Westerlo opens assessor’s job

Peter Hotaling

Peter Hotaling

WESTERLO — Westerlo is advertising for an assessor although Peter Hotaling, who has held the job for 19 years, can still apply, according to the town board.

A half-dozen onlookers at the Westerlo Town Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, participated with the board in a discussion on whether or not to reappoint Hotaling, the town’s sole assessor. 

His six-year term ends on Sept. 30.

Last Tuesday, Hotaling was hospitalized, having hip-replacement surgery, so he wasn’t at the meeting.

“I always had office hours but I got sick last June,” Hotaling told The Enterprise this week. 

Hotaling, who is 64, had both of his hip joints replaced 15 years ago and was scheduled to have them replaced again in June 2018, he said. He ended up with MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that causes difficult-to-treat infections. 

“It went to sepsis and I almost died,” he said. “They took it out in the ER,” he said of having his replaced left hip removed in the hospital emergency room. “I was in the hospital a couple of weeks and then three weeks in Sunnyview,” he said of the rehabilitation hospital in Schenectady.

When his course of antibiotics ended last September, Hotaling said of the infection, “Sure enough,  it came back again.”

When he was scheduled to get his left hip back in Hotaling said, “My right hip blew up … It busted my femur.”

He concluded, “I had no hips.”

Hotaling conceded that, during this time period, his office hours were “hit and miss.” Hotaling went on, “In today’s world, you can do a lot at home. I did my job from my hospital room.”

Hotaling said he had his right hip put in on Sept. 17 and is on the mend.

At its meeting on Sept. 3, the town board had met with Hotaling, who was in a wheelchair, for an hour and 20 minutes in closed session.

Last Tuesday’s half-hour discussion centered on Hotaling’s health insurance, which the town has provided, and his not showing up for scheduled office hours in the town hall.

According to Acting Supervisor William Bichteman, Hotaling is the only part-time employee to have health insurance paid by the town. He said that Aline Galgay, formerly the town attorney, had had health insurance. “It was written into her contract,” he said.

Bichteman told The Enterprise after the meeting that Westerlo has 12 full-time employees — eight at the highway department and four at the town hall. Those who were hired before 2014 have their insurance fully paid for; those hired after 2014 pay for 20 percent, he said.

None of the other part-time employees, which include members of the town board, zoning board, and planning board among others, get health-insurance coverage, Bichteman said.

In 2000, all three of the town’s elected assessors — Claire Marshall, Theresa Winne, and Edwin Lawson — resigned for individual personal reasons. The board then decided instead to appoint a sole assessor.

Hotaling said that, when the assessor’s job was advertised in 2000, it was for $20,000 annually and included health insurance. “I was appointed to a job like the town attorney; Aline and I got hospitalization,” he said of Galgay. “We’re not casual help, but appointments.”

Hotaling also said of health-insurance costs, “Twenty years ago, it wasn’t a big deal … The cost went up.”

During his tenure as assessor, Hotaling said, he got just a few raises early on.

Referring to Westerlo’s long-time supervisor, Richard Rapp, who resigned this year, Hotaling said, “Dick said he couldn’t give me a raise because hospitalization is going crazy. I gave up raises for 15 years. I think everybody deserves a raise over 15 years.”

Bichteman, who had lost his re-election bid as councilman, was appointed deputy supervisor by Rapp in January before Rapp resigned in March. When the town board, with two Republicans and two Democrats, couldn't agree on who to appoint as supervisor, Bichteman became acting supervisor with no vote.

Hotaling said he had asked the board if they could wait until he turns 65 in June when he would be eligible for Medicare.

 

Discussion

Bichteman started the discussion at the Sept. 17 board meeting by suggesting the board open the appointment “to any and all qualified applicants” including Hotaling.

The advertised job would not offer health insurance and would require 80-percent attendance at office hours Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. It would also require quarterly reports from the assessor.

Initially, the two Republican board members had reservations about Bichteman’s proposal.

“We owe Pete quite a bit,” said Councilman Richard Filkins, who said it didn’t feel right “to take the job away, to take his health insurance when he’s in dire need with his hips.”

Filkins had made a push months ago to have job descriptions for town workers, and to have workers punch in with a time clock; he said at the Sept. 17 meeting that the situation with Hotaling showed the need for passing his two earlier resolutions.

