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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 20, 2011
By Zach Simeone
RENSSELAERVILLE It’s budget season, and the finish line is approaching in this year’s race for town board, in which Rensselaerville voters will make their picks among two incumbents and two challengers vying for two seats.
At a budget workshop this Tuesday, Supervisor Marie Dermody, told the town board that she intends to keep next year’s tax-levy increase below the state-set 2-percent cap, which goes into effect in 2012; there was no argument here among council members.
Three more workshops will be held at Town Hall: tonight, Thursday, Oct. 20; Tuesday, Oct. 25; and Thursday, Oct. 27. Each hearing will start at 7 p.m.
On Election Day, councilmen Robert Bolte, a Conservative, and Gary Chase, a Democrat, hope to remain on the board, while Democrat Anthony Higgins and Republican candidate Margaret Sedlmeir each look to claim a seat at the dais table.
And, as acting Highway Superintendent David Potter has declined to run to keep the job, newcomers Randall Bates and John Pine are closing in on the post that will land one of them in charge of maintaining the 82 miles of town roads. Potter was appointed as acting superintendent earlier this year after Gary Zeh resigned.
Myra Dorman, the former Republican supervisor, is making a second run for town judge, and will be challenged by Democrat Greg Bischoff.
And, Democrat Jeffry Pine, chairman of the assessors, is running for re-election, and will be challenged by Republican Richard Tollner, a former deputy supervisor.
Candidates spoke with The Enterprise in recent weeks about their campaigns, and talked about their backgrounds. Town board candidates answered questions about the following issues:
Tax cap: A bill was recently passed in New York State that caps tax-levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, starting in 2012. The cap can be surpassed if at least 60 percent of voters approve. Where would you make cuts in order to meet the 2-percent cap, or would you go to a public vote to override the cap?
Emergency management: After Tropical Storm Irene hit on Aug. 28, Albany County’s emergency medical services coordinator, Brian Wood, gave the town board some feedback on how Rensselaerville dealt with the storm. His report listed what he considered to be some necessary improvements. Included on that list was the need for cell phone coverage in Preston Hollow. Is this something the town has to look at? Should there be auxiliary power at Town Hall, as it is, according to Wood, the “most logical place for an emergency operation center”? And, does the town need to develop a comprehensive emergency plan, as he recommended?
Public comments: There is a partisan gridlock on the town board, which manifested most recently when the town board decided, in a vote controlled by the board’s Democratic majority, not to let flood victims comment publicly at a special meeting. How can this gridlock be overcome? Does the board need to change its policy on public comments at special meetings?
Highway department: The town’s last elected highway superintendent, Gary Zeh, ended up resigning, due in part to the repeated conflicts between himself and the town board. To what degree should a town board trust its highway superintendent, and at what point does board oversight become micromanagement?
Hydraulic fracturing: Rensselaerville recently discussed forming a committee that would research the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing, pending the enactment of a moratorium, as it did with wind power. Are you for or against hydrofracking in town? Who should be on the committee? Would you serve on the committee?
Tourism: A group called the Helderberg Hilltowns Association formed last 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, and recreational tourism. 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?
Gary Chase, 45, is approaching the end of his third four-year term on the town board.
A New York State corrections officer, Chase grew up in Medusa, and hopes to win another four years as a town councilman.
“We have a lot of unfinished issues right now,” Chase, a Democrat, told The Enterprise.
“The disaster that just hit was a blow to everybody,” he said of the recent devastation by Tropical Storm Irene, “and we’re just getting some ideas of how it’s going to go. Once you start something, it’s hard to not finish it out to the end.”
And, with questions arising of how much funding towns can expect from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Chase thinks the road to adopting a 2012 budget will be a long one.
“This is going to be a tough year for our town,” Chase said. “Some of the other towns in Albany County aren’t going to be affected as much. The Preston Hollow Park got destroyed, so I’m sure they’re going to be looking for some more money.”
The hamlet of Preston Hollow sustained some of the heaviest flood damage among the Hilltowns.
