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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 17, 2005

Guilderland approves $18M budget

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — With no public comment Tuesday night, the Guilderland Town Board approved an $18 million budget for next year. This includes $3.7 million in highway expenses.

Although the town tax rate will be lower next year, some residents will be paying more. In 2005, the tax rate was 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. In 2006, it will be 24 cents per $1,000.

However, because of town-wide reevaluation this year, it is difficult to calculate the impact, Supervisor Kenneth Runion said earlier.

The town does reassessment every few years 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 recently usually remain at a lower rate, skewing the tax rolls.

Runion estimated that, in 2006, half of taxpayers will have their taxes stay the same or decrease and half will see their taxes increase slightly.

For the average house this year, highway taxes will increase by less than 2 percent, Runion said. This is mostly due to the increasing cost of fuel, he said.

Sewer taxes, for those with town sewer service, will increase about 4 percent and water taxes will increase less than 1 percent. The sewer increase is due to the upgrade of the Nott Road sewage-treatment plant, Runion said.

Other business In other business, the board:

— Authorized the installation of a street light on Shave Court; and

— Accepted the dedication of water and sewer lines and the release of betterment funds for the Aliberti subdivision.

Should town crack down on election-sign theft"

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Upset by election-sign theft, David Reid, a Guilderland lawyer who ran and lost two years ago for Albany County Legislature, has asked the town board to consider legislation.

Reid, a Republican who says election-sign theft is a huge problem for both political parties, has written several versions of an amendment to the town’s sign ordinance.

"I’m just trying to be a good citizen and stand up for what’s right," Reid told The Enterprise this week.

In one version, it would be against town law to steal an election sign, punishable by a $100 fine.

But, Democratic Supervisor Kenneth Runion and most of the members of the all-Democrat town board say that amending the law is unnecessary.

"I’m not convinced there’s that much lawn-sign thievery going on," Runion told The Enterprise.

Guilderland Police Investigator John Tashjian, however, told The Enterprise that, on Election Day last week, a Democrat filed a complaint that 40 to 60 of the party’s signs had been stolen.

Still, Tashjian and Runion both said they don’t think amending the zoning law is necessary. The police now can arrest people caught for stealing signs.

"I don’t think there’s a need to get into further legislation," Runion said.

After the town completes implementing its master plan, it is going to discuss updating the zoning law, Runion said. "At that point, we’ll look at the sign ordinance," he said.

"The court decisions on signs are still evolving," Runion said. "It’s better to look at it later when the courts have reviewed different sign laws."


Reid was first frustrated by stolen signs when he ran for Albany County Legislature in 2003.

He didn’t bring up the issue to the town then, he said, because he didn’t want it to be perceived as "sour grapes."

But, Reid was again aggravated this year when he spoke to a Democratic town candidate on the eve of Election Day. She was upset that her signs, one on her front lawn, were stolen, he said. The Democrats swept last week’s election.

After the election, Reid wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor and to each town board member. (See opinion pages.)

"The point of the letter was to show a persistent and pervasive problem that has a divisive and negative effect on the election process," Reid told The Enterprise.

He writes that the town board should address the major problem of sign theft. He also wrote that candidates of both political parties have been victims.

Reid then attached an amendment to the town’s zoning law that states those who remove or damage signs would be charged with a misdemeanor.

But, Runion and Tashjian told The Enterprise, it already is a misdemeanor, petit larceny. If a person isn’t caught in the act of stealing but is found to have stolen signs, Tashjian said, he or she can be charged with criminal possession of stolen property.

Every election season, stolen signs are reported, Tashjian said. This year, he said, the department received just the one complaint on Election Day.

The Enterprise asked Reid if the police’s ability to arrest thieves under current law isn’t good enough.

"There are provisions in the state penal law that could be applied to this type of activity," he said. "But, the question I have is: Has it been applied to this type of activity""

The law could be applied, Tashjian said, but it’s difficult to make arrests unless a crime is witnessed. In recent years, he said, no one has been arrested for stealing election signs.

When Reid ran for county legislature, he had 150 signs posted that cost $8 per sign, he said.

He lost 75 of his signs, he said, totaling a loss of $600.

"I had to order additional signs," Reid said. "....With my race, I didn’t have a tremendous amount of volunteers. I spent each day making sure my signs were straight and that the wind didn’t have an effect."

This year, Runion, who ran unopposed, had 100 election signs posted around town; he got 90 back, he said.

If thieves were taking his signs, Runion said, he would have lost half of them, not 10 out of 100.

Some residents or businesses may not realize that candidates want their signs back, he said, so they throw the signs away.

Runion said he’s seen signs blowing down Western Avenue and into the street. Some drivers run over the signs, which are then probably thrown away, he said.

Also, he said, sometimes teenagers destroy a few signs.

"I don’t view it as being a major problem or a major issue," Runion said.

Board members react

Reid sent The Enterprise 11 pages of e-mail correspondence he had with town board members David Bosworth, Michael Ricard, and Patricia Slavick in response to his suggestion for sign legislation.

Bosworth, who is also the town’s Democratic committee chair, wrote that each political party should be responsible for its own signs.

"I believe that the issue of lawn-sign ‘interference’ is primarily a matter of party discipline and not necessarily just a matter for further town criminal statute legislation," Bosworth wrote.

