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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2007
Crosier seeks shared services, Hamilton questions tactics
By Tyler Schuling
BERNEAs Supervisor Kevin Crosier updated residents last week about the towns highway department sharing services with the countys department of public works, Councilman James Hamilton questioned him throughout.
Crosier said he was pursuing shared services at the boards behest after it had rejected the plan for the merger.
According to the Department of State’s website, Albany County will receive a grant totalling nearly $300,000, "to look at combining their department of public works Berne field office with the town of Berne highway department."
"The new combined unit would utilize the fueling station and road salt storage facility at the county facility, and the office and the garage at the town facility. The county would lease the town office, garage, and equipment," the site says.
Hamilton cited the announcement on the DOS website, and asked if Crosier knew the county had gotten the grant.
"I don’t know anything about it," Crosier responded.
"Very curious," said Hamilton.
Crosier said that the town is not entitled to the money since the board did not pass a resolution to apply for the grant money in October.
"I don’t know what to tell you. Did we pass a resolution"" Crosier asked.
"No," said Hamilton.
"Well, there you go," Crosier said.
The Department of State did not return calls to The Enterprise this week.
Kevin Kemmet, one of the town’s highway workers and the town’s solid waste coordinator, said he wanted answers to the questions he had asked at the town board’s last meeting. Kemmet cited the DOS website and asked, "How much of the grant money is going to go back to the town to pay Ray Storm’s wages for the time he’s spent with Don Gray to devise a snow route plan"" Storm is the town’s highway superintendent.
Kemmet said Alexander "Sandy" Gordon had said earlier that $50,000 of the grant money would be used to pay a consultant to devise a snow route plan.
Kemmet asked what the board’s definition of "shared services" is, adding, "Would that mean that the town would allow the county to take over our shop""
Albany County has not been formally notified about the grant, Kerri Battle, county spokeswoman, told The Enterprise this week. But based on the information on the Department of States website, Battle said, the county has inquired about the status of the grant application since the town did not pass the appropriate resolution.
"At this point, we’re waiting for guidance from the Department of State," she said.
Last year, Crosier, along with Storm and county officials, pushed for the merger of the towns highway department with the county. The merger proposal, which estimated one-time benefits at $394,000, immediate annual benefits at $162,670, and future annual benefits at $303,300, was initially met with widespread opposition led by Berne highway workers.
"Real savings," highway workers said in a statement which ran in The Enterprise in December, "can be achieved through shared services contracts, which do not require the merger."
"During real emergencies, there are some county roads that get lower priority because county trucks are plowing state roads. If town roads get added to the county list, they will have even lower priority in serious emergencies," they said.
In October, during the budgeting process, Crosier included the merger in his 2007 budget. His budget was not approved, and no board member seconded his motion to apply for state grant money to be used in the consolidation of the towns highway department with the county.
Hamilton and Councilman Joseph Golden called the merger "a takeover," Golden likening the merger to handing the keys of his vehicle over to someone, not having any assurances of what shape it would be returned or if it would be given back.
As the town board worked on budgeting in the fall, Golden called the merger figures "hypothetical." No documentation was presented for the board’s review.
The towns property taxes increased 20 percent in 2007, with residents paying $4.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The four council members approved the budget, with Crosier opposing it. At the towns December meeting, many locals responded to the tax hike, saying they want informational meetings on both consolidation and shared services.
Hamilton, Crosier clash
"When you put the merger in your budget, we said, ‘Where’s the contract" We have nothing to go by.’ That’s when we wanted something. Now, if we’re going to look at shared services, I think it’s sensible to talk about it a little bit first. What services would we share"" Hamilton said to Crosier last week.
"Now, you’ll have both of them, and you can discuss it all you want," Crosier responded. "Maybe you’ll even get the residents a 20-percent tax decrease," he said.
"Maybe," said Hamilton. "There are probably ways we can," he said.
"The town board directed me to look at shared services with the county"We will finalize the information put together on shared services, and once we complete that, we’ll send it out to the town board for their review," Crosier said.
The town, he said, "will start to have informational meetings on consolidation. People can get a look at both of them."
"Can the board get an idea of what services we’re looking at sharing"" Hamilton asked.
Crosier said that "it would take over an hour to go over," adding, "I don’t have it in front of me."
Crosier then cited Governor Eliot Spitzers speech in the middle of February in New York City, where the new governor said he has allotted an additional $10 million in his proposed budget for consolidation of services. Any municipality that consolidates a service will get a 25-percent increase in its state aid, Crosier said, adding that a dozen towns downstate have consolidated.
"They’re showing huge savings," he said.
"Whether we like it or not, there’s just way too many taxing jurisdictions in the state of New York. We are 52 percent higher than the rest of the nation in taxes. Unless somebody else can give us an idea on how to reduce taxes, I’ve got to tell you, I think the governor is right on track. This is one of the ways that we can make substantial savings to the taxpayer," Crosier said.
"It’s something we need to look at," he said.
