COPAKE—By not hiring a secretary to handle the minutes of Land Use Review Committee meetings, the Town Board is wasting the time of a consultant paid to help guide that same committee.
That’s what Robert Haight, chairman of the Land Use Review Committee (LURC), told the Town Board at its September 12 meeting.
“We need a secretary, no doubt about it,” said Mr. Haight, noting that the committee spends “a third to half [of its meeting time] arguing over what was really said at the previous meeting.”
Members of the committee, which is authorized for 11 members but is now down to 9, have been taking turns at transcribing recordings of the committee’s twice a month meetings. Some members are apparently better at the task than others, which results in disagreements over accuracy.
“It is a waste of the paid consultant’s time” to have to sit through members’ discussion of the minutes, said Mr. Haight.
“We’ve spent the last year and a half trying to help save the town money,” he said, adding that none of the members want to continue taking the minutes.
The LURC has had a bumpy history. It was initially formed in October 2011 as the Zoning Revision Committee with the mission “to review the present zoning regulations to insure their compliance with the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan.” Though the committee was supposed to be “free from any political influences” it was abolished in February 2012 after the party majority on the Town Board shifted in the November 2011 election and was re-instated as the Land Use Review Committee the following month.
Shortly after the committee began its work, former Chair Cathy Reinard asked the Town Board for a secretary to take the minutes, saying members wanted to be part of the discussion and did not want to have to focus attention on note-taking. Her request was denied and the committee was given a recording device so no one would have to take notes and the minutes could be transcribed later.
After a year, the time it was originally estimated the whole job would take, Ms. Reinard came back to the board in April to report that the committee had only completed about 25% of its project, noting the committee had become “mired down in detail” and was “not working well as a group.” She asked the board for more time to complete the committee’s mission and for suggestions or help from the board about how to move things along.
The board voiced its support for the committee’s work and agreed to allow the committee at least another 18 months, more if necessary, and also to pay consultant Nan Stolzenburg $300 to attend one committee meeting a month to help facilitate things. Supervisor Jeff Nayer said at the time that the town had $3,000 left for that purpose. He estimated the total cost to continue with the consultant for the additional time at $5,400.
Ms. Reinard resigned from the committee in June and Mr. Haight was appointed as chair in July.
At the September meeting, Mr. Nayer told Mr. Haight he would have to talk to board members about the secretary request and “see where we are in the budget.”
Someone suggested that the town purchase a computer program that could transcribe a voice recording to text.
Mr. Haight said he didn’t see how that would work since sometimes there are “a bunch of people talking at the same time.” He said it would be cheaper for the town to hire a secretary than to foot the bill for the extra time it is now paying for the consultant.
Mr. Nayer asked that the matter be tabled until the next meeting because he has concerns about the budget. “I know you have tried and we do want to keep you guys [moving forward] so maybe the board needs to readdress this issue,” said the supervisor.
Mr. Nayer said in a follow-up phone call that he estimates the cost to hire a temporary secretary for the committee at between $1,500 to $2,000/year for 2 meetings/month or about 10 hours/month.
In other expense-related business the board:
*Authorized Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory to buy a new loader. Mr. Gregory said the current loader is a 1989 model and has 11,000 hours on it. He can get a new loader under state contract for $150,000. The trade-in value of the current loader is $30,000. Mr. Gregory has $9,800 in his equipment budget and the board would move about $120,000 from the highway department’s $338,000 fund balance into that account to pay for it.
*Accepted a bid from Phelp’s Brothers for $11,500 to put a new roof on the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society museum in Copake Falls.
*Agreed to delay authorizing work by Town Attorney Ken Dow to do “a limited review and revision” of town code until January. Mr. Nayer said in a follow-up phone call that the town had budgeted $40,000 for attorney’s fees this year, twice as much as any other town, but due to ongoing legal expenses related to the Cascino case, will likely be over budget by $5,000 to $7,000. The town pays Mr. Dow an annual retainer of $12,000, but his work on the town code would be at an additional cost to the town.
The Town Board will conduct a special meeting Saturday, October 5, 9 a.m. at the Town Hall to present the tentative 2014 budget.
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