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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 26, 2005

Police say GHS student shares pills

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A Guilderland High School student took prescription pills from his home and shared them with his friends, police say.

Sean Michael Clark, 16, of 26 Tice Road, was ticketed on May 13 for unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation.

"His guardian, his grandparent, called the police station, and said he may be in possession of a controlled substance, taken from the house," said Brian Forte, a Guilderland Police officer stationed in the high school.

His grandfather declined comment when The Enterprise called this week.

Clark was called to the principal’s office, Forte said, where he was asked to empty his pockets. "I saw a pot pipe tucked in his shoe," said Forte.

The glass pipe contained marijuana, Forte said, so Clark was arrested for unlawful possession.

Clark stated that he had taken two prescription pills that morning, the arrest report says, and that he had given at least 20 other pills to his friends, but he would not disclose the names of the friends.

Forte said calls from guardians or parents on pilfered pills are very infrequent as are school arrests for possession of marijuana. "We’ve had a few arrests, not as prevalent as what the road guys have," Forte said, referring to Guilderland Police who patrol town roads.

The arrest report identifies the prescription pills as "Clozapan." A pharmacist told The Enterprise there are two medications with similar names — "Clonazepan," which is used to treat anxiety and convulsions, and "Clozapine," which is an anti-psychotic.

"Any controlled substance can have a detrimental effect," Forte told The Enterprise. Forte cited a dramatic example, "You can get an allergic reaction from just one pill, you can even die...That’s why they’re prescribed by a doctor."

Asked what kind of follow-up there would be in Clark's case, Forte said, "It’s in the hands of the court system."

In general, with cases of substance abuse, Forte said, "We talk to the parents and we suggest they seek help. Usually, parents try to get their kids help."

Ismael Villafane, the high school principal, told The Enterprise, "Every time an incident violates the code of conduct, there are consequences."

He said he could not comment on Clark’s case specifically, but the consequences, in general, can range from "a talk and counseling to a superintendent’s hearing," which can result in a suspension longer than the five days for which a principal can suspend a student.

"Every case is based on its merit," he said.

Asked about the frequency of marijuana or prescription-drug use at the high school, Villafane indicated it was rare, saying, "Every time someone is caught with a controlled substance, I refer it to the police...so it would be in your blotters. I wouldn’t hide something. It wouldn’t matter if it was an honors kid with a 98 average or who it was."

Villafane said he wasn’t aware of any trend of kids’ using Clonazepan or Clozapine.

"I hadn’t heard of that name," he said.

Seneca House joins Farnsworth confederacy

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Farnsworth Middle School has a fourth house that now officially, like the other three houses, has a Native American-inspired name: Seneca.

Tuesday night, the school board heard a report on how the fourth house, or school within a school, would be run — without any added expense.

Farnsworth was built in 1970, back when the concept of a child-centered middle school was ground-breaking. The school had undergone no major renovations until the current $20 million reconstruction project, which added 18 new classrooms, configured as a fourth house, and a new gymnasium.

The suburban middle school draws from five district elementary schools, serving students in grades six, seven, and eight. Enrollment is expected to peak next year at 1,418 and then begin to decline to just over 1,200 in 2010-11.

Most students stay in their assigned houses for their entire three years at Farnsworth, with the same classmates and faculty, making a big school seem small. Each of the three houses currently has its own house principal, overseen by a single school principal.

In February, an ad hoc committee of parents, teachers, and administrators had strongly recommended that the new space be used not as overflow classrooms but rather as a fourth house. The committee outlined three approaches.

The top priority involved hiring a new house principal at an estimated annual cost of $125,000. The second choice involved creating a smaller house with a re-assigned administrator for $51,000. And the third choice, which involved hiring a secretary for the fourth house, would have cost $35,000.

During the February presentation, Gloria Towle-Hilt, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, said that a house at Farnsworth is like a neighborhood, a homeroom is like immediate family, and the teaching teams are like extended family.

"Students need to be known and well-nurtured," she said.

The school board allotted no funds for administering a fourth house in the district’s $76 million budget for next year, which voters passed earlier this month.

While praising the plan presented to the school board Tuesday night, Superintendent Gregory Aidala said, "It wasn’t a simple task. The only string we put on was we will not provide additional funds."

William Aube, one of Farnsworth’s three house principals, outlined the plan. "A fourth house was created without hiring any additional staff," he said.

Each house will have 300 to 400 students, arranged in sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade teams. Each house will have a full-time school counselor, a half-time social worker, a house office, a house secretary, and a shared house principal.

Hiawatha, Tawasentha, and Seneca will each have a house principal; each of those principals will also be assigned to one grade level in Mohawk House.

"House principals will no longer be associated with one particular house but rather with the teams they’re assigned to," said Aube.

This summer, students will learn their homeroom assignments, and the names of their school counselor and principal.

New students, sixth-graders coming from elementary school, will be assigned as always, Aube said, based on recommendations from their schools.

"We take fifth-graders from all five elementary schools and create new families," said Aube. "It’s important to mix children from the entire Guilderland community."

The seventh- and eighth-grade teams that are now in place, as sixth- and seventh-grade teams, will stay intact from one year to the next, Aube said. Some groups will move from one house to another as a team.

The counselors and principals will become "common denominators," he said, attached to the same children.

Choosing a name
The original charge, when the Farnsworth houses were named in 1970, was to have groups of three, Nancy Clum-Dolan, an advisor for the student council, told The Enterprise earlier. One proposal was to name the houses after three astronauts; another was to name them after three Presidents, she said.

Ultimately, three Native American-inspired names were chosen:

— Mohawk, for the eastern-most tribe in the Iroquois confederacy;

— Hiawatha, for the Onondagan leader credited with organizing the Iroquois confederacy, described in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 poem; and

— Tawasentha, for the vale, located in Guilderland, that is part of the setting in Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.

Gabby Formica, president of the middle school’s student council, told the school board Tuesday about how the name for the fourth house was chosen.

Students submitted Indian-related names with background information, she said, and the list was narrowed to three in January:

— Seneca, for the western-most tribe in the original Iroquois confederacy;

— Nokomis, for the grandmother who raised Hiawatha, as described in Longfellow's poem; and

— Atatoraho, a warrior who was evil but became good.

Students voted, and chose Seneca. Formica had said earlier that student interest in the name selection was high. "A thousand kids voted, across all the teams," she said.

Tuesday, the superintendent asked Formica if it had been a close vote.

"No, it was really, really, really obvious," answered Formica, because no one would have been able to pronounce the other names, she said.

Residents red-hot over reval on Grievance Day

— Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Tuesday was chaos at Town Hall as hundreds of angry residents waited for hours to have two minutes each with the board of assessment review.