Filkins called the proposal “kick[ing] the chair out from under Pete” and suggested keeping Hotaling on till June of next year when he would be eligible for Medicare.

Filkins also said that Hotaling had said Rapp had OKed giving him health insurance rather than a pay raise, which Bichteman said wasn’t true. Rapp could not be reached for comment.

Dorothy Verch, who is running on the Republican ticket for supervisor against Democrat Bichteman, spoke up from the gallery, asking of Hotaling’s health insurance, “How did it get on the books? … That’s the proof.”

The other Republican council member, Amie Burnside, said she had a problem with giving Hotaling just two weeks’ notice for health insurance.

Bichteman said that he had advised the board on April 22 that Hotaling was “a no-show.” Bichteman pointed out that, as an acting supervisor, he had no vote and it was up to the board to act.

“It isn’t as if this just happened,” Bichetman said. “In April … he told me he didn’t work for me; he worked for the town board.”

Bichteman also said, “He’s missed almost a year and a half of appointments … I don’t think it’s right.”

“He was on death’s bed,” said Verch, stating that Hotaling had suffered from MRSA. Verch also asked if Hotaling might be working from home.

Councilman Anthony Sherman, a Democrat, said, “At the end of the day, I feel extremely bad for Mr. Hotaling and his health problems. He can continue to have health insurance; he just has to pay for it. We’re not throwing him to the wolves.”

A recommendation from the gallery was made to the board to discuss the matter in executive session.  Bichteman said that Hotaling, who wasn’t at the meeting, “wanted it held in public” and the town attorney, who also wasn’t at the meeting, had said, “He waived his right to executive session.”

Another member of the gallery said she was let go after 21 years on the job. “I’m not condoning it,” she added.

“I think people have to be accountable,” said Westerlo resident Dianne Sefcik from the gallery. “I know for a fact people on committees who never showed up still got paid; that’s not right … He’s been taking the town for a ride,” she said of Hotaling. She also said, “He’s derelict.”

John Sefcik, Dianne’s husband, who chairs the town’s zoning board, said, “If he was healthy, all of you guys would have your minds made up.”

Bichteman reiterated his proposal: “It’s not saying he can’t have a job. It’s saying he can’t have a job with health insurance,” he said.

In the end, all four board members — Burnside, Filkins, Joseph Boone, and Sherman — voted for Bichteman’s proposal. Burnside said it was with regret and Filkins said he didn’t want to.

Several in the gallery suggested a fundraiser could be held for Hotaling.

The current assessor’s annual salary is $22,000. The board agreed to advertise the job at $20,000 per year to leave room for negotiation.

An ad placed in The Enterprise this week says candidates are to apply by Oct. 11.

 

Response

Hotaling told The Enterprise this week that he plans to apply for the job.

He lives in Greenville and noted that, unlike elected assessors, appointed assessors don’t have to live in town. He is a Democrat but doesn’t feel the board’s decision is political.

Hotaling had served, in the past, as an elected assessor in Rensselaerville, and had also worked as an assessor in Cairo.

He currently works as an assessor in the town of Ballston in Saratoga County.

Hotaling said he never had a formal job evaluation in Westerlo. He believes he did a good job.

“On Grievance Day,” he said, referring to the state-set date for people to complain to a board of assessment review about their assessments, “we’d get one or two people, or nobody would show up.”

Hotaling is a New York State real estate appraiser, he said, and has professional designation with the Institute of Assessing Officers, recognized by the State Education Department.

“You have to pass a five-hour test that covers everything from soup to nuts,” Hotaling said of getting credentials. “I’m active in the association.”

The Enterprise confirmed that Hotaling is listed as a current member.

He takes continuing education courses every year, Hotaling said.

Hotaling plans to return shortly to his work for Ballston, a town with 5,000 parcels, Hotaling said. He’s worked there since 2010 and is paid $42,000 annually, but does not get health insurance. “We get 2- or 3-percent raises every year,” he said.

Westerlo’s salary is commensurate as Westerlo has about 2,000 properties, he said.

Hotaling said he wish he’d known the board was going to advertise for other candidates. He would have applied for another part-time job, he said, noting that it’s too late for that now since appointments end in September.

“I didn’t expect to get thrown to the street,” he said.

Hotaling concluded of his work over 19 years in Westerlo, “I’ve never been reprimanded … I always do my job … I know my stuff.”

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