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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 30, 2006

Out-of-control brush fire

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — A small purposeful brush fire got out of control Tuesday morning, and three fire crews were called in to manage the blaze as it crept toward a house on Route 156.

"It’s a bad time of year to burn," Dan Coons, a first lieutenant with the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department told The Enterprise Tuesday afternoon; he was the first to arrive on the scene.

There are no burning regulations in the town of New Scotland, Coons said; it’s an open-burn town, but he strongly recommends not burning this time of year.

"It’s a very dry season right now," he said. There hasn’t been snow on the ground to add any moisture either, he said. Coons suggested waiting to do a burn after a rain.

At 616 Altamont Road a homeowner was burning old tree stumps and logs, and, with the wind, and a lot of leaves covering the ground, the fire progressed up a hill and toward the house, Coons said. The call came into the fire station at 10:55 a.m., Coons said.

The fire never did reach the residence and no one was injured. There was a concern of danger, but the fire was put out before any actual harm was done, Coons said.

People should remember to not just clear a spot for the fire, but clear the surrounding ground, Coons said.

The fire got as large as one acre and took about two hours to put out completely but was under control after 20 minutes, Coons said.

Burners should have a water supply readily available near their burn site so the property owner can start hosing the fire until the fire departments can arrive, Coons said.

Voorheesville’s and Altamont‘s volunteer fire departments were also called in for support. Three fire trucks full of water and one brush truck was emptied to extinguish the last ember.

Town stays the course with reval as some residents raise concerns

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — In the wake of a town-wide reassessment that raised residential values 80 percent, a handful of residents appealed to the town board this month asking the elected officials to step in and do something about what they see as errors in the system.

"Property inventories are completely wrong," Sarah Kavanaugh of Wolf Hill said.

While the town board at first considered holding a public information meeting, the elected officials have decided to stay the course, Supervisor Ed Clark told The Enterprise this week.

"We do not believe that is appropriate to intervene at this point in the process," Clark said. "There would be little gain to open it up" to a large public session for everyone to voice their complaints. "It would only be disruptive to the process," he said. The informal hearings and the board of assessment review are the appropriate places to present errors and register objections, Clark said.

Informal hearings have been completed, and the assessor’s office is now busy reviewing all the information that residents brought forward, re-calculating and adjusting the new 2006 assessments accordingly.

Letters will be mailed to residents in April, before May 1, informing them of any value changes.

Kavanaugh says she understands, for her individual assessment, that she has to go through the process to request changes, but her concerns go beyond her own lot, and she wants to know what is going to be done about the inaccuracy across the board.

"It’s putting a burden and ill will on us to tattle-tale on our neighbors," Kavanaugh said.

"I know my house is not cheap," Melanie Ernst, who lives in the hamlet of Clarksville, said. But when she sees bigger and better houses at a lower value, it doesn’t seem fair, she said.

Reassessment is done to bring every parcel up to 100 percent; New Scotland last went through the process in 1997.

"No one with a low assessment will come forward and say it’s too low," Ernst said. She said a bunch of people in her neighborhood got together and hired an appraiser to give them a group rate, and the appraiser's value for her property is much lower than what she has been assessed at.

As for Ernst’s informal hearing, she said, "I can’t tell you how disappointed I was." She left the one-on-one session still feeling in the dark.

After hearing concerns from residents about a problem with New Scotland’s whole assessment system, Clark said he discussed it with assessment and appraisal specialists.

The two specialists who had been hired to field the informal hearings, Bob Post and Joanne Soules, told Clark that, in their opinion, there weren’t any concerns brought up in the hearings that were out of the ordinary; they said they had heard similar concerns when they worked for other towns doing reassessments.

"Our inventories are as good as most towns can get," Clark said.

Clark also spoke with Robert Kitchen, who the town has hired as a consultant to help with the management of the reassessment, making sure the assessing office stays on budget and within the timeline. Clark said he spoke to the state’s Office of Real Property Services as well.

Town Assessor Julie Nooney said that Robert Jacobs, with the state, has been monitoring and following New Scotland’s progress.

