Weed, waste, and conflicts-of-interest on Altamont’s October agenda

— From Young/Sommer

Allyson Phillips, attorney for the village of Altamont.

ALTAMONT — The Altamont Board of Trustees at its Sept. 7 meeting set itself up for a busy fall. 

The board voted to hold a public hearing on Oct. 5 for a proposed law that would have Altamont opt out of allowing retail dispensaries or licenses for on-site consumption of marijuana, set an Oct. 19 budget workshop on sewer-rate increases, and also declined to immediately OK a conflict-of-interest waiver for the village’s attorney.

 Trustees had initially signed-off on a June 1 public hearing on the sewer-rate increase, but that hearing was canceled.

The local law proposed at the start of summer would amend Altamont’s 2008 sewer-usage law by increasing the twice-a-year user fee from $45 to $100 per user to help pay off a multi-million-dollar sewer-plant upgrade bond. 

The village has approximately 884 sewer customers, from whom it currently collects a total of about $40,000 every six months, roughly $80,000 annually, in mandated sewer-plant upgrade charges. 

The village should be able to cover its sewer expenses with the rents it receives every six months, but that hasn’t been the case. 

The village upgraded about two-thirds of the facility in 2013, while the remaining third is over 40 years old. Along with those 2013 improvements came $170,000 in annual outlays on the principal and interest of the bond that paid for the upgrades. As of April, $2.75 million of the original $3.58 million bond was still to be paid off, which is due to happen in 2043

The plant upgrade was supposed to save the village money but has turned out to be “a little more expensive” than what was anticipated, Mayor Kerry Dineen said at an April meeting, because of costs which are in addition to and coupled with other sewer-related expense increases.  

 

Marijuana law

The state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act of 2021 was signed into law in March. 

With his signature, former Governor Andrew Cuomo made recreational marijuana use legal for people 21 and older in New York State, while selling it would be permitted once regulations were established. Municipalities now have until Dec. 31 to opt out of allowing retail dispensaries or licenses for on-site consumption. 

Dineen explained the village has until the end of the year to opt out of the new law — “otherwise you are in,” she said, and Altamont would have to allow on-site consumption licensing and dispensaries in the village. 

The village’s local opt-out law would permit Altamont to opt back into the state regulations down the road, allowing for retail dispensaries and/or licenses.

The new state law allows for marjiuana to be smoked anywhere smoking tobacco is permitted, according to the New York State Association of Counties; “however, state agencies and localities can more strictly regulate smoking in public.”

The law imposes a point-of-sale retail tax of 9 percent for the state and 4-percent local tax — 1 percent is retained by the county and 3 percent goes to the town, city, or village.

 

Conflict waiver

In July, the village board authorized Dineen to sign a 100-day exploratory lease with Borrego Solar Systems, allowing the company to assess the viability of installing a solar development at the village-owned Altamont Reservoir in Knox. 

Borrego had 100 days to decide if “this is a viable project for their company,” Dineen said during the July 20 meeting. 

“There’s no agreement on terms, or anything like that,” Dineen said in July. “That is all negotiable in the future should [Borrego] want to go forward.”

The letter signed by Dineen said a lease would last for 20 years with Borrego retaining the right to extend the lease by four additional five-year periods. In terms of rent, Altamont would receive $5,500 per megawatt per year — with that number increasing by 2 percent each year.

During the Sept. 7 meeting, Dineen and village attorney Allyson Phillips informed trustees that her law firm, Young/Sommer, was asked to represent Borrego on solar projects over 25 megawatts.

Young/Sommer’s request was to be able to continue to represent the village’s interests in the negotiations with Borrego — should it get to that point — while being able to represent Borrego on solar proposals over 25 megawatts. 

The solar proposal for Altamont Reservoir would be under 25 megawatts. 

Young/Sommer — half of whose namesake, Dean Sommer, serves on the New Scotland Zoning Board of Appeals; Sommer’s son, Jesse, is a columnist for The Enterprise — is not being retained for the “real-estate end” of Borrego’s projects, Phillips said, so the law firm wouldn’t be negotiating any lease agreements with potential landlords. Young/Sommer would be handling the permitting and environmental approval process for the solar developer, she said.

Borrego already “waived the conflict on their end,” Dineen said.

Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf said it was the first time he was hearing about the conflict waiver and asked if Phillips could provide something in writing, “so we can look it over [and] think about it.”

Dineen discussed that issue with Phillips and said it would just be a motion by the board, to waive conflict. “This is what it is,” Dineen said of hers and Phillips’ explanation of the conflict waiver, “there is nothing; I don’t have anything in writing.”

Fahrenkopf then asked Dineen if the board was being asked to vote on a waiver that, in effect, existed only as a seven-word agenda item on the board’s August agenda. 

Any solar proposal for the Altamont Reservoir would have to be OK’d by Knox’s planning or zoning board since the reservoir is located there. Since Altamont would be acting as a landlord and not the permitting jurisdiction, Borrego “was happy” to waive the conflict, Phillips said. 

“Is the disclosure with all these details in writing, is that something we have?” Trustee Tresa Matulewicz then asked.

Dineen said it was not. “This is what it is,” Dineen said, “just to have a discussion about it tonight; you’re hearing the facts as they are.”

Matulewicz asked if it was something the board would get in writing.

“To me, waiver means we’re looking to sign-off on something,” she said.

Phillips said, if the board were more comfortable with her providing something in writing, she would, “but there’s not much beyond” what was already discussed earlier in the meeting, she said.

Dineen then asked if any trustee would feel comfortable making a motion to waive Young/Sommer’s potential conflict-of-interest so that the law firm would be able to continue to represent the village in any future lease negotiations with Borrego Solar.

The request was met with silence. 

Dineen then asked the board what it would like to do.

Fahrenkopf said, “We’re paying Young/Sommer to represent our best interests, and one of those things is business with Borrego Solar. Borrego Solar is paying Young/Sommer to represent their best interest — obviously, that’s why it’s a conflict.”

Fahrenkopf then said he’d like to see in writing what was discussed during the meeting about the potential conflict-of-interest, “and maybe just a little bit of why or what, if any steps, Young/Sommer is able to take to reduce or mitigate or limit potential conflicts,” and outline what Young/Sommer’s involvement would be with Borrego Solar.

Fahrenkopf asked Phillips to provide an explanation of the board’s options if it was not comfortable with Young/Sommer representing the village in a deal with Borrego, for example, retaining special counsel for the negotiations.

Phillips said she would. 

The board decided to wait to vote on the issue at its next meeting, currently set for Oct. 5, after the written conflict-of-interest waiver is provided.

 

New inspector

The village board also hired zoning board member Gary Goss as building inspector. 

Lance Moore, the village’s current inspector, is resigning on Sept. 30. 

Moore was hired months ago by the town of New Scotland for a similar position.

James Sullivan, the zoning board’s alternate member, was appointed to take Goss’s position. Sullivan’s term runs until March 2026.

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