Republicans rally for office in Westerlo, Dems hope to defend


WESTERLO — For decades, Democrats enjoyed a majority on the Westerlo Town Board. But since February 2019, after long-time Democrat supervisor Richard Rapp resigned, the board has been deadlocked in a 2-2 Democrat/Republican split.

William Bichteman, a former councilman who was appointed acting supervisor — because the two Democratic and two Republican board members could not agree on an appointment — does not have authority to vote because he was not elected to office. 

Bichteman is running for a proper election to the supervisor seat which, if he wins and no council seats flip, would allow for Democrats to continue serving as governors of Westerlo. However, he’s challenged on the Republican line by Dorothy Verch, who has been chairwoman of the town planning board for the past seven years. 

Council incumbents Anthony Sherman, a Democrat, and Amie Burnside, a Republican, are seeking re-election with newcomers Jennifer Bungay, on the Democratic ticket, and Matt Kryzak, on the Republican ticket, challenging for those seats.

For town clerk, Kathleen Spinnato, a Democratic incumbent, is being challenged by Wendy Shelburne, a Republican; Robert Carl for town justice, is unopposed on the Democratic ticket; and Jody Ostrander for highway superintendent is unopposed on both the Democratic and Republican tickets.

As of March 2019, Westerlo had 2,255 registered voters, with Democrats having a party-line advantage of 42-percent enrollment to Republicans’ 22-percent. 6-percent of voters are with the Independence Party, and 25-percent are unaffiliated. The remaining voters are split among the smaller parties, with the Conservative party the strongest among them. 

While the Republicans and Democrats are endorsing their own, the Independence party has split its endorsement between the parties with Bichteman for Supervisor and Burnside for council. If every resident voted with their party, and unaffiliated voters voted down the middle, they would see Bichteman as supervisor, with Democrats Bungay and Sherman on the board, Democrat Kathleen Spinnato as town clerk, Robert Carl as justice, and Jody Ostrander as highway superintendent.

But politics have not been usual in the last few years in the Hilltowns. While Democratic enrollment far outweighs Republican enrollment, Hilltowns that went for Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013 went for Donald Trump in 2017.

In the last local elections, in 2017, Republican-backed candidates — many enrolled in other parties — made a clean sweep in Knox, and made strong inroads in Berne, which held on to its board majority by a single vote. In Westerlo, Republican Councilman Richard Filkins was elected as Democratic councilman, Bichteman, was ousted.

Controversy has swirled in recent months with the board’s decision to not reappoint assessor Peter Hotaling, without a hearing as required by Civil Service Law. Although all four council members voted in favor of advertising to fill the assessor’s post, Republicans brought up their earlier push to have job descriptions written and town employees’ hours tracked.

Additional to the Hotaling controversy, Westerlo has placed solar array development under moratorium until August 2020 following the rapid approval of five large solar farms, one of which is Shepard’s Farm, made up of two 45-acre. Verch heads the planning board, which oversaw the approval process for the arrays. Some residents complain about the ugliness of the arrays and potential for glare from panels to cause accidents, while other residents praise the flow of money from the solar farms into town coffers.

 The Enterprise could not reach Robert Carl, Jody Ostrander, or Anthony Sherman for interviews but interviewed the other council candidates as well as the supervisor candidates on these issues:

— Solar: Since Westerlo enacted a law in 2017 that updated its zoning ordinance to include regulations on residential and commercial solar arrays, the town’s planning board has approved five commercial arrays. Since the law required no more than 20 acres for a solar farm, the largest is on the old Shepard’s Farm resort property that was divided into two 45-acre plots. There is now a year-long moratorium on alternative energy development in Westerlo, to expire in August of 2020. 

In that time, what updates would you like to see in Westerlo’s solar regulations? Is the solar that’s been built good or bad, and why? 

