ANCRAM–Three new incoming Town Board members and one current and continuing councilman all got welcome earfuls of information from about 75 town residents during the first of three Transition Planning meetings at the Town Hall December 14.
Supervisor-elect Art Bassin, newly-elected board members Madeleine Israel and Chris Thomas and Councilman James Miller wanted to know what Ancram residents think works and does not work about the way town government operates. Mr. Bassin noted that Councilman John MacArthur was at a fire company meeting and could not attend.
Mr. Bassin set no rules during the two-hour session, only that questions and opinions be kept brief so everyone would have a chance to speak.
Leah Wilcox liked the concept of the town newsletter instituted by the prior administration but had a problem with the content. She said the newsletter is the perfect vehicle to help residents know about town issues are when they might be discussed and voted upon.
Libby McKee wanted to know about the structure of town meetings and suggested that residents be allowed to offer comments on agenda items when they arise instead of later in the meeting.
Mr. Bassin said it is his intention to allow open discussion throughout Town Board meetings, though he has been warned that to do so will be “chaotic and uncontrollable.” He said he’d figure out what to do about it if that becomes the case.
Jack Lindsey suggested that board meeting agendas be sent out in advance. He also suggested having a sign-up sheet for people who want to speak and a time limit on comments.
Barbara Gaba suggested that the board invite written comments and questions prior to the meeting. Mr. Bassin said he will send out emails to the 375 addresses he has.
A lengthy discussion ensued about the role of the town attorney, how much he is paid, how much time he devotes to town legal issues and whether the current town attorney will be retained in the coming year.
Don MacLean said that the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals might be better served by an attorney who specializes in land use law.
Mike Citrin said he would like to see a monthly, one-page financial report about the state of town finances that a layman could understand.
Committees and boards were the next topic of discussion. Mr. Bassin said he was inclined to ask the members of various boards for their recommendations about who should be the leader.
Mr. MacLean, a former Planning Board chairman, said years ago the Town Board took too much of a hands-off approach. He said that while it is important the Town Board respect the knowledge and experience of the people who serve on appointed boards, “some oversight is important” and boards should not be “self-perpetuating.”
By far the topic that drew the most discussion was the proposed Revaluation Committee. Mr. Bassin said the committee would be asked to determine whether the townwide revaluation two years ago was accurate and done in accordance with standards.
Councilwoman Donna Hoyt, whose term expires at the end of the year, said from her seat in the audience that such an investigation could take up to two years and during that time there would be no relief to the taxpayer.
Mr. Bassin said that after the committee presents its findings, the Town Board will ultimately decide whether the town should spend $100,000 on a new reval.
Mrs. Hoyt said she did not like the idea that local people would be doing the investigation and, when asked by Mr. Bassin, said she would not serve on the committee, which will “look like a bunch of headhunters.”
Many comments dealt with exactly how the committee would go about its task–looking at fair market values, the assessment rolls, anomalies, grievances, equalization rates, methodologies and formulas.
MaryAnn Roche said that she had been to the state Office of Real Property Services may times in an effort to find out how her property assessment was arrived at and had been consistently told there is no set formula, which is why no one can figure out if their assessment is right.
Sue Bassin said one of the benefits that may come out of the committee is educational, and that alone would be valuable.
Those attending also want the next Town Board to address other issues, including the town highway garage, deciding whether to adopt the Comprehensive Plan, seeing that the Community Rescue Squad is adequately funded, zoning revisions, vinyl siding for the town hall, revitalization of downtown Ancram, cell phone service, updating the town website, getting out the good news in town, eliminating divisiveness and, most importantly, who will bring the cookies to board meetings.
The next Transition Planning meeting is Monday, December 21, 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.
The subject matter will be town departments and services, especially roads. All department heads have been asked to attend.