“Some of the roads took a toll,” Chase went on. “Hopefully, FEMA comes through on funding for all these projects. But, if that’s not the case, we’re going to have to find some areas that are going to have to take a cut. Which ones? At this point in time, it’s hard to say. If we have a ton more roadwork to do, we’re not going to be able to hack the budget from the highway, and we’re going to have to find other avenues.”
With regard to the town’s updating its emergency management procedures, Chase thinks that increasing cell phone service in town is a must.
“That storm alone showed that we need it,” he said of Irene. “I was down in Preston Hollow pretty much every day that week. We had meetings every morning with Brian Wood, and I was in charge of the damage control portion of it. My job was to go around and find parts of town that were damaged. When we met, there was no way to communicate with anyone in the village, and we had to keep running up to the town barn, where we could get a signal and call someone.”
But it may be a challenge, Chase said, recalling past efforts by the board.
“They turned down putting a tower up in Rensselaerville,” he said. “We talked with Radical Systems; he had towers put in through Durham that we could tack boxes onto. There are a bunch of avenues we could explore. But, I think we need it no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
He also said that the town purchased an emergency generator, which sits on the back of a truck, as it was intended to be a portable power supply.
“They basically made a hole through the wall so they could hook it through,” he said of Town Hall. “The thing was never used. I don’t think it was a very productive buy. The last time I heard someone tried to get it to work, it seized up. I don’t think it’s worked more than an hour its whole life. They should have bought a generator that was put in Town Hall and stayed there.”
Chase recalls hearing that the town had a comprehensive emergency plan, though he has not seen it, nor does he know how complete the plan is.
“I’m sure it needs to be updated, and we should most definitely have it,” he said. “Of course, I work for the department of corrections; we have a book for any kind of situation that arises. It tells you everything that needs to be done in case of emergency, whether it be a flood, fire, hurricane; whatever happens, you go to that book, and it tells you what to do.”
Chase also addressed the board’s decision at the Oct. 3 special meeting to deny residents the opportunity to comment.
“It was an update meeting between the highway superintendent and the town board, and I got the impression that people were told that it would be more than that,” he said. A letter, made public last week, had been sent from board members Robert Bolte and Marion Cooke to the rest of the board, requesting that Oct. 3 meeting for the purpose of hearing comments from Preston Hollow residents who were affected by the storm.
Last week, another meeting was held with Richard Keith from FEMA, who answered residents’ questions.
Chase said of the Oct. 3 meeting, “It wasn’t a meeting; it was a special meeting. That was stated. So, to do that at the end of the meeting, it wasn’t the right thing to do. People started arguing before the vote was even finalized. I thought it was just going to be chaotic. So, I thought the people deserved a little bit better than that…The people need to vent; they lost a lot, and we all feel for them. But, we’re not going to fix it by arguing.”
When questioned about where the highway superintendent’s responsibilities end, and where the town board’s begin, Chase thought back to when his father, G. Jon Chase, was highway superintendent.
“The same people who said we were micromanaging Gary Zeh were the same people who did it when my father was in there,” said Chase. “In my eyes, the highway superintendent should report pretty much all major purchases to the town board, even if it falls below the procurement policy minimum, because it’s nice to be on board with them when money’s being spent. When you’re over that certain amount it’s a one-hand-washes-the-other kind of relationship.”
While the town has tabled discussion of a hydrofracking moratorium until next month, Chase thinks the formation of a research committee would be wise. Chase was on the board when it formed the wind-study committee.
“It would give us a year to find out more about it,” he said of forming a hydrofracking committee. “Based on what I know at this point, I’m against hydrofracking. I’ve heard more cons than pros to this.”
Chase added that he would be willing to serve on the committee, “But, we have an interest from a bunch of people already,” he said. “If we have people that are more informed, with more expertise, I’m more apt to turn the helm over to them.”
And, Chase thinks that the town’s history could be promoted for low-impact tourism.
“We have a historic town here,” he said. “The buildings would be one of the most important touristy attractions.”
The re-opened Medusa General Store, he said, would be of great use to out-of-towners.