The board, which meets once a year on state-set "Grievance Day," acts as a safety-valve, allowing people to dispute their property values set by the town’s assessor.

Guilderland completed a town-wide reassessment of properties this year, where the value of the average home increased about 40 percent.

From 8 a.m. until midnight, 238 residents went before the board. They filled chairs in empty meeting rooms and sat on the floor in the Town Hall lobby. Many clutched manila folders or envelopes that contained information they hoped would convince the board to lower their assessments.

Some read newspapers or magazines as neighbors brought coffee to them. The atmosphere was grim, however, as many voiced anger or brooded as they waited in line.

Meanwhile, workers from the town assessor’s office ran back and forth, struggling to accommodate the growing number of residents and deal with the flow of paperwork.

This was no surprise to Assessor Carol Wysomski. She told The Enterprise Monday that she anticipated at least 400 residents would grieve. She said Wednesday that this number was accurate, with nearly 200 people filing forms, and 238 others speaking before the board.

This is because, after six years, Guilderland’s properties have been reassessed and at a shocking rate.

In March, Wysomski’s office was bombarded with calls and visits from people who were alarmed with the level of increase to their homes, since taxes are based on property values.

The Enterprise reported then on the informal hearings Wysomski had scheduled for residents. Nearly 600 people came to her office and she explained to them how she came up with their assessments, she said.

The 400 people not satisfied with this, however, chose to come to Grievance Day.

For the past five years, the average home in Guilderland has been assessed at $125,000, Wysomski said earlier. The new average is about $180,000, she said.

"The market is up because interest rates are down," Wysomski said of the reason for the large increase. "I have 1,200-square-foot ranches in Westmere that were $119,000 that are now $180,000."

A review of Guilderland’s new assessment roll — which is available on the town’s website — shows that almost all properties have increased in value; very few have decreased or remained the same. Overall, the tax base has increased by about $800 million, Wysomski said earlier.

Of the residents whose assessments have increased, a third will have their taxes increase, a third will have lower taxes, and a third will pay the same tax rate as now, Wysomski said.

Revaluation is fair, Wysomski explained, because, without it, as newcomers move to a town, they pay taxes based on the price they paid for their property while parcels that haven’t sold usually remain at a lower rate, skewing the tax rolls.

Every May, the town-appointed board of assessment review meets on Grievance Day, the fourth Tuesday of the month, to hear from residents who believe their assessments are not accurate. The board then decides if it agrees with Wysomski’s assessment or if it will lower the resident’s property value.

Chairman Kevin Forbes told The Enterprise that the board will have several meetings to review its notes and it will make decisions in the next four weeks.

Several people called The Enterprise Tuesday to complain about the long lines and disorganization at Town Hall. Some said they left without being heard by the board because they had to return to work or take care of other business.

Wysomski said Wednesday that only 10 people left before being heard by the board.

Tuesday afternoon, The Enterprise asked Jeff Gloak, of the state’s Office of Real Property Services, about the town’s ability to handle the many residents who wanted to be heard by the board.

Gloak said that, as long as written complaints or grievance applications are given to the board by the end of the day, those who did not get a chance to go before the board can do so later. That is, he said, if the town decides to hold another hearing session.

Wysomski said Wednesday that all those who wanted to be heard were heard and another session is not anticipated.

Of those upset about the long lines, Wysomski explained that the board does not schedule appointments and has no idea when people will show up. The majority of people came in the morning, she said.

"Some people were upset and it takes one person to get others upset," she said. "But, everyone was nice to the board. It all went well."

Waiting to grieve
Linda and Paul Forand came to Town Hall at 7:30 Tuesday morning and found 37 people ahead of them in line. They then waited for over four hours.

Residents were given numbers so they could be heard in the order in which they had arrived at Town Hall.

The Forands, who live at 148 Main St. in Altamont, told The Enterprise that their house has an assessment that’s $80,000 higher than others on their street.

Their home was assessed at $129,600 last year and is now valued at $238,600. A scan of nearby homes on the assessment role shows figures in the low $100,000 range.

"We feel our property is not assessed in line with our neighbors," Linda Forand told The Enterprise. "That’s what we plan to present here."

"It’s 84 percent higher than the last assessment," Paul Forand said. "We feel that’s excessive."

Wysomski uses computer software to calculate assessments, she said earlier.

"The program pulls five sales from the immediate neighborhood or similar ones that have sold in the last three years," she said. It then makes adjustments relevant to the house in question for differences in square footage and for extras, like whether the house has a pool, central air-conditioning, or a fireplace, she said.

Also when assessing homes in Guilderland, Wysomski and her staff walk throughout town, looking at each home in each neighborhood, to see if its computer value seems accurate, she said.

Keith Whipple, a middle-aged man who owns an acre of land with a house on Vosburgh Road in central Guilderland, sat on the floor outside the board’s meeting room Tuesday. At 11 a.m., he told The Enterprise that he had been waiting since 8:30.

"I’m number 88 and they’re working on somebody in the 20’s," he said. "Some people got angry and left. They said the board doesn’t make a decision for a month. But, I think I have to go in there and explain."

His house was assessed at $188,000 last year and at $360,000 this year.

"I’m the only one in my neighborhood that went up in assessment," Whipple said.

He pulled papers out of a manila folder that showed the assessments of 28 neighbors on Vosburgh Road and 11 on Drahos Drive. Assessments for three of those went down and the rest stayed the same.

"I was shocked," Whipple said.

His higher assessment is based on a 20-by-22-foot, two-story addition he built onto his house in 2003, he said. But, he said, the addition cost $35,000 and, after it was constructed, his assessment rose $16,000 in 2004.

The town, he said, shouldn’t be claiming the same addition when figuring his house is worth more than others.

"We purchased the house for $141,000 in 1993. So, in 12 years, it’s increased $220,000, which seems high," Whipple said. "We feel the house is worth $200,000 to $250,000."

He also said his house was built in 1979 and new houses in a development on Drahos Drive are assessed at $100,000 less than his.

"I don’t know how we’ll be able to afford the taxes," Whipple concluded.

Elissa Sanborn, who lives on Fuller Road in McKownville, came to grieve because, she said, revaluation is causing her property taxes to increase 51 percent.

But, unlike some of the other residents The Enterprise spoke to, Sanborn, whose husband is an attorney, said she is ready to take the town to small claims court if it does not lower her assessment.

"I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes, but they can’t not reassess for six years and then increase the values by 60 percent," she said.

After Sanborn attended an informal hearing in March and told Wysomski she disagreed with her assessment, Sanborn hired someone to appraise her house and property, she said.

It was appraised at $35,000 less than the town’s assessment, Sanborn said. She submitted the appraisal to the board of assessment review at the beginning of April, she said.

