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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 24, 2006

Changed Empire Zone expansion in G’land

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The town can now increase its tax base with industry while avoiding re-zoning and citizen protests.

The office of Albany County Executive Michael Breslin announced state approval on Monday for an Empire Zone expansion to Railroad Avenue — an aptly named road that runs through the towns of Colonie and Guilderland, and the city of Albany.

This newest expansion brings the county’s total to nearly four square miles of the state’s business incentive program.

An Empire Zone expansion into Guilderland’s Railroad Avenue could or could not have positive economic impacts for the town, but either way, the potential benefit is there, said Donald Csaposs, director of economic development for the town.

"There’s a significant potential for a significant benefit to the town," said Csaposs. "This is something that’s been important to me since we started the comprehensive plan over seven years ago"There are only a few parcels zoned for this in town. Here’s one and it’s underutilized"I see it as all ups."

An Empire Zone is a benefits program that creates financial incentives for designated areas around the state for businesses. The benefits come from the state, county, and local levels in the form of reduced property taxes and waived sale taxes and business fees.

"This is absolutely consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. I don’t readily advocate policies that are not consistent. The town invested an awful lot of money, time, and effort into that document," said Csaposs. "I think it’s the responsibility of those who are active in town policy to keep true to this comprehensive plan."

Previously, the only Empire Zone designations in town were all in the Northeastern Industrial Park, the site of a former Army depot in Guilderland Center.


A train track once ran along the street, but with the cessation of the railroads, many of the businesses there languished.

The area now could be an asset to the "upscale developments" of the Fuller Road area like the NanoTech buildings and the Harriman Campus, who, said Csaposs, will need businesses like garages, maintenance depots, and warehoused goods.

Csaposs called Fuller Road a "focal point" for this type of development.

"Those places are going to need support services. This stuff won’t be as jazzy; it won’t be as sexy. But, what you have now are old derelict businesses," Csaposs said. "Why not recycle the whole damn area" I’m kind of a tub thumper on the issue," continued Csaposs, referring to the Railroad Avenue businesses. "I see it as recycling.

"I go through there all the time, and I got thinking about it"All the businesses are zoned industrial and some of the buildings are dilapidated or unmaintained," said Csaposs. "You’re not going to disturb anybody."

The county has removed some parcels of land adjoining the Northeastern Industrial Park from the Empire Zone, which Csaposs says were mostly undevelopable for industry. New parcels were then added along Railroad Avenue. The swap in parcel designation was not acre-for-acre though, added Csaposs.

Csaposs says this will give these businesses a place in Guilderland besides the industrial park, and it won’t affect local residents, keeping hassles to a minimum.

Business draw

This will be a big business draw, he said.

"‘Hey, mister businessman. We’d be happy to see you locate in the town of Guilderland,’" intoned Csaposs. "‘Instead of trying to get a piece of greenspace re-zoned and fighting with the neighbors, put your business here.’"

Continuing, Csaposs explained that the type of businesses likely to locate in an industrial sector are not the typical businesses found in the Chamber of Commerce, so the incentives of an Empire Zone will help get their attention.

"They cater more to service and retail businesses," Csaposs told The Enterprise. "You’re not going to see a Chamber mixer on the warehouse floor of a widget maker."

New businesses or newly expanded businesses along Railroad Avenue will add to the town’s tax base as old warehouses are renovated, which increases the property’s value, then eventually increasing the taxes paid on the property.

The tax money is divided among different municipalities along the avenue, however.

"Railroad Avenue is kind of a funny road. The Guilderland and Colonie line literally goes through one building," Csaposs said about a produce warehouse located there. The taxes for that property are paid to both towns, he said, but then he joked that Guilderland’s half is mostly a parking lot.


Empire Zone benefits are not simple calculations and not easy to qualify for.

"The levels of benefit may vary on a wide range of variables. It’s a very complicated system," said Csaposs. "If you can meet all of those requirements, there are some tremendous benefits.