Hamilton responded, saying, "The way to get the town board to go along with these types of things is to involve us right from the bottom so we know what’s going on."
"You asked me to go out and put together the shared services".That’s what I’m doing. I did what you asked me to do," Crosier said.
"I just don’t want to see you start all over again from scratch here and bring back something that we possibly don’t like," said Hamilton.
"I’m going to bring a draft to you for your review. You can look at it. You can make your comments. It’s what you wanted. It’s what I did," said Crosier.
"I wanted to be cut in from the bottom," said Hamilton.
"You can change it. It doesn’t mean that anything is set in stone," said Crosier.
"When I bring that back, you’ll be able to talk about it all you want. You’ve got to start somewhere," said Crosier.
"I just think it’s the long process to take potentially," said Hamilton.
"We’ve got to start somewhere," Crosier responded.
"Open conversations during meetings is a good way to start," said Hamilton.
Crosier said that, once board members have a draft, they can have conversations.
"Until then, you don’t have anything in front of you. What are you going to discuss" You don’t have any facts or figures"Once we have those facts and figures, then you can make your own decisions and discuss any option you want," said Crosier.
"But you’ll have the facts and figures on the things that you’ve investigated," said Hamilton.
Crosier said, "We’ve looked at everything."
"You’ve looked at everything"" Hamilton asked.
"We’ve tried to look at everything with the county and the town, and, unless you come up with something different, it’s a draft. It’s what you wanted," said Crosier.
"That’s not what I wanted," said Hamilton. "I did not ask for that," he said.
"Well, that’s what we did," said Crosier.
Kemmet has questions
Kemmet, the Berne highway worker, questioned county methods last week.
"The current supervisor of the department of public works at the Cole Hill site," Kemmet said, "makes his operators drive 100 miles per night whether it’s snowing or not so he doesn’t have to worry about them sleeping. That is a sin."
Kemmet cited high fuel prices and the "wear and tear" on vehicles and said of the supervisor not trusting his people to sleep, "That right there made me sick when I heard that."
Westerlo does not have to do that, Kemmet said, adding, "So it’s not a state-wide thing."
Equipment operators are not required to drive 100 miles each night, Kerri Battle, spokeswoman for Albany County, told The Enterprise this week. When it’s not snowing, operators are asked to drive their routes twice in shifts, she said, adding that there are fewer than 30 county miles in Berne. During that time, operators look for road hazards and areas that need to be maintained, such as potholes, she said. Battle added that the nearby town of Westerlo has "significantly" more county miles than Berne.
Kemmet also said the highway department’s two-way radios "do not work properly." Kemmet asked the board to "get something started with bids."
Kemmet asked the board at the beginning and the end of the meeting if the board had answers to his questions.
"I don’t have the answers to your questions," Crosier said near the end of the meeting.
In other business, the town board:
Heard from Gerald OMalley, the towns tax collector, that 84 percent of the towns tax bills have been paid so far this year; 312 residents have not paid;
Heard an update on the town’s sewer project from Crosier and Michael Vincent, a volunteer for the sewer district. Crosier said that the town met with Lamont Engineers, and the main sewer pipe may be able to be shifted 10 feet over. "We may be able to eliminate 10 grinder pumps," he said, adding that it could result in a $100,000 savings.
Vincent reported that he and Gerard Chartier, a liason for the sewer district, have started doing house updates on sill reports and easements. "We’re approximately half-way done with those," Vincent said. The sewer district, he said, is making appointments with people who are not at home.
"We’re working on mains and easements first because we need to have meetings with the DOT to show them to get permits and permission to go on the road," Crosier said.
Crosier reported that test holes have been dug up at the sewer treatment plant site for the soil investigation, and the contracts for the land with the Johnsons, who own the land, have been signed.
In the next month, he said, the town will be finalizing easements with the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District for the use of the outfall pipe and egress into the treatment site;
Heard from Jim OShea, president of the Berne Librarys board of trustees, that the library, which initially expected approximately $47,000 in grant money on Feb. 1, has been awarded $65,685. The Berne Library is planning to move to a new building at Berne Town Park. The library received a $2,500 donation from the Tenzin Gyatso Institute for Wisdom and Compassion last month, and former planning board member, Mildred Johansson, has donated $2,000. The library has also received a $1,000 donation and two $500 dollar donations from individuals;
Heard from Crosier that World Changers, a Christian youth service organization, which has done volunteer work in Berne in partnership with Albany County Rural Housing, will not be coming to Albany County this year; and
Heard from Crosier that he received a letter from the Mohawk and Hudson Humane Society in Menands. The society, he said, charges the town $275 for holding stray dogs for seven days. Crosier said Cheryl Tefts-Baitsholts, the towns dog control officer, who has her own kennel, would charge considerably less to take in the stray dogs.
Tefts-Baitsholts would charge $15 per day for the first seven days. It is mandatory, he said, to hold stray dogs for 15 days. After the mandatory holding period, Crosier told The Enterprise yesterday, Tefts-Baitsholts would hold the dogs at no additional charge to the town and would then try to adopt them out.