At this point "everything is as it should be," Clark said, even with some errors.

The inventory is changing practically daily as people do things to their houses, Clark said. At no one time can the town’s inventory actually be exactly accurate, Clark said.

Nooney told The Enterprise that she has made herself available to meet with people who felt unsatisfied and still uninformed after their informal hearings.

As residents come forward with new information, their claims are checked out, both Clark and Nooney said.

The process is to some degree judgmental, and the town relies on the trained assessor to make those judgements, Clark said. The best comparisons are recent sales that are adjusted, he said. "It’s not uncomplicated," Clark said, and there are adjustments still to be made.


Kavanaugh sat in her dining room, with data sheets, comparable charts and a large pile of photographs of houses around town that appear to have third floors and additions that weren’t accounted for on the inventories. She also compared the inventories on the assessment website to the town’s list of building permits that have been issued.

"It’s just down right sloppy," Kavanaugh said. "Floors tend to go missing," she said as she went from one list to another. She pointed out one entry error, where someone’s property inventory listed a finished basement but then, on a comparables sheet, the same house was listed without a finished basement.

Kavanuagh also argues that coding is incorrect. For example, the code number for one type of garage over another, or the type of barn. One inventory listed a pole barn when it’s actually a horse barn, Kavanaugh said.

"Garbage in, garbage out," she said.

Looking at recent sales, she found a house on Beaver Dam Road that sold for $350,000 in June of 2004 and now is assessed for less, at $214,000, Kavanuagh said. If easements are supposed to be at market value, it’s hard to believe that a house has gone down in value in two years while everyone else’s is going up, Kavanaugh said.

Also, when a house sold at a certain price in recent years, but is then assessed for 2006 at less than that value, the assessor still used that old sale price as a comparison although the assessor herself has decided it is actually worth less, Kavanaugh said.

In her informal hearing, Kavanaugh said she received no explanation for why one number was used over another and how her assessed value was calculated. It appears that for some homes, cost estimates were used and, for others, time-adjusted price is divided by the square feet, Kavanaugh said; it wasn’t explained to her why one number is used over another.

"If they can’t tell you why, how can you fight that" You need information to know how to fight," Kavanaugh said.

"I’ve given them the data and the correct information and my inventory sheet is still wrong," said Gerald Lenseth, another resident. In past years, he had gone to the Assessment Board of Review and had his inventory corrected and, now, it’s wrong again, he said; the same problem as before as if he hadn't already fixed it.

"What am I supposed to do" Go before the board again"" Lenseth said.

Assessor’s view

Nooney told The Enterprise this week she believes the informal hearings and new assessments have gone "very smoothly and according to plan."

There are 3,047 residential parcels in town.

Altogether, 915 informal hearings were held, less than she had anticipated, and quite a few people walked away from the sessions actually agreeing with their assessment after gaining understanding of where their number had come from, Nooney said. Some people attended the informal hearing just to become more informed, not in protest, she said.

Problems arose in the informal hearings when residents wanted to know details about the computer program, computer calculations, and the software that was used. The staff isn’t able to answer these types of questions, Nooney said.

"We’re not computer programmers."

It was expected that a lot of people would be unhappy with their assessments, Nooney said, and it is expected that not every-one will be happy in the end, either. It’s particularly shocking to residents, she said, because it’s been a decade since many parcels were reassessed.

Her office is now researching the new information that has been brought to her attention, and making adjustment where an error might have been made, she said.

In April, some people who did not attend informal hearings may still receive a letter stating that an adjustment to their preliminary assessment has been made by the assessor based on new information.

Even though these people have missed the informal-hearing phase, if they disagree with their adjusted value, they will still have ample time to appeal to the Board of Assessment Review, Nooney said.

The first thing she had to do with information gathered from the informal hearings "is weed out people who think, if they just show up and fill out" paper work that their assessment will automatically be changed. This is not the case, she said.

There are some properties "we need to go out and look at again," Nooney said.

Nooney has from the beginning been quick to say that she is not perfect and that there will be errors.

However, she said this week sometimes where people think there are errors there actually haven’t been.

