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Pamelia decides to keep code enforcement officer in favor of county services

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Pamelia Supervisor Lawrence C. Longway abandoned a plan for Jefferson County Code Enforcement to take over building inspections, and the town will continue to employ its code enforcement officer.

The Town Council on Monday night approved a 2014 budget that includes a salary for Walter H. VanTassel, who has served as zoning and code enforcement officer for 15 years. Mr. Longway’s preliminary budget had stripped funding for Mr. VanTassel’s position.

About 20 residents attended the meeting, several of whom voiced their support for Mr. VanTassel. After hearing the comments, Mr. Longway said: “The money was put back into the budget to be spent. We’re not going with the county.”

Mr. VanTassel will earn a combined salary of $18,200 for his zoning and code enforcement roles under approved budget.

Mr. Longway gave no explanation for why he changed his plan. He previously said he was motivated to reduce town expenses, since the county is required to conduct building inspections on behalf of municipalities for free, but some town officials have suggested that the supervisor, an independent builder, had another motive.

Randy T. Raso, an independent Realtor, defended Mr. VanTassel’s service to the town.

“I think it’s going to be a hardship on potential builders and investors if Walt’s position is eliminated,” he said. “In my opinion it’s more of a value to have him there than not, because the county has limited hours and couldn’t provide the same service.”

Housing developer Guy H. Javarone, who last month filed a $3.5 million lawsuit against Mr. Longway and the town, also voiced his support for Mr. VanTassel. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, contends Mr. Longway repeatedly attempted to block the Emerald Acres townhouse project off Route 37 in the town. That project calls for 53 three-bedroom rental townhouses; 11 of the 19 units in the first phase are complete, and the remainder will be finished this fall.

“Walt VanTassel has never put his personal interests above his duties as code enforcement officer,” Mr. Javarone said. “He takes his responsibilities seriously and is always available during the morning and on weekends.”

In October, the Town Council ordered Mr. VanTassel to stop issuing certificates of occupancy allowing families to move into townhouses at Emerald Acres, contending there were problems with its sewer pump station. But that mandate was lifted by the board about two weeks later, after officials determined families couldn’t legally be prevented from moving in because of concerns about infrastructure.

Also during the public session Monday, Pamelia Fire Chief Harry E. Faulk Jr. pointed out that the board hasn’t approved an increase in funding for the volunteer fire department in seven years.

“We’re usually told by the town that there’s going to be a budget hearing for the department to attend, but that hasn’t happened for the past two years,” Mr. Faulk said. “We used to say we were asking for a raise every two years, but it hasn’t happened because there aren’t any meetings.”

In response, Mr. Longway said funding in the budget for the fire department is in keeping with other municipalities in the county.

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