Town board discusses access, transparency, and signs

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin

Spirited debate. Councilman Adam Greenberg, left, and Supervisor Douglas Lagrange comment on how zoning works, after a sign request.

NEW SCOTLAND — New Scotland residents dropping their cable subscriptions could lead to a loss in town revenues, but some New Scotland residents don’t even have access to cable yet.

Marc Gronich, the vice chairman of the Public, Education, Government Access Oversight Board of the City of Albany, came to the Sept. 13 town board meeting seeking “shared-services” for public-access television for the entire county.

Gronich was referencing the state-wide initiative asking municipalities to examine which services provided to residents could be consolidated or shared with the county or other municipalities in an effort to save taxpayers money.

Gronich’s own plan includes installing cameras in town halls, or wherever public meetings are held, and operating them remotely, from a central location. Gronich wants to “do something innovative, where we allow the public access to government meetings, and at the same time not have it cost that much.”

“This really helps the seniors, it really helps on snow days, it helps the homebound. And we are going to put it on the internet,” he said.

Currently, New Scotland does not have public-access television.

Gronich said, as more people “cut the cord,” meaning cancelling their cable subscriptions in favor of other services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, or Youtube, towns could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in cable-franchise fees. These fees are charged to cable companies by local municipalities as a way of compensating the municipality for use of public property.

Gronich says these fees could go away because of clauses in agreements between towns and cable companies over the number of lost subscribers. Spectrum cable lost more than 100,000 subscribers in the last year, he says in his article, Going Beyond the Cable Connection: How Cities, Towns, and Villages Can Avoid another Budget Blow in Talk of the Towns and Topics from The Association of Towns of the State of New York.

Councilwoman Patricia Snyder said,  “I appreciate you coming, and I’m all for transparency. But we have an issue in this town, as do probably many in the Hilltowns, where a lot of our constituents don’t have access to cable or good internet speeds. So I think, for us, that is more of an issue. I’d rather see these folks get better service, or some service. That would be an avenue I’d pursue with Spectrum before anything else.”

Gronich said that rural areas tend to be the last to get services, but eventually they get them, and he will make it a priority in his business plan.

As part of an agreement to approve the Time Warner/Charter (now Spectrum) merger, the state’s public service commision said the company had to extend service to 145,000 unserved or underserved consumers. A timeline was laid out for the extension, with 25 percent of the 145,000 consumers to have access by May 18.

Spectrum did not meet that deadline and will pay a $13 million fine. Going forward, at six-month intervals, if Spectrum misses its targets it could be fined $1 million for each interval missed.

Signs

The town board, like the planning and zoning boards, is also weighing in on what constitutes a flashing sign. A new law was proposed that would amend the original town code, and would add  definitions for what constitutes a digital sign and a flashing sign.

The proposed amendment stems from an application submitted by Hudson Valley Italian Restaurant Inc., owners of Track 32 Italian Pub, for a digital message-board sign.

After some back and forth with the planning board, the restaurant’s representative agreed that its sign would not scroll, would have just two colors, and would change its message only four times per day.

After making this adjustment, Jeremy Cramer, the town’s building inspector, did not consider the sign to be flashing, and the application was allowed to move forward with a special-use permit to the planning board.

The planning board challenged Cramer’s determination, because it wanted a better definition of what constitutes a flashing sign.

A public hearing on the new proposed law is set for next month.

Joseph Salvino, owner of Track 32, was allowed to speak to the town board about the sign he is seeking.

To begin, he said, “I’m very frustrated, I’ve been in front of all the boards a number of times. It’s clear that you’ve worked together with [planning board member] Christine Galvin to pull … what, I think, is a ridiculous appeal.” Salvino then said the the building inspector was given the ability to determine what constitutes a flashing sign.

“What is flashing is cut and dry,” Salvino said, adding, “All I’m asking for is a sign.”

Salvino says he’s tried to be very accommodating, he’s changed the sign a number of times and fulfilled planning board requirements. “I’ve been very patient,” he said.

“I think you should be helping people, and not coming up with ways to stop people,” he said, adding a few moments later, “The only people against this sign are some of the people on these boards.”

Town Supervisor Douglas LaGrange said, that the town is exposed to new things all the time, but the code is not up to date. And the town has to update and clarify the code.

After Salvino finished speaking, Councilman Adam Greenberg, who used to chair the zoning board, responded to what Salvino said about the boards telling him what he can and can’t do. “A variance, by definition, allows you to do something that the law says you can’t. That’s why you’re in front of the zoning board.” He added, “We’re allowing you a process to do something that you shouldn’t be allowed to do.”

Greenberg said one of the purposes of the zoning board is to act as a check. If someone in town, or in this case, a board, has an issue with the inspector’s determination, he can appeal that decision to the zoning board.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Said the 2018 budget was due to be presented to town clerk by Sept. 30, and then presented by the town clerk to the town board before Oct. 5. A special town meeting will be held on Oct. 4 to present the budget. Budget workshops will take place on Oct. 10, 17, 18, and, if needed 25;

— Was reimbursed $75,000 from the state for the Hilton Barn relocation project;

— Authorized spending of up to $10,000 from the parks’ escrow fund as the town’s share for the building of a new pavilion at Wallace Park. This is in addition to a $20,000 grant from the State and Municipal Facilities;

— Authorized Highway Superintendent Ken Guyer to spend $99,800 to replace the roof of the highway garage.; and

— Accepted Stantec Engineering’s recommendation to approve a right-of-way and utility easement for LeVie Farms.

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