There has been a misinterpretation of the standards, Nooney said.

For example, a house may look like it has two stories, but, based on assessment standards in the state, even a raised ranch is registered as a one story building with a finished basement, not as a two-story building, Nooney said; she has received a lot of calls on that one.

Also, there is a misinterpretation of code numbers for the computer, on what is classified as a one-story or one-car garage and what the differences are, she said.

Every year, the building permits are compared to the assessment inventory, Nooney said. There has been some catch-up with this reassessment for some items that were built 10 year ago though, she said, when the code enforcement officer or residents bring them to her attention.

"It was not our intention to bring neighbors against neighbors," Nooney said.

To the citizens who feel it’s unfair to place the responsibility on them, Supervisor Clark said, "I’m sorry"but that’s the way things are"If you don’t show them to us, we won't know about it, at least not for this year."

"We can’t look at every property," Clark said. When a reassessment was done in the 1990’s the town contracted with a firm for the updates and the firm sent workers to go inside homes to take measurements and make observations. This year, the assessor did not personally inventory the inside of homes.

"It is very, very, very expensive and burdensome," Clark said, to do an internal look at homes. It would require a huge staff and, in the end, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee more equity, Clark said.

The town does not have the right to enter people’s homes, and even the 1990’s internal review was dependent upon the homeowners’ permission, so the town ended up getting numbers from inside of some houses and others only from the outside.

"We pursue accuracy to the best of our ability," Clark said. If a homeowner doesn’t want the assessor to come inside to confirm there is an unfinished basement, there’s nothing that can be done, Clark said.

"It’s not a perfect process, but we’ve given everybody reasonable opportunity to confront the process," Clark said.

In the end everyone isn’t going to be happy, he said. People don’t regularly think about selling their houses, Clark said adding, people haven’t come to grips with the reality of real estate.

Mattress humor will have audience laughing all the way to bed

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — A kingdom that is sexually frustrated and romantically on hold is the setting of this year’s spring musical at Clayton A. Bouton High School.

But the Voorheesville Dionysian production of Once Upon a Mattress is still a family-friendly show with the adult innuendoes well masked in comedy, and the innocence of a genuine love story shining through.

"We have an opening for a princess, for a beautiful, bona fide princess," the ensemble sings. Prince Dauntless, wants to get married and has had a number of suitors that he has liked. However, his manipulative and dominating mother has put all the princesses through a rigorous test, asking difficult questions to test their royalty — such as names of in-laws of dragon-slayers .

As the 12th princess gets her final question wrong after answering many right, she is thrown a rubber chicken as she is ushered away from the quiz podium. "Why must every princess get the bird"" sings the prince, played by Chris Hammer.

The ensemble sighs, particularly Lady Larkin (Michelle Cillis) and Sir Harry (Will Pearson). The fairy-tale couple had a romantic encounter under a tree a month earlier, and now Larkin is pregnant but unable to wed since the Queen has decreed that no one is allowed to marry until her son does.

"The ladies have nothing to do, what to do, go get the princess a royal wife," the chorus sings.

"None of the ladies are having any, no one is having any, no one is getting any (strategically placed pause) younger," the song continues.

"This is a more contemporary kind of musical, a different style" than what the students have produced in the past, Director Eric Shovah said. This is Shovah’s second showing at Voorheesville; he made his directing debut with the fall play.

Pacing and exploration

There are a number of double-entendres, he said, which requires comedic timing, "an extremely difficult skill, just as difficult as dramatic acting," Shovah said.

"Comedy in a show has a lot to do with pacing," he said, the actors "have to hit the joke right off."

His directing style is to give the youths just a scaffold of what the scene should look like and then allow the students to work with their facial expressions to try different things to solidify the scene, Shovah said.

Shovah is an English and social-studies teacher at the Bethlehem Children’s School in Slingerlands, a school that emphasizes allowing students to explore their own curiosities. He said this philosophy of active learning carries over to his directing at Voorheesville.

