Knox town board authorizes first purchase with $130K green grant, eyes solar farm

Enterprise file photo

Amy Pokorny was instrumental in securing $130,000 for the town to improve its energy efficiency.

KNOX — The Knox Town Board took its first step toward spending a small fraction of the $130,000 granted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Clean Energy Communities program when it unanimously authorized the purchase of new light-emitting diodes for the town baseball field at its Feb. 18 board meeting.

The board is at risk, however, of going over the March 31 deadline for having a plan in place to spend the bulk of the grant money. The town requested an extension on its contract but Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis said at the meeting that the town has not heard back yet.

Amy Pokorny, a former Knox councilwoman, led the drive for Knox to complete four green “action items” ahead of other towns to win the grant money in 2017.

She and her husband, Russ Pokorny, live in a home powered by green energy and were instrumental in leading a Hilltown group that first tried to create community wind and later solar venues; neither attempt came to fruition. Both Pokornys have run, unsuccessfully, against Vasilios Lefkaditis for supervisor.

“I imagine the money is sitting aside right now and that NYSERDA wants it to be spent on improvements,” Pokorny said, “so I’m hopeful that they’ll extend it.”

If the contract is not extended, the town will still receive the money spent on the ballfield lights, Lefkaditis told The Enterprise.

“It’s a use it or lose it grant,” Lefkaditis said. “Whatever you don’t use, you lose.”

Councilman Kenneth Saddlemire blamed the lack of expedience on the requisite energy audit, which was required to identify areas where the town could improve energy efficiency and help get a sense of the potential savings the various projects might yield.

“Now that [NYSERDA’s energy] audit’s done, I think everything’s going to come together fast,” Saddlemire told The Enterprise.

Saddlemire is the town’s pointman for the project since Pokorny left the town board, though Pokorny has been helping out along the way, he said.

Despite the deadline crunch, the town has cause for celebration with the authorization of the LEDs.

LEDs use energy more efficiently than traditional lights, like incandescents, in part because they emit less heat. According to the federal government, LEDs have a lifespan that’s 25-times that of incandescent bulbs. 

“The LED lights use approximately 60-percent less energy than the recently procured HID [high intensity discharge] lighting, reducing the town’s cost, usage, and carbon footprint,” Lefkaditis said.

The $8,700 authorized by the board will cover 12 lights and the necessary hardware for installation. Lefkaditis said that installation will likely be completed by spring.

The rest of the money will be used to build a solar farm, assuming plans can be developed in time. Both the solar farm and LEDs were suggestions made by NYSERDA following its audit. It also recommended insulating the highway garage, but, Pokorny said, the town board is weighing the possibility of building a new garage altogether.

“The time that’s left on the building is limited,” Saddlemire told The Enterprise of the highway garage. “It’s an older building that has some issues.”

Meanwhile, the solar farm will produce immediate savings from the town’s energy costs, Saddlemire said, and maybe even make some money on the side if the town can sell energy back to power companies.

“The board is committed to the idea of a solar farm and that’s the idea we will pursue,” Lefkaditis told The Enterprise. “The proposed payback presented one of the greatest advantages to taxpayers and made it one of the only viable options.”

According to NYSERDA’s energy audit, a ground-mounted solar farm with 170 panels producing 60,230 kilowatt hours of electricity would generate an annual savings of $8,101.

The board is eyeing the town landfill on Street Road as a potential location for a solar farm, but Lefkaditis pointed out at the meeting that the lot only receives single-phase power, which would limit its potential.

The board decided to hold a special meeting Friday, Feb. 21, at 11 a.m. to hammer out ideas and details for a solar farm so that a plan can be submitted to NYSERDA as soon as possible.


Other business

In other business, the Knox Town Board:

— Discussed additional changes that would need to be made to Knox’s zoning laws before the town can adopt an amendment to rules for home businesses that would allow residents to operate cottage industries more easily. Most of the changes are related to consistency and clarity. Lefkaditis suggested pushing the issue to March so that the board can comb through the document more carefully;

— Heard from resident Brigitte McAuliffe who said that if Knox’s three-minute audience comment rule is going to be enforced more strictly going forward, the town should post its agendas further in advance. The agendas for the Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 meetings were not posted to the town’s website until the day of each meeting; 

— Heard from Ed Ackrroyd that the Knox Hometown Heroes Committee, which hangs banners honoring veterans, is accepting applications. Ackroyd told The Enterprise later that 120 veterans in Knox are eligible and that anyone who is interested can contact the town clerk for details;

— Authorized Highway Superintendent Matthew Schanz to spend up to $223,000 on a new truck. The motor failed on an 2006 model, which would have cost approximately $50,000 to replace. Rather than invest in an old truck, the town thought it wise to buy a new truck and keep the old truck as a backup. Lefkaditis said he was able to purchase a new motor for $1 from the county under the condition that it be a “shared service,” meaning that the truck will be available whenever the county needs it;

— Heard from Lefkaditis that a generator was installed at the highway garage but it needs to be filled. He said that Long Energy agreed to provide tanks and fill them for $2,600;

— Heard from Lefkaditis that the state comptroller’s office finished its preliminary audit of the town. Lefkaditis originally announced the audit at a December 2018 town board meeting and described it as a “random audit.” However, a press officer for the state comptroller said that the audit was triggered in part by Lefkaditis’s failure to submit annual financial reports for the years 2016 and 2017, neither of which were submitted by December 2018.

The comptroller gave several suggestions to Lefkaditis that would improve the financial efficiency and transparency in the town, many of which Lefkaditis said he wants to adopt. They include monthly reports prepared by the supervisor that itemize payments made by the town that are not covered within its voucher system; an updated procurement policy that is more detailed than it is currently; ensuring that vouchers are signed not by the clerk, as they have been thus far, but signed by the immediate supervisor of whoever is submitting the voucher before it reaches Lefkaditis, time sheets that are signed by employees in addition to the their supervisor and Lefkaditis, payments made by the tax collector weekly, and disaster recovery for computer systems;

— Discussed the feasibility of a new full-time position that would consolidate five existing part-time positions, specifically two highway positions, two grounds positions, and a transfer-station position. Councilman Saddlemire suggested that, because 15 hours a week would be spent “on the road” transporting materials from the transfer station, it would be best to have two positions instead of one, which he said he anticipated would not be popular with the town board. The board decided to discuss the issue further in March;

— Authorized the purchase of a used dasher board for an ice rink, which Lefkaditis said will be kept as backup in case the town’s plans for an indoor recreational facility don’t pan out. Councilman Dennis Cyr objected, saying he wasn’t sure what the value was to the town residents. Lefkaditis reiterated that it would be available as a backup and that, if the town ends up not needing it, he will purchase it from the town and use it at his home. The motion carried, 4 to 1, with Cyr voting against it;

— Discussed the interview process for new legal counsel. The town’s attorney, Javid Afzali, will resign once new counsel is found. Lefkaditis said that three firms are interested, though one is on the fence. The board decided that the interviews will be carried out in person. No dates were set; and

— Discussed the benefits of investing town money in New York Cooperative Liquid Assets Securities System, which Lefkaditis described as a “glorified savings account.” Lefkaditis said that an additional $18,500 would be earned by the town annually if it invests $1.2 million with NYCLASS. Councilman Saddlemire asked that the board see a presentation from NYCLASS before making any decisions, to which Lefkaditis agreed. “If they can’t do it in March, we’ll have them in April,” Lefkaditis said.

More Hilltowns 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.