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Waverly Trustees continue discussion on fate of tax assessor position

WAVERLY — Waverly officials continued to discuss the possible elimination of the village’s tax assessor position once its current assessor, Julie Dugan, steps down.

The elimination of the tax assessor would also dissolve the village’s tax assessment board, and the municipality would adopt the Town of Barton’s tax and equalization rates. The village’s equalization is approximately 40 percent while Barton’s is about 85 percent.

The board of trustees still did not make a formal action on the matter, exercising caution as they approach the situation.

“The village isn’t going to generate any more revenue. Our budget is our budget,” said Ayres. “It’s just the way it’s metered out through the assessment process per property. It’s not a cash grab. We’re not pumping up the books. It’s just do we want to remain in the assessment business?”

If the village moved forward with the proposal, it would result in taxes going down for some residents, and increased taxes for others — typically those who have owned their homes for long periods of time.

The proposal would also save the municipality money by eliminating the assessor’s salary, the tax assessment grievance day and the board of reviews, as well as lawsuits regarding taxes.

“We’re the only (village) in the county that has its own tax assessor,” village clerk Michele Wood added. “We’re one of the rare ones.”

editor / Pat McDonald/Morning Times  

Fourth grade teachers and students at SRU Elementary showed the Athens School Board how they start their school day each day with what they call a morning circle meeting. School board members Karen Whyte and Kathy Jo Minnick joined six SRU fourth graders and teachers Sarah Burger, Jeff Novak and Rich Macik. The group said “good morning” to each other and then played a team building game called two truths and a lie. For more on this program and other issues covered at Tuesday’s school board meeting, check out Thursday’s edition of the Morning Times.

Lewandowski, House Democrats spar at impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first impeachment hearing held by House Democrats quickly turned hostile on Tuesday as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, stonewalled many of their questions and declared they were “focusing on petty and personal politics.”

Lewandowski, a devoted friend and supporter of President Donald Trump, followed White House orders not to discuss conversations with the president beyond what was already public in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Trump cheered him along as he testified, tweeting that Lewandowski’s opening statement was “beautiful.”

The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for the House Judiciary Committee all year as they investigate — and potentially try to impeach — Trump. Many of the Democrats’ base supporters want them to move quickly to try to remove Trump from office. But the White House has blocked their oversight requests at almost every turn, declining to provide new documents or allow aides and associates to testify.

On Tuesday, Lewandowski, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, defiantly made clear he wouldn’t make life easy for the Democrats. He demanded that they provide him a copy of the Mueller report, sending Democratic staff scrambling to find one. He read directly from the report and asked Democrats to read passages to him, showing that he wouldn’t say much beyond what Mueller wrote. Republicans on the panel forced a series of procedural votes, immediately sending the hearing into disarray.

“He’s filibustering,” said a frustrated House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

Lewandowski eventually began to answer some questions — he told the committee that he doesn’t think Trump “asked me to do anything illegal” — but still stuck mostly to what was already in the report, giving Democrats little new information to go on. And he made clear his dislike for the House majority in the opening statement, calling them petty and asserting that investigations of the president were conducted by “Trump haters.”

Lewandowski was a central figure in Mueller’s report, which the committee is examining as part of its impeachment probe. The report, which said Trump could not be exonerated on obstruction of justice, detailed two episodes in which Trump asked Lewandowski to direct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation. Trump said that if Sessions would not meet with Lewandowski, then Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.

Lewandowski never delivered the message but asked White House aide Rick Dearborn, a former Sessions aide, to do it. Dearborn said he was uncomfortable with the request and declined to deliver it, according to the report.

Under questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Lewandowski confirmed as “accurate” that Trump had asked him to deliver the message. At least two Democrats asked if he “chickened out.” Lewandowski said no, that he took his kids to the beach instead.

And under questioning from a lawyer for the Democrats, Barry Berke, Lewandowski acknowledged that he had possibly lied in a cable interview about his interactions with Trump when he said he didn’t remember the president asking him to get involved with Sessions. New rules approved by the committee last week for impeachment hearings allow staff questioning at the end of the hearing.

Democrats say the televised hearings are to educate the American people on the Mueller report and what they say is egregious behavior by the president. They argue that the blockade from the White House and stonewalling from witnesses like Lewandowski just gives them more fodder for lawsuits they have filed against the administration — and possible articles of impeachment on obstruction.

“You are also proving our point for the American people to see,” Nadler said, noting that one of the articles of impeachment drafted against President Richard Nixon involved obstruction. He said Lewandowski’s behavior is “completely unacceptable.”

