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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2005

Westerlo candidate profiles

By Matt Cook

WESTERLO—Earlier this year, the town board tapped R. Gregory Zeh Jr. to take the place of Councilman Clifton Richardson, who died in office. Richardson was the board’s first Republican in 70 years. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Westerlo, three to one.

Now, both major parties have claimed Zeh as their own. He’s running on the Democratic and Republican lines.

Town board members are paid $5,500. Westerlo has about 3,500 people and a budget of about $1.9 million.


Edward Rash

Westerlo is at a crossroads, said Councilman Edward Rash. With development coming to town, he said, planning for the future is necessary.

"When outside interests move in with development, we have to watch that we can maintain our integrity here in town," Rash said. "I think most of the people want to maintain the rural and agricultural atmosphere in town. We don’t want to become another bedroom community."

Rash, 63, a Democrat, is running for a second full term on the town board. He was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy and ran a successful campaign when his term expired in 2001.

Before that, Rash was a founding member and chairman of the Environmental Advisory Committee, and the chairman of the Westerlo Zoning Board of Appeals. Rash is Westerlo’s deputy supervisor, an appointed post to fill in when the supervisor is absent.

A Westerlo resident since 1988, Rash works as the director of advertising and public relations at Hannay Reels, Westerlo’s biggest employer.

Rash said he enjoys spending most of his time in Westerlo, living and working.

"There’s just a diversity of people and they all seem to have a mutual respect for one another and their ideas," Rash said.

It is for these people that Rash said he works.

"I’m not in it for myself...The people in the town encouraged me," he said. "I appreciate input and I try to be a good listener."

For the past few years, Rash said, much of the town board’s business has centered around the Westerlo Water District. The town is connecting two old privately-owned water systems to create a single modern system in the hamlet of Westerlo. Now that the water project is almost finished, Rash said, the town can focus on the future.

"We want to come up with a five- and 10-year plan," Rash said. The plan will include input from the zoning and planning boards and a look at the zoning ordinance, he said.

"I’m going to introduce some changes into that myself," he said.

Rash said he wants the town to pass a right-to-farm law.

R. Gregory Zeh Jr.

Councilman R. Gregory Zeh Jr. has found himself in the unusual situation of running for office endorsed by the Republican and Democratic parties.

"I look at my position on the local level as being non-partisan," he said. "I’m just interested in serving my community."

Though only on the board for a short time, appointed in the place of the late Clifton Richardson, Zeh is proud of some of his accomplishments, including working to secure a Small Cities grant from the governor’s office to pay for low-income residents to hook up to the new water system.

"It’s pretty rewarding to be able to say you helped do that," Zeh said.

Zeh, 32, works as a director of accounting systems for Golub, the company that owns Price Chopper stores. His accounting background factors into his work on the town board, he said.

"I definitely think I have a financial perspective on most decisions," Zeh said. "Once you do that kind of work for a long time, you always have that in the back of your mind."

Zeh said he is pushing for the town to do a full comprehensive plan for the future. Other Hilltowns have been dealing with their zoning and it is time for Westerlo to do likewise, he said.

Westerlo is the fastest growing Hilltown, he pointed out.

The recent approval of a cell tower at a fire station on Route 32 in South Westerlo is an example of good placement, he said. South Westerlo is an area where he would like to see development occur.

"I look at Route 32 as being the Wolf Road of Westerlo someday," Zeh said.

Charles Faul

After years of near-total Democratic domination on the Westerlo Town Board, Charles Faul wants to bring a new perspective. Faul, a Republican, is the only candidate running for office in Westerlo without the Democratic nomination.

He faces stiff competition from two incumbents: Edward Rash, a Democrat, and R. Gregory Zeh Jr., who has the nominations of both major parties. The top two vote-getters on Nov. 8 will assume office Jan. 1. The term for council members is four years and the salary for the part-time post is $5,500 annually.

"The issue is to give some balance to the board," Faul said. "Maybe we need to get some fresh ideas."

Four years ago, Faul, who is chairman of the Westerlo Republican Committee, ran for town justice and lost to long-time Judge Alan Bauder. Bauder, a Democrat, is seeking re-election this year, unopposed.

