Lawyer: Vinyl vote’s invalid

Ancram board ignores taxpayers’ call for referendum 

ANCRAM–Against the advice of the town attorney and despite the signatures of almost 150 residents on a petition in opposition, the Town Board is apparently considering going ahead with its plan to put vinyl siding on Town Hall.

At the board’s November 5 workshop meeting, Town Supervisor Thomas Dias said he was drafting a letter of non-collusion as requested by the sole bidder on siding project, an indication he was moving forward with the vinyl-siding project, according to Jack Lindsey, a former Ancram Town Board member and a supporter of the anti-vinyl-siding movement who was at the meeting.

The petition, signed at last count by 145 people, was submitted to the town clerk October 19. It seeks to force a public referendum on whether to install vinyl siding on Town Hall.

By law, the board had five days to challenge the petition but did not lodge an objection. Board members had already opened the single bid they received on the siding project and awarded a contract to Roger Boice for $23,775 at the October 15 Town Board meeting.

People at that meeting were stunned by the action, since they had not heard any public discussion of the subject before. When opponents checked later they could find no mention of a vote or even a motion to seek bids in the minutes of meetings held in recent months.

The Columbia Paper reported last week that Town Justice George Wittlinger, who also serves as the Town Hall building manager, said the paint on the six-year-old Town Hall’s wooden board and batten siding is flaking and some mildew is evident. Judge Wittlinger said he asked Supervisor Dias to request the board’s approval to get the building power-washed and painted, but instead the supervisor told Judge Wittlinger to compile specifications for the installation of vinyl siding. Bids for the installation were sought, but only Mr. Boice submitted one.

Christopher “Kit” White mounted a petition drive against the vinyl-siding installation on a number of grounds, including the lack of public discussion, the possibility that vinyl siding will enhance the building’s mildew, the toxic fumes vinyl produces if it burns, opposition to the town spending money now for siding and the prospect that the siding will substantially alter the building’s appearance. Opponents also believe that taxpayers should have a say in the matter, because the building was constructed with tax dollars.

Siding the building with vinyl was rejected by members of the original committee assigned to get the Town Hall built, because it was not in keeping with the look of a barn compatible with a farming community.

At the November 5 meeting Town Councilman James Miller read aloud an email sent to board members by Town Attorney Jason Shaw, who called the board’s resolution on the siding “premature and improper.” According to law, Mr. Shaw wrote, “plans, specs and estimates had to be obtained before seeking to put the matter out to bid. Moreover, this resolution was… subject to a permissive referendum and the procedure for such a resolution was not followed.”

The board’s attorney advised the board, “Let’s talk about this at the meeting on Thursday before any further action is taken.”

Though in recent weeks, a majority of board members were adamant about following Mr. Shaw’s advice when it came to not adopting the completed Comprehensive Plan until new zoning revisions are put in place, they now seem willing to ignore their attorney’s advice with regard to vinyl siding.

Mr. Lindsey said Mr. White and others who oppose the vinyl-siding installation have consulted an attorney of their own and are preparing a legal response should the board attempt to go forward.

Mr. Boice, the contractor, said he has not heard anything from the town since his bid was accepted. He said his request for a statement of non-collusion was standard procedure.

On another controversial matter, Supervisor Dias has called a special meeting November 12 at 7 p.m. “to allow open discussion on leasing the Mathews paintball facility” as a highway garage.

Mr. Shaw also weighed in on that matter in his email, noting that the board needs to “first determine whether requested rent is market rent and negotiate terms of lease with the owner. Once the lease has been fully negotiated and agreed, then a resolution to sign the lease must be adopted, and this is also subject to a permissive referendum.”

Councilman Miller, who was the lone dissenter on the board in favor of adopting the Comprehensive Plan, told The Columbia Paper this week that his colleagues on the Town Board, two or three of whom may soon be his former colleagues when the final results from the November 3 general election are tallied, seem to be in “a big hurry” to move on the vinyl siding installation and leasing the Mathews place because “they want to go out in a blaze of glory.”

Mr. Dias did not respond to a phone call or email for comment. Town Board members Bob Mayhew, Donna Hoyt and John MacArthur did not respond to emailed questions about where they stand on the vinyl-siding issue by press time Tuesday night.

To contact Diane Valden email

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