As an educator, Shovah said he believes education should be fun. Everyone is volunteering their time to make the musical the best it can be and "we enjoy it," Shovah said. "It should be fun; fun for them and fun in each run." That’s what he hopes the audience takes away from the experience as well.

"There are still different bits that make me laugh even though I’ve seen them over and over again," Shovah said.

"An opportunity to shine"

Members of the production staff sat down together to pick which musical would be good to do this year. Shovah thought back to his high-school days and recalled that the most fun he had was in performing Once Upon a Mattress. He had played the role of the mute king, a character mastered this year by Voorheesville senior Austin Saddelmire.

Using extreme facial gestures, Saddelmire successfully communicates emotions and ideas to the audience. His is a whimsical character that offers additional comic relief as he prances on and off stage, chasing after women with boyish skips, and mocking his wife with gestures behind her back. He imitates a mouth by opening and closing his palm, in jibber-jabber motions coming at his head.

"I couldn’t imagine a mute as a husband, they don’t talk as it is," Jessalyn Ballerano told The Enterprise; she plays the role of Queen Aggravian. Her character’s relationship with the king is a dynamic and a daunting one, she said. The queen is "really, really selfish," Ballerano said. Ballerano said she has decided that her character "was the one brunette of blonde sisters."

Ballerano said she has enjoyed performing in an actual musical comedy this year, and her favorite part is giving a four-minute speech to her son, claiming that his presumption is wrong — she does want him to marry, but not just anyone.

In the past, Ballerano has had more singing roles, so she has enjoyed the switch to speaking lines, which is a different style of theater, she said.

Once Upon a Mattress "seemed like such a great fit here," Shovah said. The play has "so many leading and supporting rolls," and Voorheesville has such a "huge talent pool."

"You could call the rest of the students ensemble, but they are so much more," Shovah said. This musical "gives a lot of people an opportunity to shine."

"There are actors that are triple threats: they can act, dance and sing," he said.

The team

Auditions began in December, and everyone who tried out got cast this year, 27 in total, Shovah said. Last year, Beauty and the Beast cast 100.

"I like that it is smaller," said Suzanne Thorman, an ensemble member who also plays the small role of a princess being quizzed. Thorman said that the cast is a lot closer this year and she has enjoyed the more individual attention that she received from the staff that has helped her develop her craft.

Mary Abba is back again this year as the musical voice coach. An obviously fun-loving person, during rehearsal she literally rolled off her conductor’s stool and onto the floor in laughter, after the Wizard (Garrett Simpson) crashed off stage.

Heather D’Arcy has returned as the choreographer, after last year’s success.

"Heather is an amazing choreographer," said Senior Abigail Shultz, who plays Princess Winnifred, the female lead. "If you have two left feet, she’ll make you look like a dancer," Shultz said.

Portia Hubert is the producer and also designed the sets. Jim Cillis of the stage crew said that he had learned how to construct sets when he took a class from John Lopez, the former director who left Voorheesville to teach near New York City. A handful of fathers helped out with construction on the weekends.

The stage crew at Voorheesville does a little of bit of everything, building, painting, and lighting, Cillis said. Sean Kroencke is one of the students in charge of lighting for this musical.

Shovah said that there are about a dozen students on the technical and stage crew and that he leaves a lot of the lighting and sound creations up to the students since some of them know more about it than he does.

The spotlight often shines on Shultz as Princess Winnifred; this is her first time in a leading role, she said.

"She is persistent"and will tell you like it is," Shultz said of her character. While Winnifred ultimately wants to be polite, she is instead very loud and bold.

Winnifred is the kingdom’s last hope of a bride for Dauntless and was fetched from the swamp territories by Sir Harry in a last-ditch attempt, before his pregnant girlfriend would have to flee their community or ruin his chance of someday becoming prime minister.

"I come from the swamps, yes, I have pet frogs, yes, but I’m just like everyone else — I want to get married," Shultz said as she described her stage persona.

Shultz said she can relate to Winnifred and her laid back attitude, "It hasn’t been hard for me to find my inner Winnifred," she said

* * * *

Once Upon a Mattress is playing this weekend at the Voorheesville high school Performing Arts Center. Show times are Friday, March 31, and Saturday April 1, at 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday, April 2, at 2:15 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens.