The types of businesses that will receive the most benefits are ones that are either new to the area or newly expanding and creating new jobs in the light-industrial category, said Csaposs, but the really important factors are the number of jobs created and the type of business.

Citing one example of potential benefits, Csaposs said qualifying businesses could have state and county sales tax waived on all building materials used during construction in the designated Empire Zone.

Csaposs was instrumental in working with the town and county to help bring the new Empire Zone designation to the area.

"I attended several meetings and spoke in favor of the change with the support of the town’s supervisor," Csaposs said. "At some point in time, you’re pushing a rock up a hill and you reach the crest and you’re over. Then Mike Breslin steps in and makes things a whole lot easier," Csaposs said. "He got us over that hill."

Neighbors worry
Are radio waves dangerous"

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — "Can you hear me now"" is a well-known slogan used in Verizon’s advertising campaigns, but it is now a legitimate question being asking of the town.

Concerned residents spoke out against a proposed cell phone tower at a recent zoning board meeting, citing the proximity to the Pine Bush Elementary School.

Verizon has applied for a special-use permit to place a cell tower on the Fort Hunter water tower.

The application states that the cellular telephone tower would be placed a little over 60 feet high on the water tower.

The zoning board will vote on Verizon’s special-use permit at its Sept. 20 meeting.

Zoning board chairman, Peter Barber, told The Enterprise that local residents came out to express concerns about Verizon’s application.

"In general, there was some concern on the cumulative effects of radio frequency," said Barber.

The water tower is located behind the Fort Hunter Fire Department on Carman Road and is directly next to Pine Bush Elementary.

The Federal Communications Commission is the lead regulatory agency in matters concerning radio frequency from cell phone towers, said Barber. In the United States, the FCC authorizes or licenses most radio frequency telecommunications services, facilities, and devices used by the public, industry, and state and local government organizations.

The FCC is monitoring the application and the company is in full compliance with all federal standards, a Verizon representative said at the meeting.

Although the federal government itself has never created radio frequency exposure standards, the FCC adopted and has been using recognized safety guidelines for evaluating radio frequency environmental exposure since 1985, according to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, which describes cell phone towers as "far below radio frequency levels harmful to humans."

Federal health and safety agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have all been actively involved in the monitoring and investigation of radio frequency exposure.

Electromagnetic waves travel through space at the speed of light and are calculated by a simple mathematical formula: Frequency times wavelength equals the speed of light.

Typically cellular base stations are located on towers, water tanks, and other elevated structures including rooftops and the sides of buildings, according to the FCC, and cell towers or "sector antennas," look like rectangular panels with a typical dimension of one foot by four feet.

One base station can maintain several antennas.

The Fort Hunter water tower currently is home to several cell phone towers. The town receives rent from the individual cell phone providers; this is Verizon’s first cell tower in the area, said Barber.

The revenue from rental space on the tower helps fund Guilderland’s water-department budget.

Along with FCC oversight, the town has hired Volmer and Associates to conduct assessments for Verizon’s permit application, Barber said.

Barber also told The Enterprise that the intention behind extending Verizon’s permit application until the end of September was to allow neighbors and those interested to submit materials or voice any concerns to the zoning board.

Rates lower
Taxes less then predicted for GCSD

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Tax rates will be lower than was predicted when voters went to the polls in May to pass a $79 million Guilderland school budget.

Guilderland residents will pay $18.93 per $1,000 of assessed value. That means the owner of a $200,000 home will pay $3,786 in school taxes this year.

This is an increase of 58 cents or 3.13 percent over last year.

The district had, in May, estimated a tax hike of 4.2 percent.

The district had to make a last-minute adjustment — 4 cents more per $1,000 — on the newly calculated rate.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the school board last Tuesday that Carol Wysomski, Guilderland’s assessor, was notified of a new state mandate that very day. The mandate requires special franchise assessment, such as for National Grid, Verizon, and fiber optic companies, to be valued at the current equalization rate, not at full value.

In the past, Sanders related, the franchises were included on the tax rolls at 100 percent or full value. For 2006-07, the state-set equalization rate of 84.12 percent for Guilderland must be applied to the special assessments, lowering the town’s overall assessment by about $5.2 million.

