COPAKE–Though the town supervisor was out of town, there was no shortage of official action taken at the August 13 Town Board meeting.
The abundance of unanimous votes was uncharacteristic and covered everything from declaring that no town financial records may ever be taken out of the Town Hall to supporting a town resident in her fight to save a row of evergreen trees.
But anyone who came to the meeting expecting to find out exactly how much of a budget shortfall the town faces and what the board plans to do about it was disappointed.
Deputy Town Supervisor Joe LaPorta, who ran the meeting, announced early on that a budget workshop had been scheduled for Wednesday, August 19, at which time Town Accountant Michael Torchia would be on hand to give the board a rundown of the complete budget forecast, now that all the town’s financial records have finally been returned by the town’s former accountant Brian Fitzgerald.
In actions and discussions of note at the August meeting, the Town Board:
*Assigned Supervisor Crowley (in absentia) to find out at the county level whether notices can be included in town tax bills to let taxpayers know there is a payment plan available
*Agreed that meeting minutes should contain a list of who is responsible for follow-up on items subject to continued discussion, so things don’t slip through the cracks
*Agreed that no town financial records should ever leave Town Hall. Town officials ran into problems earlier this month trying to get town financial records back from the town’s former accountant, who took the records to his office after he was dismissed
*Set a public hearing for 8:30 a.m. September 12 about enacting a new local law governing, or a moratorium on the use of, outdoor wood-burning boilers. Mr. LaPorta noted that the Taconic Shores Property Owners Association has already banned the use of these devices and the boilers present an air quality/public health issue
*Set a public hearing at 8:45 a.m. September 12 about revisions to the town’s motor vehicle storage permit regulations. Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker agreed to provide the Town Board with the Planning Board’s recommendation on the revisions prior to the September 12 meeting.
*Agreed that a representative from Hudson Valley Clean Energy should come to the next board meeting to straighten out a problem with the solar panel installation contract. Mr. LaPorta said he was asked to sign the contract on the town’s behalf, but that the wording requires the town to pay $35,100 in the event grant money does not materialize. Mr. LaPorta said he would not sign the contract on that basis and board members supported his decision
*Issued a statement in support of Susan Winchell-Sweeney in her efforts to prevent the county from seizing a portion of her property by eminent domain and cutting down her Norway spruce trees along Center Hill Road
*Heard Deputy Supervisor LaPorta report on a plan to combine the building inspector/zoning enforcement offices of four towns into one. Mr. LaPorta said he represented Copake at a recent meeting of the supervisors of Hillsdale, Austerlitz and Chatham, at which the idea of establishing an “intermunicipal agreement” to share the services was proposed. The main office would be based in Austerlitz, open full-time and staffed by three certified building inspectors, who would cover the four-town area and carry laptop computers connected to a central database. The four towns would have the same fee schedule, and the money generated by each town would stay in that town. People in Copake could submit building permit applications by fax or email if they don’t want to drive to Austerlitz. Mr. LaPorta said the deadline for a government grant to cover 90% of the start-up cost of the program is October 15. He said the plan to combine the building departments of the four towns is a step toward what will someday be a county-based planning and zoning department, and he shared all the paperwork about the proposal with board members
*Declined an invitation by Deputy Supervisor LaPorta to vote to let Mr. Crowley start preliminary paperwork for a possible loan application to borrow money to cover the looming six-figure budget deficit. Mr. LaPorta said starting the paperwork now would save time if the board ultimately decided to go forward with borrowing money
*Heard from Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia that Attorney Carl Whitbeck, with the law firm handling the town’s ongoing litigation against Salvatore Cascino, would come to the next meeting free-of-charge and give an update on the collection of attorney fees from Mr. Cascino as ordered by the court.
The only uproar of note at the meeting occurred when Councilman Bob Sacks said that he was told by the Sheriff’s Office that patrols from that office cover Copake and all of Columbia County 24/7. His statement contradicted an assertion made by Supervisor Crowley at a previous meeting, when Mr. Crowley indicated that the Sheriff’s Office and the State Police could not pick up the slack if the town’s police force was cut.
Mr. Sacks also quoted the supervisors of other towns as saying they could not afford their own police force and had no need for one because of coverage by the Sheriff’s Office and State Police.
His statements upset Town Police Commissioner Jeff Nayer, who shouted, “Other towns don’t set what we do!” Mr. Nayer said that the Police Department had offered to cut 17% of its budget to help the town deal with the deficit, while other departments offered nothing.