— Employee assessments: In neighboring Knox, two transfer-station employees were inappropriately terminated by the Knox Town Board. It’s possible that in Westerlo, with the advertising to fill the assessor’s job, held by Peter Hotaling for 19 years, without a proper hearing, Westerlo is in violation of Civil Service Law. Hotaling said he’d never been reprimanded and never formally evaluated for his work over 19 years. Last September, the two Republican council members backed resolutions to write job descriptions for town employees, track their hours, and have departments report to the board regularly. 

 In general, do you think greater oversight — perhaps with regular job evaluations — is necessary regarding processes of town employment? Should hours be tracked? Should job descriptions be written? Should departments make regular reports? Why or why not?

— Budget: Westerlo, in years’ past, has frequently not met state budget deadlines, cutting down on citizen participation.

Recently, Albany County announced it is moving to full-time emergency medical service, which was a budget crisis for Westerlo, until the Sheriff’s Office allocated $150,000 toward EMS funding for the municipalities served by county EMS. The volunteer Westerlo squad is ending its service at the close of this year. Costs are likely to increase dramatically in future years as the Sheriff’s Office seeks to move to parity with suburban squads.

How should budget-building in Westerlo be handled? Do you have a contingency plan if a comparable scenario were to come about, minus the windfall? Do you think towns should have to bear this burden?

— Civil Discourse: As Westerlo shifts from decades of Democrat-dominated boards to now having two Republicans on the board, politics are a lightning rod for contention and debate. Sometimes, these tensions rise to the point that they impact proceedings and the board’s ability to work civilly. Sometimes, these tensions impact the citizenry.

How can a cooperative understanding among the board and the citizens of Westerlo be obtained?

— Rural Character: In discussions of commercial development, ideas that Westerlo residents broadly support — like solar energy and small business — are often complicated by a strong desire to retain the quality and character of the area, as well as deflect potentially ruinous situations. 

Do you think growth, tradition, and quality-of-life are at odds? How would you balance these ideals? 

— Revaluation: Longtime Supervisor Richard Rapp estimated the town last underwent a property revaluation in the 1950s. This leaves tax rolls skewed, causing newcomers to pay an unfair share, in violation of state standards. The state-set equalization rate is less than 1-percent of full-market value.

“Because Westerlo has not conducted a reassessment in decades, it continues to exceed the assessment equity standard,” said a spokesman for the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance. “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.”

Should Westerlo undergo a town-wide property revaluation? Why or why not?





William F. Bichteman Jr.




WESTERLO — William F. Bichteman, Jr. is running for supervisor eight months months after stepping into the post of acting supervisor to replace Richard Rapp, who resigned in March. 

He is a Democrat endorsed by his own party, as well as by the Independence and Conservative parties. A lifelong resident of Westerlo, Bichteman recalls being an active citizen who’s been engaged in Westerlo’s politics for many years.

As acting supervisor, Bichteman takes pride in his first proposed budget, which he said designed with transparency and accessibility in mind. At its first exhibition to the public, Bichteman went through the document line-by-line and answered each question asked by constituents. 

Going forward, he’d like to continue building budgets in a way that makes them easy to understand by laypeople, as well as to update the town’s comprehensive plan, proposed five years ago but never codified into zoning law.

“Harmony, communication, and trust,” Bichteman says, are what Westerlo’s residents want to see from the town board, as well as a supervisor who is competent in working with small financial margins.

Bichteman considers solar energy to be one of the most critical issues facing the town. He claims solar decisions have been made too hastily, and that Dorothy Verch, the chairwoman of the planning board, ignored the advice of professional consultants in an effort to push solar development forward. 

Bichteman is of the mind that Westerlo’s residents deserve for their town to give closer consideration of solar energy.

“There are some [solar farms] that are obtrusive,” he said. “They spoil the landscape.”

Bichteman is careful to make clear that he’s not against solar development outright, explaining that the key to success in this area is careful planning. The moratorium that’s been levied, he said, is meant to allow the planning and zoning boards room to breathe and develop proper guidelines and philosophies. 

“Not every parcel is solar-ready,” he said. 