"Candidates and committees should not assign sign placement duties to ‘confederates,’ ‘rogue volunteers,’ or other campaign ‘outlaws,’ rather this responsibility should only be delegated to specific party leaders and designated members," he wrote.

Councilwoman Patricia Slavick, who was re-elected last week to another four-year term, agreed with Bosworth. She wrote, "To have police resources monitor political signs, etc., is an ineffective use of their time. I’m positive they have much bigger issues to deal with than political signs."

Reid disagreed with the suggestion that the Democratic and Republican parties should be responsible for their own signs.

"It’s absurd to believe that town political parties can police this on their own," Reid said. To follow that line of thinking, he said, would mean that "the overzealous and misguided individuals" stealing signs are associated with political parties.

Asked who he thinks is stealing the majority of signs, Reid said he didn’t know.

"If I personally witness someone stealing of damaging a sign, first I’ll call the town police," Reid said. "Second, I’ll call the candidate....It’s just the right thing to do."

Bosworth went on in his e-mail correspondence to insist that no Democrats have even been involved in illegal sign activity, but suggested that Republicans have in prior years. He also criticized the placement and size of this year’s GOP candidates signs.

"Some members of the town board misconstrued my intentions," Reid said in response. "I’m not accusing the town’s Democratic party of anything illegal."

Signs from both parties are stolen, he said.

"I was surprised at the reaction from certain members of the town board," Reid said. "I feel they’re attacking the messenger and not the problem."

Bosworth, in his e-mail, and Runion, to The Enterprise, both said that wind rather than theft may have removed the signs.

"The wind wouldn’t take signs of certain candidates," and leave others, Reid said. "The wind would leave the sign in the near vicinity. It wouldn’t disappear."

Most of the election signs are hammered about eight or nine inches into the ground, Reid said.

"I have seen the metal stakes bend and signs blow or fall down, but the signs are then right there," he said.

Too many signs"

Asked how important signs are to candidates, Reid said, "Personally, we have way too many signs in Guilderland. They’ve lost their effect."

A few weeks ago, he said, he counted 400 signs on Western Avenue.

"When you have that many, the voters probably lose interest," Reid said. "They all tend to blend together. Signs, at a certain point, become an eyesore."

He went on, "McDonald’s has one sign and people get the point that it’s a McDonald’s."

Reid has proposed another amendment to the town’s zoning law that states signs cannot be placed in the right-of-way of a state, county, or town road, except where Western Avenue intersects Fuller Road and routes 155 and 146.

"It’s important to have some signs because it helps the public that doesn’t read the paper," Reid said.

The most important thing for a candidate is to go door-to-door, visiting residents, he said. Second in importance, he said, is for candidates to send letters or fliers to voters’ homes.

"Signs are lower down on the list of effective ways, but they do serve the role of letting voters know the election is coming up," Reid said.

In their e-mails to Reid, both Slavick and Ricard said there are too many signs posted around election time.

"We have been tough on signs in this town from day one for businesses, yet we litter the landscape every election year," Ricard wrote. "Call me un-American, but I prefer to look at less of them and more of the town of Guilderland."

Runion also told The Enterprise that he has a problem with the number of election signs.

"If each Democrat has 100 signs, that’s 600," he said.

Asked if the law should be changed to limit the number of signs a candidate is allowed, Runion said, "That’s a constitutional issue, free speech...But, court decisions are still evolving."

Candidates are posting fewer signs than they used to, Runion said. In 1999, when he made his first run for supervisor, he had several hundred signs, he said, compared to 100 this year.

"It’s tough, too, because incumbents don’t need as many signs," Runion said. "Non-incumbents need it for name recognition, so it’s hard to regulate. We don’t want a law that perpetuates incumbents. That wouldn’t be fair."

Back to school
New requirements for teaching assistants

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Teaching assistants in Guilderland schools will get raises of under 4 percent over the next three years as they cope with increased state and federal requirements.

Within five years, they must complete "an ample semester" of college work, said Susan Tangorre, explaining the state requires 18 credits.

While training can be valuable, said Tangorre, the district’s administrator for human resources, "Many of our teaching assistants don’t have college degrees. They are natural teachers, good with children. They come to us with life skills and can be especially helpful with special-needs children."

At its Oct. 25 meeting, the school board unanimously ratified, without discussion, a three-year contract for the district’s roughly 240 teaching assistants.

The contract runs from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2008, said Tangorre. She went over the details of the contract for The Enterprise last week.

The teaching assistants, in a unit affiliated with the New York United Teachers, will receive a 3.78-percent raise in the first year of the contract, a 3.92-percent raise in the second year, and a 3.91-percent raise in the third year.

The teaching assistants are paid hourly wages according to a 25-step system, with salary increasing on each step. During the first year of the contract, assistants on the first step will earn $8.70 an hour; those on the top step, after 25 years, will earn $16.73.

"The emphasis is on having a loyal employee for 25 years," said Tangorre.

She calculated the average annual salary for a teaching assistant, based on a five-hour work day: A first-year assistant would earn $8,440 during the school year and a 25-year assistant would earn $16,230.

New requirements

State and federal regulations are requiring increased training for teaching assistants.

Teaching assistants are different than teachers’ aids. Assistants deal primarily with the academic part of helping teachers while aids help with the physical part, like supervising hallways and cafeterias. Guilderland employs about 65 teachers’ aids, affiliated with the National Education Association of New York.

