William Bichteman, Westerlo town board candidate

William Bichteman

WESTERLO — Councilman William Bichteman said he was “terrified” at his first town board meeting.

A question was asked, and Bichtemen felt he wasn’t well informed to answer.

Since then, he has spent a lot of time making sure he is well versed on a wide variety of town issues, he said.

“It became imperative to me after my first board meeting,” Bichteman said, “that I research issues.” About the time this takes, he said, “It’s more than I anticipated.”

Why does he want to keep at it?

“I think I can help,” said Bichteman. “I think I have the ability to help move things forward…You make a commitment to get people to follow you.”

A Westerlo native and long-time Democrat, Bichteman, 66, was appointed to the board to fill one of two vacancies, taking office early this year, and is now making his first run, unopposed, for the post.

He grew up in Dormansville and graduated from Greenville High School before going to Hudson Valley Community College and then serving in the Army in the Vietnam War era. Bichteman called it “the luck of the draw” that he was stationed in Germany during the war.

After his service, he worked in construction for a few contractors, and then went into contracting with several engineering firms before starting his own business, Trinity Construction Inc., in 1978. He retired after 30 years with Trinity.

When he was asked to serve on the board, Bichteman agreed because, he said, “I thought I could bring something to the town.”

Having been a councilman for more than nine months now, Bichteman said, “I think it is a tough spot. You’re in the public eye, scrutinized from every direction.”

He tries to make decisions based on the facts, Bichteman said. “Sometimes you’re criticized by people who don’t have the full knowledge you do,” he said.

Asked whether hydraulic fracturing should be allowed or banned in Westerlo, Bichteman said, “I don’t think, as a board member, I can make that decision right now.”

He went on, “We don’t know the state’s position yet and how they’ll address issues. Until that happens, I don’t know how it fits in Westerlo. Until then, I think it’s important to protect things like our roads,” he said, adding, “I’m not a lawyer.”

He also said, “It’s a very complex issue with a lot of facets. A lot of citizens have brought forward information — some of it conjecture and some fact.”

Bichteman concluded, “You’re damned if you do. You’re damned if you don’t. If you wait, it may be too late to take preemptive action. If you move too soon, it may be illegal.”

On Westerlo’s making less than neighboring Hilltowns from its scrap metal, Bichteman said, “I don’t believe there’s anyone stealing anything from the town.”

He pointed to Westerlo’s longstanding tradition, now encoded in law, of “in-town recycling,” whereby residents can swap items at the transfer station.

“I’ve always been in favor of that,” said Bichteman.

He went on about selling scrap metal, “A lot [of people] in town solicit scrap metal on their own. If I thought there was stealing, I would do something formal about it. We have industrious people here that see a dollar to be made and make it.”

Asked whether Westerlo should undergo townwide property revaluation, Bichteman said, “I hate to give you an ‘I don’t know.’”

He went on, “There’s pro and con on either side….We have former farms or farms with family homesteads. It would almost force those people to do something with their property they don’t want to do.”

But, he said, that has to be balanced against “newcomers paying too much.”

He said, with the town’s nearly completed comprehensive land-use plan, a survey showed, “The vast majority like open space,” which he believes is better protected under the current tax structure.

Bichteman concluded, “It’s a difficult, complex subject.”

On the future of the old town hall, now serving as the town court and highway garage, Bichteman said, “I think there is funding available in last year’s budget…I think we’re still going forward to put a roof on.”

He also said, “We really don’t have an abundance of money to embark on a further project…We really should do something about heating and insulation, but we can’t afford it. We need funds from a higher order to trickle down. We have to do one thing at a time.”

On re-zoning it for business, Bichteman said the businesses that were suggested would be attracted only to an area closer to a “large population center.” He concluded, “That just wouldn’t happen here.”

On the role of the town attorney, Bichteman said, “There’s hardly anything at a board meeting that requires a legal opinion.” Consultation with the attorney, he said, can take place elsewhere

Bichteman went on, “Some people say she’s paid, why not have her [at town board meetings]. Others say, she’s like a lightning rod and they [citizens] direct questions to her. She’s certainly qualified,” he concluded.

Asked why there is no opposition to the Democratic candidates, Bichteman answered, “I’d love to say they’re happy.”

He went on about a two-party system, “It’s not about national politics here. The town’s too small. It’s about doing what has to be done for the town.”