If an owner claims a dog, he will reimburse the town for the fee. The humane societys location in Menands, he said, is nearly an 80-mile round-trip from the town. Crosier said he contacted Westerlo Supervisor Richard Rapp and asked if Westerlo would be interested.
Westerlo supports grant for low-income senior housing
By Tyler Schuling
WESTERLO The town board voted unanimously last week to support a grant application for low-income housing in Westerlo.
However, the board raised concerns about zoning and water for the project.
The estimated $4.5 million project, proposed by Albany County Rural Housing Alliance, would be located on an approximately 10-acre parcel on Route 1. The project would have 24 low-cost rental units and would be available to people 55 or older who live anywhere in the state.
A one-person rental unit would cost between $420 and $550, and a two-person unit would cost $550 to $600 per month, said Susan Bacon Kimmel, president of Two Plus Four Construction Companies, based in East Syracuse, which is to build the complex. Residents, Kimmel said, would be required to make no more than half of the areas median income $23,150 for a single room and $26,500 for a double room.
ACRHA has senior-housing facilities in Ravena and Feura Bush.
All rooms would be accessible to those with handicaps, said Kimmel, adding that, if a senior who was not previously handicapped becomes handicapped while living at the facility, he or she would not have to leave their room and move to a different one.
Judith Eisgruber, the executive director of ACRHA, and Two Plus Four Construction Companies first presented the project to the town board in early February. Last week, Eisgruber and Kimmel said they were on a "time crunch" to submit their application to the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal for grant money to aid the project. A letter saying the town is in support of their project, they said, would help the project score higher in the grant application.
"We have to prove to the state of New York that there is a need and there is a demand within the community for this type of housing," said Kimmel, adding that the grant application is "a very competitive process."
The state gets about 150 applications each year, she said, and the state grants between 30 and 40 projects.
"This is not an approval for the site. This is not an approval for the way the building is arranged. It’s simply the town saying to the state of New York, ‘Please invest in my community. We need this for our seniors. Our seniors need a safe, affordable place to live. The developers are willing to work with us, and we want you to make this investment,’" she said.
Councilman Ed Rash and Councilman Gregory Zeh had reservations last week because no documentation had been presented to the board and because the board had only recently heard of the project.
"We heard about this three weeks before your grant," said Zeh; he said he wished he had more information.
"Legally, our zoning law prohibits this," said Alene Galgay, the town’s attorney.
Residents and board members wanted assurances last week that the senior complex would be made available first to area residents. Because of its funding, the facility would be open to anyone in the state on a first come-first served basis. When competing for a unit, priority would not be given to an applicant with a lower income.
Rash asked if the town could enforce "more severe laws" and have the option to make a requirement that "75-percent of its occupancy to be first-choice of local residents."
"Not with this type of funding," Galgay said.
Eisgruber said that many who live at ACRHAs senior housing complex in Feura Bush are area residents. ACRHA, she said, holds open houses, which attract many local people.
Resident Ken Drumm, who worked extensively on the town’s water district, said that, though the complex may not hold seniors exclusively from the area initially, Westerlo residents "over a period of time" would probably occupy the units.
"From a legal standpoint, legally our zoning law prohibits a variance for this type of a situation where it’s for the benefit of the seller to sell the property," said Galgay.
This type of housing is not identified in the towns zoning laws, said Edwin Lawson, a town building inspector.
"It would have to be identified specifically as an apartment house, which is not identified now," he said.
If the conceptual plan is approved, Lawson said, there are a lot of challenges to be met to make the building satisfy the states and towns codes.
R. Mark Dempf, of Vollmer Associates, the firm that engineered the town’s water district, used past figures to estimate the water usage for the 28-bed facility. Dempf said the water system hadn’t been designed along Route 1 with a facility such as the proposed senior development in mind. "Everything we thought about here was single-family residential," he said.
Town residents are using the water frugally, said Dempf, "as if it were well water." He added, "We’re hoping people will continue to do that." Dempf said a fire hydrant would need to be placed at the facility, which would allow 300 feet of hose to reach around either side of the building. "It looks as though we’ll be able to supply this," he said.
Cost for buying into the towns water district, he said, would cost $30,000 to $50,000, with a minimum buy-in of two to three years.
"We have $180,000 in our contingency," said Kimmel.
After discussion, Supervisor Richard Rapp asked what the board felt.
"I feel go ahead with it," Councilman Robert Snyder said.
The town board, with four members attending, then voted unanimously to approve of a pilot for the project, and Zeh agreed to write a letter for Eisgruber and Kimmel to submit with their application.
Any conceptual decision, Galgay said, does not legally obligate the town to approve anything.
"Bottom line, the application can go in with or without the letter," said Galgay, adding that the letter shows "a desire" for the project. Regulatory authority on the project, she said, lies with the planning board and zoning board of appeals.
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