Super’s address: Guilderland meets 30x30 mark as more of Bozenkill corridor is protected

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Peter Barber prepares to deliver his state-of-the-town address on Thursday morning.

GUILDERLAND — Improving the quality of life in Guilderland was the central theme of Supervisor Peter Barber’s state-of-the-town address on Thursday morning.

He spoke for an hour, as 34 slides flashed, to about 40 people, many of them town employees, giving what he termed “just a snapshot of what the town does.”

Despite forces out of the town’s control, Barber said in his ninth year as supervisor he had “guarded optimism” about the year ahead as he outlined what he termed a “progressive and aggressive agenda.”

“The town is taking a leading role in climate change,” he said of reducing it, with 30 percent of the town’s land mass preserved.

He noted that the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has purchased an additional 225 acres to add to the protected Bozenkill corridor.

President Joe Biden, in 2021, issued an executive order establishing a national goal to conserve at least 30 percent of United States lands and freshwater and 30 percent of U.S. ocean areas by 2030, in an initiative commonly referred to as 30x30. 

Bryan and Lauren Swift had long used and loved the Bozenkill land and took the risk of buying it along with neighbors, knowing full well they might not get back all of what they paid for it.

“As they say, you can’t take things with you, but you can always leave them in a better state than you found them, so this is our way of doing that,” said Bryan Swift.

The fundraising goal was $550,000, to cover the conservancy’s purchase price as well as establishing an endowment for long-term needs such as stewardship and clean-up costs, Mark King, who directs the conservancy, had told The Enterprise earlier. 

The newly acquired 225 acres, added to the preserve’s 467 acres, “check every box,” said King, protecting water, conserving ecosystems, and adding recreational trails for hiking and skiing.

Guilderland has also adopted legislation and created a committee to encourage planting native trees, which Barber described as an “educational but not punitive plan.”

The growing suburban town has about 37,000 residents. Barber described that population as “very diverse” and also as “aging.” He said the town now has more seniors than people in Guilderland’s schools.

While the population remains “overwhelmingly white,” at 77 percent, Barber said, almost 15 percent of Guilderland residents speak languages other than English and the school district reports students speak 58 different languages.

“Diversity is driving a lot of what we do in our town,” said Barber.

Guilderland is trying to save for its future, Barber said, with 20 percent of its budget set aside as an unassigned fund balance. While he called unexpected growth for retirement costs “a shock,” he noted that just 11 percent of residents’ property taxes go to the town; most goes to the schools.

The town’s assessed value totals $4.5 billion with 86 percent of that being residential properties.

“At some point,” Barber said, “we’ll have to get into that ugly word of reval.”

Guilderland moved to full-value assessment in 1980 and had at first conducted townwide revaluations every four or five years. Guilderland last went through town-wide property revaluation in 2018 after a gap of 13 years, leading to a series of tax challenges.

Barber said development in the town is in the midst of “a dramatic slowdown” with most activity in the transit-oriented development district centered around Crossgates Mall.

New roundabouts — one on Carman Road and the other at Crossgates — have improved safety, he said, and the county is proposing another roundabout at routes 155 and 20.

Barber lauded the launch of the town’s new website and said, “I’m not aware of any town that puts ore on its website.”

Barber noted “a crisis in getting volunteers” for the eight fire departments that serve Guilderland. He praised the tax breaks the town board had granted to volunteer first responders and to income-eligible senior citizens.

With a $500,000 grant from Albany County and contributions from Guilderland’s volunteer fire departments, the town is building a new $900,000 fire training center in the Northeastern Industrial Park.

The town court is back to pre-pandemic levels, dealing with 5,000 Vehicle and Traffic Law tickets, said Barber.

Likewise, senior services are back to pre-pandemic levels serving over 800 seniors and providing over 3,000 transports — with not enough space in the exercise class for all the seniors who want to participate.

As he had at this month’s town board meting, Barber expressed concerns over the town’s water capacity. He noted use doubles in the summer and called daytime watering of lawns “wasteful.”

New water meters are being installed, which will monitor leaks, he said.

Barber praised the town’s police force, which is the largest ever with 43 officers

He noted investments like replacing car and body cameras, a program started in 2016, which Barber said was “good for officers and good for the community.”

Other police-department investments include microwave communications and local dispatch. “They know our town, they know our streets, they know our staff,” Barber said of the town’s dispatchers.

He noted traffic safety committee meetings are now broadcast and that the town’s first speed hump was installed on Elmwood road in McKownville and another is planned for Kennewyck.

“We have over 50 miles of sidewalks in our town,” said Barber. “Every step on a sidewalk is $1,000,” he said.

The town has applied for grants for more sidewalks, including on Gun Club Road and Willow Street.

The town is also creating its first multi-use path, for both walkers and cyclists, which will run from Route 20 along Route 146 to Tawasentha Park with the goal of ultimately reaching Guilderland Center and, beyond that, Altamont.

The highway department is responsible for 168.5 miles of roads and has bought used paving equipment to save money doing work in-house rather than hiring contractors, Barber said.

In addition to winter plowing, crews sweep town roads five times a year to keep storm drains clear, he said.

Fall leaf collection has grown in cost from less than $200,000 to $700,000 and is growing due to climate change, said Barber.

The town’s emergency medical services, with the demise of the Altamont Rescue Squad, have expanded to include the village of Altamont and the town of Knox, which the Altamont squad used to serve.

Guilderland has built a new ambulance station near its golf course, the first in 40 years, Barber said, as calls are “surging.” There has been a 33-percent increase in calls over the past eight years, he said, again referencing the town’s aging population.

Guilderland has made “record investments” in its parks, Barber said, noting that the pandemic increased park use. Recent improvements include pickleball courts, a splash pad, and an outdoor fitness center.

The list of park projects for 2024 is long, said Barber, but features “pickleball, playgrounds, and bathrooms.”

Barber concluded his address with a long list of thanks — for charitable groups like Community Caregivers and the Guilderland Food Pantry; for community organizations like the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce and the YMCA; for legislators at the local, county, state, and federal levels for “unwavering support”; and for town employees.

“Nothing happens in our town without our people,” he said.

Barber also said, “We all work together in trying to improve our quality of life.”

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.