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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 24, 2005

New Scotland adopts $4.7 million Budget

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — The town now has a $4.7 million budget in place for next year. The town board adopted it unanimously last Wednesday, directly after making some last-minute slashes to office supplies across departments.

With a declining reserve, council members approved a 17-cent tax-rate increase for the general townwide A fund which includes the village of Voorheesville. This means a new tax rate of $1.614 per $1,000 of assessed value, an 11.7-percent tax-rate increase for the fund. This will bring in $91,000 more, Councilman Scott Houghtaling said.

Tax rates for the other funds will stay the same for 2006, which means an overall tax-rate increase of 9.8 percent, Houghtaling said.

Supervisor Ed Clark said that he liked Houghtaling’s recommendation and stated that the increase to the A Fund had to be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent.

Houghtaling said that he was nervous about the revenue line, and Clark agreed saying, "My crystal ball is foggy" in predicting the sales-tax and mortgage-tax revenues.

Houghtaling also suggested raising the tax rate for the DA fund, which is the highway fund town-wide that pays for things like bridge repair. He said that he thinks the town needs to set aside money after the "Miller Road lesson."

In 2004, the Miller Road bridge clasped after a dump truck crossed over it, and the town was looking at the potential repair cost of $250,000.

Three-thousand dollars is budgeted in that fund for 2006. If the town had to buy a new bridge, Clark said, the budget would be in serious trouble.

The bulk of the highway departments appropriations fall under the DB fund, which is a highway fund for the town outside of the village, this fund is budgeted over $1.4 milion.

New Scotland bypassed the huge-ticket item on Miller Road by instead purchasing land, which is an expense under the A Fund, and created an alternate town road, closing off the bridge crossing permanently.

A one-cent increase in the townwide highway fund will bring in $5,000 more which could be the start of money for a bridge, Houghtaling said.

"We just got a lecture at our Clarksville water public hearing," Houghtaling said. Residents do not like paying out large-ticket expenses at one time in an emergency, but would rather be paying a little bit along the way and have a reserve set aside for repairs.

The other board members remained silent at first, and then said that it is something they will need to think about for next year’s budget sessions.

Houghtaling’s 12th year on the board is finishing in December, he is retiring.

Clark joked that Houghtaling will have to remind them all next year to consider the highway fund.

"I’ll just send my two cents in," he said.

Judges at public hearing

At the preliminary budget hearing, a week before the budget was approved, the town’s judges came out to speak. There had been tension between council members and the court department throughout the budget workshops, as there had been last year at budget time.

The board’s view is that the town justices need to stay within their given budget like every other department, while town justices Margaret Adkins and Thomas Dolin argued that there is no way they can predict what kind of caseload they will have each year.

The hot-button issue was employment hours for the two court clerks. Councilwoman Deborah Baron worked as a New Scotland court clerk for 12 years.

For 2005, the town board had cut back the clerk hours to 20 per week based on Baron’s advice. Adkins said that she knew that wasn’t going to be enough.

Supervisor Clark told the Enterprise on Monday that the board did ultimately decide to budget the court clerks for 2006, 22-and-a-half hours per week.

Councilman Houghtaling said at the budget hearing that the court is at least $4,700 over budget this year.

The court revenue is down, and the board has always linked revenue to workload, Baron said.

Adkins took issue with a statement, Baron had made at a previous workshop. "You said," Adkin’s recalled, that the "budget as submitted showed that the justices have a lack of confidence in the court clerks...I want to tell the other board members that statement is really incorrect," Adkins said.

"That was my impression of what you submitted," Baron said, because the workload is 30 percent less but the judges are asking for 25 percent more hours to do it, Baron said.

"You can’t equate justice with revenue, Debbie," Adkins said.

"That’s the only basis that this board has had for 14 years," Baron said. If the judges have a new way to quantify, then they would have to supply the data and explain a new justification, she said.

Councilwoman Andrea Gleason said that she can remember Dolin saying "the money he brought into town was a good argument for his budget."

"The argument has been made in the past," said councilman Richard Reilly, "that, as revenue increased, the argument was made that it was indicative of an increased workload."

Adkins said, she had two jury trials and they take a lot of time.

Baron said if, at the time, Adkins came to the board and asked for an extra 10 clerk hours, she would have voted in favor of it right away. "It’s upsetting to get to this in October and find that you guys [judges] are...over budget," Baron said.

No department can be over budget, Houghtaling said. Modifications need to be made when department heads see an increase in expenses — before it happens, Houghtaling said.

Adkins said that, when the hours where reduced to 20 last year, she and Dolin knew that wasn’t going to be enough.

