By Dan Hust
HORTONVILLE In a split vote Wednesday, Delaware’s town board moved toward creating a sole board-appointed town assessor to replace the current elected three.
A committee had met twice in the past two months to discuss the idea and ended up recommending the town proceed via a local law, rather than a public vote.
When put to voters in the past, the measure has repeatedly failed, but town board members Hal Roeder and Al Steppich felt strongly it should again be placed in front of voters.
“I’m very ill at ease taking away the right to vote,” Roeder explained adding that he favors transitioning to one assessor. “If all the reasons to go to a sole assessor are good reasons ... then the public will stand behind it.”
“The public has every right to determine about the assessor, not the five of us,” asserted Steppich. “... I myself have grave reservations about doing this.”
Highway Superintendent Bill Eschenberg seemed the most worried.
“How long will it be before you appoint a town clerk or highway superintendent?” he wondered. “... This is total bull! One person can’t do what three people can do.”
Town officials indicated they’re not interested in abolishing the elected positions of town clerk and highway supt., but they pointed out that every other township in Sullivan County has one assessor.
Supervisor Ed Sykes and Councilwoman Cindy Herbert insisted the system will improve under one assessor.
“We want everyone to pay their fair share,” Sykes remarked. “... I do believe it will be fairer, more consistent. ... No one will be beholden to anyone.”
“A lot of times they [elected assessors] run unopposed,” Herbert pointed out. “So a lot of times if people are unhappy, they don’t have a choice anyway.”
The committee felt a properly trained and qualified full-time assessor, serving a six-year term, would be preferable over three part-timers (with one position currently vacant).
As for a public vote, Sykes said that even if voters were to accept the plan, the November vote would leave the board with a little over a month to hire an assessor to start in 2013 whereas creating a local law now would give the board half the year.
But the disagreement remained, leading to the 3-2 vote, with Roeder and Steppich opposed, and Sykes, Herbert and John Gain in favor.
That means the sole assessor recommendation will be introduced as a proposed town law. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in at a hearing on May 14 at 7 p.m. at the town hall in Hortonville.
Noel van Swol of the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association (which represents about 10,000 acres in the township seeking out gas drilling leases) attended the meeting to air concerns about the recently proposed changes to Delaware’s zoning.
Worried that the changes are “a backdoor way” to prohibit oil and gas drilling in the town, van Swol also took issue with rules he felt would allow the National Park Service to weigh in on zoning issues within the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River boundaries.
“You’re giving them the authority to come in and make recommendations,” he warned, “... which down the road will make it possible for them to override you.”
Planning Board Chairman Jerry Euker, whose board drafted the rules, wished van Swol had attended the prior week’s info meeting.
“They [the proposed changes] are not as onerous as what you think they are,” he advised, inviting van Swol and company to the next planning board meeting on May 9 (7:30 p.m. at the town hall), when such comments will be reviewed and discussed.
He added, “These are not cut in stone.”
The proposed zoning bans natural gas processing facilities but not compressor stations. It does not specifically address gas drilling.
When asked by an audience member about the town’s stance on drilling, Supervisor Sykes replied, “This board has made a decision that we’re neutral on this issue.”