Two other witnesses who were subpoenaed alongside Lewandowski, Dearborn and former White House aide Rob Porter, did not show up at all, on orders from the White House. The White House says the former aides are “absolutely immune” from testifying — a principle that Democrats are currently challenging in court.

The committee’s impeachment investigation faces major hurdles, and it’s still unclear whether the panel will ever draft articles of impeachment or hold any impeachment votes. The Republican Senate is certain to rebuff any House efforts to bring charges against the president. Moderate Democrats have expressed nervousness that the impeachment push could crowd out their other accomplishments. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the public sentiment isn’t yet there.

Still, the Judiciary panel is moving ahead, last week approving the rules, including the staff questioning, for what Nadler said will be an “aggressive series” of impeachment hearings this fall. Republicans declined to use their 30 minutes of staff questioning, arguing that the hearings aren’t really impeachment because the House never voted to begin an inquiry.

Tuesday’s hearing featured both combative exchanges between Lewandowski and Democrats and friendly questions from the Republican side of the dais. The witness took personal shots at some Democrats — calling California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary, “President Swalwell,” for example. The Democrats taunted Lewandowsi as well, with members occasionally reminding him that he was “not yet” a senator.

Republicans focused their ire on Nadler and the Democrats.

“They are going to bring back anybody, as much as they have to, to find something, anything to keep impeachment hopes alive,” Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, told Lewandowski during his round of questioning.

Lewandowski’s political future wound throughout the proceedings, which offered him a widely televised platform from which to defend Trump and publicly introduce himself on the congressional political stage. A poll last week showed Lewandowski would win the GOP nomination for Senate in New Hampshire. Trump has offered his support for any bid from the right to challenge Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

For his part, Lewandowski on Tuesday did nothing to bat down cracks from Democrats about his ambitions. And during a break in the hearing, he tweeted a link to his new super PAC.

Sheshequin bridge officially under construction

SHESHEQUIN — Goose Hollow Road in Sheshequin Township is officially closed for approximately the next 60 days as municipal crews work to replace one of the bridges on that roadway.

Township Supervisor Kurt Lafy said Tuesday that the old bridge had been taken out already, and excavation is ongoing to place the concrete footers for the new structure.

“This aluminum box culvert bridge is like a giant erector set,” he said. “We have all the pieces. It’s prefabricated, and it’ll be taken up to the site once we get the footers placed, for which we’re using about 50 yards of concrete per side, and then it’ll all be bolted together.”

The bridge was purchased from Contech Engineered Solutions, a company Lafy learned about during an annual Bradford County Township Officers Association luncheon.

“We heard about their work on a similar project for a township in Sullivan County, so all three of us — the township supervisors — went down to see it, and we were very impressed with the product,” Lafy said.

In addition to the relatively quick construction time of about 60 days, township supervisors were highly encouraged to move forward with Contech by the project’s cost.

“Bridges typically start at $650,000,” Lafy explained. “With a small municipal aluminum box culvert bridge like this, being able to do it with our own road crew means we’ll be spending probably less than $150,000. So we’re saving around $500,000.”

That cost-effectiveness is making supervisors look ahead to see if the township’s six other bridges could eventually be replaced similarly, said Lafy.

“We’re certainly not married to Contech by any means, but that’s something we’re definitely going to look at moving forward,” he said. “We have one larger bridge that gets inspected by the state every two years, and we have five other tiny bridges. So that’s something we’ll certainly look to explore as a possibility.”

Lafy added that the new bridge on Goose Hollow Road, once completed, will have an expected life span of 75 years.

Annual Halloween parade marches forward

WAVERLY — Plans are being made for the 61st annual Valley Halloween Parade, slated for Saturday, Oct. 26.

This year’s theme is “Disney Halloween.”

“The Valley Halloween Parade is always a big event that is fun for everyone,” said Parade Coordinator David Shaw. “In order to continue that tradition, we will need to have participation from Waverly, Sayre and Athens.”

The parade will form at 9 a.m. and move at 10 a.m. from the intersection of Loader and Broad streets. It will then proceed east along Broad Street, and turn left onto Pennsylvania Avenue, ending at Muldoon Park.

All groups and businesses are welcome to participate.

Applications are currently available in the Waverly, Sayre and Athens High School offices, as well as municipal buildings. Applications must be returned to the Waverly Village Hall by Tuesday, Oct. 22.

Any questions may be directed to Shaw by phone at (607) 565-8641 or email at recreation@villageofwaverly.com.