2013: Voorheesville tumult ends quietly
VOORHEESVILLE — The village board kept a tight rein on its budget in 2013, making plans and negotiating with vendors to keep its numbers in line. In the meantime, volunteers helped local families, residents worked together to reduce noise in the village, and children enjoyed the holidays.
In April, the village board adopted a $2.122 million budget, which included a 2-percent raise for employees except village board members, who volunteered to keep their salaries stagnant. The tax rate for 2013 was $1.195 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“There was very little change,” said Clerk-Treasurer Linda Pasquali.
The board appointed Richard Reilly village attorney at its organizational meeting in April, with Reilly taking over for former Village Attorney Anne-Jo McTague. The move left Voorheesville's board and attorney positions filled exclusively by men for the first time in over a decade.
The village honored two local men with proclamations and plaques: Darwin “Huck” Spaulding was remembered for his generosity and hard-working spirit, and former Deputy Mayor William Hotaling was memorialized with a stone plaque installed in Evergreen Park.
The board agreed to dissolve the village court — an action long contemplated by the board before Justice Kenneth Connolly’s 2014 retirement from the bench. In July, Connolly, at 75, announced that retirement.
“It’s an opportune time,” Conway said of the dissolution, which is expected to save $8,000 in the village’s general fund. Connolly served his final date in court in December, after serving in the town or the village courts since 1979.
The board publicly battled with the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Squad throughout 2013, struggling to hammer out a contract late into the year. After heated arguments about budgeting methods and accusations of funds’ misuse, the VAAS and the village board agreed to an ambulance reserve fund of approximately $7,000 for the 2013 contract.
After settling the contract for 2013, the two parties dove into negotiations for a 2014 contract to be signed in January. The village board asked to hold the reserve fund for the VAAS in 2014 and beyond.
The village had argued previously that, with the VAAS seeing fewer volunteer hours, a potential dissolution of the VAAS would render its assets distributable to a similar organization rather than back to the municipalities that fund the VAAS. The town of New Scotland contributes 61 percent of the ambulance budget, and the village contributes 39 percent.
Throughout the year, the VAAS bounced between the town and the village, asking to be budgetarily responsible only to the town. The village, however, refused to turn over its share of the budget, stating that village residents would continue to pay town taxes without oversight of the funds by their own village representatives.
The village board also did not want to provide two weeks’ notice to the VAAS when placing ambulance business on its agenda, as the village board meets every two weeks. The board investigated using alternate ambulance vendors from Guilderland instead of the VAAS housed one door down from Village Hall.
In December, two months after the village board here was ready to let the ambulance service contract expire, the two sides said that they were working to have a contract for 2014 ready to go when the town begins its new calendar year in January.
“There’s been a lot of communication between the village’s attorney and our attorney,” said Voorheesville Area Ambulance Squad member Ray Ginter, who described the process as positive earlier this month. “The draft document we last received a week ago was similar to the one for 2013.”
Ginter and fellow VAAS member Robin Shufelt said in October that the ambulance squad would probably agree to allow contract language about the court dissolution and the meeting notice.
Mayor Robert Conway agreed this week that communication between the attorneys has been open, and he said that the town and the village are anxious to settle the contract with the ambulance squad.
“I think some of the proposed wording is addressing some concerns on the municipality’s part and the ambulance’s part,” said Mayor Robert Conway. “We felt that we were able to come to a common understanding pretty quickly.”
Village residents continued to debate whether or not train whistles could be silenced when trains pass through the village. Residents who favored a quiet zone formed a committee, pleaded to be included in discussions with the village and Albany County, and conducted their own studies when members were excluded.
After the committee’s work, and after routine upgrades were done at the two main village crossings by CSX, the village learned that costs to implement safety measures that would enable the trains to pass through without whistles were significantly lower than previously thought.
Conway told board members in September that estimates for installing quad gates at the two village railroad crossings could cost $200,000, instead of the $1.1 million that village engineers Barton & Loguidice had suggested last year.
“Thanks to quiet zone committee work, the new estimate from CSX is coming in at approximately $200,000, give or take,” Conway said then. “A lot of the preliminary work has already been done, eliminating $900,000 or so. It certainly makes the project…within grasp.”
Engineering required for the project by CSX would cost about $27,000, he said.
“I am hopeful we’ll have that $27,000 picked up in total,” or partially, he said.
Steven Schreiber, who chairs the quiet zone committee, said that the engineering fees were included in the $200,000 estimate obtained by the committee’s consulting engineer, Vinny Valetutti. Valetutti corresponded directly with the CSX project manager for public projects. The village’s engineer confirmed the new number with CSX, Conway said.
Residents from the 1990’s housing development Claremont Estates stormed town and village board meetings this year to slow or halt the proposed second phase of development planned to branch off the development’s two streets.
Residents complained of increased construction and residential traffic and asked the village board to use water access as a tool to force developer –—and their neighbor — Katherine Froman to change her plans. Residents also noted street and home flooding in the neighborhood that could be made worse by construction. They asked the boards to seek relief from Froman by making road improvements conditional on any approvals.
Froman’s engineer Daniel Hershberg, of Hershberg & Hershberg in Albany, eventually asked the village board to approve four water taps in Claremont II. The request represented a revision of the proposal that originally asked for taps on 15 lots.
“By cutting down to four, there’s no roadway recommendations…there’s no major storm-management system [required],” Hershberg told the village board. Installation of major infrastructure and construction-worthy roadways would take only six weeks, Hershberg said. Any house construction would then proceed as slowly as lot sales, he said.
Hershberg said that, with 15 lots, a $60,000 solution to fix flooding on the roadway would have cost each new homeowner $4,000. With only four lots, the cost cannot be reasonably divided, he said, adding that Froman probably would not fix roads and easements that are now owned by the village of Voorheesville.
“I’m not prepared to point my finger. Is it maintenance or poor design, or a matter of age?” Hershberg said about the flooded neighborhood roads.
The plan called for two shared driveways off a main neighborhood road that currently terminates in a cul-de-sac. The original project called for the removal of the cul-de-sac once phase II was built. Village board members, residents, and Hershberg agreed that the cul-de-sac should remain as a means for slowing traffic and as a space for emergency vehicles or buses to turn around.
The good life
Local volunteer Chris Lehman was honored in a ceremony at Indian Ladder Farms this spring. Lehman founded the Albany Therapeutic Riding Center Inc. on Martin Road Extension, in 1981. Since then, Lehman has helped hundreds of area residents with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities participate in therapeutic horseback riding that combines physical therapy, animal therapy, and a mild-risk sport in a safe environment.
Lehman won a $1,000 cash prize from Direct Energy, one of North America’s largest energy services providers, and The Gazette Newspapers, which publishes The Daily Gazette and The Sunday Gazette, based in Schenectady. The companies recognized Lehman by presenting her with the Capital Region Volunteer Citizen of the Year award. Direct Energy also made a $5,000 donation to the riding center.
“If they can get on a horse and ride a horse, if they can do that, then maybe life isn’t so scary,” Lehman told The Enterprise. “You transfer what you’re doing on the horse to general life goals.” Students also receive other emotional and social benefits from the sessions, said Lehman. “It can be a talking point where our students can go back home and talk about their experience. It’s an outdoor sport activity they’re engaging in — it’s exciting,” she said.
Village residents enjoyed an exciting July 4th parade, fireworks, and block party, after their Memorial Day parade had been canceled due to bad weather. They also carried on the tradition of lighting the village tree in Evergreen Park.