be referred to the city engineering office.

The idea behind this is that because the city engineer is responsible for erosion and sediment control regulations and reporting to various state and federal agencies, they should be included in the review and approval process for projects that disturb soils. Mr. Swenson estimated that the language in the law would be applicable to up to 50 projects a year, or roughly 4 a month. He didn’t feel that a basic review of the plans and/or an occasional site visit to regulate these projects would overburden his staff.

Actually, Ralph asserted this inter-departmental coordination was necessary to ensure that he is completing the requirements laid upon him by federal and state laws, as well as laws and resolutions passed by the Common Council, and that in order to fulfill the responsibilities of those laws, he needed this additional authority. Additionally, regular evaluation of erosion and sediment quality might act as a preventative to future situations not unlike the washington avenue sinkhole, a disaster that has cost the city over 10 million dollars and many years to remediate.

The theme of last nights’ meeting was overwhelmingly, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Timely investments, forethought, and planning now can go a long way toward avoiding costly and time consuming problems later.

Until the next episode,

Cassandra Burke

Cassandra Burke