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Nice home you’ve got. Pay any taxes on it?

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COPAKE–People who start building projects without first getting a building permit will now have to pay twice as much for a permit as they would have if they’d obtained a permit at the outset.

The Town Board doubled the cost of a building permit for these scofflaws during a special meeting about money matters, Tuesday morning, July 26.

Deputy Building Inspector Don Shadic told the board it’s usually the small jobs that cause the problems, then he has to issue a stop work order and do a lot of extra paperwork to get things straightened out.

Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea told the board that most towns triple the permit cost for people who don’t follow the law.

Another money issue and one of the primary reasons for the special meeting, was to figure out what to do about the $20,000 shortfall in the medical/health insurance budget line. The issue, which initially came up at the July 14 meeting, was not resolved because the board wanted to discuss it with town insurance agent Kirk Kneller. But, no one invited him to the meeting.

The town also finds itself short of cash in the solar panel category. The town planned to use the $24,000 it expected to receive this year from Salvatore Cascino to pay for a portion of the solar panel cost. Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols ordered Mr. Cascino to pay back legal fees the town incurred in one of its lawsuits against Mr. Cascino for violating town laws. Mr. Cascino entered an agreement with the town to pay back $6,000 quarterly. The town received the first payment, but Mr. Cascino missed making the second quarter payment due by June 15, and the town’s attorney on Cascino matters has already filed motion with the court to try to get the money another way.

Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley wondered aloud if the town could recoup its legal costs for trying to recoup the legal costs.

Mr. Cascino, a Bronx waste hauler who owns property along Route 22, has disregarded town and state regulations and laws related to illegal dumping and building on his property for more than a dozen years.

Next up at the meeting, was Town Assessor Craig Surprise, who brought a folder full of examples he found in the last week and a half “of what’s been going on, and it’s not good,” he said.

He was referring to buildings for which no permits have been issued and for which the property owners are not being assessed.

The assessor presented the board with satellite photos that show properties with storage sheds, decks, garages, houses that have been remodeled, a property with 11 houses instead of just the 6 assessed — all worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they are currently assessed for. One house at Chrysler Pond has a climate-controlled garage with marble floors, an underground shooting range, a tunnel and indoor and outdoor pools, he said.

The assessor presented examples of properties that have businesses on them as well as homes, which are only assessed as residential, when they should be commercial. He has also been busy checking on Basic Star exemptions, finding property owners who have been dead for three or four year, still getting the exemption. He has also uncovered agricultural exemptions that are not justified.

He called attention to a cell tower and several private roads around town that have never been assessed. Mr. Surprise said he has already increased assessments by $2.8 million and estimated that once he gets a revaluation done, the town will increase the value of its assessments by 25 to 30%.

The assessor has the $20,000 he needs to get the reval started in his current budget, but needed a resolution from the board authorizing him to spend it to hire data collectors and buy a couple of digital cameras to get the three-year process rolling. The board adopted the resolution.

The other big ticket item the board was supposed to work on finding the money to pay for were new fuel tanks at the highway garage, which were recently discovered to have failed.

Supervisor Crowley reported that no department heads had responded to his memo asking for givebacks from their budgets this year.

Deputy Supervisor Joe LaPorta suggested a plan that would let the town pay for the tanks, an estimated $100,000 expense, over several years, but Attorney Rappleyea said he would have to examine the proposal to see if it’s legal.

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia said the town needs to come up with some “combined approach” for finding the money, such as, $25,000 from the unexpended balance, $25,000 in budget cuts and a $50,000 loan.

A long discussion ensued about the town clerk’s office assuming payroll clerk duties in the wake of a unspecified payroll error connected with town Justice Court personnel and where the money will come from to pay for the extra four hours the job will take. The discussion took so long without resolution that town resident Gerard Meenagh asked the board, “What’s going on here? Pay the clerk the extra four hours and let’s move on.”

In the end, the board decided to send department heads a follow-up memo giving them an August 10 deadline to come up with cuts and to postpone its August meeting until Saturday, August 27, hoping by then to be able to sort things out.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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