On employee assessments, Bichteman stated that he “takes exception” to parallels drawn between Westerlo’s situation with its assessor and Knox’s missteps with the Civil-Service-protected transfer-station workers who were fired, and maintained that Westerlo did nothing wrong by choosing not to reappoint Peter Hotaling. He added that Hotaling is free to apply for the position and will be given the same consideration as the other candidates.

However, David Walker, deputy personnel officer for the Albany County Department of Civil Service, has stated, “In the Town of  Westerlo, the position of Assessor I is a non-competitive title. If the person has been in the position for 5 or more consecutive years they would have Civil Service Section 75 rights. This means they cannot be removed from the position except for incompetency or misconduct shown after a hearing upon stated charges pursuant to Section 75 of Civil Service Law.”

Regarding his role, Bichteman called attention to the fact that the decision not to reappoint Hotaling was made by the four board members; he did not take part in the vote because an acting supervisor, who is not elected, is not authorized to cast votes.

Bichteman believes that job descriptions would be useful, especially as they pertain to “upper-echelon” positions like that of the code enforcer and assessor. 

He explained that, technically, a job description exists within the assessor position listing, but qualified by asking, “Does there need to be more detail to that? Possibly.”

Bichteman said that construction of the town budget is the sole responsibility of the supervisor and that, in his capacity, he attempted to construct and present his budget so that his constituents could follow along with changes and other points of interest. 

“We eliminated areas that were previously there but generated no expense for years,” Bichteman said of his budget’s construction. He also established a zero capital risk investment with the bank. The budget was passed from tentative to preliminary in one meeting, where typically it can take up to three.

On emergency medical services, Bichteman seemed nonplussed. 

“We always have a reserve,” he said, adding that borrowing money is also an option in a bind. “As far as short-term things go, we can fund that.”

When asked about civil discourse, Bichteman expressed faith and pride in  Westerlo.

“I’ve seen the reports of the discourse in other towns,” he said. “Westerlo’s been fortunate.”

He stated that every proposal he’s put up has been passed unanimously by a split-party board — two Republicans and two Democrats — and that the councilmembers approach each issue objectively. 

“I’m not saying there aren’t differences in opinion, because there are,” he said. “But there is compromise.”

Toxic discourse, he said, is more common from the gallery than among the board members. 

“When I was growing up,” Bichteman recounted, “everyone knew everyone. I don’t see that now.”

Bichteman said that there are talks of an initiative among himself, county Executive Daniel McCoy and Sheriff Craig Apple to build a swimming pool that might serve as a gathering point for the community. But, he said, it’s just something they all think is a good idea, explaining that nothing concrete has been laid out.

Questions on custody of Westerlo’s rural character, Bichteman threw to the planning board by referencing the function of the comprehensive plan, which is written by the planning board and states the town’s long-term mission and goals. 

However, when considering whether the planning board is really the best entity for that task, Bichteman said, “I reject that.” He suggested that the comprehensive plan be decided on by volunteers dedicated to targeted issues, like the lake, which is residential, but deserves unique consideration as it is a unique area of land. 

The comprehensive plan is central to the topic of revaluation as well, because revaluation is regarded in the plan as a necessity, Bichteman said.

Bichteman mentioned that the issue has been baked into the candidate evaluations for the assessor position.

“There are inequalities in the assessments in our town,” Bichteman said. “I know because I’ve looked for it.”




Dorothy M. Verch


WESTERLO — Dorothy M. Verch is a Republican, challenging incumbent Democrat William Bichteman for the position of town supervisor. Verch is endorsed by the Republican Party. 

Verch is a business owner — operating a lighting-design company — and spent 17 years managing a showroom in addition to having a managerial position in the telecommunications industry, she said. Verch has been on the town planning board since 2012, after she was approached by then-supervisor Richard Rapp, and currently chairs the board.

“I think my background is going to be beneficial in driving Westerlo toward a more open government,” she said. 

More business, commercialization of certain areas, a renewal of town pride, and more sidewalks are some of the goals Verch is hoping to chase as supervisor, if elected. 

As chairwoman of the planning board, Verch says she encouraged the rest of the board to attend training programs provided by the New York Planning Federation and other organizations. 

