Andes to hold 2012 budget, tax cap and fracking hearing

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By Pauline Liu
The Town of Andes will hold a series of public hearings at town hall on Thursday, Nov. 10 to address an array of important subjects in five-minute intervals.

The first hearing, to discuss whether to override the state’s new two-percent property tax cap, will begin at 12:15 p.m. At 12:20 p.m., the hearing on the 2012 budget begins. At 12:25 p.m., there will be a hearing to discuss a moratorium on heavy industry in an effort to prevent hydrofracking in Andes. At 12:30 p.m., the town board plans to hold its monthly meeting, which is being postponed because of Election Day.

The motions to hold the hearings were approved by town board members on Tuesday, one day after Roxbury’s town board moved to hold similar hearings, discuss their new budget, and a proposal to override their tax cap.  The votes were unanimous. Town Board Member Martin Liddle was absent from the meeting. There were some in the audience who were clearly puzzled by the five meeting hearings. 

“Can I assume those public hearings will go longer than five minutes?” asked Andes resident Buffy Calvert, who was in the audience.  “Sure,” responded Town Supervisor Marty Donnelly,  “but usually no one shows up to these hearings.

Tuesday’s town board meeting drew a standing room only crowd. If the turnout is any indication about level of interest these issues are raising in the community.  Not only did residents turn out in force, but also at times the meeting became action packed as discussions grew heated and some members of the audience began to shouting and refused to come to order.

One of the most important issues to face the town did not actually come up until the end of the meeting.  Supervisor Donnelly explained that the state’s two-percent property tax cap will result in salary cuts to town employees. “This has been a very miserable, rotten budget, because we were forced by the state to accept this cap,” said Donnelly. He explained that the town is faced with rising costs, while trying to keep the property tax levy at a two percent increase. “We’ve had a $20,000 increase in health insurance for town employees and a $13,000 increase in retirement costs, so we’re trying to do the best we can,” he said.

Donnelly explained that he has even approached four elected officials in mid-term about accepting pay cuts and so far, three have agreed. The fourth official is away on vacation. Donnelly said he would not make the names of the officials public at this time. “That would put him (the fourth official) in an uncomfortable position, because he hasn’t had a chance to respond yet,” said Donnelly.  

Ironically, the tax cap; which Governor Cuomo and state legislators supported as a form of tax relief, is now causing financial hardship for a number of local governments.  As a result, Andes will join a growing list of municipalities seeking to override the tax cap, which is scheduled to take effect in 2012. “So far we have made many cuts and reduced all salaries, where we legally can, but we are still over the new two percent property tax cap,” Donnelly read from a statement. ”We will need to notify the state comptroller’s office, if we can not reduce it further.”

The board also heard from town attorney David Merzig, who has been looking into legal measures to prevent natural gas drilling or hydrofracking in Andes. Even though most of Andes is in New York City’s Watershed, where hydrofracking is banned, the town wants to be prepared for the future. Merzig recommended that Andes enact a six-month moratorium on heavy industry, which will give him and town officials time to work on a local statute to address the issue. Town residents will have their say on the issue at next month’s hearing

Tempers flared when the subjects concerning the highway superintendent were brought up. 

Resident Joe Sicinski stood up to object when town board member and highway committee chairman Ritchie Gabriel read the monthly highway department report aloud.   Sicinski began shouting and pointing at Highway Superintendent Mike McAdams, who was seated at the front of the room. “If he (McAdams) wrote it, why can’t he read it?” Sicinski yelled out. “I’ve been told that the highway superintendent can’t read, let him read it!”  Sicinski repeated his demands a number of times and ignored requests from those around to sit down. He finally looked around the room and addressed the audience. “Nobody agrees with me?” he asked. After a number of audience members responded by saying “No,” Sicinski sat down

Donnelly, who repeatedly tried to calm Sicinski down, threatened to adjoin the meeting if he did not come to order. He addressed Sicinski’s demands as well.

“As far as I know, he can read,” said Donnelly. “ The chairman of the highway committee is charged with reading the report, because he (McAdams) can’t always be here.

After the meeting, McAdams assure the News that he can read.

The highway superintendent, who is running for reelection, also defended himself against accusations made by his Independent Challenger Bill Wagner. Donnelly limited the exchange between the two political rivals, when it looked as though they were about to engage in an impromptu debate during the town meeting.

Representatives from Oneonta-based Delaware Operations, which runs the Andes Wastewater Treatment Plant, presented an update on efforts to replace the troubled system at the plant.  As reported in the News last month, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has agreed to cover 85 percent of the replacement costs. The design phase is already underway.

Operations Manager Lou Dibble explained that construction should begin next May. Consultant Marge Merzig, whose husband is the town attorney, explained the costs. “Out of the total cost of $2,500,000, the city will pay between $2,100,000 or $2,300,000,” she said. “That will leave about $300,000 for the town. We’re confident that there will be a minimal cost increase to the sewer district, but we expect to have it all covered through grants.”  Even with the new system in place, the plant will maintain the same footprint.

Resident Fred Cubero stood up to repeatedly ask if residents will able to add bathrooms in their homes once the project is completed. “The bottom line is, can we put more bathrooms in this town?” he asked. “In other words, if I wanted to put a senior citizens home with 30 bathrooms, this will handle it? Before, we couldn’t.”

Donnelly disagreed with Cubero. “That’s not true,” said Donnelly. “You see what happens, we love rumor and this is the rumor capitol of the world. Fred. I can’t help it, if you have sources that we don’t have.”