“When I first got on the board, we had a bunch of different committees that did studies and brought information to town board,” said Chase. “We had a beautification committee, which we started again in Preston Hollow recently, but we had one for the whole town. Then, there was the business enhancement committee, where a bunch of different businessmen in town put out ideas and different ways to bring people in. We had a lot of businesses come and go, but that was a good thing, too. Those were both good ideas from the start. They kind of fizzled out a little bit as people went on to different things in life. But, if those committees get back on their feet, that would be a good thing.”
Robert Bolte, 68, is a retired electrician, who drives the elderly in the town’s senior bus for shopping trips and doctor appointments. A Conservative, he has been on the town board for about a year.
In January of last year, Marie Dermody vacated her seat on the town board to become supervisor, which led to the appointment of Dale Dorner to the post.
In the fall, Dorner had to run to keep her seat on the board, but she was ousted by Bolte. A longtime volunteer in town, Bolte had run for town board in 2009 and came in close third in a four-way race for two seats. Dorner had not run in that election.
Now that Bolte has finished out Dermody’s original four-year term on the board, he will run for the third year in a row to keep his seat on the board.
At the onset of this year’s budgeting process, Bolte hopes the town board can keep the tax-levy increase below the state-set 2-percent cap.
“I would not go above it because I don’t believe the taxpayers can afford it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people that are hurting, making a choice between food, and medicine, and keeping their homes. Nobody likes to cut anything. But, somewhere along the line, we have to get these taxes back under control.”
Bolte thinks that one potential area for cuts is in town employees, such as the town’s clerks.
“If we’ve got a person appointed to a job on a salary, maybe we can’t afford to have a clerk for every one of these things,” he said. “Maybe we can combine clerks.”
Further, the town should consider cuts to non-essential services, he said.
“Maybe we have to cut into what we’re putting out for our parks, which I’d hate to do,” said Bolte. “Maybe some of the youth programs need to be cut back for a year or two. There are a lot of different places we can shave off a little bit of money in order to get this thing down.”
He anticipates that funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover the cost of repairs in Preston Hollow, “and I think we’re going to have some donations coming in down there,” he said. “I do know that there are people willing to donate; I know I’ve got some money left over from the people who donated money for me to buy water for Preston Hollow, and that will go towards Preston Hollow to rebuild it.”
Improved cell service in town is “absolutely” necessary, Bolte said.
“Cell service down there helps everyone, including the emergency people,” he said. “It is imperative we get communications down into that valley with cell phones that work, so those people can call for help.”
He used the following example to illustrate this need.
“Say you’re driving down Fox Creek Road, and you run off the road,” Bolte said. “If you had a cell phone in the middle of the night, you could always dial 9-1-1. If we only put up an emergency tower, you’re not going to get help if you run off and into that creek down there. So, good cell phone service in the whole area is imperative.”
And, equally important is acquiring a backup generator for Town Hall, though cost might be an issue.
“Every area has a civil defense building, a place where anyone in town could come to for information,” said Bolte. “So, it’s imperative we get a generator up there, and I’ve got to believe that there are some generators available, whether they be through government surplus, or what have you, to help us with this.”
The town should also develop its emergency plan, he said, adding that he would help with electrical work if there were a need during an emergency.
Bolte also commented on the town board vote to deny public comment at the Oct. 3 special meeting.
“The meeting was called to address the problems in Preston Hollow, and the concerns those people had; that was the basis of the meeting,” he said. “They went out of there mad when they couldn’t speak. The whole idea was just to ask people if they were getting the help they needed.”
As a town board member, Bolte sees the public as his boss, to whom he must always answer.
“We have a lot of expertise sitting in that audience,” he said. “I think there are times when we don’t know it all, and there are times when they may be able to give us advice, and there shouldn’t be any time that the public be shut off, provided they remain respectful. And, I also think the town board, if asked a question, needs to answer the question, if possible, or at least tell that person we’ll get back to them with an answer.”
And, as town board members are employees of the public, he said, so is the highway superintendent.
“The audience is always the one in charge of screaming at the highway superintendent, not the town board,” said Bolte. “If you live on a road, and it doesn’t get fixed, you have the right to ask him about it. But I don’t think the town board, after the highway contract is signed, has anything to do with the highway department other than facilitating the job, or bringing complaints to him that come to the town board.”
