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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 27, 2005
By Matt Cook
KNOX In other Knox elections, Democrat Jean Gagnon is the only name that will appear on the ballot for town justice, although Cheryl Frantzen has launched a write-in campaign; Delia Palombo is running for receiver of taxes, opposed by a minor-party candidate, Karen Catalfamo; and incumbent Democrat Deborah Liddle and Republican challenger Kimberly Swain are facing off for town clerk.
Jean Gagnon, a Democrat, is running to replace Judge John Rodd Jr., a Democrat who held the office for over a quarter of a century. This is Gagnons first run for office.
"I’ve lived in this community for nine years and I’ve lived a lot of other places and I have never before been welcomed so much," Gagnon said. "I’ve been trying for years to find different ways to give back to the community."
When the opportunity to run for judge came up, Gagnon said, she researched it and spoke to other town justices, and decided she was qualified for the job.
"I think I am exceedingly competent," Gagnon said. "I also find that the law must be upheld."
Gagnon, 49, is a veteran travel agent who manages Plaza Travel in Latham.
In her job, Gagnon, said, "I’ve had to deal with a huge variety of people," both customers and employees.
In a previous job in Syracuse, Gagnon was responsible for making travel plans for the Syracuse University athletic teams, she said, including arranging for the football team to travel to bowl games and championships.
"You have to deal with huge decisions that have to be made with people who don’t want to be told what to do," Gagnon said; it’s experience that will help her as a judge, she said, as will her extensive world travel.
On her judicial philosophy, Gagnon said, "People have to be educated both as to their rights and also their responsibilities," she said. "The law is there to protect us and guide us."
Although, in a small town, judges often know their defendants, "I really do believe the saying that justice is blind," Gagnon said. "That’s something that’s just got to be left at the door."
Gagnon said she has some college education and holds a degree from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents. She lives with her artist husband, Tom, and two children. She is a member of the Hilltowns Players, the Knox Youth Council, and the Knox Democratic Committee.
A Knox town justice is paid $15,080 annually.
Though her name wont appear on the ballot, Cheryl Frantzen is staging a write-in campaign for town justice.
"I want to give the voters in the town of Knox an actual choice in the election," Frantzen said.
Frantzen, 49, has lived in Knox for 27 years. She works as a credit union compliance expert for the New York State Credit Union League. This is her first run for office.
"I didn’t know that Justice Rodd was going to be retiring," Frantzen said. "By the time I found out about it, it was too late."
If elected, Frantzen said, "I will be fair and equitable to all people. I won’t play sides."
Deborah Liddle, a Democrat, has been Knoxs town clerk since 2000. Before that, she was the deputy town clerk, from 1983 to 1994.
She has also been the towns court clerk since 1996.
"I enjoy doing the job and I know what has to be done," Liddle said. "I take pride in doing a complete job and achieving results."
Liddle listed her strengths: strong organizational skills, efficient time management, quick learning, self motivation, and the ability to multi-task.
A graduate of Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School, Liddle, 47, has worked for the states Department of Transportation for over 20 years. Her current position is as a secretary. She has also worked for Albany County and for the United States Postal Service.
Liddle is proud that many of the town and court clerks duties have become computerized during her tenure.
"I’ve gotten it up to speed," she said. "It was in the dark ages before that."
Recently, Liddle became certified as a notary public. Often, she said, people stop in the town hall, expecting there to be a notary.
"I can help them now," Liddle said.
As a part-time clerk, Liddle said, the hardest part of the job is getting all the work done in her limited hours. During her office hours, she has to get paperwork done and deal with the residents that come by.
"This really is a full-time work, but I’m on a part-time basis," Liddle said. "Anytime they see the lights on, they stop by."
But, she said, she doesnt mind, even if she has to regularly stay long past her scheduled hours.
Liddle is paid $10,964 annually.
"I think the community needs a change," said Kimberly Swain, Republican candidate for town clerk. "I just would like a little bit more accessibility."
Currently, the town clerks hours in the town hall are Monday and Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
If elected, Swain said, she would keep the same hours, but also meet with residents at her home, by appointment.
Swain, 27, is a life-long Knox resident.
"I didn’t move too far from my parents," she said.
Swain describes herself as a "stay-at-home mom." Her daughter, Graycie, is two years old.
Swain worked professionally before her daughter was born.
"I’ve had over 10 years of experience as an administrative assistant. I’ve had a lot of clerical background," she said.
In a job with Atlas Copco in Voorheesville, a company that sells turbines and compressors, Swain said she was a prime contact with foreign consulates, managing passport and visa applications and renewals.
Swain said shes good at working with people.
"Every position I’ve had was customer service," she said. "I consider myself very good with the public.
RECEIVER OF TAXES
Democrat Delia Palombo is running for tax collector for the third straight year in a row. After the contested election of 2003, she was tied with her opponent, Evelyn Francis. To break the tie, the town board appointed Palombo.
Because of the tie, the state required another election last year, which Palombo won easily. Now, with her two year term expired, Palombo is running again.
"I’ve been doing it quite a few years," she said.
Palombo first ran for the position in 1981; she has held it ever since.
Palombo, 82, has lived in Knox since 1940, when she moved from Massachusetts. She and her late husband ran the Township Tavern for several years.
