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Hanofee successor will be chosen by voters

By Dan Hust
LIBERTY — March 5, 2010 — Liberty’s town board will let the voters choose who will sit in the seat formerly occupied by Sean Hanofee.
Voters had overwhelmingly agreed to put Hanofee back on the board in November.
But Hanofee passed away shortly after taking office in January, and the future of his open seat was left unanswered while the community, friends and family mourned.
After this past Monday’s town board meeting, however, Supervisor John Schmidt said the board had informally agreed that no one would be appointed to Hanofee’s seat.
Instead, it will remain open until November’s elections, when voters will make the decision.
Big plans in the works
In other business during Monday’s meeting, Liberty officials are considering upgrading the Swan Lake sewage treatment plant.
“There’s a lot of maintenance on the plant that’s problematic because it’s so old,” explained Glenn Gidaly of the engineering/consulting firm Barton and LoGuidice, with which the town has contracted to study options and find financing.
Gidaly and Senior Engineer Tim Wales told the board they’re seeking stimulus funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – similar to what they’re doing in the Village of Monticello, where as much as $25 million in grants and low-interest loans may pay for sewer and water system upgrades.
“We’re waiting to see how much money they want to give for an upgrade,” Wales said of what is anticipated to be a near-$5 million, three-phase project.
Liberty has already spent $3,500 – matched by the state – on an energy efficiency study of the 24-year-old sewer plant in Swan Lake.
Gidaly explained that the purpose is not to expand capacity.
“Right now, you have a lot of capacity,” he noted. “We’re not suggesting overbuilding this. We’re suggesting fixing what you already have.”
Nevertheless, Liberty Town Financial Services Director Earl Bertsch and Water/Sewer Superintendent Albert Picard expressed reservations.
“As long as I’m here, I’m never going to agree to it,” Bertsch remarked, referring to the possibility of a 38-year loan from the federal government. “In 20 years, you’re going to have to upgrade this plant, and you’ll have 15-18 more years to pay off. And that doesn’t make much sense to me.”
Gidaly replied that a longer loan term equals smaller payments, with no prepayment penalty anticipated.
“And the town has the ability to refinance anytime you want,” he said, adding that Liberty may qualify for a zero percent “hardship” loan once the upgrade is complete.
“We want to get the lowest cost possible for everyone who flushes the toilet,” he affirmed, pointing out that current loan rates through the USDA are 2.3 percent.
Picard, however, felt Gidaly and Wales were “sugarcoating” the numbers, complaining that he had not been consulted by them on this project.
“Sludge drying beds don’t work in this area,” he remarked of a plan to replace the belt press with that equipment.
“I’m not a smart person, but I’ll tell you what: it doesn’t work,” he told the board.
By that time, Gidaly and Wales had finished their presentation and left. When contacted after the meeting, Gidaly said Picard has been kept in discussions and given all documents on the project, and no decisions on equipment have been finalized yet.
“We are in the very preliminary stages of this project,” he explained.
The board took no action that evening and did not respond to Picard or Bertsch’s concerns.
Overtime policy gone?
Bertsch told a surprised board Monday that an overtime policy dating back to 1994 had mysteriously been eliminated in the circa-2007 employee policy manual.
That left water/sewer and highway employees wondering how their work in the midst of Thursday and Friday’s blizzard would be compensated.
Since town offices were closed, time-and-a-half pay was expected, said Bertsch, but the policy manual left that unresolved.
The board, however, agreed unanimously that employees required to work when the town was otherwise shut down deserved overtime pay.
They also agreed to discuss officially reinstating that policy in the future.
Billing the county for bill work
The board briefly discussed sending a bill to the county for the postage and labor involved in sending out a third round of tax bills to residents.
Town Clerk Laurie Dutcher wearily spoke of the frustrations and complications involved in redoing already-redone work in order to ensure taxpayers were charged correct solid waste user fees.
Since county errors led to the re-sent bills, the board felt the county should pay for the expenses the town incurred.
Whether or not a letter will actually be sent is questionable, as the board also agreed that the county was not likely to pay any such bill.

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