At this point, Bolte opposes hydrofracking, though he says his knowledge on the topic is limited.
“I want to see proof that it’s not going to destroy our water,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in our town, but I don’t see any problem with a one-year moratorium on it to let people do their due diligence of investigating it. I would think the state and the county are poised to do a better investigation, but I don’t see a problem in us doing one.”
Bolte went on to say that he would not serve on the committee, given how little he knows about it.
“And, I’ve got enough other things that I do,” he said. “Between volunteering for people, and driving the senior bus, I’ve got my hands full.”
Bolte does not think the town can afford to aid in the Helderberg Hilltowns Association’s push for more low-impact tourism.
“We don’t have money to spend on it,” he said. “I don’t think the taxpayers are willing to put money into it. You can’t promote farming when you can’t make a living farming without working 16 hours a day, and people can go to work other places and have insurance and hospitalization. It’s pretty hard to promote farming.”
Margaret Sedlmeir, a retired teacher, grew up in Hawthorne, N.Y., and moved to Preston Hollow 17 years ago.
“We loved the mountains, and we were looking towards a retirement that wouldn’t be too far,” Sedlmeir said of herself and her husband. “But, it ended up that we moved up here sooner than we thought.”
Sedlmeir, who is running on the Republican line, taught grammar school for 18 years in Westchester County, and also spent five years at Chase Manhattan Bank in Long Island. Now, she substitute teaches at Durham Elementary School on occasion.
She thinks her work experience will make her an asset to the town board.
“I have a lot of background in being a facilitator of school faculties, and church organizations,” she said.
Referring to her time as president of the Rensselaerville Library, she said, “I think I facilitated a very wonderful board that we had, and, together, we were able to do some healing and community building that was very much needed there.”
She declined to elaborate.
In an e-mail, Sedlmeir commented on the town’s budgeting, and whether it should attempt to come under the state-set 2-percent tax-levy cap.
“With the economy the way it is right now, I think the 2-percent tax cap is a good way to assist our township at this time,” she wrote. “As a result of the Irene and Lee storms, we have so many of our citizens who have lost so much and are suffering tremendously. However, I would also think it might be wise to do a study about this topic, so that informed decisions could be made, and possibly give us ways to seek state mandate relief.”
Also in her e-mail, she commented on the potential for town involvement with promoting low-impact tourism.
“I don’t think the town should become actively involved in giving financial support because of the present economic conditions,” she wrote. “I don’t think the town has the luxury of spending any more money than needed. I do think that the town could help with advertising special events, meetings, etc., in our town newsletter, and have flyers on the bulletin boards.”
She told The Enterprise last week that she supports a moratorium on hydrofracking in town.
“I am for the forming of a committee made up of people who are professionals, like a scientist, and an engineer, to do a study for a year,” said Sedlmeir. “I think it’s a very wise route to take, so that the information that is gleaned and gathered can be as valid as we can ascertain, particularly regarding the water and the harm that chemicals could possibly do to our water system.”
She said later that, if elected, she does not think she would have time to serve on the committee, if it were formed.
“Plus, I’m not a scientist or an engineer,” she said. “I think there are very talented people in our township, and, if they would come forward and volunteer, I think that would be wonderful.”
Sedlmeir thinks that cell service is needed throughout town “Whatever wide coverage a tower could give by having it for emergencies, and being able to use cell phones,” she said. “I think it’s overdue, and the ambulance corps and fire company have been requesting it.”
As a Preston Hollow resident, Sedlmeir got to see the destruction of Irene firsthand, and thinks there is a need for a “centralized emergency location” at Town Hall, “to be ready for whatever might come,” she said.
“I think we should have the town hall be that central point of readiness to react to severe emergencies,” said Sedlmeir, adding that a complete emergency action plan is a necessity as well.
While Sedlmeir was not at the Oct. 3 meeting, where the board denied public comment, she thinks that the board should change its policy and allow for public comment at special meetings.