"Some folks who have been with us many years were able to be grandfathered in with certification," said Tangorre of the assistants. "New folks require an associate’s degree and have to have ongoing units of professional development hours." These are to total 75 hours over five years, she said.

The state is requiring an assessment of teaching skills for those hired after February of 2004.

Also in February of 2004, the state made a change in the requirements for certification of teachers. New graduates have to earn a master’s degree within three years instead of five.

The Guilderland School Board, in 2004, registered its objection to that change.

"It doesn’t serve the purpose of attracting teachers to the state and it doesn’t serve the purpose of improving quality," said board member Gene Danese at the time. "Our priority is the students here...and not to have their focus on working feverishly to get their master’s."

Board member Richard Weisz agreed, saying, "Our concern is, in the early years, a teacher should be focused on students and focused on training in the classroom and not worry so much about taking two or three courses every year."

The board has not publicly discussed the changed requirements for teaching assistants.

Three levels

Guilderland so far has not lost any of its teaching assistants because of the new requirements, Tangorre said, but, since the requirements are being phased in, it is too soon to tell what the net effect will be or how hard it will be to find new candidates who qualify.

The phase-in for candidates who submitted applications after Feb. 1, 2004, involves three levels.

The first level requires a high-school diploma or its equivalent and passing a state test, which is valid for one year.

The second level requires — beyond the high-school diploma and passing the state test — six hours of college course work and one year of level-one work in a two-year window.

The third level requires — in addition to the high-school diploma, state test, and a year of work under level-one or level-two certification — at least 18 hours of college course work and begins the quest for 75 hours of professional development.

The first level is renewable for one additional year; the second level is valid for two years but not renewable; and the third level is continuously valid as long as the 75 hours of professional-development training is met every five years.

Teaching assistants who submitted applications after Feb. 1, 2004 may also work as pre-professionals which requires a high-school diploma, passing the state test, a year’s work under level-one, level-two or level-three certification, at least 18 hours of college course work, and enrollment in a teacher-certification program. This is valid for five years, during which time 30 hours of college course work must be completed for renewal.

Teaching assistants who submitted applications before Feb. 1, 2004 must have a temporary license — requiring a high-school diploma and appropriate training — or a continuing certificate — requiring six hours of college course work in education and a year’s work as a licensed teaching assistant. The temporary license is valid for a year and may be renewed once. The certificate is continuously valid as long as the assistant is employed in a New York State public school; the certificate lapses after five years without such employment.

"Pros and cons"

"They have five years to get ... the 75 hours," said Tangorre.

She said there are "pros and cons" to the new requirements.

Discussing how some teachers and their classroom assistants have worked together for years and complement each other well, Tangorre quipped, "Some have been with their teaching assistants longer than their husbands."

The new contract compensates teaching assistants $50 per credit hour of college course work related to education.

Tangorre conceded, "That certainly doesn’t pay for a college course." Scheduling college course work could also be a problem for some of the teaching assistants, she said.

Tangorre said Guilderland is in a better position than some districts, though, because it already offers extensive professional-development training sessions. She described the teaching assistants as "a very dedicated group of people" who are "receptive to the courses we offer."

The system for evaluating teaching assistants’ work is also being revised, as it was for teachers, said Tangorre.

"We’re looking at a rubric," she said. "We’ll form a committee to come up with a document that mirrors what we use for teachers."

Tangorre said the teaching assistants ratified the new contract by a vote of three to one. Wendy Mastoras, president of the teaching assistants, did not return calls for comment.

Tangorre concluded, "People should appreciate our wonderful teaching assistants. They have a very hard job."

Locked" Board mulls plan to make school safer

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The nine-member school board remains deeply divided over whether the elementary schools in this suburban district should be locked.

Although the board took no action Tuesday night, it spent two hours listening to a report from the five elementary-school principals on security and discussing what action it will take at its next meeting, Nov. 29.

At one point in the discussion, board Vice President Linda Bakst tried to pin down the principals on their views about locking doors.

"I will do my best to institute whatever the board charges me with," said Peter Brabant, Altamont’s principal. When Bakst pressed him further for his own views, he said, "I prefer to put it back in your lap."

Martha Beck, the Pine Bush principal, concurred that it was "difficult for any of us to speak as individuals."

Yet, at the close of the discussion, Superintendent Gregory Aidala said he would come up with an "action item" for the board to vote on at its next meeting based on "input from the elementary-school principals."

He told the board, "I can’t tell you what it is."

Aidala had said, earlier in the meeting, "When we started the school year, the board allocated $60,000 to improve security at the elementary schools."

A district subcommittee had studied school security and recommended monitors be posted at elementary schools to buzz in visitors through locked doors. The board, in July, had compromised on hiring just the monitors — after some expressed concern it would change the culture of the Guilderland schools — and planned to evaluate response before deciding on locking the doors.

"We’re talking about the most judicious use of a limited resource," said Aidala Tuesday night.

Aidala explained that one option would be to pay for surveillance cameras in the lobbies of Pine Bush, Guilderland, and Altamont elementary schools for a cost of $11,500. Lynnwood and Westmere elementary schools already have cameras, he said. Then, to pay for locked doors that would allow visitors to be buzzed in, would cost about $10,000 for all five schools, meaning the total for the two options would cost $21,000 to $22,000.

Aidala’s statements followed a discussion where board members expressed widely divergent views.

Board member John Dornbush recommended hiring an expert "to look at hard data about risk and what the threats really are to our students."

