Colonie Supervisor Peter Crummey focusing on infrastructure and government services as he seeks re-election
Colonie Supervisor Peter Crummey delivered his State of the Town address in Latham Wednesday. The Republican took office in 2022, and after voter approval last year of a measure extending the position’s term, is running for a four-year term this November.
Crummey spoke with WAMC ahead of the address.
Crummey: We're moving in a positive direction, Jim as many people have noticed. When I set out not only in my campaign, but in last year's State of the Town, I reminded everybody that I stressed my support to manage the core issues of town government: support public safety, including police, volunteer fire, and emergency medical services, enhance infrastructure, including our roads, water and sewer systems, maintain our parks, and encourage better cell service in our town. And, Jim, I can tell you that in the first year of my administration, I can report positively in every respect regarding these issues.
Levulis: And in speaking about the town's finances in the past, supervisor you've been relatively wary of too much reliance on sales tax. Your first budget, which passed in the fall, totaled about $112 million. It included increases in the property tax rate and fees for the Latham Water District. You've budgeted for a 3% reduction in sales tax revenue in anticipation of a potential economic recession this year. Now, understanding 2023 is just underway, but how do you feel about that estimate now that the New Year is upon us?
Crummey: Well, I think that we've done exactly what we should be doing. I believe the future belongs to those who prepare for today, when I was developing that budget for submittal to the town board in the early fall, I had to rely on what was there at the time. And we were being cautioned from the New York State Comptroller's office, all the way up to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board that a recession was on its way. And with the sales tax component, in my opinion, one of the first things that happens in a real recession is it slows down purchasing. And that can go right to the bottom line of a sales tax driven budget. And that's happened over decades here in the town of Colonie, where municipalities within the county each get a share of sales tax. It’s my opinion that Colonie actually drives a very high amount of the sales tax that's driven countywide. But nonetheless, these formulas were set before I took office, and for many decades it's been this way. I'm very wary of relying on projected sales tax, and elevated amounts of sales tax. When last September, we were put on notice by all of those entities, be careful. As we flash forward to today, we've seen and I tracked the sales tax numbers every month to see how it's going. There was a dip in August when I was developing this. But September seemed to come back again, and some were suggesting that's you know, back to school buying, etc. But it hasn't yet started to fall. But as recently as three weeks ago, Wells Fargo is telling the world we are coming into our recession. So we're ready for it. The fun thing about what we did was we made sure that the town of Colonie wouldn't lose a beat in a recession, because we did not rely as heavily on the projected sales tax that others may have done. And in the event, Jim, which is the really fun part, in the end, if the recession, as advertised by all financial leaders throughout the globe, if it's mild or more moderate than we had projected, we'll be able to have a much more favorable budget for next year. When we start developing that in August and September of 2023. But we've protected the town. We've insulated the town from collapse or cutbacks or belt tightening or our departments having to reduce their expenditures. We have created a budget in a way that I believe is responsible to maintain these core services that a town is responsible to maintain: water, sewer, public safety, and the parks that we already have in our inventory, all obligations of town hall. And I believe that we've done the right thing with the knowledge that we had in August and September. And if we have a more mild recession, good news for the citizens of the town of Colonie.
Levulis: Supervisor with your focus on those core issues for the town, those core services, do you have any specific goals as it pertains to those matters or maybe others in 2023?
Crummey: Well, certainly the infrastructure piece of the town. We're responsible for roads, water, and sewer. And in each way, we are managing those, I believe, at the highest level. In fact, in 2022, and as to roads, I set out the most ambitious road repair rehabilitation project in the town's history. We completely reconditioned 22 miles of town road, the highest that ever was before was 13. So we went to 22 miles, which includes 88 town roads, and we substantially with our own Highway Department did significant improvements to 11 other roads. 2023, the year we're in, I'll be going out to bid next month. And I plan on an even more aggressive road repair program to cover 25 miles of town road. Which would total approximately 121 roads. So we are picking up steam in that regard and hitting records for roadway improvement here in the town of Colonie because I believe it is necessary to do so. So we've really gotten that bandwagon going and we'll be out to bid next month as we move forward.
Levulis: And just noticing with the various alerts that the town issues, there have been quite a number of water main breaks or issues that have caused disruption water service over the past month or so in the town of Colonie. From your understanding supervisor, is there anything out of the ordinary there? Or is it rather standard for this time of year with the freeze thaw?