"A little Paris in Voorheesville"
Lussier’s dream transcends place

By Michelle O’Riley

VOORHEESVILLE — Donna Lussier, a Voorheesville resident, has brought a bit of France, with its elegance and cultured pace, to her hometown.

Her two businesses opened this month in the Maple Avenue plaza anchored by Nichols’ Market — Belle Images (pronounced bell-eh-maaj), a day spa, and The Parisian Cottage, a specialty home and garden gift shop.

As soon as you walk into The Parisian Cottage, you are greeted with the sweet smell of aroma oils and the sounds of jazz. Through a white wooden archway decorated with vines and ornaments, you can see shiny gardener’s tools displayed among perfumes and lotions for the plant-lover.

This French garden theme can be felt throughout the gift shop. A wooden sign that reads "Bonjour" greets customers while a lighted replica of the Eiffel Tower sits on top of a cupboard featuring mugs and other ceramic gifts. The trendy black garden apron employees wear are also decorated with shiny pins of this famous architectural wonder.

Lussier describes her gift shop as "A little Paris in Voorheesville."

To the left of the entrance is an apothecary stocked with well-known and exotic lines of skin-care products and perfumes. Beyond are tables covered with Easter gifts and treats and a display case filled with unique jewelry from Paris. Still further back are hats, specialty plates, and glassware followed by camisoles and other delicate lace lingerie. Each new corner and table fills the senses and raises anticipation.

A gallery of art catches the eye; replicas of famous museum pieces adorn the wall. Lussier points beyond the gallery and says her intention with the space there is to create a "just for him" section that will be filled with specialty gifts and accessories for men.

The Parisian Cottage is connected to the day spa through wooden French doors. "The day spa’s name, Belle Images, means ‘beautiful images’ in French," said Lussier. Warm-toned colors of gold, red, and smoky plum adorn its walls. Different fabrics and patterns mix effortlessly among assorted plants and a gurgling fountain, giving the space an Asian feel.

The seating area is decorated with the same care given to the gift shop. New Age music fills the air.

The music "slows down the heartbeat," says Lussier.

Here private rooms pamper guests with facials and massages. When a visitor is invited to sit down on a cozy chair by the front windows under a ruby chandelier, a feeling of tranquility and peace predominate, making it easy to forget this oasis is in a plaza in the middle of Voorheesville.

This was exactly Lussier’s intention — to create a place where people can relax and escape the world for a moment to enjoy a massage, shop for a gift, or treat themselves to one of the many treasures in The Parisian Cottage. She went on to say that she filled her store and day spa "with things that will make you happy, lift your spirits."

People questioned Lussier’s desire to pack up and move her established spa, in business for 15 years in Guilderland, to Voorheesville. She wanted to get away from the busy streets of Guilderland and into a community environment, she said.

"I was not worried, I knew that I could bring this community something unique and welcoming," Lussier said.

She has also changed the usually high price tags of specialty shops and offers many gifts for under $30.

From now until the end of April, customers can beat those winter blues and rejuvenate at Belle Images with $5 off massages and $25 off deep-pore cleansing facials.

Gift cards are also available at The Parisian Cottage and come wrapped in a pretty black box with white polka dots and a pink ribbon.

Lussier honed her appreciation for such niceties while studying aesthetics. She grew up in Latham and has lived in Voorheesville for 13 years. She was awarded a degree in aesthetics from Von Lee International School of Aesthetics, located outside of Washington, D.C.

While managing health clubs and salons, she hung on to her dream of entrepreneurship.

Lussier admitted that she often thought owning a business of her own was only a dream but decided to take a risk. She now owns Belle Images and The Parisian Cottage, serving a client base of 150 to 200 women.

Lussier will welcome visitors to enjoy springtime in Paris at an open house on April 23 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be drawings and door prizes as well as chair massages and 30-minute facials. French hors d’oeuvres will be served such as quiche, mini éclairs, and chocolate Eiffel Towers.

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