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo responded that, with the work done by the subcommittee, by the principals, and by the assistant superintendents for instruction and business, "Just about all the literature out there was examined."

She said the expert State Trooper that the subcommittee consulted "doesn’t charge anything." Fraterrigo concluded, "Considering our limited finances...I think we have all the data we need...We could have five experts at two-thousand bucks a whack and eat up half your money...We have to put up or shut up."

Board member Richard Weisz suggested grant money could pay for consultants. He said he liked the idea of a consultant evaluating what the district is doing and how it could do better.

The most telling comment he heard, said Weisz, was, "I lock my front door."

"It’s not a static thing," said board President Gene Danese. "We’d consider this the beginning, so we’d start with $21,000," he said referring to the cost of buzzed-in locking systems and surveillance cameras for the elementary schools.

Neil Sanders, assistant superintendent for business, estimated it would take three months to complete the process of installing the locked-door systems.

Board member Thomas Nachod, who in July had favored hiring the monitors and installing the locks, pointed out Tuesday that one of the reasons for the delay was to get input from building cabinets and PTA’s at the elementary schools.

"We were concerned about cultural issues; are we beyond that"" he asked the principals.

"I don’t think we are," responded Dianne Walshhampton, principal of Guilderland Elementary School, citing the low return rate of surveys sent home with children to their parents.

Board member Peter Golden, who had vociferously supported installing the locks at his first board meeting, in July, said Tuesday that he saw the survey return rate of 7 to 13 percent, higher than the standard direct-mail response of 3 to 5 percent as "cause for cheer."

Three board members were direct in stating their opposition to locked doors.

"I cannot support any proposal with locked doors," said board member Colleen O’Connell. "I do not think it is appropriate for the doors of a public school to be locked."

Bakst pointed out that, while Guilderland’s middle school and high school have front-door monitors, they do not lock their front doors.

"Locking doors — I see that as very problematic," said Bakst. "That’s not the route we should go."

"Personally," said board member Cathy Barber, "I’m still back at: Why do we think our kids are not safe at school""

She maintained that elementary-school students were constantly supervised by staff.

She also said, "I don’t think that, just because the money is allocated, it has to be spent."

And Barber maintained, "I don’t necessarily agree there’s as much danger as people suggest."

"This is precisely why I wanted to get research," said Dornbush. He said what the board had heard from the subcommittee, from parents, and from the principals was opinion.

"What we’re missing is real research," said Dornbush.

Aidala concluded the discussion by stating he wouldn’t hesitate to have his own children, now grown, attend Guilderland schools. "Our schools are safe places," he said.

Controversial history

The security plan was developed by an advisory subcommittee of the district’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Committee. The advisory committee had been formed after Frank Falvo, the parent of two Pine Bush Elementary students, had told the board at a budget session over a year ago, last October, that more school security was needed. He co-chaired the committee.

The matter became a budget issue in April when the board had a lengthy and heated debate before adopting a $7.6 million spending plan that was ultimately passed by voters.

Members of the subcommittee made a last-minute request in April to fund front-door monitors at the elementary schools; the district’s middle school and high school already have such monitors.

In June, the subcommittee presented its plan to hire five part-time security monitors for the five elementary schools at an estimated cost of $32,500, and to install magnetic locks with entry buzzers at the main entrance of each school, at an estimated cost of $10,000.

Additionally, the group wanted a pass-key entry-access system installed at three of the elementary schools with the most outside use — Guilderland, Pine Bush, and Westmere — at an estimated cost of $16,000.

Several board members objected strenuously to what one termed "the new piece" of locking the doors. After a heated discussion, a compromise was reached. The board decided, in a split vote, to hire just the part-time monitors and then, after elementary-school parents were informed of the options, reevaluate in October or November.

The five principals, on Tuesday, presented a report, as the board had requested.

Public comment

Tuesday’s session began with public comment that captured the dichotomy of views on school security.

Jeanna Cornetti, an educator and Guilderland resident, told the board, "It’s a huge injustice to spend such a large sum of money on a statistically insignificant risk."

She clapped later in the meeting when Dornbush said that research, rather than opinion, was needed.

The overwhelming majority of school violence, Cornetti told the board, is student generated. "The stats speak for themselves," she said.

She went on to say that she had read the subcommittee’s 30-plus page report but that more research was needed and that’s where funds should be spent.

"Guilderland...needs to maintain a climate of education and not a climate of fear," she said.

Frank Falvo spoke next, chiding the board that, in over a year, the district does still not have full compliance with its visitors’ policy.

Locked doors with monitors are the best way to protect the children, he said.

He mentioned recent local incidents — an attempted abduction at Saratoga Springs and an out-of-school encounter in the Pine Bush area.

Pine Bush Principal Martha Beck described the incident for The Enterprise yesterday. She said that, on Sept. 28, after school, she got a call from the Guilderland Police Department describing an incident from the Saturday before. Two third-grade girls, Pine Bush students, had been walking along Empire Avenue, when a man with gray hair, driving a car, talked to them and reached out to them, she said.

"They were frightened and ran to a house for help," Beck said. "Those people called the police."

She went on, "That he had gray hair was the only description we got...We never heard anymore afterward from the police."

Beck conferred with the school superintendent and decided to write a note to be sent home to the parents of Pine Bush students, she said.

"We always take the conservative route," Beck said. "If we know something, we share it. Fortunately, we haven’t had anything similar."

