We realize the seriousness of the pandemic and are doing the best we can to try to make the right decisions

To the Editor:

Dianne Sefcik presented her candid opinion of the June 18 Westerlo Town Board meeting [“A blatant, manipulative power play,” letter to the Enterprise editor, July 2, 2020]. However, we respectfully disagree, and it was not a “political stunt.” We are very serious about possibilities of raising taxes and employee layoffs and spent numerous hours combing the budget to find ways to not to do that.

The supervisor advised everyone of the critical situation Westerlo is facing and we attempted to present suggestions during special meetings but felt we were disregarded. Each one of us as a board member has the right to be heard. Sometimes it takes confrontation to get attention. Therefore, we proposed resolutions to get our ideas discussed and we strongly believe going forward our information is going to change the budget significantly.

Interesting facts regarding our investigations comparing surrounding towns: Westerlo spends $345,770 on town office staff, cleaning, adult “recreation,” youth programs, historian, library, and dog control. For those same programs, Berne spends $221,003, Rensselaerville spends $124,040, and Knox spends $71,925 (per town websites).

We found many areas in the budget where funds should be reallocated in order to preserve a cash flow to maintain our town during the pandemic. Examples include:

— Cleaning – budgeted $9,700 – which, according to the supervisor’s own admission, is less than $4,000;

— Senior services — $9,000 allotted for what we were led to believe was for the bus shared with Rensselaerville. Turns out it was $6,000 plus $3,000 is sent to Hilltown Seniors (closed since February).  We confirmed with Rensselaerville the senior bus was decommissioned in 2019 and [Supervisor] Bill [Bichteman] just at our July meeting said it’s currently a “car” we support; however we just discovered  he cancelled that contract in April;

— Town historian — pay of $1,500 whereas Berne pays $300, Rensselaerville pays $100, Knox pays $1,226 for a historian and caretaker of museum preservation; Westerlo budgets an additional $9,900 for the museum for a total $11,400;

— Grant writer — Westerlo’s grant writer generously surrendered the rest of her salary ($10,000 a year) but we felt a resolution to reallocate the funds was needed. We also feel we should re-evaluate this position as the grants secured to date do not offset the cost of obtaining them;

— Water board — borrowed money from the town. The amount is unclear due to poor bookkeeping in the past supervisor’s office, according to Bill. The state comptroller advised this has to be paid back in that only the people in the hamlet benefit. The water board at Bill’s request was allowed to pay back $3,000 a year over 20 years with no interest. The hope was they could help out the town by paying back half ($30,000) in that they have $50,000 in savings. However, the town attorney said it is not an option;

— Excessive spending — Bill recently purchased a desk and headset for his staff, spending over $1,000; during the same time, a councilman personally paid out-of-pocket for signage to encourage recycling to help save the town money, in that the town was “short on funds”;

— Incorrect numbers: In the town road report that the supervisor handed out, analyzing the cost of the highway staff vs. houses on town roads, we noticed many roads were calculated incorrectly. After counting houses on various roads, we went to the highway superintendent who had a list of all the roads and homes. The actual count was short by 40 percent and missing seven roads, which changed the “cost per residence” from $3,418.13 to $2,152.59, a 33-percent difference.

We were shocked to learn at the June meeting that the supervisor had already pushed the highway superintendent to remove two employees. When asked by a resident if these jobs would be reinstated after the pandemic, the supervisor said, “No, it needed to be done.”

The supervisor also said, “How many times can you sweep the floor and paint the trucks?” Well, perhaps it depends on how to maintain safe working conditions and painting makes trucks last longer, saving money. Our opinions differ.

We were disappointed the supervisor was using people to “save” money because of the pandemic; however, in our opinion, it seems it was a personal agenda to cut jobs. This should have been up to the departments. We feel cutting the highway staff opens the town up to a lawsuit. It’s the budget where money is askew.

The town supervisor, highway superintendent, and town clerk are elected positions; therefore, the supervisor has no right to run those departments with the exception of making sure they manage within their budgets. The highway superintendent already cut staff from 14 to 7, which he felt was the bare minimum to efficiently operate and cover time off. He is now at 5.

The town clerk’s office was reduced by the supervisor by a full-time position, which is detrimental to that office and the elected town clerk resigned. Meanwhile, the supervisor’s office added a person.

Dianne accused us of a “blatant, vindictive, power play” in an email. We stand fast; it was the only way to be heard. Although she is entitled to her opinion, she said our action was “party abuse of power” — please!

We work for all the residents. Because of the state’s Open Meetings Law, only two of us can work outside of public meetings — where we diligently tried to trim line items in the budget, which we exposed in proposed resolutions.

We get nauseous prior to meetings as we try to do our best to make the right decisions; many times, we are put “on the spot” with no prior knowledge of what will be discussed. The board has been “blindsided” by items the supervisor has discussed in public meetings with no prior notification and then he demands immediate decisions. Purchases are made and we are expected to “approve” the invoice after the fact, which is wrong.

We realize the seriousness of the pandemic and are doing the best we can to try to make the right decisions, sadly not pleasing everyone. Residents can reach out to us to discuss any topic to make us aware of solutions we may not have entertained.

Richard Filkins

Amie Burnside


Westerlo Town Board



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