“I would think that it would be very wise and healthy to change that rule, and allow people to set up whatever would be needed so people be allowed to speak, not only in this instance, but in general at town board meetings,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s good to hear opinions of whatever the subject might be, before a vote is taken. I certainly understand we’d have to be practical about that, and have some boundaries, whether it’s with timing, but to allow people to speak. We are all the taxpayers.”
She went on, “It doesn’t make any sense to me that, in this time of crisis, they could not be heard. I’d think that there would have been a therapeutic piece to this, whether it be talking or asking questions.”
Sedlmeir was among the residents who spoke out during Gary Zeh’s time as highway superintendent, complaining of micromanagement by the board.
“It seemed to me, after a while, they were trying to play ‘I gotcha,’ and, ‘What else can we put in your way?’” she said. “It’s an independent, elected official, and he is subject to the board for the financials. But everything else, he has the authority to do that.”
She said of Zeh’s retirement, “I’m very sorry we lost someone who was so competent, and was talking with so many people in our township.”
Anthony Higgins, a Democrat, has lived in Rensselaerville most of his life.
Higgins did not return phone calls in recent weeks for an interview.
According to his campaign literature, Higgins grew up on Smith’s Corners in Medusa, and graduated from Greenville Central High School. He was a member of Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance, and is an emergency medical technician. He is also assistant chief for the Medusa Volunteer Fire Department.
He moved to Florida with his wife in 1986 to help with his brother’s business, but moved back in 2002. He has been married 25 years, and has two children.
Higgins is a former den leader and treasure for the Boy Scots Pack 245.
He wrote in his literature, “If elected to the town board, I pledge to serve with the highest level of honest and integrity. I see how much progress this town has made in the last two years, and I want to serve an active role in seeing that this progress continues for the benefit of all residents of the town of Rensselaerville.”
Randall Bates, 61, is a longtime employee of the New York State Department of Transportation, and plans to apply his decades of experience to the improvement of town roads.
“I’ve been a paving supervisor,” Bates told The Enterprise, “involved with paving, I don’t know how many miles of state highway, but it’s in hundreds of miles.”
Bates, running on the Republican line, was born and raised in Rensselaerville. He retired in 2006 from a 32-year career with the DOT. Now, he does part-time carpentry work, and is an adjunct professor at Mohawk Valley Community College, where he teaches snow and ice control to municipalities across the state.
He recently became involved with the town highway department when he volunteered to help determine the cost of damage caused by tropical storms Irene and Lee, and the need for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“A lesson learned, with the occurrence of these rainstorms: When we do drainage, we need to look to increase the capacity of the drainage we create, in many, if not all instances,” said Bates.
Bates began his career as a laborer and equipment operator, which led to becoming an equipment-operation instructor, training DOT employees in snow plowing, and evaluating their ability to operate a plow.
After about five years, he became highway maintenance supervisor and, eventually, highway maintenance supervisor II, which involved the supervision of several maintenance crews and lower-level supervisors, as well as supervising snow and ice removal, and paving crews.
He also traveled around the state, teaching DOT employees how to pave roads, and developed guidelines for snow and ice control.
“The primary concern for this town’s highway system is drainage,” he said, and roadside drainage needs to be maintained and improved.
“After that, look to improve the bases for roads,” Bates went on. “In order to newly pave or repave a road, in most cases, the road base must be constructed or improved, using modern techniques and geotextile fabrics, to make the road base secure. Then, using crushed stone material on top of the fabric, you grade that to proper slope, and depth, and compaction; only then, when that’s completed, would you consider paving that surface.”
Roads in Rensselaerville, he said, are often resurfaced without proper preparation, resulting in a short pavement life.
Referring back to the use of geotextile fabric, Bates described the material, and how it is used.
“It’s a cloth membrane, most commonly made out of polyester material,” he said. “When a highway is being reconstructed, that material is placed under the new base, which prevents the new base material from mixing with the sub-base material. So, it’s a stabilizing feature that prevents the new material from mixing with the material that’s underneath, and prevents the deterioration of the base.”
Asked about the line between a town board’s responsibilities and micromanagement of the highway department, Bates said, “I think the town board’s responsibility is largely financial, to control expenditure, and I think the highway superintendent is responsible for making the decisions regarding highways, as far as road maintenance.”
