DELMAR — In order to add the contested road diet referendum to November’s ballot, the Bethlehem Town Board needs to rescind and redo its original vote from back in April. Otherwise, state law dictates the Town must hold a special vote by late August.
The Town Board didn’t set a date for the referendum during last night’s meeting, but the opinions shared by its members suggest it will be November.
Town Supervisor David VanLuven made his opinion clear last Friday that he wanted the referendum to be decided by residents during the General Election. He argued that more residents would attend a November vote. He also said, with Albany County facilitating vote responsibilities, it would save the Town money.
However, the state law which governs issues of permissive referendum obligates the Town to hold a vote within a particular time after receiving a sufficient number of signatures on a petition. Because enough signatures were collected last month, the vote should take place in August.
But, Town Attorney James Potter said board members could rescind its April vote. The board would then follow with a motion for a referendum without petition, allowing voters to decide the fate of the $5.2 million bond.
Potter explained that the timing of these steps would carry over the next two months. The board would rescind the April vote at the next board meeting on June 23, followed by members voting for a referendum without petition on July 28.
Proponents for the rescind-and-redo action anticipate more residents will vote in November than in August. In May 2013, when residents decided through a special vote to keep the town highway superintendent job as an elected position, less than 6,000 people voted. In the 2019 General Election, more than 18,000 residents decided a political race between board candidates Dan Coffey, Joyce Becker and Jim Carriero.
The 2019 General Election was also conducted throughout the town’s 31 districts, allowing more access for residents throughout town. In contrast, the 2013 special election was limited to just one polling station, Town Hall. Then-supervisor John Clarkson had said the Town could not garner enough volunteers to operate multiple polling stations. He Town avoided the $10,000 cost of a ballot-scanning machine in 2013 — the same figure VanLuven cited as an expense he’d also prefer to avoid.
Opponents said the proposed moves would circumvent state law, would not follow the intent of the law, and would render the petition of nearly 1,500 residents moot.
More details will be shared in our next print edition of The Spotlight.