Clean up in Rensselaerville for 2013

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Resurgence of local brew: Ryan Demler, a brewer with the C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station, pours beer samples from a keg after a conference of barley growers, maltsters, and brewers at the Carey Center for Global Good in February. Local farmers and brewers met with county, state, and federal officials to discuss the need for infrastructure and education that would support growing and malting barley. State legislation took effect this year allowing Farm Brewery licenses tied to New York ingredients. The governor’s office announced in October that 14 farm breweries had been opened since January. The Carey Center in Rensselaerville has plans to convert a transplanted old Dutch barn into a place where brewers can experiment with local ingredients.

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Named and honored: A man looks over the list of names memorialized by the town of Rensselaerville veterans’ memorial during the June 2 townwide picnic. People came together from Rensselaerville hamlets and watched a salute and flag-folding by the Greenville American Legion Post 291 at Town Hall. New plaques for the memorial continue to be added as names are collected, free of charge.

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

The after-storm calm: A lone orange cone directs drivers’ caution to the damaged site where firetrucks pumped water along Route 145 in Rensselaerville before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The area had water from the Catskill Creek rushing close to the bank on this rainy summer day. Work was done this year to repair the bank and restore the area.

RENSSELAERVILLE — A year of clean-up for the town has closed.

It started with a financial audit report that showed officials the extent of miscalculation in records from previous years that needed to be addressed.

Unpleasant incidents from the past resurfaced, too, with allegations of conflicts of interest in the assessor’s office deemed unfounded, and a Court of Appeals case for workers’ compensation benefits to the victim of rape at the Cass Residential Center in 2004 settled in the state’s favor.

The town’s highway department, contractors, and local volunteers helped to repair the banks in town that were ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Financial audit

Beginning the new year of 2013, the Town of Rensselaerville received the results of a financial audit by the state comptroller’s office that described its records in “poor condition.”

Property and sales-tax revenues were overstated by almost 30 percent of general fund revenues; online bank accounts had ineligible users; an “improper” road machinery fund was created; and required reports had not been filed with the state, according to the audit report.

Valerie Lounsbury, a Republican who worked as a private accountant, had been appointed supervisor in February of 2012. Her first three months in office coincided with the end of the audit period. She ran unopposed in 2012 and then in 2013 won a full, four-year term unopposed.

“I was aware that…there were problems with 2010, that that had not been filed. But I very honestly did not realize the extent of the issues for 2011, and I really don’t think anyone was aware of the extent of it,” said Lounsbury in January. “And again, basically because of the two accounting programs being run at the same time, and trying to switch from one to the other.”

Marie Dermody, a Democrat who resigned in January 2012, had been supervisor for most of the audit period. In her resignation letter, she stated that the “culture” of the town board kept her from making progress.

Lounsbury said old accounting software, Enhance, and a new software with subsidized training from the county were used simultaneously from July 2011 through the end of the year, when Lounsbury was not working with the town but her current clerk was. Payroll was kept in Enhance, with all other accounting handled in the new software, Municipal Information Systems (Munis).

“We didn’t want to get confused, having two different W-2s,” said Lounsbury of federal income tax forms.

Flood recovery

Rensselaerville had been dealt some of the heaviest blows among the Hilltowns when Tropical Storm Irene came through in August 2011.

Fields of rocks were left behind, as were tree trunks in the streambeds that were reshaped by eroded banks. The course of water around the roads in the town was changed dramatically in some places.

Highway Superintendent Randall Bates has attended courses on stream management and restoration, learning techniques that he brought back to use in his projects. Large rocks, called rip rap, were used to fortify banks along the Catskill Creek, and, at different sites, so were seedlings.

Young shrubs and trees were planted along the bank of the Catskill Creek abutting the Bayard Elsbree Memorial Park in Preston Hollow as part of “Trees for Tribs,” a program that involves the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Lower Hudson Conservation Districts, and the Hudson River Estuary Program of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Other trees were planted downstream from the park, in Cooksburg, and along the Ten Mile Creek in the hamlet of Rensselaerville.

Camp Cass case

A bitter period from the town’s recent past was reopened when the victim of a rape at the former Cass Residential Center for juvenile offenders lost an appeal for workers’ compensation benefits in a case heard by the state’s top court, in a three-tiered system.

The Enterprise withholds the names of rape victims.

In a 6-to-1 decision, the state’s Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court decision that money cannot be collected from both workers’ compensation and a civil rights lawsuit for the same injuries.

Judge Jenny Rivera dissented, arguing that the hostile work environment and gender discrimination described in the lawsuit against the victim’s employer, the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, were separate from the injuries covered by workers’ compensation.

The victim sued for constitutional deprivations, human rights violations, and personal injuries, after being raped at knifepoint, beaten, and kidnapped by a 17-year-old inmate in December 2004. The settlement was made, though, for her personal injuries, for which she wouldn’t pay income taxes.

 “The settlement may have been structured as it was solely to afford [the victim] a presumed tax advantage, but the Board was certainly entitled to rely on the stipulation’s unambiguous terms,” Judge Susan Phillips Read wrote of the Workers’ Compensation Board in the majority’s opinion.

The State Insurance Fund had waived its right under Workers’ Compensation Law to be credited for past payments, but it can halt future payments up to $430,000 of the settlement money.

The inmate, Michael Elston, was admitted to the Camp Cass Residential Center in November 2004 for violation of probation and possession of stolen property.

The following month, Elston forcibly raped, choked, and punched the victim, then 51, at knifepoint with no co-workers around as she was ending her workday. He then forced her into her Jeep and drove to Albany, where she escaped.

Elston was sentenced in 2005 to 27 years in prison for first-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping.

Escaped inmates over the years spread concerns that the Cass Residential Center had inadequate security and posed a danger to Rensselaerville residents. It was converted to a park police academy for the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Assessor’s office

In its first case, the town’s ethics board was unable to gather conclusive evidence. A complaint about an assessor processing property-tax exemptions for her parents’ property was determined to be unfounded.

In September 2012, the town board adopted the ethics board’s recommendation to take no action against Republican Donna Kropp, the town’s head assessor.

“We were missing information within the law to help us make a decision,” Georgette Koenig, co-chair of the board of ethics told The Enterprise in March.

Files were missing from the assessor’s office for the relevant property, owned by Kropp’s parents. She and other assessors say they did not remove the documents.

Jeffry Pine, a Democrat who ran against Kropp unsuccessfully this November, said he had made copies of the relevant documents, showing that Kropp signed off on her parents’ exemption and misrepresented their income.

“I did process the exemptions. If a mistake was made, it was not made intentionally or deliberately,” said Kropp. “My work was to be reviewed by the other assessors.”

Pine was head assessor at the time, but said that his responsibility did not include policing the other two assessors.

“It would have been fine if she did it right, but she didn’t do it right,” said Pine.

More Hilltowns News

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  • Todd Schwendeman

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  • At its Sept. 10 regular meeting, the Knox Planning Board decided to wait until next month to weigh in on the Knox Town Board’s re-application to rezone approximately 80 acres of land at the intersection of routes 156 and 157 to a multi-use recreational district.

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