The superintendent must also, at the beginning of each year, create a prioritized list of projects to be completed every year, often referred to as the highway contract.
“Other than that, I think the authority for highway really exists only with the superintendent,” Bates said. “On the issue of the town micromanaging finances, they might have had a political agenda in doing so. I really just believe that, when the superintendent presents documentation to the town board about his needs, he should be supported.”
Bates thinks that the building of roads can be made more economical if the town looks into sharing services, materials, and equipment with other local municipalities.
“One of the issues with conserving money comes from snow and ice activities, which involves just over a quarter of a highway budget,” Bates said. “So, I’d look at improvements in that, training and improving the use of sand and salt for ice control the mixtures, the ratios, the amount of application, numbers of applications made, time that applications were made and adjust them accordingly.”
Also important, he said, is ensuring the application of the best paving techniques.
“The price of asphalt has increased so much, my perspective is that the town highway superintendent should be looking at maintaining the roads we have now,” said Bates. “We have a lot of roads that have been resurfaced and are in need of maintenance…We just don’t have the money to keep paving the roads, and not be maintaining the roads we presently have.”
He also plans to rate each town highway, and develop a plan for the maintenance of each individual road, as well as each piece of town equipment.
Bates was unaware that Gary Zeh had created a similar plan for the replacement of town equipment, but said he would be willing to use that plan as a starting point, if possible.
The highway superintendent, he went on, should be the lead agent in addressing FEMA funding after a disaster, and assessing the damage sustained.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in a better position to do that in town,” Bates said. “The streams are also an issue, and the highway superintendent should lend his expertise to assist the town in stream repairs, and be the person who would facilitate that and oversee the work that contractors are doing.”
And, whether or not there is a clerk assisting with FEMA paperwork, the highway superintendent should have full oversight, he said.
John Pine, 34, is a general construction contractor, who has had his own company, Pines Builders, for almost 10 years.
“I’ve actually been doing this kind of work my whole life,” said Pine, a Democrat. “My father was a general contractor before me, with B & B Forest Products.”
His father, Jeffry Pine, is a town assessor, who is also running for re-election.
John Pine thinks he has had “good experience being a supervisor,” he said. “The skills I’ve used over the years for renting equipment, bidding, estimating, I can implement almost all that stuff in being highway superintendent,” said Pine.
And he thinks his experience constructing driveways will prove useful as well.
“I’ve done many, many driveways,” he said. “I only built one town road: Tina Lane in Catskill. It was a private road we built to become a town road. As far as driveways go, it’s basically the same stuff: Same kinds of material, same kind of equipment.”
If elected, Pine would look to reduce the number of paving projects.
“We need to be able to stay back and bring the roads we have already blacktopped up to snuff,” Pine said. “Back in the day, they used what they had. Unfortunately, that’s not how you build roads, so a lot of that stuff needs to be dug up, with new drainage put in, and new bases.”
Speaking on the town board’s responsibility over the highway superintendent, “It’s pretty much black and white,” Pine said.
“The board has their decision on what we spend when it comes to buying equipment; you set your budget; when everyone agrees, then that’s what you do,” Pine said. “I didn’t follow 100 percent of what Gary Zeh’s issues were with the town board. I liked the guy, and I thought he had some good ideas. It’s unfortunate he couldn’t stick around. My responsibility is to the town. As long as I can get done what I need to get done, and have quality roads, I’ll fight till the end to get that done.”
The roadwork being performed in town could be made more economical, he went on.
“I believe we should be able to put the work out to bid a little bit more efficiently, instead of just doing in-place paving, which, I guess, is policy now,” said Pine. “Each project should be put out to individual bid, and not based on the price of in-place paving. We also have a good crew with great talent, and maybe we could do a little more stuff in house without bidding out as much.”
Pine said that, since the recent storms, he has had some experience dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I’ve been working a lot up in the Maple Crest area in Windham, redirecting creeks and stuff,” said Pine. “A lot of that is where our problem lies, in the creeks that we weren’t allowed in for so long. If we can get in there and direct them to where they used to be, if we were able to do that ahead of time, the damage wouldn’t have been nearly as severe.”