Palombo said she enjoys being tax collector because it allows her to meet a lot of people in the town and fills her time.
"It’s very time consuming," she said. "It gives me something to do. It keeps my mind occupied."
Often, she said, residents have questions about paying their tax bills.
"I try to help everyone that calls," she said. "I get a lot of phone calls."
The Knox receiver of taxes is paid $4,156 annually.
Though Palombo is unopposed by a Republican, Karen Catalfamo is running on the Independence and Conservative party lines. Catalfamo is the director of support services for 11 local and national associations, and maintains the financial records of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District.
In her publicity material, Catalfamo says she is computer proficient and will be more available to the residents and offer more efficient services than her opponent.
Knox superintendent profiles
By Matt Cook
KNOXTwo years ago, the race for highway superintendent in Knox ended in an upset. As a result of the lengthy legal battle started by the Republican Party, long-time highway superintendent August Landauer, a Democrat, lost his office to challenger Gary Salisbury. Salisbury ran on the Independence Party line with the Republican endorsement.
Because of late-filed paperwork, Landauer and his fellow Democrats were forced to run write-in campaigns. However, since Landauer ran on the Conservative Party line, his 267 write-in votes were thrown out by the New York State Supreme Court, leaving him 220 votes to Salisburys 268.
This year, its a rematch between Salisbury and Landauer.
Knox has 36 miles of town roads. The superintendent makes $42,848 annually.
Republican Gary Salisbury thinks he has accomplished a lot in his two years in office. Under his watch, the highway department has been able to save the town money, keep the roads in good shape, and put all of its records on a computer for the first time.
"Everything has gone smoothly. I think we’re doing an excellent job," Salisbury said. "I think our work has shown it. We’ve got a winter program that seems to be working really well...And we have a summer program that went well."
Salisburys proudest achievement is saving the town money by putting certain products, like fuel and stone, out to bid rather than purchasing them off of state contract, and shopping around for the best prices on equipment and equipment repairs.
"We’ve saved a lot of money. It’s been a lot of work, it certainly has," Salisbury said. "If the product is good and we can buy it cheap, that’s what we’re going to do."
Although he admits the paperwork is the hardest part of his job, Salisbury said he gets it done. "As far as the roadwork itself," Salisbury said, "I feel I have a better edge. I was a highway worker for 16 years."
Salisbury worked for the Knox highway department before becoming superintendent. He claims to be able to operate every piece of equipment used by the town.
Salisbury, 41, has lived in Knox most of his life, except for a few years after he was married. He is vice president of the Patroon Land Foundation, which provides food for the needy.
Besides bringing a computer into the highway garage, Salisbury said he has made himself more accessible than his predecessor. He installed an answering machine and makes an effort to return every call, he said.
"That makes a big difference, I think," Salisbury said.
Salisbury also noted his rapport with the employees.
"I find that I treat all the men equally, and by doing so, the morale has raised around here to 100 percent," Salisbury said. "We’ve gotten a lot more work done because everybody’s willing to work together."
Looking forward to another term, Salisbury wants to keep doing what hes doing and also stop possible future problems on town roads. He doesnt want to wait until the roads are completely shot to fix them, he said.
"We’re going to reseal them before it’s too late," he said.
Salisbury also has the nominations of the Conservative and Independence parties.
Democrat August Landauer was, like his opponent, a highway worker turned superintendent. He worked for the town for six years before being appointed superintendent in 1985 to replace a resigning superintendent. Landauer was victorious in elections for 18 years after that until he lost to Salisbury. Now, he hopes to return to the post.
"It’s a job that I enjoyed doing," Landauer said. "I derived a lot of satisfaction out of it. When you enjoy doing something, you pursue it."
Landauer said his experience makes him the best candidate.
"I’ve done a lot of road projects to great success," he said. "The work that I’ve done has all turned out well. Mechanically, I’ve got the ability to work on all the machines and keep them in running order."
Landauer, 53, is a life-long resident of Knox and owns a farm that has been in his family for nearly 100 years. For the past two years, he has been working for a small private construction company.
He has been a member of the New York State Highway Superintendents Association and a member and past president of the Albany County Highway Superintendents Association.
Among his accomplishments in office, Landauer is proud of bringing the towns roads above flood levels.
"We got those spots up high and dry," he said.
Also during Landauers administration, the highway department built an addition to the town garage. Although its hard to see from the front, Landauer said, the addition adds a lot of needed space to the building.
If elected, Landauer said, "I would continue along the same path: just to bring the roads up to the standards that they should be brought up to."
For example, he said, at some points on town roads, "If a milk truck and school bus were to meet, somebody would have to back up."
As for saving money, Landauer said, "Things like that are always on a highway superintendent’s mind."
While he was superintendent, he said, the highway department saved money by making repairs in-house.
"We have the ability and the tools and the staff to do that work, so we didn’t have to send it out," Landauer said.
Landauer said it would be no problem returning to manage to the highway staff.
"I got along with everyone when I was there," he said. "I actually hired most of them."
Knox town board profiles
By Matt Cook
KNOXThe Knox Democrats are hoping this town election will go more smoothly than the last one. The Republicans are looking to gain more ground.
