Chatham prepares to reopen, cautiously

CHATHAM—The Town Board discussed the town’s Reopen Chatham committees and the ways they plan to safely open Town Hall and the town courts at their workshop meeting on June 4. Also at that meeting the board voted to leave the beach at Crellin Park closed for now and not hire lifeguards at this time.

The Highway Department Garage will remain closed to the public, according to Supervisor Donal Collins. He also said at the meeting, held on the Google Meets platform, that Town Hall would be closed to the public for the rest of June.

Town Clerk Beth Anne Rippel said that even though the building is closed, the staff is still working and answering questions over the phone and through email. She talked about plans once the building does reopen. “We have everything hammered out,” she said of the reopening plan.

Councilman Vance Pitkin said the Town Court, which is held in the Tracy Memorial Village Hall in the Village of Chatham, was “all ready to go” but the board does not yet have a definitive start date. He said the court has been getting guidance from the state court system.

“They’ve got things pretty well figured out,” he said of reopening.

The board spent some time discussing the park and specifically the pond area. Recreation Director Mike West said he presented the board with new guidelines for opening the swimming area. He had talked to the county about safety issues.

‘I’d prefer to have it remain closed.’

Supv. Donal Collins

Town of Chatham

At a meeting in May, the board passed a motion to cancel the six-week day camp at the park due to concerns about the pandemic and a recommendation from the county that summer camps be canceled.

Councilwoman Abi Mesick had reservations about opening the beach, saying, “I don’t think we can adequately protect people” from the Covid-19 virus. She also worried about liability, saying that if someone got sick at the park the town could be liable.

Supervisor Collins said he didn’t think children could maintain social distancing at the beach. Mr. West pointed out that the beach would be mostly families with more supervision for children. He stressed the differences between the camp program, with one counselor and a group of kids, and the public swimming area, where kids would be with their families.

“I’d prefer to have it remain closed,” said Supervisor Collins.

Mr. West asked about hiring lifeguards, saying he was worried that if he didn’t let his seasonal staff know whether the swimming area was planning to open, they would take other jobs, and that could be an issue if the pond does open. He said he already had two of his lifeguards from last year take other jobs at swimming areas that are open.

Councilman John Wapner talked about hiring the lifeguards and having them work other jobs at the park while the pond is closed. The board and Mr. West talked about the trail work planned for the property that connects the park and PS21, the performing arts center next door. The staff could work on clearing the trails while the beach is closed and return to duty as lifeguards when and if it opens.

Mr. Wapner pointed out that the money had been budgeted to hire staff at the park. Supervisor Collins and Tammy Shaw, the supervisor’s administrative assistant, both talked about budget issues, saying the town was down in fees and fines from this time last year. Ms. Shaw pointed out that there was no revenue coming from the camp program, which the town budgeted at about $39,000, this year so the budget would be short that amount. Mr. Collins also said the construction project at the park on the pavilion was about $12,000 over budget.

He pointed out that part-time non-essential workers were currently furloughed and that he was not comfortable hiring new people at this time.

Mr. Wapner said he would like to meet with the town’s accountants to look at the town’s funds. He said he had not seen a document that showed the town was in financial trouble.

Of hiring the lifeguards at the park, he said, “I think it’s money well spent and won’t put us in the poorhouse.”

The board passed a motion saying that the swimming area would remain closed and there would be no new hires for the park with Mr. Collins, Ms. Mesick and Mr. Pitkin voting yes, and Mr. Wapner and Councilman Kevin Weldon voting against.

Also at the meeting:

• The board heard from Angus Eaton about the Solarize Chatham program. According to a resolution that the board is reviewing, Solarize Chatham is “a short term, local effort that brings together groups of potential community solar customers through widespread outreach and education”

• Councilwoman Mesick presented a new proposed law regulating short-term rentals. “All we’re doing is putting it out there,” she said. She hoped the public would look at the new document, which is on the town’s website at

• The board discussed forming a broadband committee. Three residents had been looking at improving internet access for town residents but had run into issues with broadband providers not sharing where they planned to add new service. The board discussed having a larger group work on problem

• The board talked about moving the town court from the second floor of the Tracy Memorial and finding a space that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Supervisor Collins shared plans from 2015 that a previous board requested to increase the size of the Town Hall on Route 295 to include the court. He said that he was not interested in this plan, which was estimated to cost $1.2 million, but that he was looking at a building that could house more town programs.

Councilman Weldon said he had talked with Town Justice James Borgia-Forster, who had several ideas about a new court. He stressed that Mr. Collins should reach out to the judge. “I think it’s important that he be part of this,” said Mr. Weldon

• The board plans to pass a peddler’s permit fee of $25 at the next regular town meeting; the town currently has no fee in the peddlers law.

The next regular board meet will be June 18 at 7 p.m. Information on how to attend the meeting online will be posted on the town’s website,

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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