Bethel discovers there’s no interest in charter

The Village of Bethel is reexamining its plan to restructure village government after word came that there is no interest by the public in forming a village charter.

The charter, a way to create a simple and easy form of village government that effectively customizes operations to meet local expectations, requires a 15-member commission to create. According to Bethel Solicitor George Leicht, the village is a few commission member short at the moment.

“I checked with the board of elections last week and they sent me a list of registered voters and specimen petitions,” said Leicht. “None of them applied. The management of the board of elections changed since the last time we tried this and they couldn’t even come up with a charter petition. I think this is going to be like if they had a war and nobody came. We essentially have a charter that nobody cares about. We should probably give it the burial it deserves. Nobody has applied yet, and I don’t think we’ll get 15 by the 28th.”

The chance, however, still exists for 15 participants to apply. A successful petition requires the signatures of 25 registered voters.

Bethel Council also discussed annexation issues, specifically concerning a recent supreme court decision that will allow villages and cities to force unincorporated properties that receive village or city utilities to either annex or find a new source of service.

In the past, the village had discussed the potential of this new ruling on increasing the size of the village.

“We need to discuss ways to entice, not enforce, but entice those we serve with utilities into annexing,” said Mayor Kevin Perkins. “I’ve heard that Batavia has gone on a letter writing campaign.”

Leicht, who also acts as solicitor for Batavia, said that the tack had resulted in an unexpected reaction from residents.

“The village administrator sent what he thought was a rather innocuous letter to all of the people in the surrounding territory, only to find out that all of these people felt threatened,” Leicht said. “It seemed rather precipitous in its outlook, like ‘join or die.’ I think this should be a more long-term provision of five or 10 years. We should say we want them to annex, but if not we want them to have the opportunity to obtain other sources of water. However, we may require them to annex at some point. We need to give them sufficient time.”

Gary Hutchinson, council’s newest member, said that many of the people he’s spoken with fear action by council to enforce annexation. The council decided to seek incentives for annexation at this time, rather than use strong arm tactics to force annexation.

The village also discussed a village issue surrounding a large population of stray cats.

“I’ve received a complaint from Bethel Woods that they are being overrun by stray cats,” said Councilman George Schramm. “Cats are considered a wild animal and the animal shelter won’t come after them. The last cat I took over cost me $15 to deliver. It’s getting bad out at Bethel Woods.”

Leicht cautioned that the issue could become a political lightning rod for the village, and advised against quick and poorly planned action.

“This is a major issue in Batavia now, and it becomes a real heated issue,” said Leicht. “One option is to spay the cats we have here and put them up for adoption. It may cost less to do that. You don’t run into the problems of the humane society. We have a few alternatives. Williamsburg has a community cat trap that you rent to catch the cat. I would assume that they take the cats to the animal shelter, although I suspect they could be dropping them off in Bethel. This can balloon into a much bigger issue where people get very incensed. There are a lot of cat lovers. In Batavia, there is a woman who actually goes around and feeds the cats from the back of her car.”

The village also announced the upcoming planning meeting of the Down Home Christmas committee, which will meet at 5 p.m. Sept. 18 in the community center. Members of council also praised the Bethel Church of the Nazarene for their work on a family fun day. Planning was also begun for a memorial to the late Mayor David Simpson. Bethel Police Chief John Wallace also informed the council of donation made by Scott Sutherland of Scott’s Automotive. The donation was a set of “beer goggles” that simulate how a person is affected when drunk and will be used in educational programs to discourage drinking and driving.

“Thanks to this, we’re now able to show people what it’s like to be impaired,” said Chief Wallace. “Thanks to Scott for that. These are about the level of .17 blood alcohol content, and the legal limit is .08. There is no doubt in my mind that we have intoxicated individuals trying to drive here.”