Mainly, Faul is concerned about preparing for and encouraging growth.

Westerlo has about 3,500 residents and an annual budget of $1.9 million.

"I think that the town is a fast-growing town and we need to continue to be attentive to growth," he said. "I think we need to be careful that we don’t get too insular."

With people pouring out of Albany and the suburbs filling up, Faul said, Westerlo is the next logical place for them to go. It’s better suited geographically and topographically than the other Hilltowns or Coeymans, he said.

But, Faul said, "No one really knows Westerlo is here." The town could benefit from raising its profile, he said.

"Saratoga has gotten all the growth," Faul said.

Faul, 58, works as a computer consultant and systems analyst. He has lived in Westerlo for 10 years and is married with three children and eight grandchildren. Faul holds a master’s degree in theology, is an ordained minister, and is active in the South Westerlo Congregational Church and the Christian mission field.

In addition to growth, Faul wants to help bring more discussion to town board meetings and more communication between the board and Westerlo residents. Currently, he pointed out, town-board meetings often last as little as 15 minutes, and issues are voted on without any discussion.

"If you have one party running everything, they naturally tend towards just settling everything before coming in and voting," Faul said.

On taxes, Faul said he wants to do what he can to keep them down, though the school boards have more power over that.

"I would think we would try to work with the county and the state," Faul said. "There are farmers that are hurting and the taxes keep going up."

Growth will help lighten the tax burden on farmers and private residents. Besides Hannay Reels, Westerlo has no significant commercial business, Faul said. More business, especially along the well-traveled corridors of routes 85 and 32, means more jobs and lower taxes, he said.

In a town that has no planning board, Faul said, the Westerlo Town Board has to take the lead role in preparing for growth.

"I think the big issue will be any changes to the master plan," Faul said. "It’s important that the land use issues are done fairly and in a way that looks forward to the future."


Alan Bauder

Alan Bauder has been a judge in Westerlo for two decades.

He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science with an emphasis on land management from the State University of New York. He also has an associate’s degree in biochemistry from Worcester Junior College and is a graduate of the Cybernetic Institute in Albany.

Bauder is a registered surveyor and works for the Bureau of Land Management as a submerged lands and natural resources manager.

In a 2001 election interview, Bauder said he advocates equal rights for all and a timely court calendar. A judge should be fair and firm, he said.

Berne budget proposal at $1.9M

By Matt Cook

BERNE — Although Berne’s preliminary budget for 2006 is about $270,000 higher than this year’s budget, it calls for a tax-rate decrease of about 1.3 percent, or about five cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Supervisor Kevin Crosier credits the tax-rate decrease to smart budgeting over the past few years.

"What the town has done is we’ve taken money that we’ve saved and we’ve used that in this year’s budget," Crosier said. "We did so well budgeting over the last four years...We have a cushion."

Cost saving measures the town has taken include a waste-oil burning furnace and a program that allows employees to pay some of their health-care deductibles with the money saved from a cheaper plan, he said.

"We’re basically carrying that savings over," Crosier said.

Of the total $1.9 million preliminary budget, $612,850 will be raised from taxes, with $294,000 coming from the fund balance and about $966,700 coming from revenues, like sales and mortgage taxes.

Highway spending is budgeted at $851,500.

By far the largest increase in the preliminary budget is for fuel, both for heating and powering the town’s equipment.

"Both of those doubled," Crosier said, "even with buying our fuel on state contract."

Fuels costs have been rising nation-wide.

Last fall, Crosier upset some in the town when he questioned the Berne Fire District’s spending. The fire district’s budget was increasing every year, and it had to stop, Crosier said.

In the 2006 preliminary budget, the amount set aside for the fire district, $329,970, matches this year’s exactly.

"All I know is they held their spending," Crosier said. "I think they did a good job this year."

The town has budgeted $48,000 for the Helderberg Ambulance squad, a $3,000 increase.

Hilltown playwright says laughter is the best medicne

By Matt Cook

BERNE — The Hilltowns Players’ upcoming production, Beulah by the Sea, isn’t the first Western musical comedy ever to hit the stage; Rodgers and Hammerstein got a 60-year head start on that. Nevertheless, it is an ambitious effort for the theater troupe and Hilltown playwright Penny Shaw.

