A contentious meeting left New Albion Town Council members divided over their responsibility for enforcing local zoning and building ordinances. The discussion arose afer what may have been a breakdown in communications, when a plea bargain was recently accepted for settlement of an eight-year-long, repeatedly postponed court case, involving Linlyco Lake property-owner, Michael Zacholski.
According to a series of complaints filed over several years by Mr. Rick LeFeber in behalf of the Pat McGee Rails-to-Trails project, Zacholski allegedly violated at least three separate regulations. These included building a dwelling (with a pole barn permit) that extends several feet over his property line, and then failing to secure a certificate of occupancy.
At a previous meeting, council members voted unanimously to pursue these violations to the "limit of the law." In this particular case, the law allows an assessment of $250 per week for each breach, for a total of $750 per week, to be assessed weekly from the time of a guilty plea, until the problem(s) is remediated.
By contrast, in accepting the plea bargain, the town agreed to a one-time payment of $750, without any remediation being asked for or expected. Upon hearing of this maneuver, LeFeber told the council, "By accepting the plea bargain, you agreed to sell your building codes for $750."
The council, itself, was divided as to how, or even if, the plea bargain differed from their previous decision to pursue the issue to the fullest extent possible. Some said they thought a one-time payment accomplished that goal.
Supervisor Loyd Chilson expressed his own opinion of the town's role in code enforcement. "If someone built on my land," he said, "I'd hire a lawyer and prosecute him myself. I wouldn't expect the town to do it for me."
Councilman Mike Weishan, a 10-year veteran of the New Albion/Village of Cattaraugus Joint Planning Board, disagreed. Having been directly involved in drawing up the local codes, he said he believes that the town is, in fact, obligated to uphold its regulations. "There are valid reasons for these laws," he said. "That's why they're there. That's why we need to enforce them."
This case has become such a hot-button issue that Town of New Albion Attorney, Erich Weyand, recently resigned his position over it. The council agreed that they should initiate a search for an experienced replacement as it would be difficult to function for long without an attorney.
Code Enforcement Officer Cort Wilkins offered the welcome news that another building code issue on Snyder Hill seemed to be working slowly toward a resolution.
Town Clerk Rose LaQuay submitted Highway Superintendent Jerry Cobo's report, which dealt primarily with recent road work, particularly on Snyder Hill and Buehlow Hill roads. Cobo also mentioned the possibility of moving a wall in the town barn's shop area to accommodate a recently purchased truck.
In other business, Councilman Weishan reported on the Youth Council. "It looks like we just made it this year," he said, "with the help of a little of last year's excess." He added that the council recently received $600 in funding.
Clerk LaQuay told the council that due to the expense of administering its dog licensing program, New York State plans to hand it over to the individual municipalities. She said she expected an increase in cost to dog owners, up somewhat from the present $3.50 for neutered animals and $11.50 for un-neutered. "The state will still get about $1 and $3, respectively from these licenses," she added. On this same topic, she mentioned that Animal Control Officer Mary Dankert is presently working on an updated dog census for the town.
Before the meeting's adjournment, LaQuay reminded councilmen that budget time is fast approaching, and requested that individual budget sheets be returned to her office by the end of September. The first Thursday in November was selected for holding the public budget hearing, and the council then decided to use their regular November meeting night, Monday, Nov. 15, to adopt the town's 2011 budget.