“The planning board is the most educated there is, ever, in Westerlo,” she said, before highlighting how business-oriented its members are. “I think we’ve only refused one application that came before us.”

And, she says, this is accomplished despite all five board members coming from different backgrounds and perspectives. 

On what’s at stake in the election, Verch replied, “A lot.” She thinks that the Democratic Party has had a majority voice in the town for too long.

“They’ve had this for 50 years,” she said. “All I’m asking is four.”

When asked about solar farms, with which Verch has been involved in her capacity as chairwoman of the planning board, she expressed pride.

Each proposal must undergo a state environmental quality review process, which is an in-depth evaluation of the ways a proposed development will impact the environment. 

“One of the representatives from the solar farm agencies said this was the only planning board that went through each question asked and had answers,” Verch said.

She is in favor of the existing solar farms, in part because of the benefits received by the town in the payment in lieu of taxes program where the developments pay the town a flat rate each year that goes toward the budget.

“It’s all new money,”she said, estimating that the town will receive $1.8 million — or more — over the next 15 years.

On employee assessments, Verch said, “In the real world — hospitals, businesses — there are time clocks, ways of tracking. And thinking that there shouldn’t be a mechanism in place to identify what you’re doing when you’re going to work is naive.”

The value of knowing whether someone is on company time or personal time is important, she said, offering a hypothetical scenario where an employee gets in a car accident during a work day as an example where that distinction has legal relevance.

On job descriptions: “Oh my god, yes,” Verch said. “How do you know what your job is if you don’t have a job description?”

Verch was critical of the way the budget has been handled in the town since she’s been chairwoman of the planning board. She explained that state guidelines suggest budget-building begin in the summer and that it involve a meeting of department heads.

“For seven years, I’ve never been asked for any budget [requests],” Verch said, despite submitting a budget for the planning board. 

Regarding the emergency-medical-service crisis, Verch said she’s been involved in talks about forming a Hilltown emergency-services coalition.

Until then, she says the Hilltowns “have to pay our part” to be served by the county EMS. 

When asked about civility, Verch said that respect is absent in the town.

“There’s no respect for the law, there’s no respect for the people or their feelings,” she said. “In my day, when I was a lot younger, you would never think of going around and keying a car, or yelling at a person and calling them names. That’s missing.”

Verch said that to better work with one another, people need to “leave their personalities at the door.”

When it comes to balancing rural character and development, Verch said the town’s zoning needs to be revamped, and suggested that it’s one of the main goals of the comprehensive plan committee to figure out how best to maintain Westerlo’s best qualities while promoting growth. 

“If you look at Greenville or Knox or Berne, they have a variety of zoning areas. I’d like to see [Route] 32, which is the north-south corridor that goes from Albany all the way down to New York … become a commercial corridor,” Verch said.
On revaluation, Verch acknowledged that the taxes are skewed against new residents. 

“It’s going to be a very big balancing act to reassess the property in Westerlo,” Verch said. “It has to be something that is looked at very seriously and very carefully.”

“There are areas in the state that will guide [the town],” she added, “and I intend to investigate that.”




Kathleen J. Spinnato


WESTERLO — Kathleen J. Spinnato, a Democrat, is defending her seat against Wendy F. Shelburne, a Republican. Spinnato is endorsed by the Democratic, the Conservative, and Independence parties. 

“I’m here to serve the residents,” Spinnato said. She is ending her second four-year term as town clerk in 2020, after serving 12 years as deputy town clerk.

As town clerk, Spinnato obtained a $47,000 grant from the State Education Department to relocate the town’s records from the Westerlo Highway Department garage, where the town hall used to be located, to the current town hall, which is currently undergoing construction to accommodate the documents. With the records at Highway Department, Spinnato has to close the office for the time it takes to retrieve records each time a person needs to access them.

“I’m very proud that I assist everyone who walks in,” she added.

In ensuring that she’s available to the public, Spinnato said that she is willing to meet people by appointment if they can’t make her regularly-scheduled office hours. 