Wysomski told The Enterprise this week that she had known of the new mandate since May but had been told by the state to use the town’s equalization rate, which was then at 100 percent, since Guilderland had revalued all properties the year before.

Asked why, just a year out from town-wide revaluation the equalization rate had changed so dramatically, Wysomski said, "The market is just outrageous." She explained that, in just a year, property values have increased 16 percent.

Sanders told The Enterprise that the school district was able to come up with a tax rate that was lower than initially anticipated because of two factors — $150,000 was taken from the district’s fund balance to lower the rate, and the new assessments from the town were more than double what had been anticipated.

The district had figured on an increase in assessments in Guilderland of $15 million; instead, the increase over the previous year was a little more than $40 million.

Guilderland properties within the school district are valued at about $2.7 billion, Sanders said, and, historically, the district has figured on about $15 million to $20 million in new assessments every year.

The timetables for the school and the town "do not mesh"," said Sanders. "We need assessment information sooner than the town needs to have it for the state."

Wysomski told The Enterprise that the $40 million increase in assessment was largely due to new residential development.

"The houses being built today are $400,000 or more. You have just 10 of those and that’s $4 million," she said.

The only major commercial additions were the new Walgreens at the intersection of routes 20 and 155, only half of which counted this year, and the new doctors’ office complex on Carman Road, only 30 percent of which counted.

Because of older homes in Guilderland, the average house price town-wide is $185,000, she said.

Asked if this trend is likely to continue, Wysomski said, "Sales are slowing down some, but I haven’t seen any drop in prices"It’s scary; it really is. I look at these young people and ask, ‘What do they do"’"

"Absolutely fantastic"

"I think this is absolutely fantastic news," said Hy Dubowsky at last Tuesday’s meeting as he and the seven other board members present approved the rate.

Dubowsky had made a maverick motion at his first board meeting, in July, to keep the tax hike as predicted but to spend up to $200,000 for "enhanced educational services." Other board members said the proposal would undermine the budget process.

Last Tuesday, Dubowsky praised the school staff and offered kudos to the town for the overall increase in assessment, accomplished, he said, without "big box stores" or "big neon lights."

In June, the school board had debated at length what to do with a $400,000 surplus in the fund balance. The rainy-day account would have totaled $1.99 million by the end of the fiscal year, which would have been over the 2 percent of next year’s budget allowed by the state.

While some school-board members in June said the money should be returned to the taxpayers, the majority prevailed, in split votes, determining the surplus would be put into reserve funds — $100,000 into a tax certiorari reserve fund, and$3000, into a newly-created retirement contribution reserve fund.

The tax levy this year will raise about $55 million with over 90 percent coming from Guilderland. Small pieces of three other towns also fall in the Guilderland School District.

District residents in Bethlehem and New Scotland — both with state-set equalization rates of 100 percent — will pay $15.92 per $1,000 of assessed value. This represents a $10.90 decrease, a decrease of about 41 percent, for Bethlehem residents and a $9.05 decrease, a decrease of about 36 percent, for New Scotland residents. Both of those towns recently went through town-wide property revaluation.

Residents of Knox, a town which has not revalued its property in recent years, will pay $24.49 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 3 cents or .10 percent over last year.

Weisz wants to streamline meetings

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The dominant discussion at last Tuesday’s school board meeting was debating ways to streamline meetings.

Richard Wiesz, who was elected president last month, had made some suggestions that were largely rejected by the other board members.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said she had a "visceral response" to the recommendation that motions should be presented the Thursday before a board meeting.

"This would restrict the free speech of your fellow board members," she said.

"Let’s be less restrictive," said Vice President John Dornbush.

"I’m trying to have us...effectively communicate," said Weisz. "I will tweak that so it’s more suggestive and less restrictive."

Weisz also wants board members to develop goals, outside of the budget process, in order to direct the staff and administration. He wanted each board member to come up with a list of goals before the next meeting, and then discuss them as a group, collectively proposing two or three a year.