Gleason said that the board went on Baron’s advice, because she had worked in the office. "It’s the advice we have to go on," Gleason said, adding that Adkins was relatively new in comparison.

"I guess, I don’t want to say it’s insulting but you ignored what we asked for," said Adkins. The board went on the advice of one specific person who previously had actually worked 27-and-half hours weekly as a clerk herself, Adkins said.

"That was a difficult circumstance; I was kind of alone," Baron said. The other clerk was not working that many hours, and, Baron said, that was the year "we made the $93,000."

"If next year, you bring in $93,000, I will make the motion myself to have each clerk work 25 hours a week," Baron said.

"Debbie, you can’t base it on money," Adkins said.

"Then you have a different measure than what I have," Baron said.

While Adkins was the judge who dominated the beginning of the public hearing, Dolin joined the discussion, also agitated.

When talking about gross budgets, the number of clerk hours should be based on the number of cases, he said. If the court reviews a ticket for a headlight, he said, and the defendant has repaired it, then the town does not collect money on that; the same amount of clerical work has to be done on that ticket as for a ticket that carries a $300 fine, Dolin said.

"Taking gross revenue...I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at that...as far as trying to project cost...but to address the number of work hours a clerk needs, money is irrelevant. It is the number of pieces of paper that are handled — the number of cases that are started," Dolin said. "Whether they bring in zero or 100 dollars has nothing to do with it," Dolin said.

Baron asked if the judges have that information.

The number of cases are down by 6 percent Dolin said.

"Frankly," Adkins said, there have been fewer driving-while-intoxicated offenses so the town should be thankful.

Gleason said, now that Adkins has worked in town court for two years, and has the expertise to say she needs her clerk to have 22-and-a-half hours, Gleason said she is now comfortable with that request.

Dolin said he doesn’t remember a time when the courts haven’t been over budget. He said he never knows a year in advance how many cases he is going to have.

"That’s my problem; you’ve always been over budget," Reilly said.

The board has always under estimated, Dolin responded.

Reilly said his concern is that, year after year, the judges don’t fit within their hours. If the board gives them 22.5 hours, will the judges have to come back in a couple months saying they need more, he asked.

"If there are more cases then, yes, I will," Dolin said.

The court needs to get the work done in the time allotted, just like any other department, Reilly said.

Dolin said, based on the current year, he thinks the 22-and-a-half hour per week will be adequate for the clerks.

Houghtaling said that he wants to treat the justice department the same as all the other departments. "You have to make appropriations," Houghtaling said.

The board requested a monthly report from the judges for 2006.

Thompson out on bail

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — After seven months in jail and no indictment, Corianna Thompson is out on bail. She was arrested in April for the March 13 murder of her mother.

Jean Balashek, 86, was strangled to death in the New Scotland Road home she shared with her daughter Corianna.

Thompson, 46, was released from Albany County’s jail last Thursday on $100,000 bail.

It was Thompson who made the frantic 1 p.m. phone call to police on that snowy Sunday, stating her mother was dead on the bedroom floor.

Thompson’s lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, told The Enterprise on Friday that he is glad the prosecution is starting to "accept our view."

The witnesses that the Albany County District Attorney’s Office were relying on are not reliable or credible, and the office now sees that point, Jones said.

A grand jury has not met at all on the case yet, said Richard Arthur, spokesman for the district attorney.

"There have been certain issues — since the time of the arrest" that the district attorney’s office wants to investigate further, Arthur said.

"There is an ongoing investigation," he said, but he was not willing to say if there are other suspects.

In response to Jones’s saying that the district attorney’s witnesses are not credible, Arthur offered no comment.

"I’m happy that the DA is taking a fresh look at the case," Jones said. He said that the investigation is still ongoing and that he continues to share information.

"We believe that there is a person who is a much more likely suspect than anyone else," Jones said, unwilling to say who.

When asked if he and Thompson were getting restless after seven months, and how long he thought was acceptable for a client to remain in jail without an indictment, Jones responded that, in this instance, "It was necessary to further the investigation."

Thompson has been working with the district attorney’s investigators, and Jones said he has been running his own investigation as well. He was then able to negotiate with the district attorney and secure Thompson’s release, he said.

Jones said that he filed a couple of weeks ago for a bail to be set.

"We are not prepared to take the case to the grand jury right now," said Arthur.

He said, in this case, the defense attorney withdrew the waiver of a speedy trial.

When someone is arrested, after a 45-day period, an attorney can apply for bail, and then the prosecution has two choices, Arthur said: It can bring the indictment right away or it can wait until it has a more sound case and release the suspect on bail.

