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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 3, 2006

Pair safely coaxed from smoke-filled house

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Police coaxed a resident out of a smoked-filled home after he refused to leave during a fire at 6116 Johnston Rd.

The bedroom fire started from a burning cigarette and resulted in two residents being treated for smoke inhalation at local hospitals, according to the Westmere Fire Department. There were other residents living in the home, but they quickly left the house and were unharmed.

The fire started around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.

"The fire originated in the bedroom," said Westmere Fire Chief William Swartz. "Two residents were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

"It started from the improper disposal of a cigarette," Swartz told The Enterprise yesterday.

There was minimal damage to the home, with some smoke and water damage; the fire damage was contained in the bedroom, according to the fire chief.

"One of them refused to come out of the house," said Swartz. "There was a lot of smoke coming out of the house and the police finally convinced him to come out. The fire was put out by the residents before we arrived there."

Both the Guilderland and State Police responded to the Johnston Road fire, and the McKownville Fire Department provided mutual aid for the Westmere department while it covered the call.

The Fort Hunter Fire Department provided FAST support for Westmere. FAST is an acronym that means Firefighters Assist and Search Team, according to Swartz, and it is a special team consisting of two or more firefighters dedicated solely to the search and rescue of other firefights in distress.

If there is a multiple-alarm fire, multiple FAST teams are deployed.

Pignapping gets serious

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A second "pignapping" in Guilderland has led to increased police presence and changed the town’s tone from pig-laden innuendo, to a downright serious investigation.

Liberty, the Pine Bush Elementary School’s pig, was ripped out of its pen in front of the principal’s office on Saturday, between 5 and 5:30 p.m., and found in the wooded area behind the school around 7 p.m. on Monday evening.

The only clues left behind were three pig prints where masonry glue held Liberty to cement in the ground.

The fiberglass pig statue is one of 28 across town, part of the Chamber of Commerce "Pigtacular," launched in June with a "Pignic" in Altamont’s park and concludes with a "Hogtoberfest," where the pigs will be auctioned for charity.

"We have certainly stepped up patrols in the areas where pigs are placed," said Guilderland’s deputy police chief, Carol Lawlor. "We have a couple of ideas of those involved, but it’s still under investigation."

"This is vandalism," said Jane Schramm the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce’s executive director. "Having one pig stolen was bad, but having another one cut down and stolen — that’s serious."

Last week the Town Center Plaza’s Bruce Pigsteen was stolen and anonymously returned with minor scrapes. Pigsteen still has not returned to its pen along Western Avenue.

"We are just happy to have Liberty back," said Pine Bush’s principal, Martha Beck. "We applaud the efforts of the media and the police departments for all of their time."

Pine Bush Elementary was not intending to auction off Liberty, but instead wants to keep it at the school as an unofficial mascot, according the school’s PTA president Maureen Iuorno, who spoke to The Enterprise Monday before the pig was returned.

"We were planning on keeping him. Our art teacher and students became very attached to Liberty," said Iuorno. "That was going to be his permanent placement in front of the principal’s office."

Liberty is decorated with endangered Karner blue butterflies, the school’s mascot, voted on by the children, and a native of the pine barren near the school. Apples and apple blossoms also decorate the pig, in homage to the schoolyard orchard planted by the students.

Beck told The Enterprise that the school doesn’t care about pressing charges right now, but only wanted Liberty to come home.

"We were mostly interested in getting Liberty back for the children," said Beck. "The children didn’t get to see him finished during the last week of school and we were looking forward to having Liberty for the children’s first day back."

Piggy prank or Larded Larceny"

Cutting down the pigs or damaging them during theft could change the crime from a simple petit larceny offense, which is a misdemeanor, to criminal mischief and criminal trespassing charges, which could be felony offenses, said Lawlor.

The Guilderland Police Department currently has officers investigating Liberty’s disappearance and return.

Liberty was found when a woman drove by a construction area on Coons Road in the rear of the school and saw the pig behind a pile of gravel. Beck says Liberty was not there the night before and believes it was left there to be anonymously returned to the school.

One Guilderland woman says she and her 12-year-old daughter may have witnessed the Pine Bush pignapping. The Enterprise is withholding her name because she was concerned about retaliation from the vandals.

"My daughter noticed a car with its trunk open," she said. "There were two teenaged boys there; they didn’t look suspicious"About 15 minutes later, the pig was gone."

She did not get a license plate number, but described the car as either a black sedan Ford Taurus or Sable.

"It was my daughter who was really suspicious of the whole thing," she continued. "When I drove by, the pig was definitely there. But when I drove back again, it was gone."

The Guilderland woman also told The Enterprise that her younger daughter, who attends Pine Bush Elementary, was playing at a nearby house, when she noticed a black car drive by with "something that was covered up hanging out of the back."