"At least then, the board would be going ahead of the budget process," said Wiesz.

"I really like the idea of setting up some goals," said board member Denise Eisele. "It provides a cohesive focus for the group."

Board member Thomas Nachod called the idea "somewhat redundant," citing the citizens’ budget review committee and the goal-setting priorities committee.

"I’m not sure it’s even the role of the board to have its own priorities," he said.

Dornbush said he supports the board taking a more active role in moving the district forward.

"I’d like people to think more broadly," he said. "Let’s just get some ideas flowing, get some momentum going."

Dornbush called it "a matter of opening a door where we haven’t been before."

Wiesz said the district’s anti-bullying initiative and the healthy choices for foods were shared visions.

"We have limited resources," he said. "We really need to define [our] targets."

Other business

In other business at its August meeting, the board:

— Discussed part-time appointments in closed session before returning to open session to pass them unanimously.

Board member Peter Golden had asked for the closed-session discussion.

Weisz pointed out that the state’s Open Meetings Law requires policy discussions be in open session.

Weisz then said that he understood part-time employees who work 40 hours or more a week qualify for health-insurance benefits, so two part-time workers would cost more than one full-time worker.

Susan Tangorre, human resources director, responded that the effort is always made to hire full-time workers but sometimes, with different scheduling in the elementary, middle, and high schools, that isn’t always possible. She also said that hiring is based primarily on student needs;

— Learned that the school lunch program, for the last fiscal year, operated at a loss. Expenses totaled $1.3 million, with $7,816.60 spent over the income; that money will come out of the district’s fund balance, said Sanders.

Sanders said he was not happy about the loss. He attributed it to two "unusual" circumstances — a large number of work-related injuries, costing about $20,000 in workmen’s compensation, and several expensive repairs, of a cooler and a walk-in freezer, totaling about $30,000;

— Agreed to hire Top Form, Inc., based in Rensselaer, for athletic trainer services for three years, beginning on Aug. 1. Top Form, one of two vendors who responded to a request for proposals, will be paid $26,500 the first year; $27,250 the second year; and $28,750 the third year.

The trainers are state-certified, said Sanders, and they "help cut down on injuries" with preventative conditioning programs. They also evaluate injuries and refer injured athletes to medical professionals.

Board member Denise Eisele asked, "Isn’t that something the coaches should be doing""

"This speaks to proper conditioning and care for athletes," said Sanders. He also said if, for example, a player were hurt on the football field, "We can’t take the coach out of the game."

Superintendent Gregory Aidala said athletic trainers are "a great help to the athletes themselves."

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo complimented Wayne Bertrand, the athletic director, on hiring trainers from "an outside source" and suggested doing so with other jobs, such as for occupational therapists, which, she said, would save the district on health-insurance costs;

— Approved spending $22,161.02 on musical instruments from funds included in the 2006-07 budget.

Board Vice President John Dornbush said the district has an excellent music program and this was "putting our money where our mouth is";

— Approved an agreement with the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York to permit "to the extent of its ability" use of school property, grounds, and equipment or mass care shelters or service centers in case of emergency.

Eisele asked if the district’s disaster plan would supersede the Red Cross.

"We give first priority to our students and their safety," said Aidala;

— Discussed creating a fraud and abuse hotline.

Weisz said it could cost $2,000 a year and might "create an atmosphere of suspicion."

Fraterrigo said such hotlines have become a standard business practice. She suggested it not be handled by the district’s auditor.

"Most fraud is caught by tip line or by accident," said Golden. "It’s really more whistle-blower protection...It’s not people informing on each other."

Dornbush said that $2,000 is a "microscopic" part of the district budget and would be worth it "to assure the public we didn’t get any calls at the end of the year";

— Heard from Superintendent Gregory Aidala that the district expects 45 new teachers this school year — 16 at the high school, 16 at the middle school, and 13 at the elementary schools.

Seventeen of them are long-term substitutes, and 28 are probationary teachers, he said.

This is a "larger than usual amount," he said.