On Tuesday night, Falvo went on to say that the board’s stance that there is no problem "implies my child or someone else’s child must be harmed" for the board to take action.

Later in the meeting, referring to the Saratoga incident, Weisz said, "There are people taking care to protect our children at the conclusion of practices." The Saratoga incident occurred after a sports practice.

Carolyn Kelly, another subcommittee member, told the board that the district never applied for grant money from the federal Department of Education. In 2005, two western New York school districts, similar to Guilderland, were awarded about $100,000 each for safety improvements, she said.

She also said that, this summer, the Voorheesville school district installed locks at its elementary school. "There was no discussion...Parents are very happy," she said. (See related story.)

Later in the meeting, Sanders said that the district had looked into applying for federal funds. "BOCES recommended we partner with another school and do a larger application," he said.

He said the federal funds were "really about crisis management and response...building a protocol larger than your school and merging into the community."

Some money can be spent on equipment, he said, but the emphasis is on planning and training, and the district would like to be part of a county-wide initiative.

Fraterrigo countered that, if Guilderland applied independently, it could get more money.

In a second, rarely-used public-comment period near the end of the long meeting, W. Keith Kizer, a Guilderland parent who endorses locked school doors, spoke. He had applauded Falvo’s and Kelly’s earlier comments.

Kizer said there are a number of parents around in schools without any function who "need to be controlled."

He said the threat to security is underestimated from, for example, parents who are disgruntled with teachers.

He also asked, "What’s the divorce rate these days"" and estimated 25 percent. "How many schoolchildren are coming out of divorced families"...Let me tell you," he said, "these are traumatized people."

Principals’ report

Beck began the principals’ presentation by conceding there "certainly have been differences of opinion" on school security. But, she asserted, "The one thing that is really true and steadfast...Every single one of us hold precious and valuable the safety of children in our schools."

Last fall, she said, the Safe Schools subcommittee was given the charge of identifying, researching, and recommending security improvements, focusing on buildings. The committee was to look at a controlled, single point of entry to schools while keeping a welcoming atmosphere, Beck said.

School monitors were hired in August for 3.75 hours a day in each of the five elementary schools, at a cost of $6,500 per school, she reported. They each received two-and-a-half hours of training, and their role is to ensure visitors sign in and sign out of school.

Monitors check identification, and make sure visitors have "legitimate school business," Beck said; they hand out badges for visitors to wear, collecting them when they leave.

Monitors alert the nearby school office if a visitor doesn’t comply — which has been rare, Beck said — and they meet regularly with the school principal to solve concerns.

"We’ve been very pleased," Beck said. "They’re conscientious, polite, good problem-solvers and thinkers."

The monitors keep track of the flow of visitors, Beck said, and perform other tasks in otherwise idle moments, such as sorting backpack mail.

Beck described a few "little bumps in the road" such as visitors’ badges not being returned and long lines at peak times, particularly at dismissal.

"We do have a better handle on who is in the building," said Beck. Before, visitors were to sign in at the school office and wear stick-on badges, under the supervision of secretaries who were often busy with other tasks.

Also, Beck said, there is now a "smoother flow" as parents who might be bringing in a forgotten lunch or spelling book no longer interrupt classes to make deliveries.

Walshhampton went over data on visitors to the five schools for the months of September and October. Altamont, the smallest school, had the fewest visitors — 1,253. Westmere, the largest, had the most visitors — 3,164. Schools that have rooms used for other programs, such as BOCES, early childhood programs, or day-care for kindergartners, tend to have more visitors, said Walshhampton.

Altamont averaged 34 visits daily; Lynnwood, 50; Guilderland, 73; Pine Bush, 81; and Westmere, 85. The highest number of visitors in one day was 298 at Pine Bush on Halloween.

Walshhampton said feedback was obtained at PTA discussions, building-cabinet meetings, and through a parent survey.

"We tried to get a sense — we tried pretty hard — of how do our parents feel about this," she said. "How do you find that line where you have a safe building and a welcoming building""

The "open-ended" questionnaire, sent home with children, asked parents for their "comments, concerns, and suggestions" on the new monitoring system, Walshhampton said, and had a similar open-ended question on creating a buzz-in system.

Thirty to forty questionnaires were returned at each school, for a total of 175. In every building, more were in favor of the monitors than opposed — ranging from a 40.6 approval rating at Westmere (where that same percentage was undecided and the rest, 18.8 percent, were not in favor) to a 75-percent approval at Guilderland.

Walshhampton read a sampling of comments on the monitors and concluded by asking, "Did we get a mandate either way"...That’s up for the board to decide...We’re going to have to work it out to find a balance" the community will accept.

Beck then went over the responses to the proposal for a locked front door with a buzz-in system.

She pointed out the results may be skewed because the wrong figures for cost were given and, she said later, when Golden asked, that parents answering the survey hadn’t been told money for the locks was already allocated by the board.

Respondents at two of the schools favored the locked-door system — Guilderland at 41.9 percent and Pine Bush at 52.5 percent. Respondents at two other schools opposed the system — Altamont at 54 percent and Lynnwood at 65 percent. The fifth school, Westmere, was evenly divided — 40.6 percent for the system, 40.6 percent against, and 18.8 percent undecided.

Lynnwood had far more respondents, said Principal James Dillon, because it included boxes to check yes or no. Fraterrigo asserted that the response at Lynnwood may have been more negative because of a building cabinet report on the matter.