Principal Beck also said a family that was playing nearby noticed a group of either teenaged or college-aged kids hanging around the pig shortly before it disappeared.

Some business owners are starting to protect their pigs, according to Schramm, who described the fiberglass pigs as a financial investment; each one, before being decorated cost $500.

"If need be, owners may have to put them inside, which is unfortunate," said Schramm. "They will still be on display for the public"but, understandably, more of them are bringing them inside."

"Here for the children"

Liberty got its name from a school-wide vote from both staff and students.

The money to purchase the pig was raised by a bake sale and a dollar for dollar match by the school’s PTA.

After its purchase, art teacher Christine Monlea spent long hours preparing Liberty for the "pignic" and for the Pine Bush school.

"Don’t forget, we have kindergarten through sixth grade, and they really wanted to see that pig when they came back," said Iuorno. "One of the students said it was sad that, while they were eating lunch, their art teacher was painting Liberty and didn’t get to eat her lunch. She worked on it for months."

As for Liberty’s recovery, only minor damage to its hooves and head occurred, according to Beck.

"There is some damage, which is unfortunate, but at least it will be here for the children when they come back," Beck said.

Beck told The Enterprise that discussions are now taking place on where Liberty will be penned. At first, said Beck, Liberty will be in the front lobby of the school and "different alternatives" will be discussed.

"We may just bring Liberty inside every night," said Beck.

Democratic contest
Underdog Suozzi bares teeth at party choice Spitzer

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Without the backing of his party, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Suozzi says he is appealing directly to the people of New York State in order to combat what he calls "the most dysfunctional state government in the country."

Suozzi sat down with The Enterprise at Guilderland’s Mangia restaurant in Stuyvesant Plaza last Wednesday to eat and to talk about why he belongs in the Governor’s Mansion instead of Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

And yes — he plans on actually living there if elected.

Over a bowl of pasta, Suozzi outlined his proposals for running the state, changing its business climate, keeping residents here, and stopping suburban sprawl. He also expressed his frustrations with the current political mechanics of New York.

Coming fresh off of the debate with Spitzer, a day after a Siena poll showed him trailing Spitzer by over 70 points, Suozzi anxiously asked the two reporters dining with him what they thought of the previous night’s debate.

The pair thought it was a draw.

Suozzi, however, didn’t mince words in his presumption that he was the clear winner and that voters deserved more debates. He added that, out of nine debates, Spitzer only agreed to one, and that he would debate Spitzer "anywhere, anytime, on any issue."

Suozzi told The Enterprise that, even though he and Spitzer are both running on reform platforms, there is a real choice between the two Democrats.

"He’s been in Albany for the past seven-and-a-half years. Where’s the passion been"" asked Suozzi, taking a jab at Spitzer’s campaign slogan. "Elliot may be the ‘Sheriff of Wallstreet,’ but he’s only been a prosecutor. I’ve been a chief executive for the past 12 years."

He was a surprise winner in Republican-dominated Long Island.

Suozzi said executive experience is more important than judicial experience when it comes to managing a state like New York.

Suozzi has touted this political philosophy since his campaign’s inception.

"I can do it because I’ve done it," said Suozzi, comfortably quoting his campaign slogan.

Using his own Nassau County as an example, Suozzi said he took one of the worst-run counties in the nation and turned it around. Using a similar strategy, Suozzi says he can do the same for the state as a whole.

"I’m someone who’s been in public life," said Suozzi. "I understand how it works and I’m doing it."

While talking about his plans for the state, Suozzi invokes a sense of confidence despite poor poll numbers and little campaign funding. Suozzi has raised a little more than $9 million to date, compared to the $11 million Spitzer has raised in the past six months alone.

When the subject turned to his opponent, however, he took on a more beleaguered tone as he accused the attorney general of stealing his platforms on property-tax reduction and upstate job revival, issues that Spitzer has not addressed until recently, he said.

Hot-button issues

Saying that he grew up in a community much like Guilderland, Suozzi said he knows the issues that upstate New Yorkers face on a daily basis, including the rise of strip malls and disappearance of open space.

"I’m from one of the oldest suburbs in the country, and now we’re one of the most mature suburbs," said Suozzi. "You’ve got to stop the sprawl.

"How do you know I’ll do it" Because I’ve done it," said Suozzi

Suozzi said that Long Island is where NIMBY began. NIMBY is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard. Many residents want the economic benefits of having businesses in their town, but do not want to deal with reality of living next to it, or having to drive through it. It is term also used with municipal necessities such as landfills, water and sewage treatment plants, and power plants.

Hence the reference — not in my backyard.

