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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 14, 2010

Bolte challenges Dorner on issues, ranging from spending to development

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — If Dale Dorner wants her first term on the town board to last longer than a year, she will have to defeat challenger Robert Bolte in the polls next month.

In an off year for town elections, one town board seat is open because Marie Dermody, formerly a councilwoman, was elected supervisor last November, taking office on Jan. 1.

That same day, at its re-organizational meeting, the four-member town board voted unanimously to appoint Dorner — a Democratic newcomer to politics — to fill Dermody’s vacant seat. Now, Dorner is running with Democratic backing to hold her post on the board.

Bolte, the town’s Conservative Party chairman, will run on his own party line; he won the Independence line in the September primary; and he was endorsed by the Republican Party soon after.

An electrician and a longtime volunteer in town, Bolte ran for town board last year with both Conservative and Republican backing, and came in close third in a four-way race for two seats; incumbent Democrat Sherri Pine was ousted.

Bolte is part of a skeptical contingent that attends town board meetings to keep a close eye on Rensselaerville’s government. Bolte has said that, in the 15 years he has attended town board meetings, he had not seen Dorner at meetings prior to her appointment to the town board in January.

Dorner, a lawyer, had served as counsel for the town’s planning board.

Of her opponent, Dorner said this week, “I think, certainly, Bob’s knowledge has been very helpful. He’s been a very good advocate, and he has helped the town with his background. But he can do that from the audience.”

This week, Bolte and Dorner shared their views with The Enterprise on a number of subjects, and answered the following questions:

Experience: Some town residents are saying, “Vote for Dale Dorner; she’s an experienced attorney with knowledge of planning and zoning laws, and will bring her experience to the board.” Yet others say, “Vote for Bob Bolte; he’s a licensed electrician and a handyman who has been scrutinizing the town board for years, and he will bring that perspective to the board.” What are some specific ways that your background allows you to bring something useful to the board?

— Budget: The board was presented with the tentative budget last week, although there was not a quorum present to receive it. On the one hand, a big topic for discussion has been the need for highway equipment; on the other, people have been concerned about the outcome of the comptroller’s audit, of which a draft was released on Tuesday; it points to significant flaws in the town’s accounting system (see related story). And, residents are as concerned as ever about rising taxes. Taking all that into consideration, what do you see as the town’s top priorities in putting the 2011 budget together? With decreasing sales tax revenues, what cuts if any should be made to keep taxes as low as possible? And should the town pay for more highway equipment? Why or why not? If so, how much?

Highway department: The town’s new highway superintendent, Gary Zeh, has said for months now that he wants to replace the town’s equipment, some over the short term, and some over the long term. He has had difficulty recently convincing the board to let him buy a heavy-duty truck for plowing the town’s main roads in the wintertime. To what degree should a town board trust its highway superintendent, and is there a point where too much oversight can slow things down?

Tourism: A group called the Helderberg Hilltowns Association formed this year with the goal of finding creative ways to boost the economy by increasing different kinds of low-impact tourism, including agricultural tourism, heritage tourism, recreational tourism, etc. What role, if any, should the town play in this initiative? Should the town become actively involved in planning events and restoring old buildings? Should it lend financial support?

Lot sizes: In April of 2008, Rensselaerville’s latest zoning law was nullified after a grassroots group, Rensselaerville Farmland Protection, sued the town over the new zoning, drawing attention to an inconsistency in the planning. The group won the suit because the town violated the state’s Open Meetings Law by failing to publish a notice of the special meeting where the vote took place. The town’s comprehensive plan called for one dwelling per 20 acres in the town’s agricultural district. But that requirement was not followed when the town board unanimously adopted the new zoning law, which called for just five acres per dwelling, following results of a public survey. The town’s zoning review committee is still working on recommendations for the town board. What do you think Rensselaerville’s lot sizes should be, and why?

Dale Dorner

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Dale Dorner enjoys being a town board member, and thinks that she is an effective councilwoman, she said, because of her ability to work with people.

“I know how to take an adverse situation, and steer it along in the right direction,” said Dorner. “And I’m not confrontational; because of my background as an attorney, I have been trained to look at all sides…I’ve been on the board for almost 10 months now; that’s part of my experience. It’s a learning process.”

