Westerlo chooses Voss to help with comprehensive plan

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Nicole Ambrosio tells the Westerlo Town Board about grants she is securing. About 30 people attended the three-and-a-half hour meeting; a dozen were left at the end.

WESTERLO — This rural Helderberg Hilltown is planning for its future.

Although Westerlo adopted its first comprehensive land-use plan five years ago, it was never codified into zoning law.

“Our subdivision law goes back to 1977,” Dorothy Verch, who chairs the town’s planning board, told The Enterprise. She noted the disconnect with, for example, the 2019 update of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

The town has recently appointed a nine-member Comprehensive Plan Committee. Its members, said Verch, are diverse, ranging from farmers to business men.

The committee, which has not yet met, is chaired by David Lendrum. Verch is on the committee and so is the chairman of the Westerlo Zoning Board of Appeals, John Sefcik.

The other members are: Steve Cornell, Thomas Della Rocco, Kelley Keefe, Jillian Henck, Sue Fancher, and William Scrafford.

At its Sept. 3 meeting, the town board discussed the three consultants it had interviewed to assist the committee with its work, and ultimately decided to hire Barton and Loguidice.

The board also interviewed Nan Stolzenburg, of Community Planning & Environmental Associates, whom Acting Supervisor William Bichteman said had “a hometown feel.”

He thought Barton and Lojuidice had “a little more professional air,” and that was his first choice although he said he was impressed with the plan for Schodack developed by the third candidate, Laberge Group.

Councilwoman Amie Burnside said the committee should have a say in the selection of the consultant.

Sefcik spoke from the gallery, saying he had listened to all three interviews and favored either Stolzenburg or Chuck Voss of Barton and Loguidice. He said both were “flexible” and “more hands-on” than Laberge.

Councilman Joseph Boone said the “tipping point” for him was that Voss chairs the New Scotland Planning Board, which he called “a community similar to ours.”

Councilman Richard Filkins said the town could save $20,000 to $30,000 by not hiring a consultant at all because of “the caliber of people we have” on the committee.

Nicole Ambrosio, the town’s grant writer, said that, because agricultural interests are being melded with the plan, “The state is ready to give us $25,000.” 

Ambrosio likened it to a bride who will be the center of attention at her wedding, with 400 people in attendance, and an old friend volunteers to make her wedding gown. She asked: Do you want a professional or someone who took a sewing class in eighth grade?

“The state is paying for consultants,” Ambrosio said. Westerlo’s contribution of $5,000 will be “in kind,” she said, explaining that the volunteers on the committee will log their hours, contributing around $30 per hour.

Without hiring a consultant, Ambrosio stressed, the town wouldn’t be getting money from the state.

“I would prefer to use one of the larger firms,” said Verch from the gallery. “They have more flexibility, more sources.”

Ned Stevens, who had worked on Westerlo’s first comprehensive plan, spoke up from the back of the gallery. “You wouldn’t go to court without a lawyer,” he said, noting the town is up against “massive” solar developers as well as conservancy groups “eating up land, taking tax dollars.”

Stevens said the town board, not the committee, should decide on the consultant. “It should be your decision … We all voted for you folks up there,” he said.

“I would pick Mr. Voss,” said Burnside. Councilmen Anthony Sherman, Boone, and Filkins agreed. Bichteman, as an appointed acting supervisor, does not vote.

NYCLASS

After much discussion, the board agreed to put 30 percent of the town’s funds into the New York Cooperative Liquid Assets Securities System, a short-term, liquid investment fund for public entities known as NYCLASS.

Resident Leonard Laub cautioned against it, saying a third of their portfolio is not protected.

“Their selling point is this is a secure investment,” countered Bichteman. “We’re not reaching for the moon here. We’re just trying to get some return.”

Boone cited a list of local municipalities, including Voorheessville, Colonie, and Bethlehem, and local school districts, including Voorheesville, and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, that use NYCLASS. “To me, that’s a pretty respectable group,” said Boone.

“Bernie Madoff had a pretty impressive list of clients too,” countered Laub.

“You can pull it out the next day or the same day,” said Sherman.

Ultimately, the board passed two resolutions. The first said the town would invest a portion of its funds in NYCLASS. The second resolution set the portion for now.

Bichteman said Westerlo has about $1 million to invest and recommended putting half of it into NYCLASS. Sherman favored 50 percent as well.

“I would not be that ambitious,” said Boone, recommending 25 percent.

“I feel the same way,” said Burnside.

“I can only change the amount of deposit once a month?” asked Bichteman.

Ultimately, the four board members agreed that Bichteman could put up to 30 percent into NYCLASS until the board decides to adjust the amount.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Agreed to swap its monthly meeting dates to ease the flow of checks. The town board meeting will now be on the third Tuesday of every month, and the board’s workshop session will be on the first Tuesday. So the next town board meeting will be on Sept. 17. Both meetings will still start, as always, at 7 p.m. at the town hall;

— Heard from Ambrosio that half of a $47,000-plus grant for town archives will be arriving soon. “The state is starting to send out checks now,” she said. The money will be used to build a new records room in Town Hall. Records are currently stored in the highway garage a mile-and-a-half down the road, which used to serve as the town hall;

— Appointed Miranda Drumm to fill a vacancy on the Westerlo Library Board of Trustees; her five-year term starts now. “I’ve been going to the library since it existed,” Drumm told The Enterprise. “I love the library.” Laura Tenney, the president of the library board, also introduced the new library director, Debbie Scott, describing her as “friendly and enthusiastic” and “a perfect fit for our library”;

— Met in executive session for an hour and 20 minutes to talk to Sole Assessor Peter Hotaling. Westerlo Clerk Kathleen Spinnato told The Enterprise that Hotaling’s term is up on Sept. 30. “They just asked me questions,” Hotaling said on emerging from the closed-door session;

— At a request from Laub in the gallery, agreed to try to hold executive sessions at the end of a meeting;

— Heard a proposal from Verch to buy three signs for $575 each to publicize board meetings. One would be placed at the town hall, a second at the highway garage, and a third at the transfer station. Sefcik said the zoning board favored putting signs where a project is proposed, which Verch said she’d do herself. Sefcik also said the zoning board thought posting meetings on the town’s website and at the transfer station was a good idea. The board will discuss the sign proposal at its Sept. 17 meeting;

— Learned that, on Sept. 14, Westerlo will participate in Wreaths Across America to honor fallen soldiers by laying wreaths on their graves at Westerlo Rural Cemetery, to be expanded in future years to all three Westerlo cemeteries. Volunteers are needed to lay the wreaths and sponsors are needed to buy them at $15 each;

— Heard from town historian Dennis Fancher interesting facts on local historical censuses, when males, females, livestock, and slaves were listed. “Westerlo had slaves,” Fancher said;

— Heard there will be a Fall Festival fundraiser for the Westerlo Museum on Oct. 10; and

— Approved a 16.7-percent increase in water rates for 2020. Rates in the hamlet’s water district will go from $17.51 per 1,000 gallons to $20.47. Also, Bichteman said that recent test results showed the bromomethane in the water was “virtually the same as before” and is “still in the unallowable range.”

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