Beck read typical comments on both sides of the issue.

One in support of the locked doors said, "The concerns I have about my children's safety at school are the same that I have at home: How much security is needed to protect them while not making them fearful by overprotecting" I’m not sure I have answers to that yet, but I do know that a first line of defense for home security is to lock your doors."

A comment in opposition said, "There should be enough staff members to look out for any unusual visitors...I feel my child is in a safe environment and would like to see the money used for educational purposes."

Beck concluded, "We got some very thoughtful answers here as parents search for the right balance."

Raising concerns about reservoir water
Plans to store salvaged cars at NEIP

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Concerns were raised last week about wrecked vehicles being stored at the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland Center and possibly affecting the Watervliet Reservoir, the town’s major source of drinking water.

The Black Creek flows from the industrial park to the reservoir.

The planning board last Wednesday approved a plan by Insurance Auto Auctions, of Chicago, to store salvageable vehicles on 16 acres of the park, contingent on a guarantee water quality would not be adversely affected.

IAA representative Michael Madden told the board that his company has 83 facilities in the United States.

"This is one of our targeted areas for growth," Madden said. "We are a service provider for" the insurance industry."

Madden said that the company does not sell vehicles to the public.

"We’re a highly-regulated industry, which used to be publicly traded," he said.

Madden said that most vehicles are sold and removed from the property within two months.

"These are total-loss vehicles. We do not get paid unless we sell the cars," he said. His customers are "junk shop guys, and cannibalizers. Some people rebuild them," he said.

Engineer Daniel Hershberg, of Albany, said that traffic at the site will be about five tow-truck or car-carrier trips per day. That’s an average of 15 wrecked vehicles, he said.

The facility will have state-of-the-art oil and grit separators, he said. The only ground disturbance involved in renovating the site would be to install pipes, Hershberg said.

Town planner Jan Weston’s concerns, read before the application, included run-off of oil and other fluids from the cars.

Hershberg said that most fluids come out of the vehicles at the sites of their accidents.

"There’s not an awful lot left," he said.

Nearby resident, Sue Green, told the board, "I am just unbelievably distressed. When are we going to meet the saturation point"where the Black Creek is completely polluted" My neighbor, myself, and another neighbor all got cancer."

Green said that their diagnoses could be coincidental or related to contamination of the Black Creek. She said that each drop of auto fluid, taken over a 10-acre site, would be detrimental.

"You really need to think hard and fast. Every bit of it is going to leak into the reservoir," she said.

Steven Porter, attorney for the NEIP, jumped up to tell the board that it has no jurisdiction, and that it serves only to advise the zoning board.

"We know what our job is," said board chairman Stephen Feeney said. "If we feel there’s a lot of issues with a project".In this case, the main issue is water quality. I’m no expert. That does need to be addressed."

The board approved the plan, allowing that a town-designated engineer would review it. Approval was contingent on a guarantee that water quality would not be adversely affected.

Rural subdivision

The board gave preliminary approval last week for a farm subdivision with rural road designs based on town-wide plans that have yet to be officially written and adopted.

Engineer Mark Jacobson, whose parents, Howard and Linda Jacobson, own farmland on Furbeck Road, proposed a five-lot clustered subdivision of 28 acres, with a large sixth lot. Lots are two to three acres each, around a rural cul-de-sac, he said in August. Homes on the sites would use wells and raised beds for septic systems. The remaining 14.85-acre parcel will be kept by the Jacobsons for agricultural uses, he said last week.

Jacobson told the board that his family hopes to sell the newly-formed plots, now called Manor Line Estates, in the spring. The subdivision plans show a 16-foot street that is not paved, Jacobson said.

Feeney told Jacobson that private roads are not allowed according to town standards, and that town roads must be paved.

"I’m not against what you’re proposing. We need to develop a rural road standard," Feeney said.

"The town will go to a rural-road standard," said Weston. She said that, once standards are in place, a town-designated engineer would need to review Jacobson’s road proposal.

The preliminary approval is conditional on the town highway superintendent’s approval of the road plan, after the rural road standard is in place.

"First, we have to let you know what to submit," Weston said.

Feeney said that the planning board, which will send its final approval to the zoning board when all conditions are met, will not keep Jacobson’s proposal unresolved indefinitely.

The board asked Jacobson to show the calculated buildable area on the lots and the limits of grading when he submits his refined plans.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

—Continued a public hearing for a request by Michael Cleary, unrelated to board member Michael Cleary, to realign four existing lots on 33 acres at 5545 Depot Road. The project was approved in 2000.

Cleary must submit a grading plan and an erosion and sediment control plan before his project can be approved, the board said.

Feeney also said that the presence of endangered Indiana bats must be checked.

"We do have hibernating Indiana bats in the escarpment area," Feeney said.

After some mild joking from the board, Feeney said, "I don’t make these things up"; and,

—Gave conceptual approval to Linda Livingston, who wants to split 10 acres from her 14.8 acres on Altamont-Voorheesville Road. An existing home is on the remaining 4.8 acres.

Livingston said that a neighbor may buy the property.

Weston said that a neighbor could merge the property to his own to avoid paying taxes on a buildable lot. In that case, the proposal would not need to come before the planning board, she said.

Otherwise, Livingston would need to show the proposed location and a well and septic system on the 10 acres, which would be considered a buildable lot, the board said.