"I don’t think they even looked at it," she said. "They blew me off and I paid 350 bucks for that appraisal."

Sanborn and her husband moved to Guilderland in 1971, buying a small Cape Cod style house. In 1979, they put a large addition on the house, she said.

So, Sanborn said, when assessing, the town doesn’t compare her house to her neighbors. Rather, it compares hers to similar-sized homes in cul-de-sacs.

"But it’s not the same," she said. "Fuller Road is a busy street."

Six years ago, the Sanborns tried to sell their home, but couldn’t get one offer.

"At the time, the biggest complaint was that it’s a busy street and you can’t live here with kids," she said. "...It is over-built for the neighborhood, but it’s a nice house."

She concluded of the town, "You can’t solve all the problems of a community by dumping them on the taxpayers."

Hearing every resident
At around 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, the board of assessment review decided to split its members into two groups. This way, the board was able to hear two cases at once.

"I’m not sure if splitting the board is fair," Paul Forand told The Enterprise when he heard of the split. He’d rather get a chance to present his case to all of the board members, he said.

Linda Forand, however, said that she’s not worried about a split board. The board members will take several weeks to review the evidence presented before making a decision, she said.

Sally Ketchum, who went to Town Hall Tuesday to contest the assessment of Ketchum’s Service Station in Altamont, called The Enterprise Wednesday. Her family is trying to sell the property. (See related story.)

Ketchum said it took her hours to compile information for the board to review and she felt that she wasn’t given enough time or consideration.

"They never opened my booklet; they never asked me questions. It loses the whole merit of my presentation," Ketchum said. "I’m very unhappy. I’d like to get a group together to go to the next town board meeting. We should tell the town about this."

Tuesday morning, after waiting for several hours, William MacGregor was called before the board of assessment review. He was heard by Chairman Forbes and board members Norine Malloy and James Lamar.

On the other side of the room, a different resident was heard by board members Dee Jones and Martin Green.

Forbes turned on a tape recorder and had MacGregor state his name and address. Forbes then told the elderly man that he had three minutes to state his case.

MacGregor has owned his home, at 84 Okara Drive, for 14 years, he said. He purchased it for $140,150, he said, and, last year, it was assessed at $138,700.

The reassessed valued, however, is $241,300.

MacGregor told the board that his assessment is too high. His property was not compared to his neighbors, on Okara Drive, but to others on Old State Road. He wants to be assessed in comparison to his immediate neighbors, MacGregor said.

Forbes asked if there were major improvements or additions made to the home.

"I haven’t even painted the inside of it," MacGregor said.

Forbes then asked other questions, such as how many bathrooms are in the house and if it has a pool.

Board member Lamar asked MacGregor about his house being larger than his neighbors.

"I admit that," MacGregor said. "But I don’t know why it went up so much percentage-wise...My neighbor put an addition in and his didn’t go up."

Before he left, MacGregor told the board, "I’m not going to be happy until you reduce this considerably."

Outside the meeting room, MacGregor told The Enterprise that he thought the board would give him a small reduction. He added that, when he visited the assessor’s office in March, Wysomski had lowered his value by $9,500.

"That was to try to make me happy so it wouldn’t come to this," he said.

Guilderland Zoning Board examines doctor’s plans

— Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — A local doctor has modified his plans to build a medical complex on Carman Road, but some neighbors still have concerns.

Last Wednesday, the town’s zoning board continued the request of Dr. William Tetrault, so a town-designated engineer could further study issues like stormwater management and traffic.

Tetrault is asking for a special-use permit to merge three parcels — one of which has a medical building — into one on five-and-a-half acres at 3761 Carman Road, next to Mike’s Diner. A new medical building would then be constructed. The property is owned by Prescribed Realty.

The existing medical building is used by Capital Care and is 500 square feet. A new, 23,000-square-foot building — more than four times as big — is proposed for Capital Care. The existing building would then be leased out for doctors’ offices, with four or five tenants.

Tetrault first came before the town’s zoning board last August. Then, neighbors raised concerns about traffic, noise, and the removal of a large hill, that some called a berm or a dune.

Tom Andress, of ABD Engineering, told the zoning board last Wednesday that, since last year, six parts of the plan have been changed. The modifications are based on answering residents’ concerns and on following the town-designated engineer’s recommendations.

First, Andress said, there was debate over whether neighbors wanted a two-story building covering less ground or a one-story structure covering more ground. As was the plan last year, he said, the building will be one story.

Chairman Bryan Clenahan asked what most of the neighbors think of a one-story building.

"They’re very much in favor," Andress said. "They didn’t want two stories..."

Later, one Sunset Drive resident said he’d rather see a two-story building.

In the original plan, pavement surrounded the building, allowing traffic to circle it. Now, driving is only allowed on three sides, Andress continued.

The building will also be constructed further to the south, toward Mike’s Diner, with a parking lot in the front, near Carman Road. The parking-lot change is because neighbors were worried about headlights facing their properties, he said.

A large hill is on the property above the parking lot and to the left of the existing Capital Care building. On top of the hill are rows of tall, shade trees.

The hill and trees will be removed, Andress said earlier, so that the building can be placed away from the road. Last Wednesday, he said a north exit and entrance lane have been removed from the plan, allowing less of the hill to be removed.

A dead-end parking lot will be in the back of the building for staff, Andress said. There will be one major parking lot with much green space in the front, he said.

The zoning law requires 239 parking spaces for this project. The company is proposing 159 spaces, with green space left for the remaining spaces, if they are needed.

"We just don’t want to build it all because we really don’t think we need it," Andress said.

"We’ve been careful in the lighting design," he said. "We’ll have 16-foot-high poles and we’re careful to make sure they’re shining away from neighbors."

The lights will stop short of the property lines, he said.

Rob Osterhaut, the town-designated engineer, told the board that he did a cursory review of the plans.

"We still have technical issues to resolve, such as stormwater management," he said.

For traffic and access, Osterhaut said, the state’s Department of Transportation still must review the plan and issue a permit. Creighton Manning Engineering conducted a traffic study and, he said, "We’ll take a closer look, but it appears everything is justified."

Of noise control, Osterhaut said, "We’re looking for additional screening. They’ve provided more plantings, but there’s more work to be done for that."

He added, "Noise is relatively a minor issue. I suggest some additional plantings."

Osterhaut also suggested that more trees be planted in front of the building, possibly in place of a parking space or two, so that the view from Carman Road is "not so harsh."

Public comment
At last Wednesday’s meeting, several neighbors raised concerns about the project and, later, others spoke in favor of it.

Tom Bailey, of Sunset Lane, said he attended the neighborhood meetings and his concerns, such as about traffic and the size of the building, were not addressed.