Two years ago, the state Supreme Court upheld a Republican challenge that election paperwork was handed in too late to put the Democrats names on the ballot. Forced to run a write-in campaign, the Democrats lost two seats on the town board in a town they dominate, two to one.
Though the two board seats contested two years ago are not up for re-election, if the Republicans win a seat this year, they will have a majority on the five-member town board.
Michael Hammond, the long-time supervisor, retained his seat two years ago with a write-in campaign.
Former Councilman Dennis Decker lost his seat two years ago. Now, hes trying to get it back, running in the stead of Democratic Councilman Charles Conklin, who is not seeking reelection as he fights cancer.
Two Democrats and one Republican are running for two seats; the top two vote-getters Nov. 8 will assume office Jan. 1, as will the winner in the race for supervisor.
Despite the party split, there has been little arguing among the town board members in the past two years. Almost all votes have been unanimous.
Knox has a population of about 2,600 and a budget of about $1.6 million. The part-time supervisor makes $14,525 annually, and the part-time town board members make $3,325. The supervisors term is for two years, and the board members for four years.
The Enterprise interviewed the candidates for supervisor and town board and asked questions on five issues:
Growth: If Tech Valley becomes a reality in the Capital Region, some say it would mean a lot of people would move to the Hilltowns. Candidates were asked how they would balance that with preserving the towns farms and open space.
Zoning: Candidates were asked if it is time to review the Knox zoning ordinance. For example, the "one-cut rule," which allows property owners to subdivide once every 18 months without coming before the planning or zoning boards, has been on the books since 1975, though the planning and zoning boards have recommended eliminating it. Candidates were asked if the zoning ordinance will adequately serve the future needs of the town, and if not, how it should be changed.
The town hall: The town has been planning on expanding the town hall and making it accessible to the disabled for years and even had an architect draw up preliminary plans. The project has stalled due to cost. Candidates were asked how the town should proceed from here and how much of a priority the project is.
Taxes: Candidates were asked how important it is for the town to keep taxes low and how it should do that.
Revaluation: The town has been discussing bringing its assessments up to 100 percent of true value. Last time it was done was in the 1990s. Candidates were asked if town-wide revaluation is necessary, and if so, how soon.
Michael Hammond has been supervisor of Knox since 1974. After 31 years in office, Hammond, a Democrat, still wants the job.
"I like what I’m doing and I like what I contribute to the community," Hammond said.
Hammond, 62, is a native of Fort Henry, in the Adirondacks. He is a former General Electric employee and a retired Troy High School teacher. Now, he owns and operates the Mountain Wood Shop in Berne.
Among the towns accomplishments during Hammonds last term, was completing the construction of a childrens soccer field at the town park.
"We’re looking forward to our first soccer game on our first soccer field," Hammond said.
On possible growth, Hammond said, "We have addressed a lot of those issues with the master plan in the past. We would be willing to revisit our master plan to make sure it’s commensurate with our future needs."
The town needs to preserve its farms and open spaces, Hammond said, "because that is what most of the people that live in our community come here for, this rural style of life."
On the zoning ordinance, Hammond said, if he is elected for another term, he is planning on having the town review its zoning laws.
"I think that is going to be a request of the board. We should be looking at it," Hammond said.
On the town hall project, Hammond said, "The priority is very high." The town needs more space, he said.
"The board has reviewed the plans. We were sort of set back with the cost of the project. What we’re doing at this time is searching for funding," he said.
Primarily, he said, the town will search out grants to help pay for the project.
On taxes, Hammond said Knox has been able to hold its tax rate to small increases for the past few years.
"To maximize the amount of services that we can provide for our dollars is probably the best approach to maintaining a good tax rate," he said.
On revaluation, Hammond said the town will start a revaluation project as soon as the new assessor, Russ Pokorney, completes his training.
A mass revaluation project gives everyone in the town a chance to make sure their assessments properly reflect what their property is worth, said Hammond, who oversaw the last revaluation project.
Mark Von Haugg
Republican challenger Mark Von Haugg is running on a platform of more open government and greater involvement of the town board and zoning board in decision making, something he says he hasnt seen in recent years.
"They’re going to be involved in projects," Von Haugg said, "not just say yeah or nay to a bill."
Von Haugg, 64, is making his first run for town office. He admits Hammond has done a good job in his 31 years. "I’ve even voted for him sometimes," he said.
However, Von Haugg said, "Some apathy set it, and I think he would like some time off."
Von Haugg is self-employed in the telecommunications industry. He describes his education as "some college." He’s lived in Knox for 30 years.
Von Haugg is also running on the Independence and Conservative party lines.
On zoning, Von Haugg said the balance between agriculture and growth should be kept "with the rules that are laid down."
However, he said, those rules are inaccessible. There is no written process for making applications to the planning and zoning boards, something he hopes to change.
"Everything is done as it comes up," Von Haugg said. "The way it appears to me now is it’s helter-skelter."
As far as growth in the Hilltowns, Von Haugg said, "You can’t stop people from building. It’s a free country."
Although he agrees with those who want to preserve the area’s rural character, he said, "At the same time, all the towns and counties and states overtax farmers. If they have an opportunity to make a buck and parcel up their land, you can’t blame them."