Dorner, 69, is a partner at Dorner and Kosich in Medusa; John Kosich, Rensselaerville’s deputy attorney, is the other partner, and her son.

After she got her law degree, Dorner served as New Baltimore’s town attorney in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, she served as Rensselaerville’s planning board attorney during the David Bryan administration.

Dorner was hesitant this week to address specific cuts that should be made in the 2011 budget, as the board has seen only the tentative spending plan.

“That was something the supervisor planned; it’s not something where other organizations have had input into it,” Dorner said. “I know there are some organizations that have asked for an increase, and at this point I certainly would like to at least not spend more money than we’ve spent. But I can’t honestly answer that till we look at it line by line.”

She went on to say that she supports the purchase of equipment for the highway department, as long as the town is getting the best deal possible.

“I think we definitely need some newer highway equipment, because they neglected that particular entity for many years,” Dorner said. “We need to have the [highway] superintendent research it and come up with the best buy, not just something he thinks he wants, but the most bang for the dollar. And that’s what we’re counting on him to do. But we also need to do our homework and research that.”

Either way, she thinks that town roads will get plowed.

“The community is rightfully concerned; everyone’s worried about if we can plow the roads,” said Dorner. “Well, we’ve always been able to do it, even with the poor equipment. We’ll find a way. It’s not the end of the world, but we certainly need to work on replacing them.”

And, with two new town board members this year, a new highway superintendent, and a former councilwoman in her first term as supervisor, extra caution must be taken in purchasing a piece of equipment like a snowplow, Dorner went on.

“You trust somebody based on what you see that they are doing,” she said. “We need to know the track record. Within the first couple months, the [highway] superintendent gave a wish list, which included $180,000 for a heavy-duty truck.”

Highway Superintendent Gary Zeh’s tentative capital improvement plan had allotted $1.36 million over the next 15 years, and would have involved the buying, selling, and renting of different equipment between now and 2025. This would be coordinated with Zeh’s plans to improve town roads.

Dorner refers to the part of the plan in which Zeh wanted to spend $180,000 this year on a new replacement for the town’s 1991 International plow and dump truck; the International would have been used for small excavation projects, and as an emergency backup plow. But Zeh deemed the truck unsafe to drive over the summer, and has debated with the town board in recent months over the urgency of purchasing a used replacement.

In recent months, Zeh has pushed for a used, 1987 Oshkosh P2526 truck, which would cost the town $32,000. It has about 60,000 miles on it, and would come with either a dump-sander combination, or a stainless-steel sander — whichever he chooses.

“There were some people that felt the Oshkosh wasn’t a versatile enough truck,” Dorner said. “So I think he needs to give us some options, not just, ‘This is what I want.’ And I think we need to work together.”

With respect to the recent low-impact tourism initiative, Dorner said that the town board should at least participate in any related meetings.

“I think the town should give guidance,” she said. “I think any financial support would have to be approved by the public. I think a town board member should go to their meetings and have a representative there, and participate, and bring the information back. But I don’t know that we can take a direct role in that.”

On lot sizes, Dorner does not think that there should be one town-wide requirement.

“I do know, years ago, when they did the first zoning laws, they looked at areas in Rensselaerville that don’t perc,” she said, referring to percolation tests required to design septic systems. “There are some areas that are very high elevation, and there were questions about emergency vehicles and school buses. If it was too densely packed, it would be a danger. It can’t be one size fits all; it should be based on the land itself and the needs of the community.”

In closing, Dorner said that, while she wishes she did not have to run again, it will be worth it to serve a full term.

“I like it,” Dorner concluded, “and I do think I’ve got something to offer, and my reasonableness is probably one of those things, but that’s up for people to decide.”

Robert Bolte

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — For Robert Bolte, winning a seat on the town board is another means of serving his community.

“I’ve been to board meetings for the last 15 years or more,” he concluded. “I think I know the issues of the town.”

Bolte, 67, retired close to five years ago, and began volunteering for the town in various capacities, including making Town Hall repairs, and driving a bus to take elderly residents to doctor appointments and on shopping trips.