"I don’t think a project this size lends itself to that neighborhood," he said, adding that he would prefer a two-story building.

"I’m also concerned with the removal of the dune and a substantial number of trees that serve as a buffer zone," Bailey said, referring to the hill in the back of the property.

Kimberly Bailey voiced the same concerns.

"If they take out the berm," she said, "you’re going to look right into our backyard." She then gave board members pictures of her property.

"In February and March, there’s upwards of 10 inches of water in our backyards and homes," Tom Bailey added, and said that he worries the project will cause his property to be flooded further.

Charles Norfleet, of Old State Road, said he represents the neighbors that live close to the project. Many know nothing about this project, he said, and were not notified about any meetings.

"My main concern is that this is a commercial building and parking lot in a residential neighborhood," Norfleet said. "This corner already has issues and you’re dumping more traffic here."

Carol Norfleet told the board that teenagers drag race on Old State Road and aren’t stopped. Patients from Central Avenue will take Route 155 and then Old State Road to get to the complex, she said, driving past her and her neighbors’ houses.

Ron DePersis, of Sunset Lane, said he, too, has concerns about parking, traffic, and drainage.

"If we don’t look at this closely, it will get out of hand," he said. "But, Dr. Tetrault has been an excellent neighbor. We’ve had issues....but he has been forthcoming with meeting with neighbors."

DePersis continued, "We’ve done a lot of soul-searching and thought about the dune. It was a berm a thousand years ago, but now it’s a nice piece of topography."

He doesn’t want a two-story building, DePersis added, and he said he’s never had standing water on his property or in his basement.

Bill DePersis also said he has lived on Sunset Lane for 37 years and has not had problems with water or drainage.

Tom Bailey later returned to the podium and said that, "In the dry season, I’m pumping water six hours a day."

Tetrault said he own a house next to the medical building and rents it to tenants.

"It’s been completely dry," he said. "When there were heavy rains, they had to call me to figure out how to turn on the sump pump."

Five others, who don’t live adjacent the property but who are patients of Tetrault, told the board that the services the doctor provides will far outweigh environmental concerns.

Traffic, too, they said, will not be increased greatly.

The board then continued the application for the town-designated engineer to further study certain issues and for the applicant to resolve outstanding concerns.

Other business
In other business, the board:
— Granted a variance to Robert Piazza, of 5101 Foxwood Drive, to replace an existing chainlink fence with a six-foot stockade fence, in a front yard on a corner lot;

— Granted a variance to Derek Martin, of 280 Longhouse Lane, to allow a six-foot high fence in a front yard on a corner lot;

— Granted a special-use permit to R. Charles Colehammer, of Prudential Homes, to use an existing office building, at 2301 Western Ave., as a real-estate office; and

— Continued a special-use permit application, of Verizon Wireless, for "the collocation of telecommunications antennas and their supporting accessory equipment" on the roof of a 10-story office building, at Stuyvesant Plaza.

The board wanted time to review the proposal and hear from a town-designated engineer.

Crossgates to ban teens on weekends

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — To reduce violence and arrests at Crossgates Mall, its management has decided to ban teenagers from the mall on Friday and Saturday nights, unless they are accompanied by their parents.

Crossgates will also install more surveillance cameras and increase its number of security officers, Guilderland Police Chief James Murley told The Enterprise.

"Hopefully, a combination of these safety enhancements will reduce the police presence in the mall," he said.

The escort policy was announced last Thursday and will take effect on July 15. Police will then evaluate the level of crime at the mall, Murley said, and he hopes that fewer officers will be needed to patrol the mall.

The Enterprise wrote about plans for the escort policy last month, as Murley, Albany County District Attorney David Soares, and mall representatives were discussing how to control crime at the mall.

Their meetings came after two gang-related riots occurred in March at Crossgates Mall. Then, police arrested at least eight people and, with a Taser gun, stunned two of them.

On May 7, a 25-year-old man was stabbed at the mall in what police said was another gang-related brawl.

These incidents, Murley said, and "increased violence on a weekly basis" at the mall, caused the escort policy.

Last month, Ron "Cook" Barrett, senior gang-prevention specialist for the Capital Region Gang Prevention Center, told The Enterprise about gang members at the mall.

They gather at Crossgates because it’s a common place where thousands of teenagers and young adults go, he said.

"They love the excitement," Barrett said. "They like to cause a scene and it’s talked about back at school. It boosts their reputations."

Carousel Center in Syracuse — which is owned by the same company as Crossgates, Pyramid Cos. — enacted an escort policy in 2003, to answer complaints of disruptive teenagers roaming the mall.

The policy has been successful, so Pyramid considered it for Crossgates Mall, Michael Bovalino, chief executive officer of Pyramid, told The Enterprise last month.

"We track the incidents at Crossgates very closely," Bovalino said. "But, this [gangs] is an Albany issue, not a Crossgates issue."

Bovalino declined to comment on whether gangs at Carousel Center prompted the policy there, but he did say there is less crime at Carousel since 2003. And, he said, Carousel has had more visitors and increased sales on the weekends since it enacted its escort policy.

With the Crossgates policy, on Fridays and Saturdays after 4 p.m., shoppers under the age of 18 need an escort who is a parent or guardian, Bovalino said.

Extra security guards check shoppers’ identification cards at the entrances to the mall, stopping anyone under age and without an escort, he said.

The Crossgates policy does not apply to the mall’s cinema area, to teen employees of the mall, or to the mall’s anchor stores with separate entrances.

Teens under 18 can enter those stores, do their shopping, and leave. Or they can go to the theater, see a movie, and leave. What they can’t do is congregate in central areas like the food court without being escorted by their parents.

Those who try to enter the mall without valid identification will be asked to leave or escorted to an area in the mall where they can wait for a ride.

"The department applauds and supports these safety efforts," Murley said.

The policy is also in place at the Walden Galleria mall, another Pyramid mall near Buffalo, and has been successful there, Bovalino said.

The escort policy should not only decrease the number of disorderly conduct arrests, but also shoplifting arrests, Murley said. Each week, The Enterprise prints in its "Blotters" section at least a dozen shoplifting arrests; all arrests are printed, except for minors, or those arrested who are under 16.

Murley concluded that meetings between the police department and mall management will continue.

"We’re never done," he said. "We always meet periodically to discuss any spikes in particular crimes."

Three GHS buddies become mortar men in Iraq

— By Holly Grosch

GUILDERLAND — Three friends from Guilderland High School’s class of 1997 say that they were glad to have each other as they served in the armed forces in Iraq.

"We played football together," Edward Person said, gesturing toward Mark Gillen.

Person, Gillen, and Michael Colloton went from high school to the State University of New York College at Cortland together, and from there into the National Guard. They made the required six-year commitment, which at the time, they did not know would mean being sent to war.