On the town hall project, Von Haugg said, "The town hall does need more room, but we do not need to spend $800,000 on it."
He suggested a steel building attached to one end or the other of the current town hall would do the job.
"We don’t need a Taj Mahal," Von Haugg said.
On taxes, Von Haugg said they can be kept down with good planning and good management. School taxes, which are out of the towns control, are more of a problem in Knox than property taxes, he said.
On revaluation, he said, "If it’s to raise taxes, we don’t need reassessment."
However, he said, assessments have to be examined closely around the town to make sure they are all done fairly and equally.
"It has to be looked at on an even basis," Von Haugg said.
Behind Hammond , Councilman Nicholas Viscio is the longest-serving member of the Knox Town Board. After 12 years, hes running for a fourth term.
"I’ve enjoyed seeing the town progress," Viscio said of his time on the board. "Knox is a very unique town in many ways. It has the independence of a rural community."
Viscio said he enjoys watching the outcome of the town boards decisions.
"It’s a good feeling to get something doneon occasion," he joked.
Viscio believes the town board is more than the sum of its parts.
"I think it’s important that we can all have individual goals, but the greatest claim is what we accomplish as a board," Viscio said. "You try to maintain the integrity of the board, to work as a group, losing the ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ mentality."
Viscio believes the town board operates that way now and should continue to operate that way.
Viscio, 49, has lived in Knox since 1977. He works as the producer/director of video services at his alma mater, Guilderland High School. He said he has coursework in film and has qualified as a flight instructor examiner with the Experimental Aircraft Association. He and his wife own Helderberg Design, LLC., in Wright, which makes powered parachutes.
Viscio said his record on the town board speaks for itself.
"I work with everybody on the board, I respect everybody on the board, and I keep in communication with everybody on the board," Viscio said. "That will never change."
On growth, Viscio said, "I think that a lot of the answers to that are in the comprehensive plan."
Planning, he said, is one of his main interests on the town board.
Because of Knoxs topography, Viscio said, growth in the town is restricted to a certain extent by a lack of water. Theres no public water in the town and wells cant be too close together.
"Knox isn’t the kind of place where you’re going to plop 1,500-square-foot lots side by side where they’re all together," he said.
However, he said, the town is slowly growing and the board needs to be aware of it and plan accordingly.
"We need to continue to take a look at open spaces in the town," Viscio said. "It can really be said that people care about the open spaces."
On zoning, he said the town’s comprehensive plan is still "a very valid document that pertains to looking down the road." However, he said, there are issues that could be revisited.
"One of the calls to issue was lot size. The other one was dealing with the one-cut rule," Viscio said. "I would see that the main job in continuing on the town board is to continue to work on the planning issues, to parse out some of these things and bring them to public hearing"The big reason they are trigger issues is because the public hasn’t had a chance to address those issues."
On the town hall, Viscio said expansion is necessary.
"During a court night, there are people huddled in the hallway," he said.
The preliminary plans provided by the towns architect are too expensive to build, Viscio said. The town needs to take a close look at them to decide what to cut and what to keep, he said.
"We need to get into those plans, take a look at the real cost-saving elements," Viscio said.
The last thing Viscio wants to do is put the town into debt paying for the project.
"We don’t want to do that to the taxpayers. I wouldn’t want to do it to myself," he said.
On taxes, Viscio called himself a conservative Democrat.
"I work for low taxes every time I sit at that table," he said. "There’s nobody more low-tax oriented in the community."
If he is re-elected, Viscio said, he will continue to keep a close eye on the towns spending, balancing price with need.
"Doing your duty in a small-town government requires that you’re in tune to the wants and the resources," Viscio said.
On revaluation, Viscio said that, although assessments have fallen to about 75 percent of actual value, since the town keeps its assessment inventory up to date, a revaluation project is not as major a task as it was last time it was done.
"The type of work that’s needed to do revaluation is not nearly what it was in the nineties," Viscio said.
In approaching a revaluation project, Viscio said, the town also has to keep in mind the real-estate market, which is starting to return to normal after a boom. If the town had revaluated a year ago, he said, assessments now would be around 110 percent of actual value.
Because of these things, Viscio said revaluation is needed eventually, but its not urgent. He predicted the town would do such a project in the next two or three years.
Democrat Dennis Decker served two terms on the town board before losing his re-election bid in the turmoil of 2003. He was planning on running in 2007, so as not to challenge any of the Democrats, but agreed to run this year after Councilman Conklin dropped out of the race.
"I want to get back to the table and try to finish up on some of the projects that we started when I was on the board," Decker said.
Decker cited his experience and his fit with the board before as reasons for voting for him.
"We were a pretty cohesive group," Decker said. "We all worked pretty well together."
Decker has lived in Knox since he was three. His is a graduate of Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School and a veteran of the United States Navy.
After completing his Navy service, Decker joined the Carpenters Union Local 117 in Albany as an apprentice. In 1983, he went to work for Niagara Mohawk, now called National Grid, where he continues to work as a construction/rigging mechanic.
Decker has been a member of the Knox Volunteer Fire Company, the towns emergency preparedness director, a Berne-Knox-Westerlo Little League coach, and a member of the Rotterdam Elks.
