Ashby reaches out to local leaders and gets an earful

VALATIE–Assemblyman Jake Ashby (R-107th) held a Municipal Executive Forum with county supervisors and the mayors of Valatie and Kinderhook on March 13 at the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building. The assemblyman said he was hosting forums like this in other counties in his district with an agenda to discuss the many issues municipalities deal with and the ways that he can assist.

Mr. Ashby’s Assembly district includes the towns of Austerlitz, Canaan, Chatham, Hillsdale, Kinderhook and New Lebanon as well as most of Rensselaer and southern Washington counties.

Mr. Ashby was joined by his constituent liaison, Sally Hogan, who is also a Town of Kinderhook councilwoman, and by his chief of staff, Tom Grant. Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle and Kinderhook Mayor Jim Dunham attended the afternoon meeting with Kinderhook Town Supervisor Pat Grattan, Chatham Supervisor Maria Lull and New Lebanon Supervisor Colleen Teal.

The topics for discussion ranged from local infrastructure, state mandates and broadband to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

There was a long discussion about mandates from the state, where information can be confusing and, as Supervisor Teal said, can lead to an adversarial relationship with state government. She talked about getting different advice from two different people working in the same state office about an issue. She said the relationship with the state should be more collaborative.

Mayor Argyle said the same about working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, saying the village only gets “criticism, no help.”

Ms. Teal and Ms. Argyle both talked about changes in the building code laws coming from the state but that they do not get any guidance from the state or have state inspectors to help.

They also talked about prevailing wage laws, which can mean that municipalities have to get bids for small construction jobs, a requirement that Supervisor Lull said can take jobs away from local small businesses.

Mr. Ashby said he supported a bill, with both Democrats and Republicans, to have a waiver in the wage law on projects costing $100,000 and less.

“Upstate, it’s an issue that crosses party lines,” said Mr. Grant.

Also on the topic of regulations, Mayor Dunham talked about the training requirements for local firefighters and how hard it is to recruit young people. Mr. Ashby agreed saying that some of the training is more intense than a college course, adding, “I don’t think a tax credit goes far enough” in encouraging people to volunteer. He said it was a common issue in his district.

There was also talk about roads and repairs needed. Both Ms. Teal and Ms. Argyle have major state routes in their municipalities that need work. Ms. Teal said that Route 22 has been on the state’s list of five-year plans for three cycles. She also said that upgrading the infrastructure goes hand-in-hand with economic development.

Mr. Ashby talked about legislation being discussed to have funding that the New York City MTA doesn’t use in a year flow to the state DOT for work on transportation and infrastructure in the rest of the state.

Mr. Dunham asked about CHIPS funding, state funding for municipalities for highway repair, which has not increased since 2013. He also said he had two major projects in the village that his board will have to borrow money to complete. He said this was hard to do because of the state’s mandated 2% tax cap.

Ms. Argyle asked why municipalities cannot use a state health insurance plan for employees.

Ms. Lull asked about short-term housing issues at the state level.

They all discussed broadband access. Mr. Grant said that there was a lot of misinformation about the subject and that he wanted to put together a list of places that still do not have access to high-speed internet.

At the very end of the meeting Mr. Ashby asked about marijuana, saying that if the governor moves towards legalization, there will be option for counties to opt out of having allowing growers and dispensers. He wanted to know how the government officials felt about that.

“Like it or not, it’s already in my community,” said Ms. Teal, pointing out that marijuana is legal in Massachusetts.

Mr. Ashby said he could see the medical benefits of the drug and there are other substances that are more harmful that are legal but he doesn’t like the governor’s plan since the state would collect more fees in the process and the municipalities would only get a share of the sales tax.

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