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Jeanne Sager | Democrat

WHILE COUNCILMAN TOM Bose reviewed his board folder prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, Callicoon Town Clerk Janet Brahm (far right) swore in the slate of elected officers including, from left, Councilmen Dave Kuebler and Howard Fuchs, Supervisor Linda Babicz, Tax Collector Maureen Schlott, Town Justice John “Tuffy” Hubert and Highway Superintendent Dave Erlwein.

Callicoon Board
Has Stormy Start

By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE — January 4, 2008 — The new year got a rocky start for the Town of Callicoon.
The board met Wednesday evening for its reorganizational meeting with a new supervisor at the helm and an often raucous overflow crowd of onlookers.
Moved to the larger room in the town hall that usually plays host to the town nutrition site, the meeting began with a public comment session limited to just 10 minutes by new supervisor Linda Babicz.
“We ask for brevity,” she cautioned before opening the floor. “Usually we have a turnout of large numbers when people want to say something.”
The allotted session drew pointed criticism of the town board’s decision last month to attach a salary to the deputy code enforcement position held by former supervisor Gregg Semenetz – although neither Bill Engle or Dennis Finley mentioned the 12-year incumbent who lost his bid for re-election by name.
“Personal loyalty is not only admirable by my standards,” Engle said. “It is a virtue.
“But,” he continued, “there is a problem that occurs when people begin to use personal loyalty instead of public loyalty in their decisions.
“Please think in terms of public values instead of personal values,” he asked the board before adding a plea for people of the Town of Callicoon living below the poverty line.
“The people who are your constituents are struggling right now,” Engle said. “Please be careful when you spend the public’s money.”
Finley made a more direct approach to the issue at hand, suggesting public positions could sometimes be filled by volunteers rather than laying a financial burden on the taxpayer.
Closing the public session, Babicz moved directly into the usual business of the town’s reorganizational meetings, the appointments of town officials and approval of salaries.
Although the list has been read in the past as a checklist of sorts, Babicz warned she would like to see a portion of the appointments tabled until the Jan. 14 meeting.
The board readily agreed to table the appointment of a new town historian. With interest from residents of Jeffersonville, Callicoon Center, Youngsville and Shandelee, Babicz said she’d like to recruit someone from North Branch to help form a team of historians that can cover the entire township.
It was the next request made by Babicz that drew ire from board members and got the crowd talking – at times calling out and other times attempting to ask questions despite Babicz’s warning that no back-and-forth would be tolerated.
The creation of a deputy code enforcement officer’s position, as well as a clerk to the code enforcement office, is “fiscally irresponsible,” Babicz said.
Traditionally held by the supervisor at no additional pay, the deputy code enforcement officer position stands to cost Callicoon taxpayers $19,058 including benefits for a 20-hour-a-week position.
Pulling out a chart, Babicz showed a comparison to neighboring towns of comparable size.
Where the added salaries (including a clerk at $6,240) would bring the Town of Callicoon’s costs to $69,048 to maintain a code enforcement office, the Town of Delaware has just one code enforcement officer at a cost of $23,690.
The numbers are similar in Rockland.
Both towns had similar numbers of permits issued in 2007 – 95 for Delaware and 150 for Rockland compared to Callicoon’s 99.
While Delaware could not supply revenue figures for its department, the number in Rockland was $28,506 from building permits alone.
In Callicoon, the 2007 budget was figured on an anticipated $14,750 in revenues.
Her chart drew boos from the crowds, along with a repeated call of “that’s sick.”
One resident asked if Babicz would be willing to fill the deputy’s role as Semenetz did for the past three years of his tenure as supervisor – without a salary.
She would, she said, but board members quickly pointed out she’s not qualified.
To be a code enforcement official requires six months of coursework, which Semenetz has completed.
Babicz called for the board’s decision to create a position to be rescinded, which was quickly answered by Councilman Tom Bose’s reminder that no position was created.
“[Semenetz] has been acting for three years, and he was not taking a salary,” he clarified.
The board agreed to table the appointment, and Babicz announced she’ll be appointing a citizens committee to review the town’s budget at the Jan. 14 meeting.
Asked for the names of the committee by Councilman Charlie Schadt, Babicz revised her statement.
“This is not something I’m just doing on my own,” she answered, noting the board can throw around names for the committee at the same work session where it discusses the code enforcement department.
But the next item on the agenda, the reappointment of Town Attorney Marvin Newberg, sent the new supervisor and the incumbent board members back to their separate corners.
Asking the matter to be tabled so the board can consider proposals sent by various law firms to Babicz since her election, the new supervisor was answered with a motion by Councilman Dave Kuebler to make the appointment.
“I see no problem with Marvin Newberg,” Bose agreed.
Speaking from her seat in the audience, Planning Board member Danette Mall said she could supply one.
“He refuses to attend planning board meetings,” she said.
That concern was never brought to the town board, Bose noted, turning to Planning Board member George VanArsdall, a regular at the monthly town board meetings.
VanArsdall admitted he’d never brought the matter to light.
With a motion on the table from Schadt to table the appointment, the board debated what would happen if they went without an attorney on retainer to heckling from the crowd.
Finally, Bose turned his attention to the audience.
“It’s easy for you people to sit out here one meeting a year and criticize,” he noted.
Eventually, the board voted to reappoint Newberg, with Bose requesting he be called in to discuss the planning board’s needs.
Conflict didn’t return to the board table until the appointments to be made or tabled were completed.
The board readily approved Babicz’s appointment of a non-board member, Jeffersonville resident Joe Cullen, as her deputy.
But when she looked to Bose asking for a motion to approve Cullen’s name on the list of officials allowed to sign town checks, he refused.
“I have a problem with a non-board member signing the checks,” Bose said. “I have nothing personally against the person you’ve chosen.”
Kuebler concurred, noting he’d like to see a board member with the town check book.
Babicz pointed to New York State law which allows a supervisor to appoint the deputy of their choosing – even someone whose bid for a council seat failed in the latest election.
With that comes the job of signing town checks in the supervisor’s absence, she noted.
“I don’t have any problem with him being your deputy supervisor,” Bose responded.
The crowd, once again ignoring Babicz’s warning that public comment was not being accepted during the business portion of the meeting, accused board members of not listening to the supervisor they elected.
“I have not questioned our supervisor,” Bose responded.
He simply didn’t feel comfortable making the motion, he noted.
“I think this is every bit as critical as having an attorney appointed this evening,” Babicz warned.
The bills are audited by Councilman Howard Fuchs, then the checks are written out by Town Bookkeeper Joe Anne Baker – both approved by the board.
Even Fuchs’ assertion that sometimes large amounts of money are transferred between town accounts was countered by Babicz’s reasoning that the money is only moved from one town account to another.
“I’m sorry, I do not see justification for not having a motion,” she said. “I think this is a matter of stonewalling the new supervisor.”
Schadt offered to make the motion, but he reminded Babicz she’d still have to find a second from the board.
“I have no problem making the motion for Joe,” he said.
After turning to Baker to ascertain her feelings on the matter, Bose said he’d make the second.
The matter passed 3-2 with Fuchs and Kuebler dissenting.
With a number of other appointments on the slate – including the historian, deputy code enforcement officer, a new member of the youth commission and the four-member park committee which Babicz would like to see expanded – the board scheduled a special work session for tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Decisions will not be made until the regular meeting on Jan. 14 which will begin with a public hearing at 7 p.m.

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