On growth, Decker said the towns comprehensive plan should be able to deal with most problems that will arise.
Zoning issues, like the one-cut rule, dont seem to be a problem in the town, he said.
"I really don’t see it as a big issue," Decker said. "If something comes up, we have a planning board, a zoning board, and a comprehensive master plan."
Decker noted that the one-cut rule used to be common in other towns, and it was called the "father-son clause."
On the town hall, Decker said, "There definitely is a need for expansion."
Many of the town officers, like the assessor and the tax collector, are working out of their homes, he said, and the court is crowded.
"Everything has outgrown its usefulness there," he said.
Since he is not currently on the town board, Decker said he is not very familiar with the architects designs for the town hall. If it is too expensive, he said, the town could consider finding alternative sources of funding, like grant money.
"There are other avenues to use without trying to raise tax dollars," Decker said.
On taxes, Decker said the town worked hard to keep costs down when he was on the board and that would continue if he were elected.
"I don’t want to say that we’re penny pinchers, but we’re pretty frugal," he said. "We don’t really spend foolishly. Things are looked at. Things are analyzed."
For example, when he was on the board, it came up with a plan of selling old highway equipment "while it still had value instead of running it into the ground," Decker said.
On revaluation, Decker said the last revaluation project was good for the town. The state Office of Real Property Services recommends doing it every five to seven years, Decker said, and that time is up.
"I think it’s something that has to be planned for and it needs to be done," Decker said. "If you don’t keep up with that, it just makes everything all out of whack."
"I decided to run because I’m a citizen who wants to make a difference. I have the time, the desire to do it, and the energy," said Republican Helene O’Clair, who is making her first run for the Knox Town Board. "I think I have my finger on the pulse of the town, so to speak."
OClair wants the town to be prepared for the future.
"I would like to see us have a five-, 10-, and 20-year plan and have it be a living document and have it be such that it reflects the needs of the different groups in the town, like the senior citizens or the youth," O’Clair said.
OClair, 57, has lived in Knox for over 25 years. Shes retired as a worker for the New York State Thruway Authority. She holds a bachelors degree in business administration from The College of Saint Rose, with a minor in accounting, which, she said, should come in handy on the town board.
OClair would like the town government to be more accountable to the citizens. She supports making meeting minutes easily available, either at the following meeting or on-line. The planning and zoning boards should also be making regular reports to the town board, she said.
"I believe it’s lacking," O’Clair said. "I don’t see them coming to meetings and presenting either handwritten minutes or an oral report. They’re appointed by the board and the board needs to know what’s going on."
She also supports efforts to bring senior housing into the Hilltowns, and said she will work to make sure that senior housing includes assisted living.
On growth, O’Clair said, "We need to be ready for it so we’re not surprised, so we’re not fighting it off, we’re managing it."
Preserving open space and farmland is very important, she said.
"We moved to this town because of the ruralness. We don’t want a suburb. We don’t want a city," O’Clair said.
The zoning ordinance, she said, needs to be part of the long-range planning process. She said she doesnt know if things like the one-cut rule are good or bad, but they need to be examined.
On the town hall, she said, "I think it’s critical that we move on it."
Making the building accessible to the disabled is necessary and an unavoidable cost, she said. But, she said, echoing Von Haugg’s comments, "We do not need a Taj Mahal."
"We just need a little bit bigger office, meeting room, et cetera," O’Clair said. "I think we need to look at the plans and look at where we can start cutting."
The process, she said, should be public.
"We’re not going to please everybody"But they still have the right to know," O’Clair said.
On taxes, O’Clair commended the town board for keeping taxes down. However, she said, "If growth continues and our school taxes continue to go up, we really need to look at what type of business structures we can get in here."
Knox could use a business district to help with the tax burden, but it needs to be planned, she said.
"You want to be sitting all fat and sassy and here comes a big-box store and you don’t want it," O’Clair said.
On revaluation, O’Clair said, "I don’t think it’s critical. It’s not been 20 or 30 years since the last one."
Rensselaerville election profiles
By Matt Cook
RENSSELAERVILLE In the only Hilltown where Republicans have historically had a significant presence in the town government, a first-time office-seeker is battling a political veteran to replace the current supervisor.
After one term, Republican Supervisor J. Robert Lansing is not running for reelection as supervisor, though he is running to become a councilman. In Lansings place, the Republicans have nominated their chairman, Jost Nickelsberg. Nickelsberg will face the Democratic chair, David Bryan, who was supervisor from 1986 to 1992.
With two seats open on the town board, only one incumbent, Democrat Edward Steven Ryder, is seeking reelection. With Republican Kenneth Decker not seeking reelection, the Democrats hope to gain the majority on the five-member town board, which is now held by Republicans, 3 to 2.
The top two vote-getters in the Nov. 8 four-way race will assume office on Jan. 1.
The supervisor in Rensselaerville is paid $10,500 for the part-time position, and the part-time town board members are paid $3,500 each. Both posts carry four-year terms.
The town has a population of about 2,000 and a budget of $2.2 million.