Colloton and Person called each other on the phone and with the support of the other said, "Let’s do it!" and signed up together.

They joined before the terrorists’ attacks of September 11, 2001.

Members of the National Guard hadn’t been called to active duty in the Army since World War Two, "nobody thought it would happen," Person said. He joined to pay for college, with the idea of serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year.

Since the Cold War, Person said, the National Guard is the biggest branch of the Army. It’s a reserve army, he said. As a militia, it’s useful because it is too expensive to keep such a large full-time Army, he said.

Gillen said that after September 11, the trio took on traditional National Guard state jobs, serving in Manhattan, guarding the buses, subways and power plants. Gillen was sent into Manhattan to patrol Times Square and subways, he said.

In July, 2003 the three friends received word that their Battalion was being called up to fight in Iraq.

"We still didn’t believe it," Person said. Their active duty started on October 1, 2003.

"We trained for four long months in one of the coldest places on earth, and then were sent to some of the hottest places on earth," Gillen said, shaking his head as he thought about how it didn’t make sense to train at Fort Drum to prepare for desert conditions.

Colloton’s younger brother, Mark Colloton who had graduated from Guilderland High School in 2001, was in the middle of his under graduate studies at Schenectady Community College when he was also called into active duty to serve in Iraq. He was from a different battalion but was stationed not far away from his brother’s base so the two got to visit each other often, Colloton said.

While they where lucky to be stationed near each other, Colloton added that his parents weren’t so lucky because both sons in the National Guard were called up to serve in the Army.

From February, 2004 till January, 2005 the three friends served as members of the 2nd Battalion 108th infantry.

"We were the foot soldiers, the grunts," Gillen said.

The roads were the frontline
While they traveled all over Iraq, Person said that they spent most nights in Balad, north of Baghdad, and had a number of day missions in Tikrit. They lived in a bunker, while other soldiers were luckier and lived in old palaces, Gillen said. Most days, they had to travel an hour-and-a-half to get from their base to their day’s mission.

While they are trained mortar men, most of their missions were raids or escorting fuel from Turkey to Baghdad, they said.

"The frontlines were the roads," Person said. The scariest part of the day was traveling from one place to another, especially because of roadside bombs, they all agreed.

"The enemy could be running up next to you," Person said of the guerrilla warfare.

Gillen said they would find a roadside bomb, or a bomb would go off on an everyday basis.

"They loved us being there because they didn’t have to hijack a plane to get us — we were right in their backyard," Gillen said of the insurgents.

Person said all the insurgents would do is dig a hole on the side of the road, place a bomb, and be gone. They often didn’t see the culprits, because the bombs would be placed early in the morning, before their cavalcade came through.

Gillen said sometimes insurgents would place a bomb but then wait a good ways away, hide behind a rock, and set off a detonator to be more precise as the soldiers came closer.

"They’re a bunch of MacGyvers over there," Gillen said referring to the enemies makeshift bombs and their ability to improvise using the limited supplies available to them. And they were very clever at hiding them as well, Gillen said.

"When we were escorting trucks with fuel, it is very humbling because we were moving targets," Colloton said.

They were primarily escorting Turkish drivers who were risking their lives as well, Person said.

While soldiers complaining about lack of adequate protection at a press conference in Iraq got a lot of media coverage, Person said the hype about not having proper armor wasn’t true. Two of their platoon’s Humvees were blown up and, if the men hadn’t had proper armor, they would have died, he said.

Colloton is very supportive of President George W. Bush and voted for him in the last presidential election because, "Being in the military, Bush was the best candidate," Colloton said. "He’ll take care of us... I didn’t feel like that from other candidates."

Each patrol had three Humvees so more than half of theirs were blown up, Person said.

They were lucky that none of the their direct group was killed, Colloton said, although one of their friends did loose 50 percent of his hearing.

"Complacency, that’s how a lot of people died," Colloton said of his fellow American soldiers.

When soldiers "started to get cocky, that’s when it happened," Person said.

The soldiers described raids they made on the homes of Iraqis and insurgent Iranians or Syrians.

For a raid, the American soldiers were notified a few hours ahead of time. After a quick briefing, each soldier would check equipment, gather weapons and night vision goggles, and move out, Gillen said.

"We were pretty sneaky about it, and most raids were done at 5 a.m.," Gillen said, so they caught their enemies off guard most of the time.

Once they raided a house, a helicopter would move in, he said.

Person remembers one particularly dangerous raid when the enemy started shooting back, but that was few and far between, he said.

Each Iraqi is allowed to own one gun so he can protect himself, but if he has more than one, American soldiers would confiscate them.

The three friends were trained as mortar men but, Colloton said, "There was very low call for mortar men." They generally used their mortaring skills only once or twice a month, he said.

Sometimes when they were going into a large raid, like a whole village, the mortar man’s job is to sit on the outside of the village and shoot mortars in, which results in a high death rate, Gillen said. He also explained that a mortar can be shot from up to three miles away, and is very accurate.

The Iraqis used mortar as well; they would shoot them into the Americans’ Forward Operating Base. Person said then he used radar detection to fire back at them.

Asked what it was like to fire mortars into the unknown, not sure who or how many would be killed, Gillen said that it becomes routine; and Colloton said it became second nature.

Colloton said he never got used to seeing people get injured firsthand. But it did become "common for us to hear ‘so many U.S. soldiers were killed today’ which never got easier to hear," he said.

Progress "
Soon after they arrived in Iraq, 150 American soldiers were killed in a month; April the time of Ramadan was the deadliest month while they were there, Colloton said.

Person said that they were lucky to get out and be sent home before another Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the year in the Islamic Calendar.

Iraqis who believe jihad is holy war against infidels, believe that killing one person during Ramadan counts for a thousand deaths, which all connects to the after life for them, Colloton said. So during that month, "every day we were attacked," Colloton said.

But then, right before the three Guilderland soldiers left Iraq there were 35 days in a row with no reports of anything happening, Colloton said.

"We kicked their asses basically," Person said. Over the course of a year of being stationed there, the American military reduced the strength of the opposition, they said.

Colloton said what he thinks made a huge difference is that the Americans had cleared out the insurgents weapons.

They had huge caches, Person said. One by one, the U.S. Army discovered where the stashes were and raided them, he said. Gillen said that the United States had good intelligence.

It seemed as though they had an endless weapons supply, Colloton said.

The men said that, while there is still a complete war zone in Iraq, they felt within the time they were there, that a giant step had been taken.

Another common mission they were assigned, was to escort insurgents to prison. Colloton said that, on occasion, there was someone who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and they would let them go.