Thompson is charged with second-degree murder, a felony. This is not the first time that she has faced this charge.

Thompson served time in prison for a strangulation in the past.

In 1981, Thompson, then 21, was a man named Corey Wayne Balashek; he killed an Albany nurse. He was indicted for second-degree murder but pleaded guilty to a reduced conviction of manslaughter, and served nine years in Dannemora Prison, the short end of his eight-and-a-half to 25-year sentence.

The arrest

Thompson was arrested for her mother’s murder on April 10, directly after her boyfriend of four years, Kevin Glover, wrote an affidavit and told investigators that she had confessed to him that she killed her mother, Jean Balashek.

Jones had stated at that time that Glover had no credibility because he had drug issues and a criminal past, so he was vulnerable to police pressure.

He also said Thompson was too close to her mother to kill her — her mother was "her strongest supporter, her best friend," Jones said.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Department said at the time of the arrest that Thompson murdered her mother over a financial dispute.

Glover wrote in his affidavit that Balashek had made an appointment for that Monday, the day after the murder, to go to the bank and have Thompson’s name removed from the bank accounts. "Cori has a lot of money in the bank there," Glover said. He stated that he believed Balashek was trying to help Thompson break her crack cocaine addiction by no longer financially supporting her.

But, Glover also stated that Thompson had told him that her mother was cutting her off from the money because of him.

"I have heard her mother tell her that I’m no good, that she’s (Cori) paying all the bills and basically to get rid of me. Honestly that hurt me, it hurt my feelings, I’m a living person, I may use crack, but I do have feelings," his statement says.

Glover goes on to say that he never wanted to hurt Balashek because of that though.

On March 12, the day before the murder, Thompson and Glover had a fight, he said. He then went in search of her on Sunday March 13, in the late morning, Glover said.

"I’ll be honest, Cori had the money, I was out, I had no money, no gas, and no crack. I wanted to find her and make up," he said in his statement.

Jones had said in April that it was more likely that Balashek was killed by one of Thompson’s friends who knew that she was Thompson’s money source. A number of Thompson’s friends knew that her financial support was coming from her mother and "that provided someone with an opportunity," Jones had said.

A lot of Thompson’s friends, "aren’t working and have needs," he said of their drug addictions.

While Thompson’s permanent residence was at her mother’s home at 2038 New Scotland Road, she spent a lot of time at Glover’s apartment in Cohoes.

A neighbor in Cohoes who lived in the apartment underneath the pair, told The Enterprise after the arrest that she was more afraid of Glover than she was of Thompson. The neighbor was one of the witnesses to their domestic dispute on April 6, which resulted in a cut on Thompson’s lip and forehead and led to Thompson’s taking a drug overdose and being rushed to the hospital the next morning.

"Rough place"

"She was in a rough place in the spring," Jones told The Enterprise this week.

She was dealing with her mother’s death, a boyfriend who implicated her, a near-death overdose, and media attention to her criminal past and sex change.

The Cohoes police said that the couple, Glover and Thompson, claimed at the time that Thompson fell into the door, or that she was accidentally hit by the door.

A mutual friend of Glover and Thompson, Deborah Kirnon, also wrote a deposition to police, signed on April 10. Kirnon said that, when her friends were arguing a few days before and it turned physical, Glover had told Kirnon what had happened.

"Corey (sic.) tried to leave the apartment during the fight and he would not let her. He said that, when Corey opened the door and tried to leave, he grabbed the door pulled it back shut and hit Cori in the head with the door," the statement says.

Glover said in his written statement, "Cori had no problems hitting me when she got real mad...Don’t forget, she was a man at one time and I’m a light weight, there is absolutely no doubt Cori could take me at any time in a physical fight. Her strength is unbelievable. Anyway, I only point this out so you don’t think I’m the tough violent abusive person. I’m not."

When asked this week how Thompson is doing emotionally, and if she is still having suicidal thoughts, Jones responded, "She is beyond that now." He also said, "The drug issues that she had — she has dealt with effectively."

"Jail up to a point was therapeutic for her," Jones said. Being isolated helped Thompson handle her addiction and she is "completely clean now" and seeing things in a new light, Jones said.

She still wants the crime solved, and, as his investigation continues, Jones will share it with the district attorney’s investigators, he said.

Thompson is going to live locally, cooperate fully, and be close to her sister, Sandra Balashek, who has been supporting her, Jones said. Sandra Balashek declined comment to The Enterprise on Friday.