Village creating a master plan to replace old zoning

By Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — The village’s zoning laws are outdated, said Trustee Dean Whalen, so he and a small committee are creating a master plan to help guide the future of Altamont.

Within 10 months, the village hopes to have created a plan, he said. To do so, it is looking for a planning consultant, creating a survey for residents and business owners, and preparing to hold public workshops.

"We have to make sure we’re open to what the village wants and part of that is to ask questions," Whalen said. "What do the people want" What do developers want""

In September, the village board adopted a one-year building moratorium.

Whalen and his committee will do most of the work in creating a village plan, he said. But, he said, it’s a large project that will involve almost as much work as Guilderland’s planning process.

Altamont is a century-old village, located in the rural western part of the suburban town of Guilderland. The square-mile village with a population of 1,800 is largely developed.

In 2001, Guilderland adopted a comprehensive plan, which took two years to create. It involved many surveys, public hearings, and roundtable discussions; the town hired outside consultants to do the work.

For Guilderland, a handful of areas were to be examined within the plan: farmland and open-space conservation, and the master plans for Guilderland neighborhoods, including Guilderland Center, the Westmere commercial area, and the rural Guilderland hamlet.

In July, a separate plan for rural western Guilderland was adopted and, last month, some zoning changes were made in accordance with the plan. The rural plan had much public debate and, at times, opposition, as it was being created.

Altamont, with public water, is the only area of concentrated development in rural western Guilderland. The Open Space Institute this year released a report documenting sprawl in the Capital Region and noting that the state allows five planning methods for municipalities, including a comprehensive plan.

In February, The Enterprise initiated the discussion of Altamont’s creating a comprehensive plan. Each candidate in the spring election was asked if developing a master plan was a good idea and why.

Whalen and Kerry Dineen, then candidates for trustee, and mayoral candidate James Gaughan, all said that they advocated creating a land-use plan. All three were elected.

Planning begins

In May, a committee was formed "to do broad master planning," Whalen said. The committee first met once a month and it now meets twice a month.

Along with Whalen, members of the committee include: Harvey Vlahos, village trustee; Stephen Parachini, village planning board chairman; Maurice McCormick, village zoning board chairman; and Kate Provencher, a village zoning board member.

Also contributing to the committee are: Donald Cropsey Jr., the village’s zoning administrator; Timothy McIntyre, the village’s superintendent of public works; John Smith, a Maple Avenue resident who is retired from the state’s energy office; and Andrea Dean, a college student involved in many village activities.

Asked why the village should have a plan, Whalen said, "The prime reason is: It’s obvious and utilitarian."

The village’s zoning ordinance was established in the 1970’s. It hasn’t been studied or changed since then, Whalen said. He added that he doesn’t know yet if the laws have to be changed, but they should be examined.

"The mindset in the late ’70’s and early ’60’s was a suburban model," Whalen said. "A lot of it is written on that premise."

Now, he said, the committee must find out, "What is the vision of the village" What does the constituency want" How does the village itself reinforce that""

The group has been gathering information on the village, such as zoning, aesthetic desires, and the need for utilities, sidewalks and infrastructure, water, and sewer.

At its meeting on Nov. 1, the village board agreed to submit requests for proposals to local planning firms. The requests are to help the village find a consultant, to give it guidance, to make sure the committee is asking the right questions and heading in the right direction, Whalen said.

The village volunteers are going to do most of the planning, Whalen said.

"We’re taking on more to keep costs down," he said. "We’re trying to be more proactive."

Whalen got estimates that, if a consultant did most of the work, it would cost between $20,000 and $30,000. "Hopefully, we’ll be nowhere near that," he said.

The village is trying to get grants to help pay for the consultant, he said.

It will apply for one at the beginning of December, he said; but, if the village is awarded the grant, it won’t be until mid-April.

The requests for proposals are due Dec. 9, Whalen said.

Creating the plan

The master-plan committee will conduct a survey, of residents and businesses, to see what types of changes are desired.

Whalen, Dineen, and Gaughan served on a committee, formed in 2004 in the wake of villagers’ complaints that Altamont had too many police officers.

A survey created by the committee found that residents and businesses wanted fewer part-time officers — it had 16 at the time for a village of about 1,800; more community policing; and a police commissioner able to make arrests who is a presence in the village.

Since then, changes have been made in the department, including a new commissioner who is restructuring the force with fewer officers.

The village heard from 26 percent of residents and business owners when it conducted its police survey, Whalen said. This was very helpful, he said, and he hopes the planning survey will get even better results.

The planning committee will also hold three public workshops. The first will be to make an assessment of the village’s needs, Whalen said. The second will be to draft initial concepts before creating the plan, he said, and the third will be a presentation of a first draft of the plan.

Guilderland held a few workshops when drafting its rural plan. At least 100 residents attended and voiced their opinions on the plan.

"The workshops will be the key factor," Whalen said. "I’d love to see 200 people out for a village this size."

Whalen, an architect, said that, in his career, public workshops have helped him with designing projects. People often raise interesting points that he didn’t think of, he said.

Those uncomfortable participating in the workshops can have their voices heard in the survey, he said.

Whalen hopes that, 10 months from now, a plan will be adopted and the village will be ready to make legislation, if any.

"It’s a big project," Whalen said. Although the village is much smaller than the town of Guilderland, much of the same work is required in creating a plan, he said.

