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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, April 13, 2006

BKW adopts $18.5M budget plan

By Matt Cook

BERNE — Thanks to a state aid figure that’s higher than it’s been in years, the increase in taxes for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District’s proposed budget is lower than it’s been in years.

If the $18.5 million budget is approved by voters on May 16, it will represent a 5.9-percent increase in total appropriations over last year, but only a 2.4-percent increase in the tax levy, the amount to be raised by taxes. Last year’s tax levy increase was 5 percent over the year before.

"I’m very pleased to have one of the lowest tax-levy increases in the area," said Superintendent Steven Schrade.

Schrade said he expects the tax-rate increase—the amount to be charged to individual taxpayers—will be lower than 2.4 percent. The district is waiting for the state to set equalization rates before determining the exact figures.

The school board unanimously adopted the plan at a meeting Monday. It’s now in the hands of the voters. Last year, a $17.5 million budget was voted down in May, partially because of Westerlo residents protesting the closing of the Westerlo Elementary School.

In June, a $50,000 slimmer version of the budget passed, 549 to 486. If a budget is voted down twice, a New York school district is forced into a state-set contingency budget cap.

For the past couple of years, the state has been stingy with increasing its aid to schools. Not so this year, at least for BKW. The legislature marked almost $7.6 million for the district, an increase of $757,000 over the 2005-06 budget.

Although the state legislature has passed New York’s budget, the governor has the power to veto.

When the district was planning the budget, Schrade told The Enterprise, it was counting on receiving a state-aid amount similar to previous years and anticipating a tax-levy increase of 4.5 to 5 percent.

Schrade noted a few other cost-saving measures in the proposed budget. Under a new contract signed last year, teachers partially contribute to their health insurance costs. The budget line for employee benefits, at $4.2 million, is about an 8 percent increase over last year.

To combat rising energy costs, maintenance supervisor Peter Shunney has installed better controls on the boilers, and is installing more efficient lighting fixtures, Schrade said.

"Although the cost per kilowatt hour is going up, we were actually able to mitigate that by using fewer kilowatt hours," Schrade said. "I will admit that the mild winter was helpful."

At BKW, Schrade said, "You won’t see that big increase in the energy budget that other schools have."

The budget for teachers’ salaries, $4.8 million, is about $200,000 higher than the 2005-06 budget. Part of it is for special education, Schrade said. The largest part of the increase, he said, is to hire a gym teacher.

To save money last year, the district didn’t hire a new physical education teacher after one retired.

"That only works for one year," Schrade said. To keep up with state physical education requirements, he said, another teacher is necessary.

The budget, Schrade said, "would bring the staff to full strength for the first time in five to six years in proportion to the current population."

While enrollment in the elementary school is dropping, Schrade said, the high school classes are the largest the district has had since he started working there over 16 years ago.

If the budget is approved, Schrade said, class size in kindergarten through second grade will be under 20, and for third through fifth grade, it will be under 22.

The budget also allows for the high school to add an advanced-placement chemistry class to complement its AP English, history, and calculus classes, Schrade said.

The $18.6 million budget proposal breaks down this way:

—$1,787,436 for general support, an increase of $25,118;

—$9,561,168 for instruction, an increase of $532,432;

—$1,741,413 for transportation, an increase of $75,143; and

—$5,481, 174 undistributed, an increase of $394,831.

The district expects $9,252,280 in income, not counting from property taxes. Besides state aid, that includes $760,000 from the fund balance, $90,000 less than last year, and $470,570 in aid from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

DEC says CWD is controlled

By Matt Cook

WESTERLO — With the 2005 hunting season in the rearview mirror, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says the deer population is stabilizing after a harsh winter three years ago, and efforts to control the deadly chronic wasting disease are working.

Some local sportsmen, however, complain that a DEC ban on feeding, meant to stop the spread of disease, has weakened the herd in Albany County.

Jack Milner, president of the Whitetail Association, a Westerlo-based hunting group, called the ban "the DEC’s tragic mistake" in a letter to the Enterprise editor.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD), which affects deer, elk, and moose, attacks the nervous system, causing the animals to become emaciated, lose body function, and die. Health officials say CWD does no harm to humans or other animals, but recommend people avoid eating venison from unhealthy deer.

CWD was first detected in the United State in an elk herd in South Dakota in 1997. Since then, 25 more elk herds and three deer herds have tested positive for the disease, mostly in the western states.

Despite precautions taken by the state, CWD was detected in New York in March of 2005, first in two captive herds in Oneida County, and soon after in a wild deer in the same area. The DEC immediately moved to contain the disease, establishing mandatory check stations in Oneida County and parts of Madison County, and restricting the transport of certain deer parts out of the area.

To monitor the disease, the DEC began a sampling program, and has since tested over 8,000 deer in New York, including 2,800 in Oneida and Madison counties.

To date, DEC spokesperson Maureen Wren told The Enterprise, the state hasn’t found any more instances of CWD.

"We’re going to continue to be monitoring it," she said.

Even before CWD was detected in New York, in 2002 when it reached Wisconsin, the DEC enacted regulations, including restricting the importation of deer and elk into the state and forbidding the feeding of wild deer.

At the same time, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets established a herd health-certification program for deer farms. Deer farmers are not allowed to move their herds or members of their herds without permission from the department of agriculture.

In the 2005 season, hunters took 14 percent fewer deer in New York than the previous year. However, the DEC deliberately issued 35 percent fewer permits. After a brutal winter in 2002-03, Wren said, the state is trying to stabilize the population, which had swelled to an unsustainable size prior to the winter of 2002.

The population is still too high or too low in some places, she said.

In Albany County, hunters took 2,118 deer in 2005, compared to 2,288 the year before. In Wildlife Management Unit 4H, which includes most of the Hilltowns, the DEC was aiming for hunters to take 2.2 bucks per square-mile in 2005, and hit its mark exactly.

