Mayor, trustee apologize for Chatham tax mess

CHATHAM—Monday, March 11 was the last regular meeting for Village Mayor Tom Curran and Trustee Jay Rippel. Neither was seeking reelection in village elections on March 19. During the public comments at the end of the meeting, both men personally apologized for the financial issues the village is currently going through.

Last summer the Village Board discovered that federal payroll taxes had not been paid for three years and then last December the board announced at a meeting that the village had not paid state payroll taxes for the same period. The village was able to pay the back taxes, which had been withheld from employees, but there was interest and penalties on the late payments that must still be paid to both the state and the US governments.

The IRS forgave several thousand dollars in penalties but says the village still owes $18,112. And the state has not yet said what the village owes, though it could be about $25,000. The village is also under investigation for the late payments by the county District Attorney and the state Department of Taxation. In January State Police and state officials seized village computers and documents.

Mr. Rippel, who originally called the state Office of Comptroller last summer about the accounting issues, said at the March 11 board meeting that the board still does not know everything that led to the payroll tax issue but that all the board members were “hit hard by what went on.”

He said that a few months ago residents came to the board asking for an apology for these mistakes. “I’m going to offer the people of the village my formal apology,” he said.

He also said of serving on the board for six years, “It’s been my privilege and honor to do it.” He said he choose not to run again this year for personal reasons and because he believes in limiting terms.

Mayor Curran was elected to office 8 years ago. He said at the meeting, “I’m really sorry that this whole financial thing happened.” He said that his time in office has “been a personal growth experience” for him. He also told the residents at the meeting that it was not a thankless job, as many people told him it would be. “I think there are many rewards in it,” he said, and urged people to consider running for office.

Trustee Mike Wollowitz is also not running for reelection. He was not at the meeting.

The newly elected mayor John Howe and trustees elect Jaimee Boehme, Melony Spock and incumbent Peter Minahan take office April 1. Village election results are on page 5 of this issue.

Also at the meeting:

• Phil Genovese, from the village Department of Public Works, presented a report on the overflow of water at the treatment plant. He said the village has exceeded its state permit for inflow of water during 6 of the last 12 months. He said that that might mean the state will ask the village for a flow management plan.

In his report, he said that “the overflow appears to be caused by groundwater or run-off water entering sewer pipes” from two sources–cracks in sewer pipes, manhole walls or laterals (pipes that connect buildings to the water mains), and from residents using sump pumps that drain into the sewer system. The report, which Mr. Genovese wrote with Trustee Wollowitz, the water and sewer commissioner, said the DPW plans to “find the exact sources of the overflow”

• Mr. Genovese also gave the board a certificate from the governor’s office acknowledging the village’s 150th anniversary; it was sent to the DPW by mistake

• The Fire Department is spending about $2,000, donated by the two village fire companies, on a recruitment ad campaign, according the Assistant Chief Eric Barnes. He said the posters and ads, including a bill board, have led to at least one new recruit and several inquires. Mr. Barnes also asked Mayor Curran about getting an updated village budget so that he can finalize the proposed 2018-19 Fire Department budget for the board to review.

Village budgets run from June 1 to May 31. Mayor Curran said he was meeting with the village treasurer soon and would be looking for proposed department budgets by next week. Mr. Barnes also thanked Mr. Rippel for his services as fire commissioner. “It’s been great working with you,” he said

• Two residents asked about proposed new zoning laws the Village Board had been reviewing since last year. Lael Locke asked during the public comment period about what happened to the proposed zoning law, which the county reviewed and was approved by both the village Planning Board and the Zoning Board Appeals. Mayor Curran said the village’s attorney is still reviewing the proposed changes.

Resident Stephen Piazza, who worked with a committee on the changes, worried that if the board puts off passing the updated zoning laws, it will not be a priority for a newly elected board. He said, “I just don’t want to go backwards.” Mr. Curran said the zoning was important to him and something he would help work on even as a private citizen.

The next board meeting will be an organization meeting on Monday, April 1 at 7 p.m. at the Tracy Memorial.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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