On questions about the website, Spinnato said it’s currently undergoing renovations, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. By the end, she said, the site should be mobile-friendly, meaning people can more easily access it from their phones and tablets. 

Spinnato, if re-elected, also plans to continue into the next term taking detailed meeting minutes.

“I try to include more [than required] so people not in attendance have a basic idea,” she said. “I think a little more detail so residents can comprehend and understand is a good thing.”




Wendy F. Shelburne 


WESTERLO — Republican Wendy F. Shelburne is challenging incumbent Democrat Kathy Spinnato for the town clerk position.

“It’s my hometown,” she replied, when asked why she wants the position. “I want to be close to my hometown.”

Shelburne was raised in the Hilltowns before she left at the age of 20, when she married her husband, and returned in 2009. In addition to being an office manager for the Early Childhood Development Center, she teaches piano, does yardwork for the Westerlo Rural Cemetery, and is involved with Westerlo Baptist Church’s music group.

On the role of the town clerk, beyond the administrative tasks, Shelburne said, “I think the town clerk has to be the most bipartisan person.”

She said she’s proud of the knowledge and experience she’s collected in administration and feels it will serve her well in keeping the town’s records. 

“Being available and making sure communication happens” are Shelburne’s broad goals for her term.

To do so, she plans schedule office hours on at least one Saturday a month, in addition to standard weekday hours, to accommodate people whose only free days are on the weekend. 

Shelburne also said the town website needs “serious help.” Improving the availability of documents online takes work off the shoulders of citizens who want to be informed and engaged, but who may be too busy to call and request documents before coming to pick them up in person. 

Shelburne has “no complaints” about the way meeting minutes in Westerlo are recorded, which tend to be more detailed than the state requires; she believes that comprehensive minutes are important for posterity and public reference. 





Anthony W. Sherman


WESTERLO — Anthony W. Sherman is seeking re-election to the Westerlo Town Board on the Democratic line.

Sherman was first elected to the town board in 2011. In his first term, he helped establish the water district committee and a hydraulic fracturing committee.

On solar energy, Sherman this year voted in favor with the rest of the councilmembers to establish a moratorium on array development. He also voted with the rest of the councilmembers in September to advertise the assessor position rather than reappoint long-time assessor Peter Hotaling.

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

When asked about issues of transparency, Sherman told The Enterprise in 2015, the last time he  ran, that there once was an incident where citizens complained that the Westerlo Town Board met illegally with engineers to develop plans to renovate the town hall and replace the highway garage. The circumstances of this incident, he said, were that Delaware Engineering, the firm contracted for the project, invited the board members to a meeting in such a way that Sherman “did not understand it would be the entire town board,” he said at the time.

“The moment I realized it wasn’t advertised, I refused to attend and consulted with the town attorney.”

In the same interview, Sherman was asked about whether he supported town revaluation.

“I’m not willing to give you an answer,” he said then. “I’m not familiar with it. If I’m re-elected I will look into it.”

Sherman did not respond to repeated requests this month to be interviewed on town issues for an election profile.




Matthew A. Kryzak


WESTERLO — By some standards, Republican Matthew A. Kryzak, 37, is a newcomer. He moved to Westerlo from Altamont (born-and-raised) in 2011, and, after attending a town hall where he felt people were looking at him like, “Why are you here?,” he decided to lean in and work his way to the heart of the community. But while this is his first run at public office in a town that has long elected Democrats, Kryzak has years of experience as a business manager at his family’s construction company to stand on, and thinks a fresh perspective will work in his favor. 

“Running a town isn’t too different from running a business,”  he said.

Kryzak has managed budgets that he sizes at two-to-three times as large as Westerlo’s average budget, and knows how far he can stretch a dollar. He also helped his wife start up a veterinarian practice, offering his financial and managerial abilities. By making Westerlo run more efficiently and making the right tweaks, Kryzak hopes to see a cultural shift.

“I don’t see a lot of young people my age, with families, moving into town,” he said. He thinks sowing seeds of opportunity will help change that. 

