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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 1, 2010

Town board sets May 26 for referendum on buying Westerlo School

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — A special election has been scheduled for May 26 to decide if the town will go through with a $145,000 purchase of the old Westerlo School from Berne-Knox-Westerlo so it can convert the building into a new town hall.

In addition, the town board will hold four related workshops: on April 22, to perform a needs assessment; on April 29, to determine the cost of repairs; on May 6, to determine the annual expenses of operating the new town hall; and on May 13, to discuss its findings.

On Feb. 2, the town board offered to purchase the school from BKW for $145,000 so it could be converted into a new town hall. Not two weeks later, the BKW School Board voted unanimously to sell the building to the town. Then, at a March 2 town board meeting in Westerlo, a petition was presented, calling for a public vote on the purchase of the building; the audience was divided over support of the purchase.

State Assemblyman John McEneny, a Democrat who represents the Hilltowns, told The Enterprise last month that he approved a $125,000 “discretionary capital grant for community enhancement” to the town for the purchase of the Westerlo School as its new town hall.

The town board met on March 11 and, after a discussion on the legality of the petition, agreed to hold a special election, and scheduled a meeting for March 25 to set a date for the vote.

“The primary purpose of the meeting was to set a date for an election based on the petition filed by the petitioners,” Councilman R. Gregory Zeh said this week. “Secondarily, we also asked town attorney to give legal opinion for validity of the statement made by Leonard Laub.”

Laub, a former planning board chairman, told the board at the March 11 meeting that its Feb. 2 resolution to purchase the school was “dead in the water,” as the board had not followed New York State Town Law by failing to publish a notice of its resolution.

“Within 10 days after the adoption by the town board of a resolution which is subject to a permissive referendum,” Town Law reads, “the town clerk, in the same manner as provided for notice of a special election, shall post and publish a notice which shall set forth the date of the adoption of the resolution and contain an abstract of such act or resolution concisely stating the purpose and effect thereof.”

No such notice was published.

“It’s kind of like a legal thing of no harm, no foul,” Zeh said. “Since the public notice was not printed in the paper, the harm to a constituent may have been that they may not have known it was going on. But, a petition was filed, and the public now has the opportunity to vote on the school.”

Laub writes in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, “At the March 25 meeting, after a lengthy attempt by the town attorney to show why the failure to follow the law concerning the February 2 resolution didn’t matter and why the petition submitted March 2 was no good after all, and why the constructive advice to the supervisor about the law was somehow a ‘threat,’ the town board took the correct step of replacing the February 2 resolution with two new ones, which will be properly noticed.”

The town board opted at the March 25 meeting to rescind its Feb. 2 resolution to purchase the school, thus nullifying the petition. The board then voted to again offer $145,000 to BKW for the Westerlo School, pending the outcome of the special election, and then to authorize Supervisor Richard Rapp to sign a purchase-and-sale agreement.

And, though the petition that was filed was no longer valid, the town board voted to hold a special election on the purchase of the school on Wednesday, May 26.

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