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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, April 12, 2007

BKW adopts $19.3M budget

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Anticipating a fall vote for building renovations to its high school, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education voted unanimously last week to adopt a $19.3 million budget proposal for 2007-08, a 4.1-percent increase over this year’s budget.

Though the proposed tax-rate increase for the district isn’t as low as last year’s, the $19.3 million plan represents the lowest spending increase since the district’s 2000-01 contingency budget.

"I’m not sure that there’s much more that you could cut from this budget," said School Board President Joan Adriance.

If the budget is approved by voters on May 16, it will increase the tax levy 4-percent.

This year, Berne residents paid $26.40 per $1,000 of assessed value; Knox residents paid $28.43; New Scotland, $18.48; Middleburgh, $26.07; Wright, $22.42; Rensselaerville, $28.00; and Westerlo residents paid $1,811.96.

Westerlo has not undergone revaluation in decades so many properties are valued at a fraction of their worth.

"We’ve tried to trim the spending and get as close to last year’s tax levy," Superintendent Steven Schrade said during a budget workshop. This year, the school tax levy went up 2.4-percent over the previous year. "Even with the low rate of expenditures," he said, "the reason we can’t meet [it] is because this year’s projected state aid is not as great as last year’s."

The district expects $8,149,249 in state aid, an increase of $329,552, or 4.2-percent over this year’s. BKW Business Administrator David Weiser said the increase in state aid is partially due to a fire-alarm project earlier that generated $67,353.

If the budget is voted down in May, the district’s contingency plan, with a state-set cap, would be only about $50,000 less than the proposed budget. If a budget is defeated, a school district can do one of three things — put the same budget up for a second vote, put a reduced budget up for a vote, or move directly to a contingency plan. A second budget defeat requires the district to use a contingency plan. If the district moves to a contingency plan, cuts would include: equipment, student supplies, community use of buildings, and salary increases.

Although BKW has had difficulty passing budgets in past years, the 2006-07 budget was approved on the first vote last spring. Passing the district’s 2007-08 budget in May has been one of the board’s goals, revisited at many school board meetings.

"Looking at it in the most simple terms"we’re only voting on about $50,000," said School Board Vice President Edward Ackroyd during a budget workshop. "Do we want to ask the voters for more"" he asked.

Voters, Schrade said, will be asked for more in the fall when they will decide on building renovations.

Renovations to the high school, driven by the Help Americans With Disabilities Act, were first presented in December by architect Karl Griffith of Cataldo, Waters, and Griffith.

The district is looking at three different plans, which could cost taxpayers anywhere from $2.3 million to $3.7 million.

Board member John Harlowe called the budget "very tight" and "very prudent," with the anticipation the district will be doing a required building project in the fall.


The lion’s share of costs are for salaries and benefits, largely set by contracts regulated with the school board.

The proposed budget includes added special education programs; the district transports some special education students out of the district. The programs would keep autistic students within the district. Schrade said that a classroom in the elementary building could be converted to a "self-contained" room similar to one in a BOCES program.

"Our district has more out-of-district placements than any other school in the Capital District," Schrade said.

The budget adds a foreign language program in the elementary school, which adds a part-time teaching position. Schrade said current staff could also be used to help teach the program; the language has not yet been determined, he said.

The Parent Teacher Association has been holding an after-school foreign language program on Wednesdays, which, PTA leaders said in February, "has outgrown itself."

Schrade said two 30-minute periods, rotating on a six-day cycle, could be allotted for each elementary class.

The budget also adds a part-time AIS/English teacher for both schools. Two college-level Advanced Placement courses — biology and art history — will also be added to the high school.

The district entered into an inter-municipal agreement with BOCES for $7,800 for an internal auditor, which is now required by the state. Weiser called the inter-municipal agreement the "cheaper approach" than the district finding an auditor on its own.

To meet requirements set by the Government Accounting Standards Board, the district also entered into a contract with BOCES for $20,800, which, Weiser said, is "a start-up cost." He said he expects the costs to decrease in the future after the programs have been in place.

The budget shows a $24,000 decrease in the cost of the school’s lunch program. The program, Weiser said, "is starting to see some increased efficiency."

Health insurance increased 9.6-percent, and retirement benefits increased approximately 8.5-percent.

Grant writer to aid in town hall project

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — With plans to renovate Town Hall, the town board voted Tuesday to hire a grant writer to aid in the project.

The board voted unanimously to enter into a one-year renewable contract with Susan Lombardi of Community Development Resources, based in Burnt Hills (Schenectady County). Lombardi was also hired this year by Glenville as its grant writer.

The town will pay Lombardi a $325 retainer, which will be applied to her first five hours of service. She will be paid $65 per hour. Supervisor Michael Hammond called Lombardi "a very viable candidate."

Lombardi, Hammond told The Enterprise, has put forth "quite the resume," and been "very successful" securing money for capital projects.

"We have several changes that will be made," Hammond said of the project.

The plans originally had a garage for an ambulance, which is no longer needed because the Emergency Medical Services has made other arrangements.

Plans, under discussion on and off for over a decade, were most recently discussed in January. The town board ruled the million-dollar price too high after plans came back two years ago.

The latest plans include: a multi-use assembly space for the town court, the town’s three boards, polling, and storage; an elevator; and a more accessible entrance. Renovations would make the toilet facilities and access to all floors and spaces code-compliant. Plans also include two conference rooms, a fire-proof storage space for all town records, and driveway paving and landscaping.

In January, the board revisited plans after resident Helene O’Clair in December recommended the town reconsider the project and appoint an oversight committee.

