(Town of Lebanon, NY – April 2012) Lebanon town board members will be reviewing the status of code enforcement in the Town of Lebanon with Code Enforcement Officer Matt Van Heusen at the Monday, April 9 monthly meeting of the Town Board at the Smith Valley Community Center in Randallsville on River Road in the hamlet. Town officials will also be taking public comment on a proposed road plan for 2012 that the Town Board will finalize in May.
Lebanon town board members have requested CEO Van Heusen present a summary of activities for 2011 and update the Town Board on 2012 activities. Van Heusen reported last month via a written report that he had issued about 50 violations or citations after completing a recent road tour review of the town. Town officials have asked Van Heusen to give more specifics and answer questions about code enforcement matters, and have received some complaints regarding CEO matters that they want to address, according to Town Supervisor Jim Goldstein.
Town officials are also encouraging residents to review and comment on the proposed 2012 road repair plan for the township with the town board anticipating some changes dependent on the amount of state aid provided for Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) funds this year.
Town officials are also hoping to discuss in more detail a proposed lease agreement for developing a solar energy system for the town and contrasting it with one estimate so far on the cost of installing a solar energy system for the Town of Lebanon. Supervisor Goldstein said that the Town has made no decisions and will seek public comment before taking any action on any proposed solar system, assuming the Town even wants to proceed, dependent on the nature of proposals and estimates obtained on solar installation.
Lebanon officials will also discuss the current search to find a new Dog Control Officer for the town as Gloria Delee, after 12 years of service, retired effective April 1, 2012.
Lebanon town board members authorized a tentative local highway road repair plan at its March 12 monthly town board meeting and scheduled public comment on the proposed plan for its April 9 monthly meeting in Randallsvile.
Town officials also discussed complaints related to code enforcement as Code Enforcement Officer Matt Van Heusen was not in attendance due to a work conflict, heard from Town Justice John Bartlett on the resolution of his reporting issues with the Office of the State Comptroller, authorized bids for washed sand to be opened at the April meeting, appointed Scott Betts of Reservoir Road to the planning board and Susan Galbraith of South Lebanon Road to be chair of the Comprehensive Planning Committee due to the resignation of current chair Judi Clippinger, discussed the audit of utility bills by Computel Consultants of Earlville and reviewed initial solar energy system proposals submitted to the town.
The proposed 2012 highway plan includes oil and stone of Keefe Road, oil and stone of Jantzen Road, culvert pipes and gravel for Bird Road, oil and stone for Lebanon Center Road and 300 tons of road patch. Soule Road will continue to be the next state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) project dependent on funding from the state budget. The town has been receiving an average of $73,000 a year and has been able to roll over funds from prior years that were not utilized. Last year, the town spent $79,124 authorized from state funding. Supervisor Jim Goldstein said that the town budgets conservatively in this area since funding is an annual issue in the state budget authorized by the state Legislature.
Town officials heard from Planning Chair Gary Will reported he had received several complaints from residents on code enforcement issues and had great difficulty getting a response from Code Enforcement Officer Matt Van Heusen until right before the meeting. Will reported he expressed concerns about a property on Niles Road where the garage was built too close to the road and said that Van Heusen was supposed to address this and refer the property owner to the Board of Appeals for a variance consideration and to his understanding, this has not taken place. He also cited concerns he was hearing from residents who were complying and cooperating with the Code Enforcement Officer who felt penalized because of complaints that others might be skirting the law and not seeking permits or those who were unaware or uneducated as to what improvements to property require permits and what do not. Will said that he finally spoke to CEO Van Heusen about the complaints after Supervisor Goldstein directed CEO Van Heusen to respond to the complaints Mr. Will had received and reminded the CEO that his contract called for him to respond to, work with and cooperate with all town committees and chairs. Goldstein said he was not pleased that Will had made multiple inquiries on his own and Van Heusen had not responded and he had to intercede.
Goldstein said that Van Heusen had been requested to appear at the February and March meetings and missed both due to conflicts. He also provided a copy of Van Heusen’s contract to Town Board members that includes provisions where Van Heusen is to attend any requested meeting of the Town Board, Planning Board and Board of Appeals and that there had been complaints he was not communicating or responding to inquiries from town officials.
Will said he thought that the CEO should tour the town more frequently that what is currently being done to address violations that can be viewed from the road, that there needs to be more education for the public on code requirements and suggested using the newspapers, the town website and the internet for that purpose. The town website is townoflebanon.org and residents can go on that website to learn more about local laws and permit requirements.
At the request of the Town Board, Supervisor Goldstein has directed CEO Van Heusen to be present at the April 9 Town Board meeting in Randallsville to address concerns and field questions about code enforcement issues from the Town Board and the public. Supervisor Goldstein discussed the manner and method by which Van Heusen has been communicating with the town officials. That monthly CEO report filed by Van Heusen predicted his most recent road survey would result in an increase in complaints directed at the Town Board.