Jones said that $100,000 bail is the amount that he had proposed, because he thinks it is fair. With a murder case, a lesser amount is unlikely to be accepted by the court and the district attorney’s office, and it is also reasonable for her to meet that figure, Jones said.

"She did not have to borrow money from family," he said.

Albany County does not have a will on record for Jean Balashek.

Zoning battle: PUD or two-acre"

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — A re-zoning battle has started in New Scotland.

Two contradicting re-zoning requests for the same parcels of land are now before the town board at the same time — one from a housing developer, and another in the form of a citizens’ petition, organized by the Northeast Neighborhood Association.

The developer wants a high-density project while the association wants lower density than what is currently allowed by the existing zoning designation.

The Garrison Development Group, last Wednesday Nov. 16, submitted a planned-unit development re-zone request to the town for a 282-unit housing project named Kensington Woods, on 267 acres of land bisected by Hilton Road.

Houses are expected to range in price from $300,000 to over $1 million.

Earlier in the fall, these developers submitted a similar land plan as a cluster development, which would not require a re-zone. However, the applicant was informed by town officials that the proposal was too dense to qualify for clustering.

New Scotland’s zoning administrator, Paul Cantlin, previously told The Enterprise that, in this case, the applicant would have to reduce its project to 240 units to qualify for a cluster.

Clustering allows developers to crowd houses together on smaller individual lots, and, as a result, create more open space. But, the total number of units for all the acreage combined cannot be more than what’s permitted by the existing zoning, Cantlin had said.

Garrison Development has slightly modified its housing proposal, but more so, changed its route of seeking approval and is now requesting a re-zone in the form of a planned-unit-development.

A planned-unit development is a zoning change in a particular area to allow for a varied development based on a detailed plan.

New Scotland’s zoning ordinance says some of the purposes of a PUD are to encourage development that will result in: a choice in the types of living units available to the public; open space and recreation areas; a pattern of development that preserves unique natural features; an efficient use of land, resulting in smaller networks of streets; an environment in harmony with surrounding development; and a more desirable environment than what would be possible through regular zoning regulations.

Lansing Engineering, on behalf of Garrison, wrote in the application that it is requesting the town consider the planned-unit development "to allow for the use of creative architectural and planning concepts consistent with the spirit and intent of the Town of New Scotland Zoning Law."

This plan, the application narrative reads, "provides varied housing units to address different lifestyles and housing choices." It also recognizes the rural character of the area as viewed from adjacent roadways, the designers claim.

"The PUD plan utilizes the existing topography and natural features...providing a varied terrain and more attractive, more natural landscape than conventional development would offer," the developers argue.

The New York Sate Legislative Commission on Rural Resources says that, often, planned-unit development provisions give towns more authority over a developer’s land plan than they normally would have using traditional lot-by-lot zoning.

Garrison’s Plan

Louis L. Masullo of the Garrison Development Group is the applicant, Mary-Beth Slevin is the attorney representing the developer, Lansing Engineering has drawn up the sketch plans, and the land is owned by members of the Donato family and by Purdy’s Tall Timbers LLC.

The proposal for Kensington Woods now has 206 buildings hosting 282 residential units on 267 acres of land.

One-hundred-and-fourteen acres of the 267 are reserved for green space.

In the mix are 152 townhouse-like units, which the application describes as twin home, two-family units with building lots of 20,000 square feet, but with 9,000 square feet per unit.

One hundred of these units are called "villa" lots and are what the applicants are calling moderately priced. The other 52 condos, called "carriage" lots are considered higher-end.

Kensington Woods is also offering two types of single-family homes: 86 single-family homes at the "executive" level, with 15,000 square feet per lot. And, 43-single family homes on Estate Lots offering 40,000 square feet per lot.

In town, there is already an unrelated, but not far away, planned-unit development proposed by Amedore Homes and Gordon Development Company for 74 acres on Route 85 next to the old Saab dealership. This PUD was submitted to the town last year and is currently in the process of being reviewed.

These developers are proposing senior townhouses and condos, space reserved for commercial businesses, and self storage facilities. Here, a re-zone request would be required because the area of land in question is currently zoned commercial and industrial, not residential.

Citizens’ request

The Kensington Woods PUD has yet to come before any of the town’s review boards. But, in the meantime, a citizens petition, signed by 170 residents, is currently before the town board. The citizens have requested a rezone of the northeast quadrant of town to change the minimum lot size requirement to two acres, or about 87,000 square feet.

The petition was circulated by the Northeast Neighborhood Association and presented to the town board in October.

The town board immediately limited the scope of the petitioners’ request and is now only considering re-zoning the medium-density-residential zone that is north of and touches the abandoned D&H Railroad bed.

