By Marcello Iaia
WESTERLO — The Feb. 5 town board meeting began with the votes needed to fill two seats left empty at the end of 2012.
William Bichteman and Theodore Lounsbury, both Democrats, joined the all-Democratic town board Tuesday, which voted to publish its legal notices in the Times Union, a regional daily newspaper, rather than, as formerly, The Enterprise and The Pioneer, both local weeklies.
The appointment of Bichteman was made with councilman Anthony Sherman in favor. At the January meeting, he voted against appointing both Bichteman and Lounsbury. That left the board with just two “aye” votes, not enough for a majority. Both Bichteman and Lounsbury took their oaths of office, as the Supervisor maintained the vote was legal at the meeting.
After being sworn in legally this Tuesday, Bichteman took his seat, then cast the vote needed to appoint Theodore Lounsbury, which Sherman opposed.
Sherman declined to comment on the reasons for his votes, but noted the appointments were not made separately last month.
The seats had been vacated by Gregory Zeh and Edward Rash, who submitted letters of resignation at the Nov. 7 board meeting.
Zeh had sold his home in Westerlo and now lives in Loudonville. Rash, who held town positions over decades and works full-time at Hannay Reels Inc., said he wanted more time for recreation and to allow a younger member to be appointed, as he was.
Retired from a career in heavy highway construction, Bichteman said he hopes to provide guidance on the water district and construction projects within the town.
Bichteman was raised in East Westerlo, on a farm in Dormansville — his father was a truck driver and owned a garage — started in construction working for consulting engineers.
With his own company, Trinity Construction Inc., Bichteman said he contracted with the town in the 1980s for small municipal projects, covering the landfill, which is now the transfer station, and installing small culvert pipes. He retired in 2006.
With no prior experience in government, Bichteman said being a small business owner has meant dealing similarly with accounting, construction, and management.
“I don’t go to every board meeting, I go to the ones that the agenda interests me or ones that has an impact, or I think I have something to say about,” Bichteman told The Enterprise in early January.
Westerlo’s water district is unique for its limited number of residents, according to Bichteman, and he believes rates could be decreased.
“Since its inception, I think it’s just something I feel personally needs to be looked at,” said Bichteman “The water district itself really needs to have control of its own facilities and currently they subcontracted that work out to an outside party.”
The tax levy was increased by more than the state-set 2-percent cap for 2013, which Supervisor Rapp said was pushed higher by building repairs. Bichteman said all areas should be examined to maintain a lean budget.
The single-party status of the town board and the selection of its appointees were questioned at the January meeting, when Bichteman was sworn in for the first time.
“My feeling is that, in a town this size, on the town board, politics really doesn’t play into it. I’ve never been able to draw that distinction,” said Bichteman. “It’s a small town we all know each other, and there are some who think that’s an important issue. I don’t.”
Lounsbury could not be reached for comment this week.
New home for notices
The board replaced The Altamont Enterprise, and, “when necessary,” The Greenville Mountain View Pioneer, with the Times Union as the town’s official newspaper where public notices, by law, are published.
Community member Anita Marrone questioned why the switch was made.
“The Altamont Enterprise has a long history of slandering all sorts of sections of the town,” said Sherman. “I don’t feel that the town should be spending money supporting a paper that continually puts editorials against the town of Westerlo. Not just the town board, not me, not anyone else up here, but the entire town.”
In 2012, The Enterprise received $556 from Westerlo for legal notices. The per-line rates set by law increase with a publication’s overall circulation. The rate per-line of a legal ad is 39.5 cents in The Enterprise and 75 cents in the Times Union.
Sherman also said that requests for submissions to The Enterprise calendar sometimes receive no response and require repeated attempts. Notices of local events that are received by The Enterprise by noon on Monday, including those from Westerlo, are published in the Community Calendar on Thursday, according to the paper’s editor, Melissa Hale-Spencer.
The deadline for submitting legal notices, Sherman said, would be more flexible with the switch as well.
“I think the Times Union will cover more residents of the town than the Altamont,” Sherman said, particularly in South Westerlo.
Angela Cacchione, marketing brand manager at the Times Union, said the paper’s September 2011 audit showed 103 copies were sold daily and 235 on Sundays, within the 12193 ZIP code. In 2011, The Enterprise had 121 subscribers and 50 copies distributed weekly to locations within the same ZIP code.
According to the 2010 United States Census, Westerlo has 3,361 residents and 1,600 households.
Members voted to also put legal notices on the town website, townofwesterlony.com.
The third item that garnered two affirmative votes and did not pass in January was the wages for library workers. Sherman cast the opposing vote. No motions were made on the matter at the Feb. 5 meeting.
Free libraries, like Westerlo’s, are supported by municipalities and donations, whereas public libraries, like Guilderland’s and Voorheesville’s have elected boards with taxing powers, provided the proposed budgets are passed by the public.
“As far as I know, they have just about always given us the budget that we asked for,” Sue Hoadley, director of the Westerlo Public Library, said Wednesday. “This year we had a little bit of a difference. They made a small deduction from the salary line item in our budget. But that does not have an impact on the library trustees’ authority to set our wages.”
The difference was around $1,100 in raises that Hoadley said had been approved last year at a similar amount. She said it would be filled with funds from the rest of the library’s operating budget, and hourly rates have not been affected.