The Enterprise interviewed the candidates for supervisor and town board, asking questions on four issues:
Growth: If Tech Valley becomes a reality in the Capital Region, some say it would mean a lot of people would move to the Hilltowns. Candidates were asked how they would balance that with preserving the towns farms and open space.
Towers: An application came before the planning board recently to build a new radio and cellular tower in the town. It caused strong reactions on both sides of the issue. Some residents complained it would ruin their view, while others think its necessary for the areas emergency services. Candidates were asked how the town should plan for similar projects in the future.
The budget: In recent weeks, as the supervisor and town board prepare the budget for 2006, the two Democratic members of the town board have criticized the Republican supervisor and town-board members for not allowing time for discussion on the budget. Candidates were asked if the budget process should be changed, and if so, how.
Taxes: Candidates were asked how important it is for the town to keep taxes low and how it should do that.
Jost (pronounced yoast) Nickelsberg sees the job of supervisor as the chief financial officer of the town. Nickelsberg, a Republican, wants to replace his fellow Republican, Supervisor Lansing, and continue his legacy of wise spending.
That doesnt mean no spending, Nickelsberg said.
"You don’t just stop spending," he said. "The idea for spending wisely is you make great investments."
Nickelsberg, 63, has lived in Rensselaerville for 10 years. He is the chairman of the Rensselaerville Republican Party, and has worked as a securities and investment banker for 35 years.
Besides smart spending, Nickelsberg wants to make the town government "completely transparent."
"We have to be an open book to draw our fellow citizens into government," he said.
Nickelsberg cited a recent lawsuit, in which a Rensselaerville resident sued the town, claiming that the superintendent of highways, Democrat G. Jon Chase, violated New Yorks Freedom of Information Law by withholding requested documents. This is just one example of rising mistrust in the town, Nickelsberg said.
"There is too much fear in this town," he said, "too much fear that standing up and saying what one believes might result in reprisal of some kind."
If FOIL requests are not granted, Nickelsberg said, "Freedom of the press is assaulted."
On growth, Nickelsberg alluded to a survey the town did a few years ago.
"The overwhelming response for priority number-one was keeping our rural characteristics," he said.
So far, he said, the town government has done a good job of preserving these characteristics, and he intends to keep the work going.
"We are about to look at the master plan again, and when we do that, the town will decide what it wants for the future, and, if it’s the same as what we want now, we will make the zoning ever stronger," Nickelsberg said.
On cell towers, Nickelsberg supports using an existing unused tower in the town, owned by the American Tower Company.
"Why would you build a new one if you have a tower in working order"" he asked.
On the budget, Nickelsberg said the process works.
"I think Bob Lansing has done an excellent job on that issue," Nickelsberg said. "It’s worked tremendously well."
Lansing has kept town tax increases to very low in each year of his administration, Nickelsberg said.
On taxes, Nickelsberg has a number of ideas to keep costs low. For example, he wants to heat town buildings by burning green wood cleared from the side of town roads and installing a furnace that burns waste oil.
"In these days of $3 fuel costs, that’s a big deal," Nickelsberg said.
He also suggested sharing equipment in the Hilltowns.
"Do Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rennselaerville all need their own steamrollers" Probably not," Nickelsberg said.
Berne has found some creative ways to keep insurance costs down, Nickelsberg said. As supervisor of Rensselaerville, he would copy Bernes methods.
"Kevin Crosier of Berne has done a terrific job," Nickelsberg said. "We would learn from him."
Nickelsberg is also running on the Independence and Conservative party lines.
Though he hasnt been supervisor in almost 14 years, David Bryan wants the job back so its done right.
"There are a number of things that haven’t gotten done," Bryan said.
Bryan said he reads town board minutes, and it seems like meetings are lasting only 15 minutes, with no time for in-depth discussion or participation by the community.
There is especially no planning for the towns future, he said, his first priority.
"We are now in a real bind with preserving our rural character," Bryan said.
Bryan, 51, was supervisor from 1986 to 1992. He works as a house principal at Albany High School. He has also been a member of the Rensselaerville library board and the historical society board and on committees of the Greenville School District.
"I really am a concerned town resident that has the best interests of the residents in mind," Bryan said.
Bryan wants to increase communication between the town and the residents. Although the town has a website and a newsletter, theres nothing of value published there, he said.
For example, he said, "They’ve been talking about a moratorium, but they never discuss it. It never makes it to the agenda."
Also, Bryan said, the towns computer system is the same one he installed when he was supervisor. The government isnt accessible by e-mail, he said.
"This is the 21st Century," Bryan said. "We should be able to use e-mail."
Other projects on which Bryan wants to work include bringing senior housing to Rensselaerville and sidewalks to the hamlet of Preston Hollow.
On growth, Bryan said the town needs to prepare a five- and 10-year plan, and completely review its zoning ordinance and master plan.
"We need to sit down with a committee and review what needs to be updated," Bryan said, and he wants to hire a planning consultant.
The key to preserving the towns rural character, he said, is having strict zoning, and enforcing it.
For example, he said, the recent application to the planning board for a radio tower was for 180 feet, 30 feet over what the zoning calls for, Bryan said.
"It should’ve never went to the planning board," he said.
Bryan agrees cellular and radio towers are needed, but he said they need to be planned for.
"We need to have places for those things," he said. "We need to research."