Suozzi told The Enterprise his stance on "dividing issues" that he says are used to distract from the real issues, such as property taxes, upstate jobs, and government reform. Here is where he stands on some state-wide "hot-button" issues:

— He is against the death penalty in every way, shape, and form. He condemns the practice completely, citing personal religious beliefs;

— Again citing personal religious beliefs, he is against gay marriage. Suozzi said he believes same-sex couples deserve to enjoy the same rights, benefits, and privileges as heterosexual couples, but wants the state to adopt civil unions over marriage, calling it a "sacrament" that cannot be changed;

— He does not believe that United States should create a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq;

— He believes that abortions should be safe, legal, and accessible to New Yorkers, but said that the state should try to limit the number of them;

— He is for the use of medical marijuana in New York, and, during last week’s debate, both he and Spitzer admitted to smoking marijuana at one time in their lives;

— He believes that the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant should be closed;

— He believes that overall public schools are better than private schools; and

— No, he does not deny having Presidential aspirations.

Party favors

When asked if his running against a high-profile, favorably publicized, and well-liked fellow Democrat was damaging or causing dissent amongst his party, Suozzi quickly answered, with a not-so-subtle hint of agitation.

"I’m not getting any support from the party," Suozzi said. "For the past seven-and-a-half years, Elliot has only put out good press on himself."

Suozzi said that, within the party, some people have quietly told him that he is doing the right thing, but that he is receiving no outward political support. That is why, he said, he is going directly to the people for support to avoid becoming what he calls his opponent — an "Albany insider."

Suozzi is no stranger to running a campaign without his party’s support. Becoming the first Democrat executive since 1917 in Nassau County, Suozzi ran against the county’s Democratic chairman to win his seat in 2002 after being mayor of Glen Clove.

He didn’t receive party support then, and he hasn’t received it for his gubernatorial run. Suozzi says he runs his campaigns on the will of the people and good ideas rather than through party favors.

Accusing Spitzer of closed-door Albany politics, Suozzi said an outsider is needed to clean the corruption in New York and that his opponent has yet to deliver on past promises of aggressively pursuing government reform.

Suozzi charged Spitzer with failing to use his influence and position to go after political corruption with the same tenacity that he used uncovering Wallstreet corruption.

Suozzi said he has a proven track record as the executive of Nassau County when it comes to reform, citing 11 bond upgrades in the county under his administration. Continuing, Suozzi cited a projected $428 million budget deficit in his county for 2004, which he says he turned into a $78 million dollar surplus.

The secret, said Suozzi, was cutting spending, condensing the county’s workforce, capping Medicaid, bidding competitively, and bringing jobs to the area.

Reducing the number of unfunded mandates handed down by the state, which then have to be financed at the county level, is also an important issue that needs to dealt with, according to Suozzi.

The state of business

"If New York State was a business, it would be a $113 billion dollar business with 191,000 employees, and it’s going bankrupt," Suozzi said. "The customers are fleeing to the competition."

Running a county with an operating budget of $2.4 billion and a population larger than seven states, Suozzi said executive managing experience is on his side, adding, "It’s no small-time job."

Suozzi is balancing his job as county executive with campaigning for governor, an endeavor he describes as "very difficult."

New York’s business climate is driving away businesses, jobs, and, most importantly, New York residents who are seeking those jobs, said Suozzi. The population of New York, primarily residents in the 18- to 35-year-old bracket, has been steadily decreasing in recent years, he said.

"We have the most hostile business climate in the nation," said Suozzi. "We shouldn’t be providing incentives for anything but high-skill and high-tech industries"Green industry as well."

Lowering the cost of doing business and being a more competitive state in the business market should be New York’s number-one priority, aside from a much-needed reduction in property taxes, said Suozzi.

"You want to get downtowns refilled" You want to stop sprawl" You want to stop the development of open space" Then you need to make things more economically attractive," said Suozzi. "No economic program works well without being a part of an overall vision."

Economic programs and business incentives do not address the problems of New York’s poor business climate, said Suozzi, who added that other states are reaping the benefits of New York’s failures.

"One of the biggest problems is property taxes. I’m going to lower property taxes," Suozzi said. "I proved that I’m a government reformer."

The high cost of energy is another problem for New York businesses.

"The only way to reduce energy cost is to increase supply and conservation," said Suozzi. "New York State should be a world leader in creating an environmental model for fossil fuels."

Suozzi said he plans on creating an economic task force with regional "czars" who will communicate directly with the governor on business issues facing their area. Then, he said, all levels of government officials, including federal and state legislators, can come together in order to assess what is necessary for the overall growth of each area. Suozzi said this will allow for the pooling of resources and give an overall direction for the state’s future.

An old-fashioned business plan with a list of future goals and benchmarks is what the state needs, said Suozzi.