The $1.05 million figure for the project, Hammond said in January, isn’t accurate. The plans were drawn up by Charles Sacco, of Sacco-McKinney Architects, in April of 2005.

In addition to the ambulance squad finding a different facility, other cuts discussed in January include: driveway paving could be completed by town employees, and the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill could do the landscaping, which amounts to $35,000. The town’s capital reserve fund, for special building projects, Hammond told The Enterprise, is now at about $260,000, plus any interest accrued since January.

"I think we’re in a good position to support this project financially," Hammond said.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Voted unanimously to approve Hammond’s attending a May budgeting workshop sponsored by the Association of Towns and the state comptroller’s office. The Finance and Management School is an annual workshop held at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs (Saratoga County). Hammond said the workshop is "critically important" and trains elected officials on "unique bookkeeping" and "how-tos" for successful budgeting. The $200 registration fee, Hammond said, includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and materials;

— Heard from planning board Chairman Robert Price that, shortly after a local law was enacted for cell-tower placement, an individual is showing interest in placing a cell tower in the town. "It’s still very much up in the air," Price said. Price said there is an abandoned 5-acre lot on Street Road, where the tower could be placed. He said he and the individual discussed the possibility of a 150-foot tall "free-standing" lattice tower, which would cost less than a monopole and "you’d be able to see through it";

— Voted unanimously to authorize Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury to purchase a new hydraulic cylinder for the town’s recycling center not to exceed $3,200, including shipping. Salisbury said he had trouble purchasing from Marathon Equipment Company, a recycling equipment company based in Vernon, Ala. Salisbury said the cylinder has cracked, resulting in five gallons of hydraulic fluid leaking in one week. The cylinder, he said, had been welded but continues to crack in other places.

"If it doesn’t work, we have immediate problems," Salisbury said. Councilman Nicholas Viscio recommended R and L Hydraulics in Ohio. Viscio said R & L is "reasonable" and "very fast." Price said he had recently bought two hydraulic cylinders from Parker Harrington, which he suspected have similar specifications. Price said he would investigate the ram and meet with Salisbury; and

— Heard from Salisbury that the Association of Towns will hold its annual highway school in Ithaca (Tompkins County) in June.

Tattoo artist wants to make mark in Knox

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — After operating a tattoo parlor in Daytona Beach, Fla. for 30 years, Angelo Renko said it was time to come home.

Renko brought a proposal to the Knox zoning board last month for what he terms a "low-key" tattoo parlor out of his Knox home at 143 Beebe Road in Knox. The next meeting is scheduled for April 26. To operate the business out of his home, Renko needs a special-use permit from the town. Earl Barcomb, who chairs the board, did not return calls to The Enterprise this week.

Renko, a long-time tattoo artist said he has worked all over the world, in Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium.

Originally from Peekskill in Manhattan, Renko said he retired in 2002. "I get bored and I miss doing it," he said.

While operating his parlor in Florida, he said he worked long hours, some days spending 15 hours in the store. He often wouldn’t leave his shop, 700 feet from where he lived, until 1, 2, or 3 a.m., he said.

Over the years, he has built a steady clientele, which consists of "higher end," and "serious" customers, Renko said. Many of his customers, he said, have come to him before. Renko said he has traveled overseas solely to tattoo. Some tattoo enthusiasts, he said, have gotten together and paid his airfare.

While in Florida, he said, many of his customers from the Northeast would travel south for his services. Now that he’s closer to those customers, he said, they shouldn’t have a problem making the shorter trip.

Renko said he doesn’t want people in and out of his business at odd hours. Nor does he want intoxicated customers, minors, or people who haven’t thought their decision through. His business, he said, will be "completely separate" from his house and it will be small, possibly with only a sign bearing his first name in his yard. Renko said he plans on doing little or no advertising.

Renko said he has been the featured artist in Tattoo Revue, and his work has appeared in 40 of the magazine’s issues. Renko has written articles, and received first place out of 21 countries in the National Tattoo Society, he said.

He is selective about what tattoos he will draw, he said. At times, he said, he turns potential customers away.

"There are tattoos that I refuse to do," he said.

Customers, he said, have brought him many requests. He said he has tattooed portraits, album covers, and done custom work.

Renko tattooed a man’s entire body, which, he said, took 18 years to complete. A multitude of colors and a plethora of shapes cover his legs, arms, and torso. An eagle about to take flight is stamped to the man’s chest.

"I’ve never been stumped," Renko said, adding that he has also never limited himself as an artist. "I wanted to be able to cover a broad range," he said.

Being honest with his customers, he said, is important to him. Many of his clients have been tattooed before; he will tattoo first-timers, he said, but only after explaining "the pitfalls."

Some people don’t know what they’re getting involved in when choosing a tattoo, he said. They may see someone else’s tattoo, and note its beauty. They may see another and say it’s "hideous."

After getting a tattoo, he said, some feel disappointed and think they have made a mistake. "It’s not a mistake," Renko said, and listed many reasons for some clients’ deflated enthusiasm, which include: getting their tattoo from a poor tattoo artist, choosing the wrong tattoo, and placing a tattoo on the wrong part of the body.

"You see so many terrible tattoos," he said. A lot of tattoo artists, he said, don’t have an art background. Some tattoo artists, he said, may be good with a canvas as a medium, but lack skills with skin. Skin is much different, he said; it sweats, bleeds, and stretches.

"The first tattoo everyone walks into blindly," he said. "I spend a lot of time talking to customers to put their mind at ease."

Appointments will be by invitation only, Renko said. Since many people work during the day, he said, he plans to schedule customers for late afternoons, early evenings, and weekends.

If approved by Knox, Renko said he hopes to open for business in mid-May.

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