In the report, Van Heusen states “you will be receiving more complaints as I have close to 50 violation notices to go out and these people are not going to be happy about them.” He also said that during his most recent road survey, he found only one new house that did not have a permit. He said he wrote down three and a half pages of violations and said only two violations were from Amish residents – he said the rest were not Amish and most require talking to him, which the owners have not done. “So anybody who complains about the Amish skirting permits better look in their own yard first because they are the ones actually skirting the permit system.”
Goldstein said that he is concerned that Van Heusen sometimes expresses a reactive attitude toward code enforcement and the public whenever there is a complaint or result he does not like. He cited the example last year when the Georgetown Fire Department chief, where Van Heusen volunteers, was cited for and fined by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for open burning violations related to a controlled burn that did not have state approval, and where Goldstein had received complaints from several residents related to the smoke and these residents had also reported the matter to the DEC. Goldstein reminded the Town Board at that meeting that Van Heusen said at the time he was going to cite every resident of the town including the Lebanon Reservoir who had a campfire for an open burning violation but Goldstein and the Town Board advised Van Heusen to not act in such an arbitrary manner and focus on actual reported violations or complaints. DEC regulations on open burning do not prohibit campfires or the burning of brush but prohibit burning paper, trash, garbage, plastics and most items required to be recycled or disposed of at the county landfill.
Town officials discussed the need to meet with Van Heusen and address the specific issues of how frequent road surveys should be done, his responsiveness to inquiries from town officials and his understanding of the expectation of his cooperation with local boards and attendance at necessary meetings. Goldstein said he would like there to be more consistency and less reactivity concerning code enforcement officer interactions with town officials. He also said that details as to what the 50 violations were for was lacking in the report.
Town Justice John Bartlett updated town officials and said he had resolved reporting issues with the Office of the State Comptroller. Supervisor Goldstein confirmed he had received a letter from the OSC and had discussed the matter with them by phone and could verify that the town was now authorized to resume paying Justice Bartlett as all back reports had been filed. Bartlett cited a problem with the computer system as the principal reason and says it was resolved. He said he had been submitting incorrect documents and that this has been corrected and should not happen again. He also thanked the Audit Committee for their help with his first audit and said they helped him find ways to help him reconcile his balances and keep better records. He also said he would be getting duplicate deposit slips and making a few other changes.
Council Carol King , finance chair and part of the Internal Audit Committee that consists of her and Council Lois Hartshorn, reported that Justice Bartlett was very receptive to any suggestions that were made and that he has a computer program, and if they show him how to use it properly, it will help him out significantly. During the audit, it was discovered that the Justice had mistakenly paid the town through the Supervisor twice for Justice fines so his account will need to be repaid to correct the error. Supervisor Goldstein said once the audit committee had completed its work, the fund transfers can be done to correct the error. The audit committee will meet again in June with Justice Bartlett to audit him again and see if the new system is working well.
The audit committee gave high marks to the record of Town Clerk/Tax Collector Nicole Viera and recommended some increases in her petty cash funds for making change purposes.
Town officials took the other following actions:
*Authorized washed sand bids to be opened April 9.
*Appointed Scott Betts to the Planning Board.
*Appointed Susan Galbraith to be chair of the Comprehensive Planning Committee
*Authorized the Supervisor to enter into a contract with Computel to have all electric, phone and franchise fee accounts audited – if any refunds are due, Computel gets to keep 50 percent of what it identifies after payment has been made to the Town.
*Discussed solar leasing and energy system proposals submitted by Solar Liberty. Town officials agreed to invite Solar Liberty to the April 9 meeting to address their questions and Supervisor Goldstein said he was also soliciting other proposals.
*Reviewed the meeting Council Marie Morgan, Personnel Chair, had with the highway employees over the Health Savings Account (HSA) and their belief that the account belonged to the town, not them, and if they left employment before retirement, the fund goes back to the town. Supervisor Goldstein reiterated that the HSA accounts are owned by the employees and will again provide them with the same information that was provided last year to show them that their accounts belong to them and they take them with them when they leave employment, regardless of the reason. The $2,600 maintained annually in the accounts ensures town employees meet the higher deductible plan at no expense to them while the town benefits from the savings of a higher deductible health plan. Town board members discussed whether or not the plan required an annual $2,600 contribution or to be maintained at $2,600. Supervisor Goldstein said this is the second year of the plan so employees might have been confused by the initial $2,600 the first year that was intended to start the program, but the contribution this year will be less as two employees only used half the deductible their first year in and one employee used none of it. Supervisor Goldstein provided information to highway employees later this week on those questions.
*Town board members will ask the Town Bookkeeper to develop a portfolio that shows all highway employees what their entire pay and benefit package looks like including costs of state retirement, works comp, clothing allowances, boot allowances, health insurance coverage, etc.
*Justice Bartlett reported that there are only 4 to 5 owners who have still not licensed their dogs. Two owners never appeared despite appearance tickets being issued, further action has been taken and there is still no compliance, so he says that he will have to take additional steps.
*Town officials will meet Monday, April 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm at the Smith Valley Community Center on River Road in Randallsville.