He thinks the problem lies within the Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations.
“Years ago, towns used to have a window of opportunity, usually 30 days, to file for a quick permit, and they were allowed in the creek to trim the dead trees, and push the old stumps out,” he said. “For years, we didn’t have much problem with flooding and washing out roads. I’m not saying we don’t need some rules and regulations, but I think they might have gone a little overboard, and we weren’t allowed in the creeks anymore.”
While he does not have a great deal of experience with FEMA’s paperwork, Pine looks forward to the opportunity to learn, and, even if a highway clerk were appointed, he would oversee all of the clerical work, he said.
“I’m going to be pretty dedicated to this,” Pine concluded. “By hiring me, you’re not just hiring a superintendent, but you’re hiring another employee, because I want to make this my career. I enjoy working side-by-side with people in the town.”
Richard Tollner, 52, a Republican, works with mortgages, business loans, and tax grievances for Vantage Point Bank.
Originally from the New York City area, Tollner lived in Rochester, Utica, and Albany before moving to Rensselaerville with his wife, whose family has lived in town since 1799, he said.
“To this day, I haven’t lost any tax grievances,” Tollner told The Enterprise. “In one case, the property was basically over-assessed, and we attained more than a $200,000 reduction in assessed value of their house, in a house assessed at approximately $1.2 million, and we got the assessment lowered to below a million. You make the cases the same way the assessor does his or her job: You research that property for the area, the type of construction, the age, all the factors the assessor uses. That’s why I feel I’m capable of doing this job.”
Tollner has been doing this kind of work for five years, and has been doing lending related to real estate since the 1980s, he said.
“I held a Realtor’s license for five years just for educational purposes,” Tollner went on. “I’ve been communicating with appraisers since 1995. I’ve been to small claims court 30 times; I’ve never lost. I went into small-claims assessment review for tax grievances; I’ve been there four times, and I’ve never lost there, either.”
Tollner went on to say that a town-wide revaluation might prove useful in Rensselaerville.
“I think a reval would help people understand what their current property value is,” he said. “Some people say, ‘I can’t believe my house went up 3 percent.’ Well, it really did, and here’s basically a confirmation of that. It’s a matter of addressing the value of all the features of the house and the values of the land against what your neighbor’s is buying and selling for, and what current market conditions are.”
Whether it should be done in-house or by an outside contractor would have to be discussed among the town’s three assessors, he said.
“Can you get three assessors to assess the hundreds of houses in a quick enough time frame?” Tollner asked. “If they can do it by a drive-by basis, great. If they want to go deeper it’s a matter of cost to yield.”
Asked whether residents should be made to pay school taxes based on their current property value after sustaining storm damage from Irene, or based on what the property was worth before Irene hit, Tollner said that “concessions have to be made on a case-by-case basis.”
“What helps these people stay in their homes and continue to be our neighbor?” asked Tollner. “Some people don’t have the money available; well then, let’s have some reassessments made on a contingency basis with the approval of the town.”
Tollner said that, if elected, he will make himself accessible on certain weeknights, yet to be determined, and during off-hours at least one day a month. He will also be accessible by e-mail for questions.
“And, if I need to make appearances,” he said, “that’s no problem.”
Jeffry Pine, 56, a Democrat, has been a Rensselaerville assessor for 12 years, and has worked full-time as New Scotland’s code enforcement officer for 13.
Though not from Rensselaerville originally, he moved to town in 1979. His wife, Sherri Pine, is a former town board member with deep roots in the Hilltowns.
“I’ve been in construction for a long time, and I’ve done some buying and selling of real estate,” Pine told The Enterprise. “I think the training scares people. It’s like college-level training, and, for some people, it’s too much of a hurdle. It can add up to hundreds of hours; for a part-time position, that’s quite a commitment.”
The town’s last full revaluation was in 1998, he said, but another reval would not be a good use of money, given the state of the economy.
“At this point, with the budget difficulties, Albany County estimated about $60,000 to $70,000 for a reval,” he said. “As a town, and our share of the pie, our value slipped a little more than other communities that we share a district with. Looking at Albany County, we went down a little further than Colonie and New Scotland. It did help us in the tax rate, because the levy went up 5 percent in Albany County last year. But, for the average household in Rensselaerville, the tax bill went down about $75.”
