The day after Election Day, two of Westerlo’s town board members submitted letters of resignation.
One of them, Edward Rash, said, at age 70, he wants more time to go camping, fly-fishing, and to ride his Harley Davidson. He’ll step down at the end of the year.
The other, Gregory Zeh, said he wants to raise his children close to family in Loudonville. His resignation was effective immediately since he no longer lives in the town, as required by law to represent it.
We have no quarrel with a man enjoying his retirement or raising his family where he sees fit.
We do have a problem with the timing of the resignation of these elected board members. Public office is a public trust. When voters elect their leaders, as we’ve written before, a contract is formed. The contract, whether for the nation’s president or a small-town councilman, carries an obligation to serve and should not be taken lightly.
Both of the Westerlo councilmen knew in advance they were leaving their posts. Our stance would be different if there were some unexpected and sudden cataclysmic event — like illness or a death in the family — that caused the resignations.
Both Rash and Zeh could have and should have announced their plans to resign in enough time for the posts to appear on the ballot.
Elections give voters a chance to have their say. Even in towns like Westerlo, where Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans and Democrats have dominated the board for decades, elections provide a means for candidates to be questioned on matters important to residents. Candidates must make their views and goals known.
The Westerlo Town Board acts rather like a private club.
Upon resigning, Rash told our Hilltown reporter, Marcello Iaia, that not completing his term means a younger replacement could be appointed as Rash himself had been in 1998, to fill the post left vacant by Richard McAneny.
“I think the person appointed would have a good feel for how the position should be,” Rash said. “I got in that way. It’s good to have a trial basis. It gives the appointee and the town more time to get to know each other.”
It also gives the appointee a leg up in the next election.
We urge the board to at least conduct an open review process for the two posts. And we urge candidates from across the town and across the political spectrum to apply. It shouldn’t be just political insiders who are considered.
Westerlo could use some enlightened leadership. Westerlo is the only town in the Enterprise coverage area that has exceeded the state-set cap on the tax levy. Taxes in Westerlo have been over the cap for two years in a row, since the legislation was adopted to keep government spending in check.
Westerlo has over the years frequently violated New York State Town Law that requires a town’s preliminary budget be filed by Sept. 30; the town board must be presented with a tentative budget by Oct. 5, at which point the board adopts a tentative plan; and the final budget must be adopted by Nov. 20.
By not meeting the required deadlines, Westerlo denies its citizens the chance to review and comment on spending. It is taxpayers’ money being spent and citizens deserve a chance to air their views. If their representatives listen and respond, those views can shape the budget.
This year, all four remaining board members voted for the 2013 budget, meeting the law’s requirement for a supermajority to override the cap. Supervisor Richard Rapp is unclear on precisely how much tax rates will increase; he estimates it will be up about $30 or $35 over last year. In 2012, the rate went up about $5 to about $300 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The tax rolls in Westerlo are badly skewed, again in violation of state standards, since a townwide reevaluation has not been conducted in over half a century. This means newcomers are paying a disproportionate share of taxes. The 2012 assessment rolls show that most properties in Westerlo have taxable values under $3,000.
“Because Westerlo has not conducted a reassessment in decades, it continues to exceed the assessment equity standard,” said Geoff Gloak, spokesman for the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, this week. “This means that many of the town’s property owners are paying either more or less than their fair share of taxes. The best way to ensure that all taxpayers pay only their fair share is to conduct frequent reassessments. The state makes aid available for municipalities that commit to conducting reassessments at least once every four years.”
The required revaluation won’t happen without strong and enlightened leadership. It’s not right for some citizens to be paying more than their fair share, subsidizing those who pay less than they should. The skewed rolls make the added tax burden even worse.
The point of the tax-levy cap, according to the governor who pushed for it, was to stop automatic tax increases and bring much needed scrutiny to government spending. Rapp last year estimated the tax-levy increase in Westerlo at 12 percent, six times more than the state-set cap, and this year at 5 percent, more than twice the state-set cap.
Westerlo has circumvented scrutiny.
“I want the people to have the power as opposed to the politicians,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo of his tax-cap law.
The politicians still have the power in Westerlo, and those leaving their posts didn’t even allow the people a chance to choose their successors.