But the current arrangement of the board isn’t as conducive to growth as Kryzak would like. Politically, he says, there’s “not a lot of new ideas and new energy.

“And it’s not just about youth,” he continued. “[Republican town supervisor candidate] Dotty Verch has a lot of energy and good ideas.”

One of those new ideas is an ethics committee, which he said other candidates have expressed support for, along with mandatory ethics training for all town officials. 

He also values interconnectedness. “When you have a town of 4,000 and only 20 people show up to meetings, that’s not good,” he said. “Westerlo is a diverse area. We want to incorporate the broader spectrum of people’s opinions.”

On solar energy, Kryzak hopes the town can balance the benefits of alternative energy without sacrificing the beauty of its landscapes.

“I’m pretty big on the environment,” he said, adding that “when people hear the words ‘alternative energy’ they think of the good things,” and warns that those positives still inevitably impact the look and feel of a town, and also threaten to encroach on “pristine habitats.”

“I own a pretty big tract of land and I’ve been approached by a lot of these bigger companies,” Kryzak said, “And a lot of times they want to install near these pristine habitats.”

He suggested that the landfill, which is past the point of rehabilitation, would be a good spot for solar panels. 

“I think the people deserve for us to go through this more carefully,” he concluded.

When asked about whether Westerlo should provide job descriptions for town positions, Kryzak was unwavering: “Absolutely.”

He said it’s “scary” that not every job has a job description, which he thinks is an important factor in finding qualified candidates, instead of “Uncle Bob’s cousin.”

And beyond ensuring workers’ rights, Kryzak says the descriptions help hold people accountable. 

“Who’s at fault? It’s hard to say without everything being on paper,” he said. 

 Regarding EMS services, Kryzak advocates the Hilltowns do their best to share the financial burden and make sure they are always in a position to be self-reliant, if needed.

“We’re kind of the red-headed step-child when it comes to getting services from Albany County,” Kryzak said. 

That spirit of cooperation carried over into Kryzak’s perspective on achieving civil discourse in politics. 

While he assured The Enterprise that party politics don’t seem to mean as much in Westerlo as they do in other towns, noting that some enrolled Democrats on the board “may very well be more conservative” than he is, he noted that it was “depressing” that contentions still exist in the town.

“I don’t care what your affiliation is as long as you bring good things to the table,” Kryzak said. 

Kryzak hopes to find a balance between maintaining rural character and promoting economic growth by making sure that growth is “better planned, well-thought out, and more responsible.” 

“You’re not gonna bulldoze a church to put in a Dollar General,” he said, but asked why vacant fields that aren’t critical habitats for wildlife shouldn’t be turned into revenue for the town.

With more small businesses, Kryzak says, “you don’t have to drive a half an hour to get a cup of coffee.”

When asked about revaluation, Kryzak was adamant.

“Yes. Westerlo needs revaluation desperately,” he said. “The only way to do things is what’s fair.”

He views it as poor foresight to rely on existing residents’ tax dollars without making efforts to draw in newcomers. But, he made sure to clarify that the issue, like most, needs a balanced approach.

“I don’t want to see anybody be unfairly treated,” Kryzak said. “I don’t want to see people who’ve lived here their whole lives driven out of their house.”

Toward the end of the interview, Kryzak offered a summarizing thought.

“If you try to run a business the way the town’s been run,” he said, “you wouldn’t make it six months.”




Amie L. Burnside


WESTERLO — Amie L. Burnside is a Republican who prides herself on her ability to work well with others and maintain an objective mindset. With endorsements from the Republican, Conservative, and Independence parties, Burnside is running for a second four-year term on the town board.

“I don’t care what party people are,” she said. “I talk to them as residents.”

Burnside works in insurance for a living, which she says has helped her learn how to establish a good rapport with people, including the mostly-Democrat councilmembers she’s served alongside the past four years. 

While on the town board, Burnside has been the chairwoman of the Hometown Heroes Committee, which is responsible for the banners around town depicting veterans. 