Crummey: Jim, that's a fabulous question. Here's what's happening. I have directed that those notices be made. They've never been made before. The water department never made these notices before. But I think the town residents should know or have a portal to go to get notice if there is a break and when that occurred. And then when we get the service back online, we put the notice out. I started that six weeks ago. That was a concept of my administration to do. So it seems like there's a lot, but actually each year Latham Water District tells me they can have as many as 200 breaks a year. But because I want the transparency, I want everybody to know if their neighborhood had their water turned off while there's a repair. I think it's a great idea. I'd rather let the citizens know. Now as to the 200 breaks a year, it's essentially due, you're right, there are issues. But remember we have 440 miles of water pipe in the Latham Water District. Two-thirds of that pipe is cast iron pipe which was the material of choice when these pipes were being installed. We don't install cast iron anymore. We have a different type of pipe that the industry has been recommending. But with two-thirds of 440 miles of cast iron pipe, one of the problems with cast iron is it does not flex. And our system is a pressure system. So what happens is if there's a surge with water into the pipe, it can put stress on that cast iron pipe and cause a crack. And like you noticed as well sometimes the earth shifts or the something above it applies too much weight or pressure that will cause that cast iron to snap. And on average, the town has been doing 200 breaks a year. The reason why you're noticing it now is because I wanted everybody to see it. And I think it's OK, I'd rather let folks know that their water might be down. And I will tell them when it's back up. I'd rather do that. And I believe that's just another way to be transparent about town services. And but the cast iron continues to be a challenge for us. And because we have a pressure system, as you know, all of the water, every drop of water that is provided to our residents and businesses in Colonie is pumped from intake from the Mohawk River intake, it's pumped. It's pumped into the water plant, it's processed there and then pumped once or twice more, to get to the homes and get to the places of business. That also presents a large problem, because the pumps, they run on electricity. And you can imagine last year alone with the ever-increasing costs for energy, and what that does to the bottom line at the Latham Water District delivering this water. And it's still a fabulous deal. When you think, Jim that we can deliver 1,000 gallons of potable water into a home or business for $4 or whatever for 1,000 gallons. It's amazing. Try going to the grocery store and buy three gallons of plastic water bottle and tell me what you paid. So the problem is, though energy is a key issue to delivering this water. And as a result, the expenses go up just to deliver the water. And last year, it was not only the energy costs, but the increased costs of the chemicals that are used to process the water. Commodities are up, chemicals are up and electricity was up. But still, nonetheless, a fabulous product. And we have capacity, far higher than our highest day has ever been in the town of Colonie. We have a capacity to deliver over 30 million gallons of water a day. And the highest day we've ever had in history, I think it's about 21 million. So we have capacity, we have growth capacity. But it's you know, the electricity required to move the water into homes and businesses is a challenge. Chemicals are a challenge. And the aging cast iron pipe channel is a challenge as well.
Levulis: Supervisor when we last spoke in July of 2022, the town had just passed a local law meant to improve cell phone service by streamlining the placement of cellular nodes on existing poles and structures. Have those nodes started to go up?
Crummey: Well, here's where we are with that. And Verizon, who has come to the town to access the opportunities provided by that local law that I created, already has a total of six permits from that process. And they have three more permits that they were just issued at the very earliest days of this year. Now nine total permits for the installation of these small cell nodes. It's been a success story. Now it's up to Verizon now to install them. They tell me that they're all systems go to start installing them in the first quarter of the year. I look forward to having them installed because where I live, my house, I do not have cell service at my own home. And I tell them every day that I'm one of the folks that does not have cell service at the house, which I still believe can be a public safety issue for folks calling for help or seeking EMS or the police and not being able to get through to 911 for instance. It's inappropriate and it cannot continue.
I do have notice though, from Verizon. I see that the New York State representative for the Verizon Corporation here in the state of New York has put out a Facebook or LinkedIn advice and he tweeted the other day that Verizon has received these permits for these new facilities. And they will be moving forward posthaste for the installation, which should help us in a variety of ways immediately. It doesn't answer all the problems, but it speaks to some of the dead spots, which is what I'm trying to get through to now. And they have nine permits at hand. And, those are for installation of permits for cell nodes that are in the town right of ways. They may well be getting some permissions from the county or state for their right of ways. But it’s moving forward, although I don't believe they've installed anything yet. They tell me that will be done in the first quarter. And I'll know right away because I don't have service in my house. So they say that they're moving and I'm happy to have created new ways to work with essential industries and businesses that provide essential services that the town residents are seeking and being able to work cooperatively not only with our own employees, but also with outside business entities to get the job done. I believe we've had significant success there already.
Levulis: Being that Colonie is constantly weighing development pros and cons, has been for years, What are your thoughts about Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan to add 100,000 homes across the state in the next decade?
