Andes overrides 2% cap; OKs fracking ban

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By Pauline Liu
On the heels of Election Day, the Andes Town Board unanimously passed a tax-cap override, its 2012 budget, and a moratorium on heavy industry, following a series of often-contentious public hearings at town hall last Thursday.

As a result of the board’s vote to override the state mandated two-percent tax cap, property owners in the Town of Andes can expect to dig deeper. Town officials estimate that taxes on a $100,000 home will increase by $20 a year. “You’re going to price me out of my home,” grumbled Andes resident Fred Cubero.

According to town officials, even with extensive pay cuts, next year’s budget will increase by seven percent, largely due to the rising costs of health benefits, retirement, and repairs to infrastructure which are expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“In the event that we receive the $400,000 from FEMA, we’ll be in good shape,” said newly re-elected Town Supervisor Marty Donnelly. “We’ll have fund balances that we can apply to the budget in the future. I’m not telling you that they’re going to pay right away. Haven’t heard from them.”

Consultant Marge Merzig explained that the town faced the possibility of laying-off five employees in order to offset rising costs, but managed to avoid taking that drastic measure.

Emotions ran high among members of the packed audience, as the board also unanimously approved the 2012 budget, which includes controversial pay cuts for some town employees. Several people in the audience spoke up on behalf of Town Clerk-Elect Kimberly Tosi, who will start at $21,000 without full benefits, when she begins her term next year. The current clerk, Janis Jacques, who lost her seat to Tosi, is earning about $46,000 annually. Members of the audience called the slashed salary, “unfair,” “ridiculous,” and “an insult.”

Among those coming to Tosi’s defense was her husband, Jesse. Since Jacques recently fired Deputy Clerk Sharon Drew, some complained that Tosi will find herself doing twice the work. After much heated discussion, Supervisor Donnelly tried to defuse the situation. “We’re taking it under advisement and will look at it again at a later date,” he said.

The wife of Town Councilman Elect Wayland “Bud” Gladstone, not only spoke out in support of Tosi, but also questioned why the 2012 budget did not reflect a salary cut for Assessor Tina Moshier, who makes about $50,000 annually.

“Why isn’t she paying anything for benefits and not taking 25 percent salary cut as everyone else is?” asked Suzanne Gladstone. Donnelly insisted Moshier did take a pay cut. “She received the reval (property revaluation), we took $3,000 away from her for the reval account,” explained Donnelly. “She took the state test and got 100 percent on two occasions. The condition for her employment—from the county and coming to work for the town—was that her benefits would not be cut.”

The discussions also became personal, after Donnelly made a reference to “the dysfunctional town board,” drawing the anger of Bud Gladstone. “I take it as a damn straight insult,” said Gladstone.
Donnelly’s response drew a few jeers from the audience. “If the shoe fits wear it,” Donnelly said. “I did not imply that you or Tom (Hall, town board candidate) is dysfunctional,” he added. Donnelly explained that he was responding to Gladstone’s criticism of the board always voting in lock step.

“How are they supposed to vote for the good of the town?” asked Donnelly. Gladstone responded that the board members’ votes should represent the wishes of the taxpayers.

In other news, Merzig confirmed that she is donating some of her services to the town. Her firm, Keough and Merzig, will not be a line item in the 2012 budget. “I took myself out of the budget,” she explained. Supervisor Donnelly announced that Merzig will discontinue filing FEMA claims on behalf of the town. “As of January 1st, Marge will no longer be responsible for FEMA, because of unfair criticism and comments that she has been subjected to, including from FEMA, when she doesn’t get paid a dime,” said Donnelly. “Losing Marge is a more serious blow to this town than if you were going to lose me,” he later added. Merzig told the News that she expects that Highway Superintendent Mike McAdams will take over her FEMA related work.

However, there was even a bit of controversy as the board approved the new law that imposes a six-month moratorium on heavy industry, including hydrofracking, within the town limits. The town board members went ahead with the vote, despite an objection raised by a representative from the county planning department. “If the town passes this law before sending it to the county planning board first to look at it, then it could open itself up to liability,” said Kristin Janke, a county environmental technician. “It is not correct legal procedure without sending it to the county.”

However, on the advice of Merzig’s husband, Town Attorney David Merzig, the town board went ahead with its vote. The audience responded with applause. “Thank you guys for acting,” said resident Bill Feldman. Donnelly, in turn, thanked the crowd. “Hopefully it will work out for the benefit of the people of Andes,” Donnelly said.