New rescue building set for approval

— From the ARS website

Big rig: The Altamont Rescue Squad, founded in 1937, is the oldest volunteer squad in the state; it serves the village of Altamont, portions of the Hilltowns and Guilderland Center.

GUILDERLAND — The Altamont Rescue Squad, which sits on the town side of the village line, is set to expand its facility on Route 146 if it receives town approval next week.

“They only have two bays for their units,” said architect Dean Whalen, of CSArch in Albany. The town’s emergency medical service truck, which also uses the building, must be left outside running, Whalen said.

The project needed town site plan approval because the building is already a non-conforming use, Whalen said. The proposed expansion pushes the building envelope further.

“It is tight,” Whalen said.

The rescue squad hired Whalen’s firm, which performed a feasibility study a year ago, he said. The proposal calls for a one-lane driveway on the west side of the squad’s property near the neighboring State Employees’ Federal Credit Union.

The village of Altamont approved a report in January by the Altamont Guilderland Referral Committee, which suggested that the project receive a special-use permit. Whalen, a village trustee, recused himself from the vote. Altamont Mayor James Gaughan and Trustees Kerry Dineen, William Aylward, and Christine Marshall approved the report.

The project has also gone before the town planning board and is being reviewed by the town-designated engineer, Whalen said. He hopes the project will be on the town zoning board of appeals agenda Feb. 5, he said.

Whalen said that the rescue squad, a not-for-profit outside the village of Altamont, hired him partly because he is familiar with village code.

“They came to me in a professional capacity,” he said, noting that he is not a squad member.

Past President for the ARS Maureen Ramirez told The Enterprise that she would not discuss the project, including plans for the building and the process by which the engineering firm was chosen, until after the proposal receives final approval from the town.

Ramirez said that the squad is a private not-for-profit entity. The ARS serves the village, portions of the town of Knox, and the town of Guilderland. According to the Knox town budget for 2013-2014, the town pays $25,400 for ambulance service in the ARS’s coverage area. In that portion, Knox does not have its own rescue squad. In Guilderland, the 2013-2014 budgeted amount for ambulance service is $493,833. The village of Altamont, within the town of Guilderland, does not budget for separate ambulance service.

“We receive funds because we provide a service,” Ramirez said when asked if the ARS uses taxpayer funds.

According to Robert Freeman, the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, while not-for-profits are generally not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, there is case law that indicates the ambulance service may be.

Freeman cited a 1980 decision by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, Westchester Rockland Newspapers v. Kimball, that held in applying the Freedom of Information Law, no distinction is made between a volunteer organization on which local government relies for performance of essential public service and an organic arm of government when the volunteer organization is the channel through which services are delivered.

While neither Whalen nor Ramirez would give the proposed cost of the expansion, Whalen suggested the cost could be over half-a-million dollars.

In addition to a new bay and the one-lane drive, the proposal includes a bedroom for overnight staff and meeting space, Whalen said. The final proposal will go before the town after any changes suggested by the town-designated engineer are made, he said.

If the project is approved, construction on the building could begin in April and finish by September, he said.

In the meantime, Whalen said, the ARS needs to find homes for its rescue units during the expected construction phase.

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