New Scotland backs clean-air bill, adds clerk hours, increases firefighter benefits

Enterprise file photo — Sean Mulkerrin

Outgoing New Scotland Councilwoman Patricia Snyder, right, looks at election returns with New Scotland Democratic Chairwoman Crystal Peck and Town Supervisor Douglas LaGrange on Nov. 5. 

NEW SCOTLAND — In her final meeting after eight years as a councilwoman, Patricia Snyder took the opportunity to carry out a feat rarely witnessed at New Scotland Town Board meetings — she cast a dissenting vote.

Snyder, who said she never intended having a long tenure as a board member, announced in June that she would not run for a third term.

At her last meeting, on Dec. 11, she was praised by the other board members for her planning and land-use work. 

Over a decade ago, an out-of-town developer proposed building a large-scale Target-anchored shopping center at routes 85 and 85 A — the once home of Bender melon farm. When the “big-box” issue came up, Snyder told The Enterprise in June, she was approached by some New Scotland residents who knew her interest in planning issues and asked her to get involved

Then, “we, as a town board,” were able to “elevate some of the standards” that the planning board had been using, Snyder said in June. 

Some planning-board members “cycled out” and the town board was able to appoint members whose views were different from those of their predecessors, Snyder said.

The planning board now, Snyder said, in a way, takes a more “insightful look” at the way development unfolds in town and thinks about the impact that it may have on surrounding areas.

New Scotland’s new town board member, Bridgit Burke, a Democrat like the other board members, will be sworn in at the town’s reorganizational meeting at noon on New Year’s Day.


Clean-air bill

On Dec. 16, the Albany County Legislature put off adopting a local law that would have prohibited the LaFarge Cement Plant in Coeymans from burning tires for fuel. Concerns were raised that enforcing the law would be too costly and that standards it proposed conflicted with state law.

Supervisor Douglas LaGrange said that Coeymans passed a similar law in March by a 3-to-2 vote — over concerns about large-scale burning of tires at the LaFarge plant in its municipality — which LaGrange personally supported in a letter to Coeymans’ then-supervisor written on town-letterhead

Now, New Scotland is being asked by its representatives in the county legislature — Democrats Victoria Plotsky and William Reinhardt — for its support bolstering a similar clean-air bill that was ultimately tabled after concerns were raised by the county’s attorney and health commissioner.

Snyder said she didn’t understand how the county-level regulations in the bill related to state and federal clean-air regulations. “I don’t know if [the proposed regulations are] more restrictive or they’re the same — or whatever,” Snyder said during the Dec. 11 meeting. “I just honestly don’t know enough about it, and I’m not comfortable with that.”

She continued, “And I’m also a little uncomfortable with the fact that I don’t understand if the county is proposing this law, why there hasn’t been any discussion with respect to the landfill situation as it relates to the region — and Albany County, in particular — because it seems as if these two might be related in that landfills are concerned.”

Snyder said she felt that the proposal was coming “in a vacuum.”

Councilman Daniel Leinung admitted he didn’t know enough about the particulars of the proposed law to get into the regulatory weeds but said he had seen maps showing how the air pollution from burning tires at the LaFarge plant in Coeymans would affect his property — not to mention other properties in New Scotland.

But he did say what the proposed county clean-air law does is take state and federal air pollution laws by, in the words of the bill, “adopting these standards, limits, requirements, and standards of performance, to make them independently enforceable by the County of Albany.”

Councilman Adam Greenberg said he thought the landfill and clean-air proposal was conflating two issues. There has long been talk about the closure of the Rapp Road facility in every municipality that uses the landfill but, he said, “You don’t have to handle it all together; this is one piece of it — but it’s important.”

Greenberg added that the proposed law was for new facilities; it wouldn’t be eliminating any current enterprises.

Councilman William Hennessy said that he wasn’t “gung-ho” over the proposed clean-air law but said he supported the bill. 

When the resolution was put to a vote, Snyder cast the board’s only vote against the resolution. 


Court clerks

The board agreed to more hours for its court clerks after hearing a plea from town Justice David Wukitsch. 

Normally, the court has two part-time clerks who each work 27.5 hours per week. But a vacancy has left the staff shorthanded and the current court clerk is working 40 hours a week to try and fill that gap. 

Wukitsch said it’s been difficult to recruit new employees — as well as keep them — because there are better-paying clerk positions in nearby municipalities.

In addition, he said, the positions’ duties are increasingly becoming more complex because of what is going on at the state level, which requires more on-the-job training. 

And so, he asked that the town consider making one clerk position full-time and keeping the other position part-time. 

But in the meantime, he asked the town board to approve an additional six hours of clerk pay per week so that an experienced clerk who already has a full-time job can come in once a week to help on court night. 

The board agreed, and approved the hours and said it would further discuss making the positions full-time and part-time.


Emergency services

The board also agreed to annual contracts with its fire protection and emergency ambulance services. 

The town agreed to pay the Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company $265,700 for fire protection services in 2020, as well as another $50,375 for ambulance services.

The board also agreed to a 2020 fire-protection services contract with the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department Company for $306,000. 

The board also approved Length of Service Award Program (known as LOSAP) fee payments of $4,200 to Onesquethaw and $3,500 to New Salem. 

In November, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law an increase to the state’s defined-contribution benefit LOSAP, the small pension-like benefit volunteer firefighters receive when they retire. 

The per-firefighter increase in the maximum allowable annual contribution went from $700 to $1,200, which translates into thousands of extra dollars in LOSAP payments made by the town each year. 

LaGrange said that the increase didn’t have to be paid all at once. He added that he’d discussed a tiered phase-in solution with the two fire departments’ LOSAP administrator to deal with the cost increases but he said that the issue is something to be discussed at a later time. 

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