On the budget, Bryan said the process definitely needs to be changed.
"Saying it’s the supervisor’s budget is absurd. It’s not. It’s the town’s budget. It’s the residents’ budget," Bryan said.
When he was supervisor, Bryan said, the town started the budget process in September and held three budget workshops at which members of the public or town officers could request funds.
On taxes, Bryan said proper planning, a five- and 10-year plan, will help keep costs down.
"You need a process," Bryan said.
Just cutting spending now may mean even more spending in the future, he said.
"Fiscal responsibility is a good estimate of what you need and what you are going to spend," Bryan said.
Edward Steven Ryder
Councilman Edward Steven Ryder, a Democrat, is running for reelection because, he said, "In the past four years, I haven’t seen enough of a change. There needs to be more done for the residents of this town."
The needs of large segments of the towns population, like the seniors, are not being met, he said.
"A lot of the views of the public have not been heard," Ryder said.
For example, Ryder said, at town board meetings, after residents make comments, the supervisor and other members of the town board rarely respond. Ryder said he tries to respond to comments when he can.
"I get some pretty dirty looks from [the supervisor]," Ryder said.
Ryder, 47, is completing his first term on the town board. He has lived in Rensselaerville, in the hamlet of Medusa, for 18 years, and works as an electrical instrumental engineer. Ryder is a member and past president of the Medusa Fire Department. He currently serves as assistant chief.
On growth, Ryder said part of the Democratic platform for 2006 is "a total and complete review of the master plan."
One of the issues that will be looked at, Ryder said, is the minimum acreage for a lot. If it is 20 acres, he said, growth will stop, but low-income families wont be able to afford to live in Rensselaerville. If its five acres, he said, large landowners could subdivide their land into fifty or sixty lots, allowing growth to continue out of control.
"It’s a big thing that I don’t think anybody can really sit down and give an answer in five minutes," Ryder said. "It needs to be explored from both ends. You have to meet somewhere in the middle."
On towers, Ryder said that, though he understands the people dont want towers near their property, something needs to be done for cellular and emergency service.
"One has to go up. It has to go up somewhere," Ryder said. "I’ve never seen the Verizon guy in Rensselaerville saying, ‘Can you hear me now""
On the budget, Ryder explained that he was right in the middle of the controversy. At a budget meeting earlier this month, he said, Supervisor Lansing and the two Republican board members voted to approve the budget draft without allowing discussion, against Ryders protests.
"This thing was shoved down my throat," Ryder said. "I was not a happy person...The people I represent, they all got slammed."
Ryder wants the budget process to return to the way it was before Lansings administration. Then, he said, the board went over the budget line by line and asked every representatives of town groups to come before the board and explain why they were asking for the money.
"This year" Nothing. Last year" Nothing. The year before" Nothing," Ryder said.
On taxes, Ryder said, "I wish I could be a magician."
"It’s going to come down to the whole entire budget," he said. "The board has to sit down and go over that thing line by line by line. What can we do to maybe save a dollar here or a dollar there""
Ryder said he is working on two ideas to save the town money, including one on fuel. He said he couldnt discuss the ideas yet, because the town attorney is investigating whether they can legally be done by the town.
J. Robert Lansing
J. Robert Lansing, a Republican, has been Rensselaervilles supervisor in three different decades. He was in office for a two-year term in the sixties, then again between 1971 and 1975, and he is just completing a term that began in 2002.
At 79 years old, he wants to take a break.
"I guess I’d rather spend one day a month at Town Hall than every day," Lansing said.
Lansing lamented how the board has changed since he was first supervisor 40 years ago, when, he said, he was the only Republican on the board.
"Whatever problems we had, we solved it," Lansing said. "Now, it’s us against them."
Lansing has lived in Rensselaerville since 1934. He graduated from Greenville High School in 1942. He was a member of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, serving as a B-29 tail gunner and achieving the rank of sergeant.
Lansing has worked as a farmer and owned several businesses, including Bells Hotel, which he and his wife continue to operate. In 1996, he retired after 22 years as business manager for the Greenville Central School District.
In Rensselaerville, the Republican supervisor and Democratic highway superintendent dont always see eye to eye. Earlier this year, Lansing said, the town agreed to help build a training center for volunteer firefighters on the empty town property between the town hall and the ambulance garage.
"They’ve been talking about it, but he hasn’t built it yet," Lansing said of Superintendent G. Jon Chase.
On growth, Lansing said talking about preserving agriculture in the town is irrelevant. There is no agriculture anymore, he said.
"There’s one farm left that’s shipping milk," he said. Others, he said, "claim to be farmers, yet they work in the city."
As for a moratorium on building that has been suggested by a few residents, Lansing said, "I’m waiting to see what happens." However, he said, "I don’t know what good a moratorium is going to do."
On towers, Lansing said theyre needed. His daughter bought a cell phone and had to return it because it didnt work in the Hilltowns, he said.
"She said, ‘It’s no good to me,’" Lansing said. He pointed out that Middleburgh recently got cellular coverage.
On the budget, Lansing said, "When I took office, the superintendent was preparing the budget, so I continued to do that."
Lansing said he would have accepted input from the Democrats if the Democrats would speak to him, which, he said, they dont.
