HILLSDALE—Town Supervisor Peter Cipkowski resigned July 27. Mr. Cipkowski served as town supervisor for five years and, previously, as a Town Board member for three years. Deputy Supervisor Jill Sims has stepped in, temporarily, as interim supervisor until the board appoints an interim supervisor to serve to the end of 2020 at its regular monthly meeting August 11.
In the town’s November 2019 newsletter, Mr. Cipkowski announced that he would not complete the term of service in order to join his husband, who had moved to Los Angeles for employment purposes.
In an email exchange following his resignation Mr. Cipkowski responded to questions about his background, future challenges for Hillsdale and Columbia County, and whom he would like to succeed him as town supervisor.
A separate story on who might seek the post appears below.
How long have you lived in Hillsdale?
I bought my home in Hillsdale in 1993 from John Brower. I met him twenty years earlier when I was busing tables for the Lion’s Club at the Taconic Wayside Inn in Copake Falls. John hired me to help him and his wife in their garden. Twenty years later, I owned the house and have been gardening there ever since.
I went to Roe Jan for middle school and graduated from Taconic Hills. I went on to Bard College for my Bachelor’s and finished my Master’s from Carnegie Mellon. I also spent a few years in Krakow, Poland, at Jagiellonian University.
What motivated you to run for the Town Board and later for supervisor?
Hillsdale was at an important crossroads when I joined the board in 2006. There was major construction on the ridgeline, farms and open space were disappearing, and it seemed like most of the Hillsdale Hamlet was shutting down for business. As someone who grew up here, moved away, worked in the city, and now owned a home in Hillsdale, I was proud to serve. Plus, I admired the work the Town Board was doing at the time. They really stuck their necks out to set up Hillsdale’s Sewer District. Their tenacity laid the groundwork for Hillsdale’s current success. The current investment in the town wouldn’t be possible without their courage.
In the past year there seems to have been much discussion at board meetings about roads. Does the town need to re-evaluate its policies?
Yes, there should be reevaluation of road policy – and a public one. We’re losing more miles of dirt road with every passing year. … There should be much more ongoing communication and dialog between the highway superintendent, the Town Board, and the public. People shouldn’t have to be surprised by the sudden loss of a dirt stretch, the disappearance of an old stonewall, or the widening of an old farm road.
It is not appropriate for the highway superintendent and the Hillsdale town highway employees, who serve the public and are funded by the taxpayers of Hillsdale, to spend time on special projects that are subsidized by private citizens. This creates alarming inequity for our residents.
We need to focus on the two priority road projects agreed upon by the Town Board and highway superintendent–Whippoorwill Road and Maple Street. Both have widely known safety issues and endanger residents every day.
Does Hillsdale have a rainy day fund to weather potential budget loss?
Fortunately, Hillsdale has not needed to dip into the reserves that are there to assist during perilous times. However, if tax revenue drops by 20-25% or more, as some have forecasted, the Town Board may need to look at making some cuts during the current fiscal year and scale back in 2021.
What are the biggest challenges facing Hillsdale and Columbia County?
We estimate some 40% of the Town of Hillsdale lacks broadband internet. This isn’t only a source of understandable frustration for residents, many of whom are trying to work effectively from home, but it seriously debilitates local families and businesses. Too many of our kids are already marginalized–they need to be able to connect with their teachers and access educational resources via broadband service.
Secondly, the town’s Sewer District, which covers most of the commercial and residential areas of the Hamlet, is critical for our economic growth. It’s supported through quarterly fees paid by district residents and business owners, and needs to be financially self-sustaining, which is not, currently. Pending grant funds may help but won’t solve the problem in the short-term.
COVID has hit the county budget hard. Thanks to some proactive… management of our county leaders, significant cuts have saved us just over $10 million. The county is preparing for further shortfalls that may exceed $13 million by issuing a revenue anticipation note that will allow the county to borrow up to $15 million if necessary. However, the borrowing of funds creates new financial burdens. My understanding is that the use of the note will come as a last resort if there is no federal assistance and a delay in the rebound of the county economy.
Do you have any preference for a successor?
Chris Kersten. He is a former board member, is entrenched in the community, has run a business in Hillsdale and he is a consensus builder.
What advice would you give your successor?
Share responsibility and hold board members accountable. Preside fairly but drive the conversation forward. Enlist the public as broadly as possible, encourage them to attend Town Board and committee meetings. Bring the town’s committees together to collaborate and share quarterly–the committees are the backbone of our town and should help drive the Town Board’s agenda. Recruit new faces to serve in town government—at least two board seats open up in 2021.
Do you see yourself getting involved in Los Angeles politics?
Right now, I’m entertaining joining a few non-profit boards in Los Angeles that speak to my love of history, preservation and culture. I’ll keep you posted!
One hat’s in the ring. Are more coming?
FOLLOWING PETER CIPKOWSKI’S RESIGNATION, Hillsdale residents will vote for a new town supervisor in the November 3 General Election. The person elected will to complete Mr. Cipkowski’s term, which runs through 2023.
August 3 is the deadline for political parties to file their candidates. Columbia County Democratic Committee Chair Keith Kanaga acknowledges that’s not a lot of time but said, “Things can happen quickly.”
He identified Hillsdale Democratic Committee Chair Chris Kersten, as a prospective candidate. Mr. Kersten was also endorsed by Mr. Cipkowski. (see Page 1).
According to Town Clerk Kathi Doolan, Town Board member and Infrastructure Committee Chair Robina Ward has filed papers to run for the post. Ms. Ward confirmed by email that she will seek the job as supervisor.
Councilmembers Steve Tiger and Tom Carty both said that they would not seek to be candidates. Regarding the possibility of just the two candidates, Mr. Kanaga said, “I wouldn’t bet a week’s pay on it.” A Democratic search committee will review applicants and select someone before the weekend to run as a candidate in November. That person could also be appointed by the Town Board as interim supervisor at the board’s monthly meeting in August or a current Town Board member could be elevated to the position.
County GOP Committee Chair Greg Fingar said this week that he was “not aware of anyone interested at this time.”
Hillsdale Deputy Supervisor Jill Sims said that she would not run for the job. “Peter is so devoted. You can text him at midnight and probably get a response. With my job [at Bank of Greene County], I don’t have the time,” she said.
Mr. Cipkowski ran unopposed in the most recent election in November 2019.—Lorna Cherot Littleway