But, Gillen said, "If someone tried to kill someone, they would be going away for a long time." Or if an Iraqi is caught with a weapon in the act, or setting up a bomb then they would be taken to prison as well. The Guidlerland men explained though that most of the time they didn’t see the culprit who set a roadside bomb, or who shot at them from far away. However, on occasion, they would come upon a man in the act of setting bomb by the side of the road.

Interaction with locals
While the battalion had a couple of interpreters, the Guilderland natives explained that, as foot soldiers, they weren’t working and interacting with local people in the rebuilding process.

The captains ran the city with the Sheiites, Gillen said.

The older captains had monthly meetings with the local people and, since America was paying for the rebuilding, Gillen said, the decision-making was split 50/50. "We gave our say since it was our American dollars but the local people also got to say what they felt should be built," Gillen said.

However, the Guilderland soldiers did interact with Iraqi children because the kids spoke English, but, Gillen said, "All they wanted was something from you." The kids were mainly "gimme, gimme," he said.

"They really don’t have anything over there... So a flashlight, it’s like gold," Gillen said.

"We handed out a lot of stuff," Colloton said. The men said they received boxes and boxes of care packages and accumulated a lot of toothbrushes so they handed them out to the Iraqi families through the children.

"The parents are traditional," Colloton said.

"And we weren’t allowed to talk to the women," Gillen said. All three men said that they only talked to the older males of a family or the children.

"I never saw a female driver on the road; the women always rode in the back," Colloton said.

While the local women were in the field working, he observed the men were sitting around in the villages chatting, Gillen said.

Iraqi men were helpful to American soldiers because they would say when a certain individual had been in a certain area at a certain time, to help the military weed out who had set up the bombs, Colloton said.

For the most part, Colloton said, he found the Iraqi people to be pretty supportive — the Iraqi nationals, he said.

After the officers got to know some of the locals they developed informants, Person said. Always for a fee, Colloton noted.

Once the military offered someone money, he would be very willing to help out, Gillen said.

"One guy turned in his own brother because he had a lot of weapons, but, in return, he got a lot of money, so his whole family could leave," Colloton said.

It is such an impoverished county, Colloton said, that large families live packed into one room. With no plumbing, Person added. Gillen said one time he saw a girl with fecal matter in her hair.

"There’s also no ethics on throwing away trash," Colloton said. The streets were full of trash, the soldiers said, which is what made it hard to see roadside bombs.

Brave men who cleared off the streets in a city every morning before the soldiers would parade into a city in a large cluster; saved a lot of lives, Person said.

One of the worst parts of serving in Iraq for a year was the lack of sleep, said Gillen. In the middle of the night, the soldiers would hear the screaming sound of mortars and they would have to run down to the tubes to shoot back. This often happened at three in the morning, and they would serve two-hour shifts, each in a small lookout.

"For a couple of weeks, it was really bad," Gillen said of the constant fighting.

Communication was good between lookouts so, as one American soldier "saw someone shoot at us, the other would know where the shot came from and were able to fire mortars into that area," Colloton said.

Person agreed with his friends about the drain from lack of sleep and added that one of the worst things for him was the unbearable heat in the summer.

Person and Colloton’s 6 year National Guard term ended this April.

Colloton chose to sign up for an additional three years of service. He said once you complete the first 6 years, which is the minimum start, then a National Guardsmen can sign up for any quantity of additional years.

He re-enlisted because of the benefits, including government payments towards his tuition at the University at Albany, he said.

After his return home to the Unites States in January, Colloton enrolled this past semester at Albany to complete his master’s degree in special education.

Colloton said he would have completed his masters by now if he wasn’t called into active duty.

He doesn’t want to go back to Iraq but, if he were called up again, he said, "I wouldn’t complain."

Colloton said his younger brother, "will not be done until January 2008, which perfectly coincides with my new date of January 2008; so if we have to go back, it will be together," he said.

Gillen had originally joined the National Guard a year after Person and Colloton so his term won’t be completed until July 2006. He said he hasn’t decided yet if he wants to re-enlist after that. Now back in the states he says he’s been thinking about becoming a high school guidance counselor.

Person was not eager to re-enlist and decided 6 years was enough for him.

Person said his life was at a "stop loss" for a year-and-a-half.

When he was first called into active duty, "I was real upset," Person said. "I really had to put my life on hold."

At the time, he was trying to get into the Albany Fire Department and was running a very successful seal-coating business. "I was thinking, ‘This stinks; I don’t want to go.’" But now, he says, "There are no regrets."

The National Guard is a good program, Person said, it paid for his tuition at college.

After being away for a year-and-a-half, though, he has to rebuild his clientele. For five years, he has owned and operated "Empire Seal Coating Company." He had built a very successful business right out of college, but now, after being absent for more than year, he feels as though it’s like starting all over, getting his business back to what it was.

"It feels good to serve your country," Person said. He added that it was nice to come home to the support of fellow citizens, he said, explaining that people have come up to him on the street and told him how they appreciate the sacrifices he has made for them.

Mulchy and Merza launch MLS 4 Less

— By Maggie Gordon

GUILDERLAND — Tim Mulchy and Dotty Merza have each been in the real-estate business for 20 years. In that time, they have seen house prices rise, along with the fees charged by real estate agents.

This is why they are opening their own business in Star Plaza: Select MLS 4 Less. The company is a Multi-Listing Service — a business which takes a seller’s information, and lists the house in a database for other real estate agents and companies to access.

However, this is a different kind of MLS.

Ordinarily, a seller would sign a contract which allots four, five, or six percent of the selling price to the real-estate company. "That fee is usually split between the Realtor who lists the property and the Realtor who sells it," Merza said.

Select MLS 4 Less charges a flat rate of $650 to list the property, and then encourages its customers to give about 2 percent of the selling price to the real estate agent that sells it.

"We are not charging those huge listing fees, and, in return for that, we are asking you to do some of the work that ordinarily a listing agent does, like showing the house," Merza said. "We’ll give you the name and number of the person interested instead of the agent bringing them."

Merza estimates that on a $200,000 home, this service would save a seller roughly $6,000. "This is certainly worth $6,000 to the seller," Merza said.

Merza and Mulchy decided to open their business because "the fees are astronomical... When the market goes up, so do everyone’s fees, but you’re not working 15 percent harder."

"We’re responding to what’s happening," Merza said. "Real estate companies are getting a higher and higher overhead, but in our opinion they’re not really charging a fair price."

Since Mulchy has lived in Guilderland for 24 years, he wants to provide fair and affordable service to his fellow townspeople, he said.

"Guilderland is really a vibrant community," Merza said. "There’s a lot happening here. It’s a great place to have a business."

The business will only include listings on the Internet. "The Internet has changed everything," said Merza.