On taxes, Lansing said, "I’ve kept the taxes down for the past four years," by "cutting the fat."
If elected to the town board, Lansing said, he would advise the new supervisor on his cost-cutting techniques.
Timothy Becker, a Republican, was not available for an Enterprise interview.
According to his campaign literature, Becker has lived with his wife in Preston Hollow for two years.
In his literature, Becker writes that he is running because he would like to do something for his community and see that everyone in the town is treated fairly by town board members. Many times, Becker writes, he has seen people mistreated.
Becker also calls for improvements in the look of the town and the effective use of funds.
Sherri Pine, a Democrat, wants the voters to know that she knows the Rensselaerville area really, really well.
"I really care about my town," Pine said. "My family’s been here for many, many years."
Her 93-year-old grandmother bought her farm from the Van Rensselaers, the Dutch patroon family that originally controlled Albany County, Pine said. Even earlier than that, she said, her family were tenant farmers.
Pine, 47, works for the Albany County Court Clerks Office. Before that, she was a meat wrapper for Bryants grocery store. She has two grown children. Her husband, Jeff, is a town assessor and a code enforcement officer in New Scotland.
Sherri Pine ran, and lost, for town board in 2003.
Among her ideas for the town, Pine wants to hire a grant writer. There is a lot of money available, she said, and a grant writer pays her own salary as part of the grants received.
"It’s really no cost to the town," she said.
Pine also wants to provide more senior services in Rensselaerville, possibly by participating in programs sponsored by Albany County or the state.
On growth, Pine said, "That’s why we have a master plan."
She supports reviewing the master plan to ensure that the zoning will protect the character that the towns residents want.
"They haven’t even looked at it yet," she said of the current, Republican controlled, town board.
On towers, she said the recent application was a violation of the towns zoning law, but a tower is needed somewhere.
"I have a cellphone. I’d love to use it when I’m home," Pine said. "There are ways of providing that and still not hurting the vistas."
She suggested fixing up the existing towers in town or allowing a few smaller ones rather than one big one.
On the budget, Pine said the current process is, "not right."
"I believe in open government," Pine said.
When making the town budget, she said, the town board needs to allow input from others in the town.
On taxes, Pine suggested saving money by investigating how the town buys materials.
For example, she asked, is it cheaper to buy sand and gravel all at once and store it, or have it delivered each time it is needed"
Also, she said, the cheapest option is not always the best.
"You get what you pay for," Pine said. "If you go dirt cheap, you won’t get the same level of quality you would if you paid more."
G. Jon Chase
G. Jon Chase, a Democrat, did not return calls from The Enterprise, as he rarely has in recent years.
Chase has been highway superintendent since 1997. His son, Gary Chase, is a Democratic member of the town board.
Stephen Wood, a Republican, is running for highway superintendent because he thinks the current superintendent is not doing the job right. He sees a lot of problems with the roads around town, but he doesnt blame the highway crew.
"You’re only as good as your supervision," Wood said. "If people don’t do proper jobs, you waste man-hours and you waste taxpayer money."
This isnt Woods first race. He ran for superintendent in the nineties, losing in a three-way race to the Democrat, Chase.
Wood, 60, owns his own business, S.W. Wood Construction, which, he said, is doing very well. If he were to become superintendent, his son would manage the business.
Wood, a Vietnam veteran, has also operated cranes and other equipment on various jobs in the area, including at Albany International Airport. Hes lived in Rensselaerville for 13 years.
Among other problems on town roads, Wood said, "There’s no ditching to speak of."
The roads arent maintained well and arent lasting nearly as long as they should, he said. Also, brush along the roads isnt being cleared, he said, impairing visibility at corners.
"There are just a number of things that provoked me to run," Wood said.
Part of the problem, he said, is Chase doesnt use the equipment correctly.
"You use the proper equipment in the proper context," Wood said.
Recently, a lawsuit has been brought against the town, alleging that Chase is violating New Yorks Freedom of Information Law by not providing requested records of highway work. The suing resident, Vernon Husek, also claims that Chase is using town funds and equipment for projects that benefit family members.
Wood claims that some of Chases election signs are too large for the towns zoning.
"It shows that he’s got no regard for the laws," Wood said. "He’s basically snubbing his nose to what the town laws are."
Wood said he will run the highway department differently.
"I’ll have an open-door policy," he said. And, he said, he’ll be honest. "I’m not going to tell someone I’ll be there next week and then not get there," Wood said.
Kathleen Hallenbeck, a Democrat, is running unopposed for town clerk. She has held the position since 1974.
Hallenbeck is a lifetime resident of Rensselaerville. She is a member of the County Clerks Association, the American Legion, and the Rensselaerville Volunteer Fire Company.
She has three children and two grandchildren.
The town clerk is paid $28,975.
There are two seats available on the three-member board of assessors.
In May, Republican Eric Sutton was appointed by the Rensselaerville Town Board to replace Democrat Sean McCormick, who was unable to complete the required training courses for the job. The vote was split 3 to 2 along party lines.
In November, Sutton will seek a full term, while McCormick will try to get his post back.
Also running are incumbent Democrat Peter Hotaling and Republican Donna Kropp.
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