Saying that he did not take on a life in politics to make friends because there is no such thing as a "friend" in the profession, Suozzi told The Enterprise that he wants to return New York to its Empire State status.

"If you want a friend in politics, then get a dog," Suozzi joked.

Altamont seeks comments
County considers right-to-farm law

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — As development encroaches, farms will likely remain a part of this area.

The county is currently surveying municipalities on a county-wide right-to-farm law.

A letter from Mark Fitzsimmons, the director of Albany County’s Department of Economic Development Conservation and Planning, asking for the village’s input on the law was mentioned by Mayor James Gaughan at Tuesday’s village board meeting.

Gaughan said that he has asked Joseph Abbruzzese, an owner of Altamont Orchards; Bob Santorelli, president of the Altamont Fair board; and local agricultural landowners for comments before crafting a response to the county.

Notification to potential property buyers that there are nearby farmlands and a dispute resolution system were two aspects of the law that the mayor highlighted when asked about it after the meeting. He emphasized the importance of "farmland heritage" to this area.

"I would not like to see unnecessary conflict between new developments and farmlands," he said.

Fitzsimmons also pointed to the conflict resolution portion of the law as significant. Sights, sounds, and smells from working farms aren’t always compatible with single-family homes, he said. With a conflict-resolution system, complaints can be dealt with outside of court.

"Lawsuits are easy," he said yesterday. "But they’re expensive and time consuming."

Protecting farms and farmlands is important because agriculture is a large part of the local economy, he said.

"It is the number-one industry in the state," Fitzsimmons said. "It is still a very important economic feature and farmland itself is a non-renewable resource."

Since the law will affect all of Albany County, Fitzsimmons said that he hopes to get as much input as possible from municipalities and he expects a range, from detailed reviews to general opinions.

"Anything is going to be helpful," he said, adding that there is no firm timeline for the project and he hasn’t asked for responses by a specific date.

Gaughan expects to give the village’s response to the county in about a month and said, "My personal predilection is to be in agreement with this."

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:

— Honored former police chief and local documentary film producer, George Pratt, who made a film about cowboys in Florida. After Pratt retired, he began working on the ranges in Florida.

The movie, Cowboys of Florida, was one of 10 finalists, chosen from a group of 350 international submissions, in the documentary category of the Palm Beach International Film Festival;

— Heard from Trustee Dean Whalen that the master-planning committee is working on cross-tabulations of the information gathered in the surveys that were sent out to village businesses and residents. "We’re really in the same stage as Harvey reported on two weeks ago," he said, referring to Trustee Harvey Vlahos;

— Heard from Keith Lee that Carl Schilling has been meeting with engineers regarding the Maple Avenue park. Schilling has volunteered to build a pavilion, which will mimic the train station overhang where the farmers’ market is held, as part of the second phase of a four-phase plan for the park. Gaughan said that the third phase will produce a children’s playground and the final phase will complete the planting on the hill;

— Heard from Gaughan that volunteer firefighters will be honored on the Saturday of Altamont Fair week in an event sponsored by the fair. It will start at the podium at 2 p.m. with a parade;

— Heard from Gaughan that a federal grant will be available in the fall for the purchase of a new senior van. The grant requires a 20-percent capital match. Gaughan said that the senior organization would be the applicant and the town would be the sponsor for the grant;

— Heard from Trustee William Aylward that he has been looking into soundproof fences to help contain noise at the fairgrounds. He said that the only local price quote he could get was $200 per linear foot. That fence is hollow, he said, and, when it is used for noise abatement, it is filled with old tires. He left the board with a rhetorical question – is it our responsibility or the fair’s";

— Heard from Commissioner for Public Safety Anthony Salerno that WGNA, which organized Countryfest, has paid the village $4,040 in compensation for the police on duty during the event. "We’re trying every way we can to bring money in," he said;

— Heard from Salerno that Gaughan and officers Patrick Thomas, Kenneth Lebel, and Matthew Hanzalik, completed the National Management Course, which is required by Homeland Security;

— Voted unanimously to accept a bid for $3,700 from ABC Tree Company to remove trees on Lincoln Avenue; this was chosen from among four bids;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Larry N. Adams Jr. as an operator at the water treatment plant and Heather DeSarbo as court clerk from the Albany County Department of Civil Service’s list of eligible residents effective July 25, 2006;

— Voted unanimously to authorize Gaughan to sign property easement contracts for 15 properties along Brandle Road, which will allow the village to enter five feet into each property so that it can install a pipeline, eight inches in diameter, from a well for village use recently drilled near the road; and

— Voted unanimously to authorize the destruction of records retained in the village office beyond the required six years under New York State laws, following a review by the village historian for archival significance.

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