The Kensington Woods project, if approved, would occupy a little less than half of this MDR zone. A Medium Density Residential zone allows 22,000-square-foot lots.

The town board forwarded the petition to the planning board, for its opinion.

The planning board responded quickly by unanimously recommending the elected officials not re-zone to reduced density.

A number of planning board members stated that they considered this area of town to be suitable for development because of the topography, soil, and water availability.

The old Tall Timbers site has an existing well that can pump 400 gallons a minute for 72 hours.

The citizens’ re-zone request is now back before the town board, which will make the final decision.

At this month’s town board meeting, the council members asked the town engineer for an estimate on the cost of an environmental assessment — the next step in the process of re-zoning review, which would have to be paid for by the town.

Supervisor Ed Clark told The Enterprise Monday that he would also like an estimate on how much it would cost the town to defend itself if land-owners challenged the board decision with a lawsuit.

Town attorney Michael Mackey also introduced another legal concept at the town board meeting. According to New York State Town Law if the owners of at least 20 percent of the land in the MDR in question to be rezoned, sign a petition against the rezoning, then a supermajority of the board, is required for it to pass. In New Scotland that means four out of five council members rather than the usual three, for the re-zone to pass.

So, if large land-owners — the Donatos, the Genovesis, and Robert Cook — sign a petition against rezoning, that would be about 50 percent of the land owners of the MDR acreage in question, and this would "trigger super-majority requirements," Mackey said.

Councilman Richard Reilly said that he would like to continue with the process that the board has started. He would like the board to do the State Environmental Quality Review and hold public hearings.

Zoning town-wide

Councilmen Scott Houghtaling said that, with the review of the zoning in the northeast quadrant, he would like to, at the same time, look at the industrial zone that is directly south of the MDR in question, and north of the commercial zone on Route 85.

Mackey said, if the town board wants to review the industrial zone, it would have to forward that request on to the planning board for a recommendation as well.

Houghtaling said that he would like to give up that industrial zone because it is no longer practical with the railroad gone.

The board should review the zoning issues across town when looking at re-zoning, Houghtaling said.

The town board is the lead agency for the association’s re-zone request.

Mackey said that rezoning does require a full environmental assessment.

Town engineer R. Mark Dempf said that he is not sure the board realizes what it is getting itself into. The state-required review includes a lot of detail, he said, such as looking at traffic patterns.

Some members of the audience at the town board meeting said that they didn’t want their tax dollars to go to something they didn’t support.

Houghtaling said, when he was on the town board during the 1994 zoning changes, which created the medium-density-residential, the two-acre-residential, and light-industrial zones, the board made a number of significant zoning changes all at one time using the 1994 comprehensive plan as a guide.

At that time, Houghtaling said, the board didn’t pay an engineer to do an environmental review — the only cost the town incurred was the cost of printing new zoning maps, he said.

Mackey said that the comprehensive plan, at the time, provided that data for the rezoning, but, for a re-zone today, environmental review is required by the state.

An audience member suggested that the town board hold public-information meetings about the re-zone to gain feedback before spending money on the reviews.

Houghtaling said that the board should look at zoning in the entire town all at one time, getting every zone up to date just as the board did in 1994 and 1995 when it updated and reviewed all the special uses allowed in each zone. He went on, "Every zone should be get looked at together," he said.

Houghtaling said, with the planning board against re-zoning to less density, in this specific MDR, he would like to take a look at the industrial zone.

The real question now should be how can the board incorporate everything they have received over the last three years, said Houghtaling. The board could set up another committee, he said not very enthusiastically.

Clark said that he was not comfortable with the planning board’s recommendation since it was done "somewhat in a vacuum" and the recommendation was "dependent entirely on a 12-year-old comprehensive plan," which was authored by some people on the planning board who are extremely protective of it.

A comprehensive plan update is "very, very past overdue," Clark said.

Clark said he would like the petitioners to have the opportunity to address the board since they were not given that opportunity at the planning board.

"By all means," Clark said, "both sides should come." Anyone can come before the town board and present their case for or against, he said.

Clark said he would also like to revisit the recommendations made by the Residents’ Planning Advisory Committee while looking at updating the comprehensive plan.

Clark said that he does want to do a zoning review town wide, as Houghtaling suggested and update the comprehensive plan as he campaigned for in the fall election. But, Clark said, he doesn’t want to wait to decide on the association’s petition until the town has a new comprehensive plan in place for this quadrant.

He said he would like the board to look into avenues for resolving the petition, and formulate a process for this.

The town board, unlike planning boards, do not have to work within a certain time frame, Mackey said.

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