Water district audit needed, chairman says

— File photo from Lisa DeGroff

Led by Boy Scouts in Troop 1079, a standing-room-only crowd at Westerlo Town Hall salutes the American flag on Nov. 17 for the Hometowns Heroes Ceremony. At the Dec. 4 town board meeting, Councilwoman Amie Burnside, who chairs the town’s Hometown Heroes Committee, reported that the event was a success.

WESTERLO — Upon returning to his post chairing the town’s water board in October, William Bichteman described a number of financial problems plaguing Westerlo’s only water district, ranging from the need for an expensive filter to remove a chemical from the water to four homes being removed from the district for not paying their bills.

At the Dec. 4 town board meeting, Bichteman said another audit of the water district must be completed, as it is difficult to ascertain the district’s financial state because, even though the district was founded in 2005, bookkeeping didn’t start until 2011. The only record-keeping before that were Post-it notes in a checkbook, Bichteman said.

The discrepancies in the water district’s finances are not the fault of the last two accountants, whom he said simply carried on with the balance they were given. However, said Bichteman, an audit would be costly. To first have a committee or trained bookkeeper review the district’s finances wouldn’t save the town money, Bichteman said, because an accounting firm would likely conduct a similar review before its audit.

“So the town’s going to pay for the water district?” asked Lisa DeGroff, Westerlo’s Republican chairwoman from the gallery.

“No, the town’s going to pay for the fact they didn’t keep good records,” replied Bichteman.

The town’s grant writer, Nicole Ambrosio, said that she has written to local legislators about the water district and received responses that they are looking into it. She said that Congressman Paul Tonko’s office contacted her and she informed them of the increasing costs that Bichteman had warned of.

Ambrosio also said that a representative from the Rural Community Assistance Partnership drove through Westerlo’s water district, which serves just the hamlet of Westerlo, to review the homes there and surmised that it is unlikely  most residents in the district are below the required $50,000 to $60,000 household income to qualify the district for assistance.

Ambrosio said she tired to explain that the old debt and new repairs were creating a financial burden for the 85 people in the district. Ambrosio was given other applications but the median income is also a factor in qualifying for those, she said.

Ambrosio also said that she was looking to the United States Department of Agriculture for grants both for the water district and for repairing the town’s highway garage. A grant through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority would offer an energy upgrade but the structure needs work first, she said.

Ambrosio also discussed a grant she will be applying for through the New York State Archives to fund building a new records room in town hall. Records are currently stored at the highway garage, where the town hall was located before it moved to the closed Westerlo school. Town Clerk Kathleen Spinatto works in an office at the town hall more than three miles away from the highway garage.

Ambrosio said if she can demonstrate the town has a need, Westerlo may receive up to $75,000, but that she needs to know where in the town hall the room will be located in order to apply for the grant.

Other business

At its Dec. 4 meeting, the board also:

— Approved an amendment to Westerlo’s solar law that will have the town board determine a bond payment for decommissioning solar arrays if such projects are abandoned. There had been some debate over reviewing the bond amount every five years, with planning board Chairwoman Dorothy Verch and resident Dianne Sefcik saying they would like it to be two years instead and to have any change to the arrays trigger a new evaluation. Councilman Anthony Sherman suggested that the language be changed to say that a review would take place “not longer than every five years”;

— Approved a contract as part of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Costanza Solar that includes, outside of the yearly payments, a “community benefit payment” of $15,000 for the town park;

— Heard from Verch, who is also the chairwoman of the Broadband Research Committee, that cable is being installed at homes along routes 402 and 410. She also said that Mid-Hudson Cable has completed its research on misplaced franchise fees and found that 110 homes with a Greenville ZIP code but Westerlo address had their franchise fees go to Greenville instead of Westerlo. Verch said Mid-Hudson Cable is creating a system to pay back the town;

— Heard from Mary Jane Araldi, the chairwoman of the Westerlo Heritage Museum, that a local Boy Scout has replicated a “wall of honor” seen in an old photo that commemorates those from one of Westerlo’s three voting districts, District 2, who served in World War II. Town historian Dennis Fancher and his wife, Sue, have found a photo of a similar wall in District 3 and the museum is now looking for a photo of something similar for District 1, said Araldi. There will be a dedication ceremony in the spring; and

— Heard from Councilwoman Amie Burnside, who chairs the town’s Hometown Heroes Committee, that the Hometown Heroes Ceremony on Nov. 17 was a success. This past year, the committee put up 23 banners bearing the images of veterans from Westerlo on light poles in town, with sponsors by local businesses or family members, 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.