“Our revenues are higher than expected,” said Supervisor Art Johnson. “We are giving the highway department more to help them get back on track.”
In recent years, the budgets of most departments were scaled back to keep the no tax position. Supervisor Johnson said that with everything the highway department does for the town, it was only fair to give them more to work with this year. In addition, he noted, the highway department has extra miles of road work to perform as well as needed equipment purchases.
“I think we have put together a responsible fiscal budget,” said Johnson. “The department heads only asked for what they needed, not a wish list.”
As part of the new budget, all employees, with the exception of elected officials, will receive a two percent cost-of-living raise as well as bonuses as part of a performance based program in which department heads evaluate workers through a point scale system. Those raises range from around $900 to $1,200.
In other business, the town held a public hearing on a new ethics law that will go up for vote at the December 6 meeting.
The law, said Supervisor Johnson, is necessary because there appeared to be ambiguities with the existing law.
“The law we have now is several years old,” he said. “And with some new ethics laws statewide and the ambiguity that was in ours, we felt the time was right.”
He continued, noting that the original law did not have an education aspect for the board members and it did not have a requirement that members be from differing political affiliates.
“We wanted to give it an educational aspect and get [the board] as non-political as possible,” said Johnson. “The town of Milton has a very good ethics law and they have been complimented for it. We incorporated Milton with our own and the new state template.”
In addition, the new law will eliminate the existing ethics board and new members will be appointed following its adoption.
That area of the new law was challenged by town resident Dennis Towers, who asked the town board during the public comment period, “What are the goals for dissolving the existing board?”
The town board does not have to answer questions during the public comment session and did not answer Towers’ question.
Towers also questioned the board about the removal of the disclosure requirement.
“We felt we should start new,” Johnson said of that provision, adding that anyone now serving on the board is welcome to apply. “Existing members can re-apply if they like.”
Of the five members, according to the new law, no two members of the same political party can sit on the board at the same time. The chair will be chosen by a majority vote of the town board.
Resident Chris Ramsdill also spoke during the public comment portion of last Thursday’s meeting and said that he felt it was a good idea to bring in new people.
“There have been some contentious meetings the last few years,” said Ramsdill, “It is good to have people coming in fresh. It will help avoid possible problems people have had with the prior ethics board.”
The board also discussed proposed zoning changes, some called just “necessary housekeeping,” while others propose to allow new signage in what is possibly a mostly residential stretch of roadway.
Spear-headed by zoning commission chair Robert Pulsifer, the major changes are directed at the zoning ordinance that calls for sidewalks to be 30’ from the roadway, allowing for LED signage for the Route 9 corridor, and allowing for new business uses on both Routes 50 and 9.
“I think the previous board did too much micro-managing of small businesses on Route 50 and Route 9,” said Pulsiver. “They took business uses out and we’re putting them back in.”
For example, said Pulsiver, the mini storage proposed for Route 50 was shot down because of the zoning restrictions and he didn’t understand why certain businesses cannot be located on Route 9.
“You know where that new [Adirondack Community College] campus is? I don’t know why an ice cream shop can’t go there,” he said.
But Pulsifer’s method and ideology behind the proposed changes were questioned. One resident asked if the people he consulted and the people on the committee were truly a representative of the people who would be affected.
“I would estimate that 75 percent of places along Route 9 are residential,” Mike Worth said. “My concern with the commission was that everyone has a business interest in the Route 9 corridor.
Pulsifer, who admitted he had a business along the corridor, told Worth he was “factually wrong,” pointing to the RB1 zone, saying no one “had a business interest in that zoning.”
Worth said he felt he was “left out of the negotiations,” and just wanted the people who actually live along the corridor to be represented in the decision making.
“I just wanted them included, that’s all,” said Worth.
One of those proposed changes would allow for digital signage that flashes a message. Pulsifer said that his research showed the lights do not emit more light than a tradition back-lit sign, but that they would have a clause in the law to restrict message changes to no less than every two minutes.
“The planning board may also decide, on a site by site basis, to require dimming of the digital signs,” he said.
Johnson said the changes have actually been a couple of years in the making, and that councilman Pulsifer was appointed as chair two years ago.
“He chose two other people to be on the committee with him and he consulted business people he knew,” said Johnson. “But we want to hear from the residents and it is not etched in stone. I hope they will come out and voice their thoughts and opinions.”
The public hearing for the proposed zoning changes will be December 6 at 7 p.m.