Any significant decrease in herd size is mostly due to harsh conditions, Wren said, not the feeding ban. The DEC stands by the ban, she said, because its helps fights disease by preventing the unnatural congregation of deer.

Scientists believe CWD is spread through contact with saliva, feces, and urine, as well as indirect contact through environmental contamination.

Larsens fill gap, open Country Cafe

By Matt Cook

BERNE — The Berne Food Store’s doors have barely been closed a few weeks and already new owners have taken over and opened for business.

Though the sign still says Berne Food Store, that will change. The new name is the Helderberg Country Cafe. Its owners say locals are happy to come back.

"Business is very steady. Everyone is thrilled," said Brian Larsen, who, with his wife, Deborah, owns the store.

The Larsens are Hilltown natives. Mr. Larsen grew up in Berne, and Mrs. Larsen in Westerlo. They had been living in Massachusetts, but when Mr. Larsen was laid off his job of over 25 years, the couple decided to return to New York and try their luck as small-town grocers and restaurateurs.

"I was kind of looking for a new career, a new start," Mr. Larsen said.

Though neither of them has owned a business before, Mrs. Larsen has years of experience in food service. She has been everything from a waitress to a cook, her husband said.

The Larsens plan to live in an apartment over the cafe.

Like the Food Store, the Country Cafe is serving double duty as a grocery store and a restaurant.

"It’s the only store in town, so it’s very much needed," Larsen said.

Shoppers and diners aren’t going to find much difference between the Berne Food Store and the Helderberg Country Cafe; most of the changes are "behind the scenes," Larsen said, like updating old equipment.

"The menu hasn’t changed too much officially," he said, "but we have lot of different specials we’re going to do."

The biggest difference, Larsen said, is soon the cafe will start serving pizza. The Larsens have installed a commercial pizza oven, and will have it up and running by next week.

"Everyone is really excited about that," Larsen said. "Every phone call we get is, ‘Have you got the pizza going yet"’"

The Helderberg Country Cafe, on Route 443 in Berne, is open for shopping, deli service, eat-in, and take-out, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, 7 a.m to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.

BKW’s Tubbs to compete nationally in culinary arts

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Everything Amanda Tubbs tries — from cheerleading for Berne-Knox-Westerlo sports teams to crashing cars at the Altamont Fair’s demolition derby — she does with enthusiasm.

Her latest feat, at age 16, is placing first in the state in a culinary arts competition. She’ll represent New York at the national competition in Kansas City in June.

"I’m really excited about it," Tubbs told The Enterprise Monday night. "I’ve never flown in a plane."

She came straight from a softball game Monday to be honored by the school board. She plays third base and some outfield for the varsity BKW team.

"My coach says I have an awesome arm," said Tubbs. "I love softball...I love being part of a team."

She is one of 13 BKW students who ride the bus to the Schoharie Career and Technical School each day after attending six periods of classes at Berne.

Her favorite class during the first part of her school day is English. "I like writing my own stories and poems," she said.

Tubbs began the program for culinary arts this September, at the start of her junior year.

"Ever since I was little, I loved cooking with my mom," said Tubbs. Her mother, Ruth, works as a janitor for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools. "We used to bake all the time and make a lot of home-cooked meals....," said Tubbs. "My dream is to open my own restaurant."

Tubbs would like to have her restaurant serve intimate dinners for two — "nice, candlelit dinners, really romantic," she said.

Tubbs competed two weeks ago in the regionals, held at Union College in Troy, which qualified her for the state competition, held in Syracuse.

The competition consists of taking a written test and then setting a table and serving patrons "like in a five-star restaurant," she said.

"There’s silverware all over the place — lots of extra forks and spoons — and it has to be set up perfect," said Tubbs. "You have to fold the napkins so they stand up, even when they shake the table."

The shape she chose for her napkins was the atrium lily, with three standing points.

Once the table is set, the patrons sit down. "You introduce yourself and wait on them," said Tubbs. "You have to be really professional and polite....You serve from the left and clear from the right, unless you’re serving drinks."

Tubbs has had real-life practice waiting on tables at Camp Pinnacle, she said. She thought to herself, during the competitions, "I’m here to have fun. I’ll just go in with my bubbly personality."

During the state-wide awards ceremony, she said, as the winners’ names were announced from the bottom up, she assumed she hadn’t won anything.

"All of a sudden, I heard my name," Tubbs recalled. "I started jumping up and down and I started to cry."

"She knowsher own mind"

Tubbs has done well in other competitions, showing the same nerve and joie de vivre. Last summer, she competed successfully in the demolition derby at the Altamont Fair, coming in fourth in her first attempt at the sport.

"My dad and my brother always did it," she said of her father, Thomas, who works for the Knox Highway Department, and her 29-year-old brother, Tommy. Tubbs also has two older sisters — Cindy and Penny, who are in their thirties. "We used to go the fair all the time to watch them do it."

Tubbs went on, "So many people say, ‘A girl can’t do it.’ I wanted to prove them wrong."

She recalled how events unfolded that Friday last August at the fairgrounds. When she came home from her job doing maintenance work at the fair, she said, "I had to finish tearing my car apart and chain my doors."

She did this work herself, but didn’t have time to complete work on the brakes; she had to make due with the emergency brakes, she said.

"Tommy was in the first heat," Tubbs recalled. "My dad was still on the bulldozer, working. I was in the last heat."

She wasn’t nervous, she said, until after she buckled up. "When I started the engine I was nervous. But then I thought, ‘I’m here to have fun with this,’ so that’s what I did."

"She backed her car right into another one, and rolled it over," said her father.

"She knows her own mind," he concluded. "We’re all proud of her."

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