Merza is hopeful that the on-line niche will help set their company apart from the competition. "If you’re not on the Internet, you really aren’t reaching the marketplace," she said.

Merza is from Niskayuna, and has a degree in English. Her partner, Mulchy, has a degree in hotel and restaurant management.

They have 40 years of combined experience in the real-estate field. Mulchy also owns Select Homes, a standard real-estate company that does charge a percentage for listing a house.

The new business differs not only from Mulchy’s existing company but also other businesses in the field because "it leaves equity in your pocket," Merza said. "It has the benefits of using a Realtor without a huge layout of money."

Ketchum’s up for sale

— Matt Cook

ALTAMONT—The owners of popular hangouts in Altamont and Westerlo are hoping to sell their stores as soon as possible.

Sally Ketchum, who, with her husband, Tom, owns the eponymous deli, convenience store, car wash, and gas station in Altamont, and the deli and store in Westerlo, told The Enterprise that she and her husband are trying the sell the businesses.

The Altamont store is listed with a Realtor, Ketchum said; the family is asking $985,000 for it.

"We haven’t had a single bite yet," Ketchum said. "It may be too high."

The 200 Main St. property in Altamont is assessed by the town at $185,400, although Ketchum contested that assessment at Grievance Day Tuesday. (See related story.)

The family intends to sell the Westerlo store privately, she said; it already has a potential buyer.

"He was actually in my class," said Ketchum, a former school teacher at Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

As other local businesses have risen and fallen, Ketchum’s has remained strong.

"We bought Altamont in 1973," Ketchum said. "That was during the gas crisis. That was a lot of fun."

The couple bought the Westerlo store in 1989.

Despite periods of poor business due to roadwork, Ketchum’s never laid off employees, Ketchum said.

"We always knew things would get better and we would need them again," she said.

The backbone of the clientele at Ketchum’s over the years has been its loyal regulars. During afternoons, Altamont villagers gather at the deli or on a bench outside the store. Later, a different group of regulars shows up.

"We have the old man’s club at night," Ketchum said. "A bunch of them just come and socialize."

Though she said she has enjoyed the business, Ketchum is looking forward to having time to herself. Now, she works non-stop, she said, opening and closing the store every day, including holidays. Often, she said, she leaves work at 2:30 a.m., and she hasn’t been able to take a vacation in years.

"I need a break," Ketchum said. "I’m too old. I don’t want to die behind the counter."

If the stores are sold, Ketchum plans on using her free time to clean her attic and ride her horses.

— Nicole Fay Barr contributed to this story.

Book closed on library director search

— Maggie Gordon

ALTAMONT — The library’s three-month search for a new director has, just like a good novel, a happy ending.

Judith Wines — who has taught ancient Greek at an Upward Bound program in New Hampshire and modern English in Jordan — will settle in the village to be a part of the community as she directs the library.

"The idea of community is a dying phenomenon," she said. "I like that people here actually know their neighbors."

When Ginny La Juene handed in her resignation to the Altamont Free Library’s Board of Trustees this February, the search was on for a new library director.

The board advertised for the position through the State University of New York and the Upper Hudson Library System, said Barbara Quackenbush, the president of the Altamont Free Library.

Nine people applied, from as far away as Illinois and Staten Island. "We struggled really, because the quality was so good," Quackenbush said, "We really did have some very fine applicants."

The struggle ended when the board was introduced to Judith Wines. "When Ms. Wines came forward, it was clear she could do the job and that she would fit in very well with the community," Quackenbush said.

The board voted unanimously in favor of hiring Wines. Her enthusiasm stood out from other applicants, according to Quackenbush. "She had come out and looked into the community. She had looked into the fact that we had looked at the train station and already had some ideas of how she could work with us on that.

"The library board is excited to have her enthusiasm and professional expertise on board as we move forward toward our many new ventures," Quackenbush said.

She went on to mention Wine’s incredible people skills, her "tremendous background in research," and her experience in grant work, but what really set her apart in Quackenbush’s eyes was the fact that she was planning on moving to the community.

"I think it tells us that she’s making the commitment to stay and that’s something we would like to see — to become a part of the community," Quackenbush said.

Wines saw the job listing at the University at Albany, where she earned a master’s degree, and decided to apply. "I like the idea of staying in the area," Wines said. "It’s so lovely up here."

Wines was intrigued by the idea of running a small library, because there is an "opportunity to do everything from story hour to working on the budget," she said.

Wines graduated from Williams College with a degree in classical literature and English literature, before spending 27 months in the Peace Corps. "I’m always happy learning about a different culture," she said.

"I was interested in teaching," said Wines. "I wanted to do something public-service oriented."

During her time in the Peace Corps, Wines was able to teach. She taught English as a foreign language to a group of 40 twelve-year-old girls in Jordan. She used whatever skills she had to help the community, Wines said. "Some of my not-so-smart students had no chance of catching up, so I started a summer program for them."

"A chance encounter," Wines said, led her to become a librarian. "I never really thought of it as a job... I was traveling in Prague and I met this woman. She seemed very bright and she was a librarian."

After her stint in the Peace Corps, Wines returned to America and enrolled in the University at Albany. She received her master’s degree in information science and policy with a concentration in library sciences in December of 2004.

Wines, who is originally from eastern Long Island, has been living in Albany since she returned to school. When her job begins in Altamont, she will become a village resident.

Wines is excited about starting in a new town and a new job with a clean slate. "I am really responsive to what people want — what the community wants," she said. "I’m excited about joining the community and having people come talk to me about the ideas they have."

"She is going to be a big part of our future." Quackenbush said.

Family fights for Fresh Air Fund

— Maggie Gordon

ALTAMONT — When Jan Van Etten began participating in the Fresh Air Fund 46 years ago, she was one of 40 local families volunteering to take in a disadvantaged child from the city, and bring him to the country for two weeks. This year, there are only nine local families participating.

The program, which was created in 1877, was designed to introduce underprivleged children from urban areas to a different kind of life. Through the years, the program has introduced 1.7 million children to fresh air, teaching children that there is more to life than city streets and sirens.

While the original goal was to enrich the lives of the inner-city children who came to the country, the program has also touched the lives of those who host the children.

"The things you learn the most are the things you take for granted here — the grass, the flowers — the things these kids don’t get," Mary Reinemann, a local host, said. "The program is important for the kids, because it’s like you’re in another world but you’re not that far away."

This summer will be Reinemann’s third as a Fresh Air host, and she will be taking in Beshon Austin, a 10-year-old boy from the Bronx, for his second summer in Altamont.

"He’s like family," Reinemann said. "In December, my son and I went down to visit him in New York City." Beshon took that opportunity to let them see his world, as they had let him be a part of theirs.

