Berne will have two part-time inspectors

BERNE — While Berne’s last building inspector quit, saying he had too few hours, the building inspector before him said it was too many hours. Last Wednesday, the Berne Town Board agreed to have the weekly hours remain at 30; the only difference is the job will now be split between two positions.

After Chance Townsend resigned, saying that he did not have enough time or resources to do his 30-hour-a-week job, the board agreed on March 13 to advertise for two part-time positions at $19 an hour, each not to exceed 15 hours a week.

According to a Freedom of Information Law request made by The Enterprise, Townsend issued 63 permits in 2018. Other Hilltown inspectors work part-time.

The suggestion to have two positions in the building and zoning office was first brought up by Councilwoman Karen Schimmer, a Democrat, last month after Townsend announced he would be resigning at the end of February. At Wednesday’s meeting, Supervisor Sean Lyons, a Republican, said that he would prefer that the position have full-time hours — whether those hours be split between two people or one. But Lyons did vote with the other four board members to advertise for the two posts.

The town will be advertising specifically for two building and zoning inspectors. Lyons said that the position encompasses both the jobs of a building inspector and a building and zoning administrator, which Schimmer had initially asked to advertise as separate positions. However, Town Clerk Anita Clayton said the position of building and zoning inspector was specifically created as an Albany County Civil Service position for the town.

“The code enforcement officer is what is listed with Civil Service; it’s a classified job,” she said at the meeting. “The building and zoning one was done specifically for the town of Berne with Civil Service ... that job description and that job title is specifically for us,” she said.

County spokeswoman Mary Rozak confirmed that the position is through Civil Service and is unique to Berne.

Townsend, like the building inspector before him, Timothy Lippert, had originally been hired to work 15 hours a week as building inspector as well continue working in a town maintenance job that he had been hired for months earlier. Last summer, the board voted to increase his hours to 35 a week before decreasing them to 30 in the budget. Councilman Dennis Palow, a Republican, said that he and Lyons supported the extra hours while the Democrats on the board did not.

During Townsend’s year-long tenure, he was hit with complaints from both a farmer for wrongly citing her for having a temporary greenhouse on her property and a homeowner who said a lack of action to cite his neighbors had caused purchase offers on his home to plummet.

In response to the accusation that he hadn’t been working to cite the property owners, Townsend told The Enterprise that he didn’t have time due to his heavy workload.

Hilltown inspectors

Edwin Lawson had worked as Westerlo’s code-enforcement officer for 23 years and later also had a separate job as the town’s zoning administrator. He now works for the town of Rensselaerville in a combined position as the code enforcement officer, building inspector, and zoning officer.

Lawson said that the job is not meant to be an hourly position. In his case, both in Westerlo and Rensselaerville, Lawson was or is paid a salary and then — outside of set office hours and town meetings — works as needed from his home or in the field. While he said he typically works 10 to 20 hours a week, the hours can range based on more construction during a certain time of the year or if more training is required.

“The jobs are described as part-time and they have a salary associated with it that’s not based on hours,” he said. Lawson later added that he thought paying an inspector by the hour would cost the town more money overall.

Similarly, Knox Building Inspector Dan Sherman said that, besides his set office hours, his work for the town is flexible, though he said he couldn’t speak for other towns.

Knox is the only Hilltown that also employs an assistant building inspector.

During his time as Westerlo’s code enforcement officer, Lawson said he also had a deputy code enforcement officer. After his deputy took some time off and Lawson found he was able to do the position on his own, the town did away with the deputy’s post.

Lawson said it was around this time that he also retired from his full-time job with the state and was able to focus more on his town job. He does not have a deputy in Rensselaerville either.

Lawson said that, based on his own experience and the number of permits issued in Berne, it would appear that Berne should not need a building inspector to work more than 15 hours a week.

Lawson did acknowledge, however, that it can be difficult to hold a full-time job while working in the position. He said he often had to do inspections before or after work or on weekends, but he did benefit from receiving the same training he needed as a building inspector from his job with the state. But Lawson said that, even if an inspector is not working a full-time job, he may need to work on weekends to assist those who are working on weekdays.

Other business

In addition, the board also:

— Approved a plan with the New York Power Authority to replace streetlights in Berne with light-emitting diode, or LED, lights. Lyons initially said he believed a plan with National Grid would be better because it had a lower upfront cost but fellow board members and residents noted the New York Power Authority plan would save money long-term and offer more flexibility of where and what lights could be used, and so Lyons made the fourth “yes” vote to the plan. Only Councilman Dennis Palow voted against it;

— Heard from tax collector Gerald O’Malley that, following an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo that extended Berne and other towns’ deadline for taxes by 21 days because of bad weather, that the town gave back about $750 in rebated late fees to residents;

— Approved a new code of conduct for public participation in meetings that requires speakers not engage in disruptive behavior like booing or calling out, While the board decided to allow applause, residents will have to leave if they slander or use vulgar language among other things;

— Heard from Schimmer that a new not-for-profit, the Friends of Switzkill Farm, has formed to help care for the town’s land of the same name; and

— Heard an annual report on the Berne Public Library from library manager Kathy Stempel.

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