New Ancram board weighs in on boatload of issues

ANCRAM–The Town Board set sail last week into 2010, with Art Bassin at the helm for his first regular monthly meeting as supervisor.

During the three-and-a-half-hours it took to wade through the ambitious agenda January 21, two new meeting innovations were introduced–audience comments were unlimited and there was plenty of food available to sustain meeting-goers through the evening.

Supervisor Bassin listed adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, zoning revisions, a revaluation review, a contamination assessment, a new highway garage, a highway equipment plan and painting the Town Hall as priorities in the coming months.

The evening was packed with committee, board and department reports and the consideration of 11 proposed resolutions.

In his report, Highway Superintendent James MacArthur said the major road repairs he has planned for this year include finishing Poole Hill Road from Pat’s Road to Route 82; widening and repaving 4/10 of a mile of Cottontail Road and drainage work on Maple Lane and Town Road.

Noting that he frequently faces questions about “why we do things the way we do them,” the highway boss said that engineers and experts always have ideas about better ways and the right way to build and maintain roads, but truth be told “you cannot afford it.”

For the highway crew to properly repair a mile of town road would require taxpayers to spend an additional $45,000, and the section of road under repair would be closed for 5 or 6 months.

Recognizing that “nobody is going to stand for me to close a mile of road” for that length of time, Mr. MacArthur said his goal is to make town roads “as good as I can so they are not ruining your cars” while trying to keep taxes as low as possible.

Another Highway Department issue addressed was the search for possible contamination at the existing garage site. In response to a concern voiced a couple of months ago by Terry MacDonald that her well water was polluted by oil from the nearby town garage, Mr. MacArthur said that the county health department tested and detected no oil or other contaminants.

But because the town hopes to build a new garage at the existing site off Town Road adjacent to a wetland, the state Department of Environmental Conservation wants 6 to 12 boring samples taken from various locations on the property to determine whether there is any site contamination before the project can move forward. Cost quotes from three companies that perform such work are currently being sought. Supervisor Bassin said it is likely the bids will come in between $6,000 and $7,000 and the work will take between 30 and 45 days to complete.

In his report from the Garage Construction Committee Emile Racenet said that the town is exploring the idea of constructing not only a garage, but also a salt shed near the current garage site, if some arrangement for additional land can be worked out with Dan Slott, who owns adjacent property.

Also discussed was the adoption of the town Comprehensive Plan, a move Supervisor Bassin and a majority of Town Board members endorse. Former Town Board members Donna Hoyt and Bob Mayhew, both of whom lost their bids for re-election in November, argued with Mr. Bassin about whether adopting the plan was advisable in light of Town Attorney Jason Shaw’s opinion that the zoning law had to be updated first.

Mrs. Hoyt insisted that Mr. Shaw, the county Planning Board and the Association of Towns were all of the same mind, that such a move would create a liability for the town.

Mr. Bassin characterized the issue as “tempest in a teapot” and countered that no legal liability would be encountered by the town if the plan is adopted according to the town Comprehensive Plan Consultant Nan Stolzenburg’s advice and as long as zoning is in the process of being updated.

Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Leah Wilcox agreed with the supervisor, saying case law “gives the town the benefit of the doubt if the town is making a good faith effort to bring zoning into compliance with the Comprehensive Plan.”

In another report, Building Manager George Wittlinger, also a town justice, said local house painter Jane Moore has offered her services, her paint spraying apparatus and has said she will organize volunteers to paint the peeling exterior of the Town Hall. The move by the previous Town Board to apply vinyl siding has been scrapped in response to public outcry against that approach.

Judge Wittlinger said that before the new paint job, bids will be sought for carpentry work to fix the wood siding, and the building will be pressure washed. Town insurance will cover volunteer work on the structure, he said.

Another aspect of the building manager’s report was about the Town Hall telephone system, which officials thought was malfunctioning and needed repair. Judge Wittlinger said a second phone in the town clerk’s office was removed some time ago at the town’s request, because the town clerk was too busy to deal with answering two phones. But the voice mailbox connected to that second phone was not disconnected, and officials recently discovered 236 unanswered phone messages left by people trying to contact the town clerk over the past several years.

Town Clerk Monica Cleveland apologized for not returning the phone calls from people whose messages she never received.

As for the food that sustained people throughout the lengthy meeting, the Ancramdale Neighbors Helping Neighbors Association supplied fruit, baked goods, cheese, brownies, cookies, popcorn, trail mix and what was advertised as “a local favorite–Postmaster Deb’s Wieners.” All the taste treats could be had in the galley outside the meeting room for a free-will donation to benefit that local community service group. There was no charge for coffee or tea.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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