Haber leaves Chatham Board, appointee to fill seat

CHATHAM–Town Councilwoman Landra Haber will resign from the Town Board as of the end of this month. She announced her plan to leave the board at the regular meeting Thursday, October 18.

Ms. Haber was elected to the Town Board in 2015, and her seat would be up in 2019. Town Supervisor Maria Lull said the board had just been made aware of Ms. Haber’s plans before the meeting and that the board could appoint someone to fill the rest of Ms. Haber’s term.

“I have loved being on the board,” said Ms. Haber. She said that she had been dealing with severe arthritis and recently had hip replacement surgery, and that she needed to take time to get her life back together. She told the board she handed in her resignation letter “very reluctantly.”

Supervisor Lull thanked her for her service on the board. “We really appreciate it,” she said.

The board began the meeting with a discussion on the tentative 2019 town budget. Councilman Bob Balcom announced that his budget is with an overall tax increase of about 0.79% which is under the state mandated tax cap.

During their discussion board members said the budget includes a 2% wage increase for most employees. There is no increase for Town Board members, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Board of Assessment Review members. Mr. Balcom said the board would have to pass a public law to change elected officials’ pay.

Town Justice James Borgia-Forster was at the meeting to ask for pay increases for the two town judges and the town court clerks.

The judge told the board that the “Chatham Town Court is the busiest town court in the county.” He pointed out that on court nights, where court convenes at the Tracy Memorial in the Village of Chatham, the judges can see 100 people in court and that cases get added at the last minute.

He stressed that the judges deal with all sorts for cases from misdemeanors to domestic violence, as well as traffic tickets and small claims.

Justice Borgia-Forster said that though Chatham is the busiest court, the town justices are paid “substantially less” than what justices are paid in Kinderhook, Claverack and Greenport. He also said that over the years he has applied for thousands of dollars in grant money for the court.

The judge said that in the seven years he’s been judge he’s only received one raise. He also pointed out that the judges do not receive health benefits from the town.

Judge Borgia-Forster pointed out that the town had “gone through four part-time clerks.” He said the full-time clerk deals with a lot of different court issues. “If we were to lose the town [court] clerk we would be in… a bad position,” he told the board.

Ms. Lull said she appreciated him for coming to the meeting and for advocating for his clerk. She said when the board started budgeting two years ago they came up with a tier schedule to increase the clerks’ pay. She also said that in an email to other town supervisors in the county, she discovered that Chatham’s clerks are getting one of the highest rates of pay.

The supervisor said there were no pay increases in 2016 due to fiscal issues the town was having. She read a report from the state’s Comptroller’s Office at the meeting that said the town’s fiscal stress score has gone down. When announcing what the comptroller’s report, Ms. Lull said that the town is “doing well.” She said maybe as the town gets more secure with the fiscal future there will be more raises.

Ms. Lull also said that every department was given serious consideration including requests for pay increases for the town clerk’s office, the highway superintendent, the recreation director and the town assessor.

Mr. Balcom, who is on the town Citizens Finance & Planning Committee, said that a “good exercise” for the committee would be to look at what other judges in other towns are paid.

The board will hold a public hearing the tentative budget November 1 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall.

The next regular board meeting will be Thursday, November 15.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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