She’s also been working with Supervisor William Bichteman to get the budget approved in time, as well as improve its clarity so residents can understand what they’re seeing in what is often an arcane array of numbers and labels. 

In general, “transparency and clarity and working with each other,” are the values Burnside feels Westerlo residents need most from their council in the coming term. 

On solar energy, Burnside has a mixed opinion.

“[Shepard Farm] is not the prettiest of sights, and I feel for the people that live in that area,” Burnside said, before adding that it’s “great” for the budget because of the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes program, where Shepard Farm pays a fixed amount each year to Westerlo. 

The balance, she says, is found in regulation.

“We should have similar regulations for … alternative energy as cellphone towers,” she said, explaining that cellphone towers are kept a certain distance apart. 

Burnside favors employee assessments. And she would, since she, along with fellow Republican Richard Filkins, is leading the charge to convince the council to implement job descriptions. Critics believe they limit what the town can reasonably ask its employees to do on its behalf.

“I think they can be written as a tool and as a guideline,” Burnside said, “and not a be-all-end-all.”

While distinguished by her stance on job descriptions, Burnside has nothing but praise for Bichteman’s first preliminary budget, which has been hailed for its clarity. She hopes that level of clarity will continue going forward.

Regarding the weight of financing emergency medical services, Burnside expressed a willingness to go with the flow. She explained that the town gave the soon-defunct volunteer squad a “substantial” amount of money, but that because health is co critical, it’s worthwhile. 

“Either way, we bear a burden,” she said.

When asked about what it takes to maintain civil discourse in a town, Burnside said, “Respect.”

“You’re here because you have family or roots in Westerlo,” Burnside said, advocating for the idea that all residents have an equal opinion. 

“I vote on the item, not the party,” she concluded.

That idea transfers into Burnside’s philosophy on balancing rural character with development. She explained that every proposal ought to be examined closely and uniquely, because, in her eyes, the quality-of-life in a town is directly related to its ability to sustain both its natural resources and its economy. 

“Take each item on its merit,” she said.

Burnside explained that, in the case of revaluation, fairness is key.

“I would hope that it wouldn’t tax people out of the town,” she said, but added that a level playing field is important.
“I would have to do some more research on that,” she said. 




Jennifer A. Bungay


WESTERLO — Jennifer A. Bungay is new to politics but would bring years of financial experience to the Westerlo Town Board. She is running on the Democratic line.

Bungay has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and spent 20 years in banking before moving into the accounting department of an insurance company.

This expertise, she said, along with a green perspective and family roots are why she’s running.

“I have three teenagers and I’d like to keep Westerlo’s future great for them and for my grandchildren,” Bungay said.

When asked about solar energy, she said she would “like to see more involvement with the public,” when it comes to developing solar farms, because she knows there are many residents who are against them.

Bungay expressed that she’s not against the idea of solar farms, but, she added, “I know [Shepard Farm] is an eyesore.”

On employee assessments, Bungay said she doesn’t see the harm in job descriptions, and thinks tracking hours is a simple way to stay in touch with government workers. 

On department reports, Bungay said, “People need to know the good and the bad” in each department. 

Regarding emergency medical service and budget crises in general, Bungay suggested that, rather than gut one or two areas of the budget to make up for added costs elsewhere, she would prefer to see small decreases across the board.

However, Bungay does not believe the town should be responsible for added costs handed down from higher levels of government, like the county. 

“Trying to get a head start is the most important thing,” Bungay said on budget-building as a whole, and praised Supervisor William Bichteman for his recent budget proposal, which has been widely regarded as extraordinarily transparent and easy to understand. 

On civil discourse, Bungay stated her belief that communication is key in helping people work together despite differences in value and opinion, an idea that is reflected in her take on solar development and employee assessments.

When it comes to balancing economic development and the aesthetics of the town, Bungay said she would prioritize the aesthetics over development. 

“People live [in Westerlo] because it’s beautiful,” she said.

When asked about whether the town should undergo revaluation, Bungay stated a preference for fairness across the board.

“I don’t know why it wouldn’t be done,” she said.





More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.