Crummey: Well, I think it's certainly admirable to do. She should know, though, that you know, when you get into the localities, there are there sometimes there's opposition to new housing. So she should realize that, you know, it sounds like a great idea, but when you get into the local municipalities there can be challenges. There's no question that last year alone, the presentations made to me as supervisor, by potential investors in the town involved housing prominently. Not so much office space right now. I think the Zoom world post-COVID is still settling on office space. I don't want any empty buildings. I don't believe that is healthy for the town or for our community. So it's possible that we'll be seeing some repurposing of some spaces that otherwise, were once upon a time retail, or once upon a time business in may be evolved into some other use. Colonie is a great place to live, work and play. I'm thrilled that my parents had the vision to move here into Colonie in 1950. I'm thrilled that they did that. And I have to imagine that many of the folks that I meet with every day are so happy that they made the choice or that their parents made the choice or that their fore parents made the choice to come here. Because it is a sought-after community. And it's a large community of over 85,000 residents. And yet at the same time, I'm handling some days, up to a quarter million people are in this town who are also looking to play here or to shop here or to work here. So you know, we're running a town that actually is managing a quarter million people. And you know, we need to be each day prepared for that. I'm providing water for 250,000 people, sewer for 250,000 people. Police, fire, court system are managing people who are coming into the town as well. So being the downtown of the Capital Region, as Fred Field would tell me, former town supervisor. when I would come in this office 40 years ago and talk to him about issues before the town and I was a young town attorney. It's a double-edged sword sometimes, because while we know everyone wants to be here in business wants to be here, and people want to live here, too. And we want to welcome folks. I mean, I think that, you know, I think that everybody who's gotten here has figured out how to get here. And we should always think of ways in which to consider other housing opportunities. I don't believe in moratoriums, or shutting people out. I believe that the town is moving at a steady rate right now. And Governor Hochul sees that housing may be needed throughout the state of New York. I have to say that Colonie, it's hard to find a community that has a more diverse housing stock than the town of Colonie, which has made it accessible to many folks in a variety of situations and we’ll continue to want to maintain a diverse housing stock.
Levulis: And I think Governor Hochul’s point is that, obviously housing, there isn’t ample amounts in some locations. In your mind, do you think Colonie has an ample amount? I know, you mentioned some more applications coming in and some remodeling, some repurposing being done.
Crummey: Well, I mean, we’ll just to have to see. At some point, you know, each application has to, you know, stand on its own merit. But because it's a sought-after community, people want to live here, so there are business interests that are trying to provide those opportunities. Globally, though, you know, as we continue into the future, the easy fit, open space lands are rapidly being consumed. So new housing is going to have to continue to be creative in how it balances green space with housing. I'm seeing more proposals now, where applicants are seeking a variation on the density requirement. So rather than have each home on a certain size a lot, they're asking that the lot size be diminished, but larger open space be provided on the site. And those are special applications that have to even come through the town board, as well, in these planned developments, and how we congregate the living spaces, and what's the advantage of doing so, what does the municipality get in exchange. And you'll see applications come through that where they're proposing to give the town, you know, certain acreage or turn it over to the town if they can get a variance on the density requirement. But it doesn't mean that's, you know, acceptable to the town. And there could even be some instances where maybe the land was otherwise unusable in the first place. So each case has to come case by case, I suppose. And there was an application before the planning board last week for some new housing in the northern part of town that I believed also wanted a variance on the density requirements and proposing to turn over certain lands to the town. And I think the planning board had some very serious questions for the applicant. And I believe the applicant has decided to scuttle that project. You know, just because somebody wants to say we’ll give the town 20 acres, does the town want that? I mean, what is it and they have to show a community benefit as well each time somebody wants to vary the strict requirements of residential housing. I've seen some great redevelopment, how about the K-mart Plaza down on lower Route 2 and how that has been redeveloped into a series of different types of businesses, including a five-star restaurant on one end with different types of activities and businesses throughout. A successful repurpose, that's what I want to see here in the town of Colonie. Let's repurpose what we have when we can.
Levulis: And then finally, you mentioned people are interested in spending time in Colonie, playing in Colonie. This past October, it was incredible with the temperature, late October, I was able to get out and launch a kayak out of the Mohawk Park there. You mentioned that boat launch there, you were looking to improve. It typically can be overgrown in the summertime. Now late October, I didn't know if there were improvements done this year are on it, or is it just the fact that it was late October, but it was relatively clear when I was able to launch a kayak that time of year.
Crummey: Well, here's the plan, of course, a couple of state agencies that we're working with the Canal Corp, and also DEC has some jurisdiction in there as well. I believe I need some dredging in front of the existing boat launch. And so those issues are to be developed with the DEC and the Canal Corp. We're still on it. I'm not letting it go. I believe that the town residents should regain that opportunity. Yes, we can still put kayaks in, no problem. But this boat launch was also designed for larger boats and it needs to be dredged in order to make it go. I am not done with this vision. And I believe that in many ways, I'm reinventing the North Park there. You should see the trails Jim that we have blazed and renovated and reconditioned so that people can actually walk in there and our cross country teams can return their matches and meats to the North Park where they once were. I was out there in early December beautiful weather and we were going through the work that we've already done to reestablish trails in that 174-acre park. And recast not only a cross country trail, but also a certified 5K trail. In fact, that will be the opportunity, those events will no longer be happening in the Crossings where they were put by default, they will be back up at the 174-acre town park, where you not only have trails that go through the woods, but then come out along the Mohawk and back. Really Class A opportunities for runners and walkers. And what we've done with many of the trails, we've reconditioned them so much so many folks will be able to walk in there or get in there. It makes the trails more accessible to the citizens of the town of Colonie. And that's my plan. I want everybody to be able to have an opportunity to get in those trails and to be able to, once again enjoy the beauty that's laid out in that park.