Whalen has his own ideas of how Altamont’s future should be shaped. But, he said, "Intentionally I’m trying to stay very open and objective...That’s hard, but I have to make sure I don’t lead people down a certain path."

The committee won’t be deciding what the plan says, Whalen said.

"We want to be facilitators of what the village wants," he said. "We don’t want to present something viable that people think came from a limited group of people. Then, it can’t move forward."

Other business

In other business at the Nov. 1 meeting, the village board:

— Renewed bond anticipation notes for $25,563.60 to finance police cars, and for $13,348, for a wheel loader, at the request of Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck;

— Approved the request of Tony Kossmann, from the Altamont Free Library, to use the Orsini Park gazebo for the annual library lights fund-raiser;

— Agreed to participate in the Altamont Community Tradition’s annual Victorian holiday celebration on Dec. 4;

— Agreed to include the village in the Guilderland Police Department’s towing contract to insure uniform towing charges. The Enterprise wrote, in 2004, about complaints in Guilderland of overcharging by towing companies when police call them for an accident. As a result of the coverage, the Guilderland Police created a contract that the towing companies on its rotational list must follow certain rules, including a price ceiling; and

— Agreed to use up to $8,000, from the village’s water reserve project fund, to purchase a replacement emergency well pump.

Patrolling the streets by hoof and cycle

By Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — Two village police officers have found something they like better than a cruiser for patrol.

Melanie Parkes rides a horse and Kenneth LeBel pedals a bike. Both told The Enterprise this week that children and teenagers are hesitant to approach an officer in a car, but are comfortable talking to a cop on a horse or bicycle.

Horse patrol

A few months ago, Officer Parkes, along with Public Safety Commissioner Anthony Salerno and village Mayor James Gaughan, decided that having a "mounted patrol" in Altamont was important.

Parkes, a Troy firefighter, suggested Fairclough, a horse that Troy Officer Sam Carello had used in the city for years. Parkes and Carello also work together on the State Park Police’s mounted unit.

While Carello owns the horse, Fairclough has been stabled at Parkes’s house in Pittstown for seven years, along with a couple of horses and 20-some other animals, including goats, chickens, cats, a rabbit, and a pig.

Parkes has a trailer for Fairclough and she brings him to Altamont when needed; there is no cost to the village, she said. Parkes wanted to be a cop her whole life, she said. A former State Trooper, Parkes began working part-time for Altamont in 2001.

While the 28-year-old horse has experience patrolling the streets of Troy, he is used in Altamont only for community events, Parkes said.

It’s not realistic to expect Parkes to be able to ride Fairclough from one end of the village to the other, as he could patrolling just a few streets in Troy, she said.

Fairclough worked in Altamont for the recent apple festival at the Altamont fairgrounds, on Halloween night, and for the recent Veterans Day parade.

Horses are effective in crowd control, Parkes said. At public events, she said, "Occasionally, there’s people fighting. They see a horse coming at them and they stop."

Fairclough is a cross between a draft horse and a Clydesdale. He is over 17 feet tall and weighs about 1,600 pounds, Parkes said.

Parkes has seen other situations where a crowd of 300 began to get rowdy, but was dispersed by four horses.

"You can’t beat it," she said.

"He was well received," Parkes said of Fairclough’s Altamont debut. At each event, she said, children excitedly surrounded Fairclough.

The horse loved the apple festival, Parkes said, because everyone was feeding him apples.

On Halloween, Parkes said, as masked children filled the streets of Altamont, "Fairclough was a little nervous, but not wacko. He was great with the kids."

At the parade, she said, "He was an absolute angel." He didn’t flinch at loud noises during the memorial service, she said, such as gunshots or the blare of bagpipes.

Police horses go through extensive training and keep at it, Parkes said. She desensitizes Fairclough by lighting firecrackers and flares, shooting guns, and making other loud noises near him, she said.

Fairclough is a calm horse, so it’s easy to train him, Parkes said.

Parkes praised Salerno, who has been commissioner for a few months and who has been making changes in the structure of the department.

"I’m so impressed with the whole idea of the mounted unit being back," she said.

Bike patrol

Officer LeBel suggested patrolling Altamont by bicycle this summer.

With Salerno’s approval, LeBel took a week-long course at the University at Albany to get certified.

"You can’t just get on a bike and go," LeBel said. "You learn tactical stuff, riding maintenance, safety, how to work with kids...."

The Altamont department then purchased a special bicycle, designed to hold police equipment.

LeBel, who also works for the state, has worked part-time for Altamont for two years. He is certified as a weapons instructor and in other areas of police training.

LeBel got into law enforcement because he wanted to work with the community and with children, he said, and he wanted to make a difference.

He usually patrols by bicycle in the summer. Later in his shift, "when kids are off the streets," LeBel patrols by car, he said.

Bicycle patrols are for community policing, LeBel said. He rides through neighborhoods, talking to and bonding with teenagers, and, elsewhere, looking for suspicious activity.

It’s easier to get around on a bicycle, LeBel said, since he can take shortcuts and ride around railroad tracks. He can make sure the school is secure, he said, because vandals wouldn’t hear an officer riding a bike as easily as they would hear a car pull up.

When he has to make an arrest, LeBel said, he calls the station for backup or, if no one is available, he calls the Guilderland Police. He described a recent situation where two people were fighting. He rode up behind them, undetected, and was able to make an arrest, he said.

Like Parkes and Fairclough, the bike patrol is also used for public events, such as the Scottish games and the Irish festival.

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