The will’s there, but where’s the money?

CHATHAM–The town is about to cut through the final piece of red tape delaying its end of the $2.4-million White Mills Road bridge repair project.

Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said soon it will be up to the state to make the next move.

“The funding has been approved for years,” Mr. DeGroodt said after the Thursday, January 19 Town Board meeting where the announcement was made. “But now the state has to put the project in its budget and make the money available to the town.”

The White Mills Road bridge over the CSX railroad was permanently closed in October 2007 because of extensive deterioration. A major roadblock in the project so far has been the need to obtain one-tenth of an acre of private land to expand the bridge. But that small piece of land is part of an estate that is in foreclosure and has a tax lien against it.

The first hurdle that was recently overcome, said Town Attorney Tal Rappelyea. That involved having the estate of the landowner designate a person to approve the gift of the land. That’s been done, and now the Town has to ask the county Board of Supervisors to waive the tax lien on the land, said Mr. Rappelyea.

Mr. DeGroodt said he will present the issue to the Board of Supervisors Finance Committee–he’s a member of that committee–February 7. After an expected approval at the committee level, the entire board of supervisors is expected to waive the lien at the February 14 meeting.

After the lien is waived, the state will need to make funds designated for the project available to the town. Federal and state funding will pay for about 95% of the bridge repair and the town will fund the remainder.

“Then the town engineers will work on how to make the project roll,” said Mr. DeGroodt.

In other business at its regular monthly meeting, the board:

*Approved a resolution to issue a permissive referendum to spend $8,000 from the town’s capital account toward the cost of eight new computers. Once the text of the referendum is published, the public has 30 days to require the board to put the issue to a vote. Mr. Rappelyea said even though it’s a relatively small amount of money, state legislation requires the public “permissive referendum” for computer purchases. Mr. DeGroodt said many of the town’s current computers are more than six years old

*Voted unanimously to continue the town’s service agreement with “Technology for All” for computer servicing and repairs

*Discussed the possibility of a town newsletter to keep residents updated on town business, recreational programs, trash pickup, dog licensing, etc. Mr. DeGroodt formed a Communications Committee, which will look at how to improve town communications as a whole, including the town’s website. He appointed council members Bob Balcom and Maria Lull sit on the committee

*Discussed how to allocate an excess $175,000 of unreserved and unappropriated funds in the town’s capital account that, by law, cannot be transferred to the operating account. Mr. DeGroodt recommended earmarking $100,000 for construction of a new pavilion at Crellin Park and $50,000 towards reclaiming several acres of land behind town hall, where the town now has a gravel mine. Mr. DeGroodt recommended leaving $25,000 unallocated.

*Discussed a spring kick-off campaign for raising money for what Mr. DeGroodt called a “very hurting Crellin Park.” Mr. DeGroodt said the town will need much more than the $100,000 designated above to rebuild the park’s infrastructure, so both youth and senior programs can be offered there.

Mr. DeGroodt suggested creating the fundraising campaign in the memory of former board member Tom Meyn, who died in November. Mr. Meyn was known for being “very civic-minded and for working to make the community better,” said Mr. DeGroodt. The board plans to rename Town Hall in his name later this year.

The board also heard several committee reports:

*Recreation Director Shari Franks said she’s working on building an official ice skating rink at Crellin Park. The funding is available for the materials, but volunteers are needed to help with construction. Ms. Franks also said she is researching potential irrigation systems for the Crellin Park pond, including solar and windmill powered systems. Ms. Franks said a committee has formed to create a disc golf course on land behind Town Hall and will have more to report in the spring

*Environmental Management Council member Deirdre Henderson reported on the activities of that countywide body. She said the Columbia Land Conservancy was approved for a grant to create a “Geographic Information System” for Columbia County. Ms. Henderson said she will soon be hearing what Chatham needs to do to be a part of the project. She said the GIS system project is expected to cost the town only about $400. “I think it will be enormously valuable,” Ms. Henderson said

*Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert said since his crew had only three days of snow-plowing through January 19th, they started inventory in the garage, clearing dead trees around town and other catch-up work

*The Zoning Implementation Committee is looking for another member. Applications are due to Town Hall by February 10.

At the beginning of the meeting former Town Justice Doris Appel was honored for her nearly 28 years of service to the town. Mr. DeGroodt presented her with a plaque.

“It was an honor to serve the people of Chatham for all these years,” said Judge Appel. “It’s been a really good ride.”

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