Pine said that he is hoping for legislation that will help out flood victims of the recent storms, pushing back the deadline for school taxes, and reassessing what is owed. (Berne-Knox-Westerlo applied for and received an extension on school taxes.)
“The problem is, all this is set by a calendar in New York State law,” he said. “Local communities have no option; they can’t change the calendar. The day after the storm, I called [Senator Neil] Breslin and [Assemblyman John] McEneny and said, ‘Look, you can’t be charging people for houses that floated down the creek.’ So, there is a law that’s kicking around; it has sponsors; I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to open up the tax roll and change their assessment.”
He said later, “We’ve got a couple dozen properties to look at that sustained substantial damage. There are four or five houses that are just gone.”
Asked how the work is divided among the town’s three assessors, Pine listed some of the extra responsibilities held by the chairman.
“We work together as a team,” Pine said. “I’m the chairman, so, if questions come up, I’m the one who goes to town board; I go to small-claims hearings; so, I get a lion’s share of the work. But, whatever the two others are capable of, they do. We’ll divide up the list, someone goes here, someone goes there, takes pictures, does measurements. Some people are better at one thing than another. Someone might concentrate on exemptions; one on new constructions. If someone has a talent for one thing, we kind of pass it on.”
Pine keeps flexible hours, he said.
“I meet people at their houses; I’m at the office on Saturday,” he said. “If you’ve got a problem, and you can’t make it the night we’re here, we can find a way to work it out.”
Myra Dorman, a former supervisor and town board member, is making her second run for town judge.
She is currently retired, but is a freelance teacher of textile arts and small business.
“I’ve always been interested in good government,” Dorman said. “I’d like to be able to make fair and thoughtful judgments concerning citizens that appear before the judge. I think I can do that because I’ve had a lot of experience with people. I’m particularly fond of this town.”
Dorman, a Republican, said that, under the right circumstances, she supports the idea of giving out community service in place of jail time.
“Community service never hurt anybody, and it would be good for people to understand that and participate in it,” Dorman said. “Being sentenced with a job to do would be a very worthwhile thing, depending on the person being charged, and what they were being charged with.”
Asked how she would feel about sentencing someone she knows, Dorman said, “It would be awkward, probably unpleasant, but, if it had to be done, I could do it.” Again, it would depend on whom she was sentencing, she said, and what the crime was.
While Dorman has never practiced law, she worked for the New York State Department of Corrections, she said.
“When people are eligible to be released from jail, they have to have a job to go to,” she said. “It was my position to prepare them to go for an interview so they could get a job.”
Greg Bischoff, 65, is a retired business teacher, making his first run for town justice.
Bischoff, running on the Democratic line, spent 29 years as an educator, teaching in Minerva, Richmondville, and Middleburgh.
Originally from Staten Island, he moved to Rensselaerville in 1974.
He also worked in the Naval Security Group under the National Security Agency.
“I’m retired now; my wife retired; I was taking care of my grandson, but he’s in kindergarten, and I’ve got this free time, and I think I have the experience,” Bischoff said. “Years ago, when I first moved up here, Victor LaPlant was teaching law at the Police Academy,” he said of the Rensselaerville judge. Bischoff took a class with LaPlant in 1974.
“We had some nice discussions about things, and he thought I was pretty sharp,” Bischoff said of LaPlant. The Democratic Party asked Bischoff to run, and he obliged.
He also dealt with legal issues while working as the summer-school principal at Camp Cass, which used to have youthful offenders.
On giving out community service instead of jail time, Bischoff said, “If it’s within the guidelines, sure. I think that’s better for the individual, and better for the taxpayer. We don’t want to overstock the jails, and, if we can get someone to do something for the community, I would think that would be a good thing.”
And, if he were in a situation where he would be sentencing someone he knew, Bischoff would recuse himself, he said.
“Well, we have two justices, so, if it’s someone that I know fairly well, I think the other justice would handle the case,” said Bischoff. “We would try to avoid that.”