The following questions for Ask the Supervisor address key issues confronting the Pawling community. They list was compiled by The Pawling Record editorial and advisory board team members after consulting with numerous residents about a variety of issues.
8 Questions for Town Supervisor James Schmitt
1. What are the reasons for the Town Board reducing their schedule to one public meeting per month this summer?
At the Organizational Meeting in January, we set the schedule for the Town Board meetings for the year. Many members of the community as well as town employees schedule their vacations during these months, and we don’t want them to miss anything. We added the Workshop Meeting for June this year, as well as additional meetings such as the July 27 meeting. We will look at the meeting schedule going forward and definitely take any concerns residents have into consideration. Even though one meeting was held in both July and August, I am in the office virtually every day, and Town Board members are in constant communication with me and town employees making sure everything is moving forward and getting done.
2. The position of Town Attorney was recently eliminated, and Pawling will now retain the services of a law firm. Will this action reduce spending? Is the former Town Attorney still being provided with health benefits since he was a tenured employee for over ten years?
In retaining the services of a highly respected local law firm with vast municipal experience, we gain the specialized knowledge and expertise of several attorneys instead of just one. In addition, we no longer pay health or retirement benefits as we would have previously, which reduces spending both short term and long term. Terry Stewart, our distinguished former Town Attorney, has worked for the Town of Pawling since 1986, except for a brief hiatus in service from 2006 to 2009, and as such receives healthcare benefits. Mr. Stewart served this town honorably spanning four decades, and we are grateful for all he has contributed to Pawling.
3. As you work to prepare next year’s budget, what measures will you take to lower spending?
As we announced in a recent Town Board meeting, we are retaining the services of Certified Public Accountant consultants to take a fine-toothed comb through our budget and present new solutions and ideas on how and where we can save money. In addition to initiating this process, I have donated my salary as Budget Officer to offset the cost of this undertaking, and look forward to saving even more money for the taxpayers.
4. What plans do you have for the future of Lakeside Park? When the park purchase is paid off in 2023, will it have any effect on taxes?
I have had many meetings with State representatives such as Senator Murphy and other individuals and groups to come up with ideas and possible funding for improvements. Updating Lakeside Park is a huge priority for me. I have had many successful meetings, and I am very excited about the future. When the park bond is paid off in 2023, what happens as far as taxes will be dependent on the administration at that particular time. If I am still in office, I intend to do everything I can to lower taxes while working to make Lakeside Park the jewel it deserves to be.
5. How will you approach the issue of lifetime health benefits for part-time elected officials? Will this practice continue? If not, what specific actions are being taken to change this policy?
The Town Board is currently exploring several options regarding healthcare, including for part-time elected officials. Healthcare review is a lengthy and involved process, and we are in talks with several other municipalities and health insurance companies doing our due diligence. I would like to add that “lifetime,” or more precisely retiree benefits, are only available to officials who have completed twenty years of continuous service, which means being elected ten times as a Supervisor or five times as a Town Board member. That is not easy to do these days! But again, we are evaluating everything and are researching best practices, and I believe we will come to a decision that is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Pawling. We hear your concerns, and we are taking them very seriously. Currently, there is only one former Town Board member, who also served as Highway Superintendent and Town Supervisor, receiving retiree health benefits. These benefits are at a significant discount once a retiree reaches Medicare age.
6. What improvements have been made to roads and infrastructure since your term began? Can you provide specific examples?
Myself, Highway Superintendent Jay Dickinson, and Supervisor of Buildings & Grounds Wendel Weber have been working very closely to find more efficient and effective ways to improve our roads and infrastructure, including upgrading our outdated equipment and reaching out to various sources for additional funding for projects. I am confident we are on the right path, and I look forward to seeing all the progress that will be made during my tenure. We are currently in the process of obtaining funding from New York State for various rebuilding projects, which would be incredibly significant. I would just like to add, as everyone knows, Pawling was hit very hard by several storms this year that caused a significant amount of damage all over Pawling and Holmes, and our Highway Department had to spend a lot of time clearing and restoring everything. I am very proud of the quick work they did over that time.
7. What do you believe to be the biggest challenges facing Pawling in the future?
Increasing our commercial tax base while being sure to keep the quaint, quiet beauty of this great town is probably the biggest challenge. The Town of Pawling has one of the smallest commercial tax bases not only in Dutchess County, but in most of Putnam and Northern Westchester. This has a profound effect on taxes. Our school taxes are also a huge challenge and make up the vast majority of the tax burden, which the town does not have any control over.
8. What would you count as your biggest accomplishments thus far into your term as Town Supervisor?
I am very proud to have opened the lines of communication between myself and residents of Pawling. I have made it my absolute top priority to make time to talk with residents about any questions, concerns, or ideas that they have. We have had many productive conversations with residents and groups in Pawling, and real change has happened and is in the works in many areas because of it. I am very proud of the positive feedback we have gotten, and I will continue to work hard and encourage any resident or group to contact my office at 845-855-4464 with anything and everything they want to discuss. We have to do this together!