As Aidala went over staff and student events that will open the school year, he called it "a time of excitement and enthusiasm";

— Heard congratulations from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress for student athletes and coaches whose teams were recognized as overall winners of the Suburban Council Sportsmanship award or the 2005-06 season.

Coach Pete Wachtel’s boys’ track and field team won both the 2005 spring award and the 2005-06 winter award.

Coach Gary Chatnik’s girls’ lacrosse team and Coach Dick Usher’s girls’ track and field team each came in third place.

Coach Doug LaValley’s baseball team and Coach Sean McConaghy’s boys’ lacrosse team both came in fourth place;

— Accepted from Jane Sgambellone the donation of a French horn to be used at Lynnwood Elementary School;

— Heard from Eisele that, for security reasons, board members should have identification badges when they visit district schools, just as the staff members do.

Aidala said such badges are being made up; and

— Met in executive session to discuss, according to the agenda, a "Student Issue" and the "School Resource Officer program."

The program stations two Guilderland Police officers in the schools — one at the high school and one at the middle school.

Aidala told The Enterprise afterwards that the board was actually discussing a specific person in executive session, as the law allows, rather than the program. He said there was no dissatisfaction with the program.

Fired: Ketchum’s former employees say

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Fallout from a change in management at a local landmark — a convenience store and gas station — sparked controversy this week.

An exodus of long-time Ketchum’s employees following Fair Week has left the store understaffed, with a "help wanted" sign posted on the door. Employees say that they were fired; the new management says that the employees quit.

Additionally, a former Ketchum’s customer has claimed that the new store was selling crack pipes last week.

This August marked Stacy Delligan’s 10th year working at the local convenience store, she said. As of Tuesday, she no longer works there. After the new owners fired many of her co-workers earlier this week, she quit, said Delligan.

In a letter to the Enterprise editor, Delligan said, "We all put in extra hours during the Altamont Fair, as well as preparing extra food and advising the new lessee" This was rewarded by ‘Black Monday.’"

"Everyone was gone except us three females," Delligan told The Enterprise. Facing longer hours alone in the store they turned in their keys, she said.

Long-time owners Tom and Sally Ketchum recently sold their store to Altamont Petroleum, which is owned by the Connecticut-based company, GRGH, for $787,500.

Michael Dingman, who had been managing the store for the last couple of weeks, after the store changed hands, won’t be working there any more either, he said. Dave Singh, who oversees the store for GRJH, will be at the store with Ruba Kumar. Initially, Dingman had been managing the store because the regulars objected to Singh, said Delligan. "The community just didn’t want him," she said.

Singh referred The Enterprise to the company’s lawyer, Matthew Sgambettera, to answer questions. Sgambettera said on Wednesday that he wasn’t prepared to answer questions at this time. Regarding the change in employees, he said, "Employee turnover is normal in this business."

Crack pipes"

Glass pipes, billed as tobacco pipes, were on sale at the Altamont Sunoco last week.

"The owners brought them in for Fair Week," said Dingman, the former manager of the store. He said that he didn’t know what the blown glass pipes were meant to be used for.

According to Altamont resident Richie Sanderson, the pipes were clearly meant for smoking crack cocaine, although their box labeled them as for tobacco use. "I’ve been smoking for 40 years," said Sanderson, "and I’ve never used one of them to smoke tobacco."

His biggest concern, said Sanderson, is the drug rehab center, Altamont House, located a quarter mile away. As an alcoholic who’s been sober for 23 years, he speaks to patients at Altamont House, he said that he fears the suggestion a pipe could give to a rehab patient.

"I feel it is a shame," Sanderson wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, "that people can walk into a store in Altamont with their children and be exposed to an item used for smoking crack when we as parents and grandparents are doing everything in our power to keep people off drugs."

Altamont’s public safety commissioner, Anthony Salerno, went to the store after Sanderson alerted him to the pipes. Salerno found no pipes at the store and told The Enterprise that the owner "stated that he doesn’t have them anymore." It is legal to sell the pipes, said Salerno.

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