Last summer, Beshon and Reinemann’s son, Tyler, who is also 10, went swimming daily. The boys also went for country walks, and fishing with Reinemann’s husband.

Reinemann said she learned to keep the activities she planned for her visitor simple. "You don’t have to spend a lot of money," she said. "It was the simple things really...I don’t think he’d ever seen a frog."

The experience was not only enlightening for Beshon, but for Reinemann and her family as well.

"My son realized how good he has it," Reinemann said. She added that it was nice for him to have a playmate, since her daughters are grown.

This year, Beshon is eligible to come back for four weeks. "He wanted to stay all summer," Reinemann said.

"I really think it’s a wonderful opportunity and everybody should experience it," Reinemann said. "You get a good feeling, knowing you’re helping a child."

"So many stars"
Jan Van Etten is a "friendly towner," who interviews families that wish to participate in the program. Before her role as a coordinator, Van Etten began hosting Fresh Air children 46 years ago, when her husband suggested they give it a try.

Since that time, she has hosted about 20 children, before becoming the chairperson 25 years ago.

"The first child I hosted was probably the most destitute of the kids I’ve ever had," said Van Etten. "He came literally with the clothes on his back... The rest of his clothes were just something I would wipe my floor with. They were just awful."

That summer, Van Etten’s husband, who worked for a phone company, took up a collection for the child, and they used the money to buy him clothes.

Van Etten, like Reinemann, learned many things about her own life through her Fresh Air children. "I learned that I live in a mansion, and I have an upstairs and a downstairs, and I have more than one bathroom," she said.

She was also able to witness the children as they learned things. "They didn’t know there were so many stars," she said, with a hint of reminiscence in her voice.

"To see them walk on grass in their bare feet — that’s the most exciting thing. To hear them say, ‘It feels so great! Nothing is cutting me!’" Van Etten said. "To be able to go down and jump in a pond and swing on a tree and roll down a hill. That’s the neatest thing."

This year, Jan Van Etten informed Reinemann that the stop in Altamont, where she has picked up Beshon in the past, is being taken away due to a lack of families participating in the program. "They’re just cutting corners and saving money," Van Etten said.

The local pick-up this year will be at a Church on Route 443 in Delmar. The dates for the program are July 14 to 28. Those interested in participating in the Fresh Air Fund in any way, may contact Jan Van Etten at 872-1895.

Rusk calls for increase in Albany County’s power

— Matt Cook

ALBANY—One of America’s leading experts on urban development blames antiquated state laws for the increasing economic disparity between upstate New York’s cities and suburbs. The laws, he says, spread power over 1,545 cities, towns, and villages without unified regional planning.

David Rusk, a former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., who now works as an independent consultant on urban and suburban policy, has written a report called "Upstate New York: A House Divided." Rusk calls for an increase in county power, which he calls "big-box" government, over towns and villages, which he calls "small-box" government.

"A fragmented region can’t get at the whole assets of its region," Rusk said at a press conference in Albany last Thursday.

These days, Rusk said, people’s lives are not confined to one town or city. People work in one place, live somewhere else, shop somewhere else, and find entertainment and recreation somewhere else. Therefore, he said, upstate New York’s cities should not be looked at as municipalities with rigid borders, but as regions made up of cities and towns. Rusk called them the real cities of upstate New York.

"The way you lead your life is you cross municipal boundaries constantly," Rusk said.

The report
Rusk’s report charts growth in upstate New York’s four major metropolitan areas: Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. In each area, growth has been minimal and mostly in suburban towns at the expense of central cities, Rusk said.

For example, while the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area saw a 20 percent growth in full value of taxable property between 1990 and 2004 (Rusk adjusted the figures for inflation), the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls dropped 18 and 17 percent, respectively. However, the towns in that area grew 36 percent in taxable value.

Rochester and Syracuse had similar declines.

The Capital Region fared a little better. Albany and Troy increased in value 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively, while Saratoga Springs, an anomaly compared to all other upstate cities, increased 86 percent in value.

However, Rusk said, growth in capital regions across the country has been good. Measured in job growth and personal-income growth in the last decade, the Albany area only beat out the capital regions of six states: Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island, Kansas, Connecticut, and Hawaii.

As population pours out of cities and into the suburbs, it causes not only sprawl, but segregation, Rusk said.

"In ‘little box’ regions, I have found that the (generally) unspoken mission of most ‘little boxes’ town councils (and most ‘little boxes’ school boards) is ‘to keep our town (or our schools) just the way they are for people just like us,’" Rusk writes. "Jim Crow by income is steadily replacing Jim Crow by race."

He accused towns of practicing "exclusionary zoning," or zoning that prohibits certain people from moving to a town, by restricting apartment buildings or requiring large minimum lot sizes, for example.

Municipalities from around the country that cover the same area and population as upstate New York’s metropolitan areas have done much better economically than their fragmented counterparts. Rusk compared Buffalo to cities like Indianapolis and Memphis, Tenn.; and the Capital District to cities like Denver, Nashville, and Tuscon, Ariz.

"For all the self-satisfaction that the outer suburbs of Buffalo, Rochester, Albany-Schenectady-Troy, and Syracuse may feel, upstate New York regions are minor-leaguers compared with the competition," Rusk writes. "Indeed, they are not even ‘the competition’ in the others’ eyes."

The solution
Though it would be ideal, Rusk does not believe New York will ever allow its municipalities to merge. That’s not to say it never has. In 1897, Rusk writes in his report, the state merged New York City with Brooklyn, Bronx County, Queens County, and Richmond County, creating the country’s most prominent city.

"It is inconceivable that any legislator or governor would propose similar reforms today," Rusk writes.

Barring any major shift by the state government, the best way for upstate New York’s regions to act as single entities is to strengthen the power of county governments.

"To get out of this little-boxes trap, you’ve got to start turning to the only big-box local government you’ve got," Rusk said.

Among his recommendations, Rusk wrote, the state legislature should empower county governments to develop county-wide land-use plans and require municipalities to conform to those plans. Counties should be able to issue bonds for presevation and growth measures and, Rusk writes, "Institute a county-administered system of tax-base sharing so that all municipalities will share in the revenues generated by regional economic growth."

Rusk also called for counties to enforce "fair-share" housing, which would require municipalities to have a certain percentage of property to be affordable to people below a certain income level.

"Anybody who’s good enough to work in a community is good enough to live in a community," Rusk said.

If the legislature will not mandate such a system, Rusk writes, it should at least allow counties to implement it themselves through a referendum.

"Skeptics will say this will never happen in New York," Rusk said. "Well, never is a long time."

Active citizens’ groups, like the faith-based Gamaliel NY, which funded the report, are the best way to motivate governments to action, Rusk said.

"Faith really can move mountains," he said.

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