$34M Guilderland budget includes $300K for new dispatch system

— Photo from Inspector Ralph Mariani, Albany County Sheriff’s Office

Lifting into place: A tower used for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office 800-megahertz communications system goes up in Rensselaerville this past summer.

GUILDERLAND — The town board has unanimously adopted a $34 million budget for 2018 that will bring no change to the property tax rate for the 17th consecutive year, the town announced on its website. Residents again will pay just over 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The town’s tax levy will be $11.38 million.

The budget was drawn up using very conservative estimates, said town Supervisor Peter Barber last week.

One highlight of the budget, Barber said, will be the purchase of equipment for a new 800-megahertz communications system that will replace the town’s telecommunications computer-assisted dispatch system.

This will be a “great improvement,” said Barber, calling the quality of 800 megahertz “crystal clear.”

Two of the towers for the county’s new communication system — one in Rensselaerville and the other in Berne — had stirred controversy as some residents argued that towers could be built in places that didn’t harm scenic vistas. A group of citizens from Rensselaerville sued — and lost — focusing on the fact due process hadn’t been followed.

In February, without a public hearing and by unanimous vote, the county legislature had passed a resolution stating that the towers for the countywide system would “be immune from local regulations.”

Both the Berne and Rensselaerville towers have since been built.


— Photo from Inspector Ralph Mariani, Albany County Sheriff’s Office
A communications tower was built this summer in Berne; here, its foundation is being poured.


The total cost to the Guilderland is expected to be about $300,000, said Barber, and the purchase amount will come from a combination of reserves and budget lines or could be financed, depending on current conditions.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Office is paying for mobile radios for vehicles and portable radios for first responders throughout the county, said Inspector Ralph Mariani of the sheriff’s office. Mariani is also the 9-1-1 director for Albany County.

The $20 million cost to the sheriff’s office of the countywide program is being funded in part, Mariani said, by a $6 million grant from the State Office of Interoperable Communications, with the remaining $13.5 million being bonded.

The system, said the Guilderland Police Department’s deputy chief, Curtis Cox, will provide “high-grade interoperability between all disciplines.” Having the county’s emergency services on this system makes it possible, he said, for them to communicate with one another.

In a major event, involving numerous emergency services, these responders would be able to hear what the others are saying and to communicate in real time, without the need for relaying messages from one service to another.

The system is large enough that different channels within it could be used for different emergency services, for the sake of efficiency, Cox said.

For instance, if there were a massive emergency response at Crossgates Mall — as there was on Nov. 22, 2016, when a gunshot went off inside — officers within the mall would be able to speak to each other on one channel, while those outside communicated on another, and emergency medical services used another.

This is a system that the Albany County Sheriff’s Department is developing, Cox said, and by the project’s end, “Everyone in Albany County will be using this.”

In Guilderland, the police department has a soft target date for implementing the system of sometime in January, Cox said. Emergency Medical Services will soon follow, he said, and the fire service has a committee now working on logistics of implementation, since, for the fire service, the new system might require new procedures, Cox said.

Switching over will mean upgrading the town’s current dispatch center, because the existing equipment will not work on the 800-megahertz system, Cox said, adding that the department is now figuring out what purchases it needs to make.

His understanding is that most of the equipment needed has already been purchased by the county, and that the Guilderland Police Department’s only responsibility will be to upgrade its communications system, Cox said.

Every car will get a new 800-megahertz radio, Cox said, and every officer will get a new 800-megahertz portable radio. These have been paid for by the sheriff’s office, he said.

Town officials checked that the new system can be heard in schools, office buildings, Crossgates Mall, and remote areas, Barber said.

Cox said that testing in the mall had revealed some dead spots on the lower level, but that there were ways to amplify those.

Mariani of the sheriff’s office said that bidirectional amplifiers will need to be installed at the mall, which will involve running antenna cabling through the ceiling and hallways so that radios pick up signals from that cabling and transmit signals through it. Then an amplifier boosts the signal so that it can be retransmitted from an external antenna on the building.

Other budget highlights

Highway Superintendent Steve Oliver plans to improve and expand the new paving program that saved the town $120,000 last year, Barber said. In the past, the town has hired contractors to pave roads on a certain set schedule, Barber said, but in the last couple of years Oliver has purchased used paving equipment, had his “talented mechanics bring it up to speed,” and then used it to have town employees repave “at a fraction of the cost.” This year, Barber said, Oliver hopes to substantially increase the number of roads that the town is able to repave.

The town will also use funds that Timothy McIntyre, superintendent of the town’s department of water/wastewater, set aside in reserves to fund the building of a new pump station at the town’s border with Rotterdam, for the new water interconnect with the town of Rotterdam, according to Barber; the pump station will allow the town to get the water from Rotterdam “to where it needs to go,” he said.

The pump station will be funded in part with monies from a $2.4 million New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grant that the town received in October, Barber said.

Barber believes that the pump station is currently under design and set to be constructed in late 2018.

Town union and non-union employees got a pay raise of 2.5 percent in 2017 and will get another 2.5-percent raise in 2018, for a total of 5 percent over two years. Barber said that during the severe economic downturn, raises were either modest or nonexistent, and that the town is now trying to ensure that employees are adequately compensated. He said employees for the state or county still make more, but that the town is trying to make pay more fair.

The police department is on track to stay within the $200,000 budgeted for overtime in 2017, Barber said; this amount had represented a decrease from the year before, when the force spent $251,000 on overtime pay. In 2017, the police department had originally requested $348,000, Barber told The Enterprise earlier.

The 2018 budget includes $225,000 for police overtime.

Clarified on Nov. 28, 2017: The phrase “the supervisor said” was added to the first sentence.

Corrected on Nov. 29, 2017: The information about the 17th year with no tax-rate increase came from the town's website.

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