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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, July 13, 2006

Under construction
Will Berne and county merge"

By Saranac Hale Spencer

BERNE — Some Hilltown highways might come under new stewardship in a move that would be the first of its kind in the state. The town of Berne is developing a plan to consolidate its highway department with Albany County’s department of public works amid concerns from Berne highway workers and residents.

The plan, proposed by Berne, was developed after the first Intermunicipal Cooperation Forum held by County Executive Michael Breslin in April. After attending the forum, "Ray and I started looking at snowplow routes," said Supervisor Kevin Crosier at a meeting last Thursday with Highway Superintendent Ray Storm, Breslin, Deputy County Executive Joseph Pennisi, Public Works Commissioner Michael Franchini, and The Enterprise.

The pair found that current snowplow routes are inefficient due to the network of town and county/sate roads in Berne, said Crosier. Albany County has had an agreement with New York to clear the state roads along with the county roads since the late 1970’s, Franchini said. In some areas, there is no way to get from one town road to another without using county roads, which is problematic for snowplows that have to clear just the town roads, Crosier said.

"We don’t drive over a county road without plowing it," Berne Highway Department worker Joe Welsh told The Enterprise after Wednesday’s Berne Town Board meeting. If it’s dangerous, "of course we’re going to drop our plow."

Forty-seven percent of the miles driven by town trucks on the snowplow routes are on county roads, according to a report on the consolidation put together by the town of Berne and the county of Albany.

A portion of the expected savings detailed in the report reflects this, estimating fuel savings of $14,100 annually. Given that Berne trucks are already driving on these roads, Councilman James Hamilton suggested at Wednesday’s town meeting that an agreement could be made between the town and the county such that Albany would contract with Berne to have the town do the plowing.

"The savings they say that they can get," Welsh told The Enterprise, "they can look at other avenues to get the same thing."

Other savings listed in the report include equipment, estimated at $40,000; road materials, estimated at $12,050; and personnel, estimated at $89,920 initially and $220,550 in the future.

"No one is going to lose their job," Crosier told The Enterprise. The seven town highway department workers would become employees of the county, in addition to the 10 current county workers in the area, he said. Crosier told The Enterprise early in the week that he had met with town highway workers and "they’re looking at it with open minds."

Highway workers who came to the town board meeting on Wednesday night, though, said that they didn’t like the idea of consolidation. "We’re not really thrilled about it," said Welsh.

"I don’t like the idea," agreed David Wright, an Albany County highway worker. "There’s a lot of gray area."

"Salary and benefits seem to be similar between the town and county," Pennisi told The Enterprise when asked about possible changes.

Eliminating part-time positions and overtime pay would account for most of the personnel savings, Crosier told The Enterprise. Almost all of the part-time employees are hired to plow in the winter. "That’s the biggest expense for us," said Crosier.

Other projected savings include utilities for buildings, estimated at $6,600 per year, and savings for the town because it wouldn’t have to build a salt shed for $300,000 or a fuel storage facility for $44,000. The county would save because it wouldn’t have to replace its field office, estimated at $50,000.

"Some of these things could be instituted as we exist right now," said Councilman Joseph Golden at the town board meeting. He said that, rather than doing away with the Berne highway department, the town could pick and choose some things to combine with the county while still maintaining a separate highway department.

The neighboring town of Knox has had an agreement with Albany County for the use of its salt shed since 1996.

"We already have salt and fuel out here and they have a field office" said County Executive Breslin last week, explaining why he thinks consolidation makes sense. "We don’t have to duplicate."

First in state

This would be the first consolidation of its kind in the state, according to Jeffrey Haber, executive director of the Association of Towns. "I’m not aware of any towns that have consolidated with a county," he told The Enterprise on Tuesday.

A similar type of plan went into effect in neighboring Schoharie County, though, with the town of Esperance. "It was more of an elimination," Michelle Brust, the superintendent of the Esperance highway department, told The Enterprise.

In 1991, the town of Esperance got rid of its highway department, which had two full-time employees and a budget of $120,000, according to a 1996 Cooperative Highway Services Case Study Report. The Berne highway department has a $950,000 operating budget and seven employees, according to Crosier.

The highway superintendent post in Esperance became part-time but remained elected; the superintendent acts as a liaison to the town board and writes work orders with the county. "This works in Esperance," said Brust, noting the 10 miles of road that the town has and the low volume of traffic. "It wouldn’t work in other places," she said.

"We’re still exploring all the options," Crosier told The Enterprise regarding the highway superintendent post. "You may not need two high-level supervisors." Since the plan is still in the preliminary stages, the officials said, there are a number of details yet to decide. Crosier and Breslin stressed that they are looking for input from residents and workers. Both said that they want to keep lines of communication open.

Both Crosier and Breslin also said that it is too soon to make a guess about when the consolidation would happen. "It’s an exploration right now," said Breslin.

If the town and county do, in fact, consolidate, it can serve as a model for the rest of New York State. "These facts will reappear in other municipalities," Breslin said, last week, referring to the report.

"We like having our small, rural highway department," said Welsh on Wednesday night.

"There will be people for it," said Crosier, "and, obviously, people against it."

Motorcycles will be muffled in Knox

By Saranac Hale Spencer

KNOX — After 20 minutes of discussion punctuated with heavy silences, Councilman Dennis Decker made the motion to accept a resolution regulating motorcycle use in the town.

Following complaints from some residents last fall about the noise from dirt bikes, the town board had the planning board look into changing the zoning ordinance to address the problem. In April, the town attorney, John Dorfman, presented a draft that would include regulation of motorcycles as part of the town’s zoning ordinances.

The law passed by a vote of 4 to 1 with Councilman Joseph Best dissenting. "That’s how we’re going to vote, individually, not as a group," said Best during discussion before the vote about party politics entering into the equation. Best is one of two Republicans on the board; the other three are Democrats.

The law now requires that all motorcycles have a muffler attached when used on both public and private lands. It defines a motorcycle as "every motor vehicle, including a motocross bike, having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designated to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, but excluding a tractor."

The law also makes it illegal to build a motorcycle racetrack on private property in any zoning district other than business, which would require a special-use permit.

Penalties for a first offense include a fine up to $250 and up to 15 days in jail. The motorcycle can be confiscated as a penalty for a second offense.

"This will not affect 99 percent of ATV and motorcycle use," said Councilman Nicholas Viscio. "We’re a residential area and we have to be considerate."

"If this went on," Supervisor Michael Hammond said of unregulated motorcycle noise, "we would be known as the weakest link in the Capital District."

Other business

In other business, the board;

— Voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the Helderberg Ambulance Squad Inc., which will provide ambulance and first aid service for the town until Dec. 31;

— Heard From Hammond that the request the town made in December for a crosswalk near the post office was denied but the state’s Department of Transportation will put up signs to warn drivers of pedestrian traffic in the area;

— Voted unanimously to change the zoning ordinance to accommodate meteorological towers and home windmills; and

— Heard from Linda Novello, who is concerned that her neighbor is dismantling and selling vehicles illegally. "Why hasn’t anything been done about it"" she asked the board, stating, "it’s a violation"; and

— Heard from Hammond that a representative from the New York Energy Research and Development Authority will be at the town board’s next meeting on Aug. 8.

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