The original musical, written and directed by Shaw, opens this weekend. Half the show’s profits will go to local families affected by cancer.

Shaw’s daughter, now 27, had the disease five years ago and is now cancer free thanks to a risky bone-marrow transplant.

"I just wanted to help out families going through the same struggle," Shaw said. "I thought it would be neat to write a play especially for raising money."

A member of the Hilltowns Players since she played the lead in their first play, Li’l Abner, in 1982, Shaw said her first choice was to produce the play with her hometown troupe, but the cause was so important to her that she would have put something together on her own. Fortunately, she said, the Hilltowns Players have taken on the challenge enthusiastically.

"They are doing so well," Shaw said. "I think, because the purpose of the play is to reach out to these families, they’re just putting so much of themselves into it."

The group was able to mount a full run-through of the play, complete with music and costumes, two weeks prior to opening night—unheard of in local theater, Shaw said.

Though the cause for which the play is raising money is serious, the play itself is anything but. The comedy tells the story of the townsfolk of the small western town of Beulah who are forced to give up their raucous ways as a stipulation of their dead founder’s will.

"Up until this, they’re just cowboys and saloon girls," Shaw said.

Five years later, the town, pacified of its guns, booze, and gambling, faces a threat from a bumbling family of robbers. In an attempt to dispatch the robbers non-violently, the townsfolk decide to convince them there’s something in the water driving everyone crazy—by crossdressing.

The play’s large cast, including 20 children between the ages of six and 17, is the centerpiece of Shaw’s production, not just a collection of extras.

"It’s a town full of people that you instantly fall in love with," she said.

Laughter, Shaw said, is the best medicine.

"Life is hard, and when it’s our time to go, go out singing and make them laugh," she said.

Life-long drama

Shaw has been involved with theater since her childhood in Michigan, acting, singing, and writing.

"My parents used to say I’ve been on the stage since I was born," she said. "If you’re a really good actor, you can get out of a lot of trouble."

Shaw’s writing career began, she said, in grade school, spicing up her book reports.

"They needed to be more interesting to me and I was convinced that was the way it was going to be," Shaw said.

Shaw has had two other plays produced by the Hilltowns Players; this is her first musical. In her writing, Shaw said she has two goals: to make her audience laugh and to make a statement, "but in subtle ways," she said.

For example, Shaw said, in Beulah by the Sea, a character says "God loves you just the way you are." This is a response to people who say God’s love is dependent on good works, she said.

"There are things I want to say to people without shoving it in their faces," Shaw said.

A play-writing veteran, Shaw had no trouble coming up with Beulah’s convoluted plot. It was the music that gave her problems.

"It took me three months to write the script," she said, "two years to write the songs."

She knew a successful musical would have a variety of song styles, but that the songs had to fit the feel of the show, Shaw said. A guitarist and pianist, Shaw also needed help arranging and scoring the music. She turned to retired Berne-Knox-Westerlo music teacher Mitchell Haverly for that.

"My talent doesn’t lie in putting the tunes on sheet music," Shaw said.

The instrumental accompaniment to the show is provided by Haverly, Jodi Ebel, and a local bluegrass group, the Hilltown Ramblers.

"They’re making it country for us," Shaw said.

With the large cast, Shaw anticipates a large turnout for the play, which means more money for families dealing with cancer. In the program, the play is dedicated to families affected by the disease. Everyone is touched by it in some way, Shaw said.

"There are over 100 names that just the cast came up with that we personally know," she said. And, she said, from her personal experience, Shaw knows that cancer brings problems long after remission.

"I have learned that there are after-effects," Shaw said. "There are still struggles. So, I tell people, ‘Don’t stop praying.’"

Shaw is considering using the play as a pilot project for a children’s theater group dedicated to raising money to help others.

"I like the idea of Helderberg Hope," she said.


Beulah by the Sea, performed by the Hilltowns Players, will run from Friday to Sunday at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School auditorium. Friday and Saturday’s show is at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s is at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $5 for children. Those wishing to contribute more to families dealing with cancer may drop the money in a wishing well in the school lobby.

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