He used to manage Bryant’s Shopping Center in Greenville, and thinks some of the skills he used in that job add to his merits as a town board candidate.

“I used to buy all the equipment for Bryant’s, and I think I’m pretty sharp with buying equipment; I own a lot of equipment,” Bolte said. He thinks that this would be an asset in terms of cooperation between the town board and the highway department, and purchasing the tools needed for maintaining town roads.

“And as far as taking care of buildings, no one has much more experience than I have,” Bolte went on. “I took care of a shopping center and apartments, and I built three or four homes on my own.”

Bolte is also licensed as an electrician in Greene County.

“Working in the shopping center, I needed a Greene County license,” he said, going on to list what he considers to be other important credentials. “I’ve had my master’s license since 1968, as well as going through naval school, and my own business; paying bills; measuring debt; I went through wastewater treatment plant school at Morrisville College. I had my wastewater operator’s license, but I gave it up because I didn’t want to pay for it anymore.”

On budgeting, Bolte thinks the town should at least consider eliminating some government posts to save money.

“I think that we have to see if we have too many clerks,” Bolte said. In addition to Kathleen Hallenbeck, the elected full-time town clerk, the town has a number of appointed clerks, including: Dee Andrus, serving as deputy clerk and records-inventory clerk; Rachel Chase, who serves as clerk to the assessors and the building and zoning enforcement officer; and court clerks Gail LaPlante and Lynette Terrell. And, earlier this year, the town board appointed Joyce Chase as FEMA clerk, to complete unfinished paperwork related to funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“If there’s somewhere we can save, I don’t like to see anybody get cut or lose their jobs, but the fact is that the general public’s income is not going up,” Bolte went on. “They’re losing hours; they’re losing benefits that they’ve got to pay for themselves; and I think somewhere down the line we’ve got to look at this in the town to see if there’s a method to save money.”

He went on to criticize the town board’s recent efforts to look into building improvements at Town Hall, which would use the unexpended general funds: Councilwoman Marion Cooke is to look into adding another well; Dorner, expanding the records room; Councilman John Kudlack, an emergency generator, in the event of a power outage at Town Hall; and Councilman Gary Chase is to look into options for fencing and surveillance.

“Well, that’s all well and good if you’ve got the money, but we don’t,” said Bolte. “And those are things I think we can go another year without. We got by, since the beginning of time, with the water as it is. Why can’t the records room and well stay as they are till we get through these economic times?”

Further, replacing equipment in the highway department is a top priority, he went on.

“It’s not our highway superintendent’s fault that the highway equipment was not taken care of in the past, and he can’t work with unsafe equipment,” Bolte said. “There are all kinds of ways to borrow over five years; there’re methods so the taxpayer doesn’t get hit with the cost of equipment all at once.”

He also thinks that the town board has been in the way of the highway department by preventing Zeh from purchasing the trucks that he needs.

“If you read Town Law, it tells you the highway superintendent is an independent position within the town,” Bolte said. “Once he’s given his budget, by law, he can spend that any way he wants, as long as he doesn’t go outside his budget. It’s not up to the town board to sit there and micromanage his office.”

On the recent initiative to increase low-impact tourism in the Hilltowns, Bolte said that he does not think the town should contribute financially to the cause.

“I think there are plenty of grants out there to restore old buildings,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s up to the town to put property taxes on you, and then tax you more to help somebody else restore an old building. If it’s worth restoring, I think you should restore it yourself.”

He went on, “As far as tourism goes, there’s only one thing we’ve got that’s tourism, and that’s to come up and watch the leaves change color; or you could come up and ride your bikes out here. But, if you’re going to spend tax dollars, spend them on Route 85 so that, if you did come out to ride your bike, you wouldn’t go and kill yourself trying to ride on it.”

On lot sizes, Bolte favors a five-acre minimum.

“I think that a person that has five acres of land has plenty of land to facilitate your sewer and water, and plenty of land for you to take care of,” Bolte said. “I do not agree with 20 acres. I don’t think that a person can take care of that amount of land, and I don’t think they can afford the taxes on it anymore. So, I would say a suitable lot size to facilitate your sewage, water, and setbacks from buildings, it’s probably going to be close to five acres when you get done.”

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