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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 1, 2007

Fuzzy reception
Residents not sure on 150-foot cell tower

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – While public opinion varies widely over whether a 150-foot cell tower should be allowed near the town’s oldest church, sentiment sounds united for the struggling New Scotland Cemetery Association.

The cell tower would be located on land owned by the cemetery association, bringing in hefty leasing fees.

Without any financial assistance, the cemetery can sustain itself for two more years, before it would, by law, have to be turned over to the town, said Arlene Herzog, a member of the cemetery association.

"As a community, we should find another way to support the cemetery," said resident Mardell Steinkamp, a member of the church, at a public hearing last week jon the cell tower proposal.

Resident Edie Abrams pleaded with the cemetery association, "Let the community help you because we value the cemetery and we value the church" I’m Jewish and I want to help you."

"The biggest negative aspect of this cell tower is that it’s not built yet," said resident Bruce Zeh. If the cemetery is turned over to the town, burials will stop, said Zeh.

Zeh said that his father is buried in the New Scotland Cemetery, and his 93-year-old mother intends to be buried there as well. "I don’t want to tell her she can’t be buried there," he said, adding that maybe the town could.

Kathy Ricky, an elder within the church, responded by explaining that, even if the cemetery were to be run by the town, burials would continue in existing family-owned lots. She added that she is "opposed to the cell tower for historic reasons."

Herzog announced that lots are currently for sale, and interested residents should contact the cemetery association.

A variety of concerns were voiced last Tuesday in a packed Town Hall.

Members of the New Scotland Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1787, oppose the tower, citing its impact on the historical significance of the church and the cemetery, where the bodies of 14 Revolutionary War soldiers and a United States representative are buried.

Supporters say that it will improve safety in the town. The New Salem Fire Department and the Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company have expressed interest in co-locating on the tower.

Several residents with family members buried in the cemetery vowed they would not be buried in a cemetery that was maintained by the town, and support the tower because it will provide much-needed income for the cemetery association.

The applicants — Enterprise Consulting Services, a company that develops wireless telecommunications structures; T-Mobile; and the New Scotland Cemetery Association — are requesting a use variance to allow for a tower in a commercial district, and two area variances, one for the height, and one to allow a reduced lay-down area.

If the tower is approved, a 150-foot monopole will be constructed in a vacant field just east of the cemetery itself. [See related stories on-line at www.altamontenterprise.com, under archives for New Scotland for the dates: Oct. 5, 2006; and Sept. 6, Oct. 4, and Oct. 18 in 2007].

The board will make a decision on the application at its Nov. 27 meeting.

The need for the tower

Mike Crosby, a radio frequency engineer with T Mobile, told the board last week that a drive test of routes 85 and 85A was conducted last Monday. It indicated there was little to no T Mobile coverage in the area, he said. However, coverage does exist at the cemetery, as it sits on a hill, and makes it a desirable location for a tower, Crosby said.

Jacqueline Phillips Murray, the attorney who represents Enterprise Consulting Solutions, told The Enterprise that, during a drive test, a radio frequency engineer uses a special handset to test existing coverage in a designated area. The device collects data and determines the signal strength at every point along a given roadway, she said.

The special handset tests consistently, Murray said. It uses a three-color scale to establish the quality of the signal, if any, she said. Black indicates no signal; green indicates that a signal can be produced within a structure; and yellow means that the signal is strong enough to service people in cars, she said.

The coverage objective, Murray told The Enterprise, is to extend service to the north and east of the proposed site. "There is no service there for T Mobile," she said.

Several tests are used to determine the needed height of a tower, Crosby told the board. "Rest assured there is a lot of evaluation that goes into determining the height," he said. The optimal tower height was calculated to be 180 feet, Crosby explained, and, a height lower than 150 feet would result in dropped calls.

"The frequency at which T Mobile operates is different than what other companies operate at," Murray said this week. Verizon’s signal, for example, reaches farther, she said, referring to the possibility of co-location at lower heights on the tower.

Federal Communications Commission licensing is the reason for the differences in frequency, Murray said. "T Mobile was one of the last entrants into the market," she said.

Notice policy

Abrams opened the public-comment portion of last week’s meeting with concerns regarding the town’s policy for informing residents of public hearings.

The town mails letters to landowners within 500 feet of a particular site, Paul Cantlin, the town’s building inspector and zoning administrator, told The Enterprise.

Blackbird Prime Properties, a 33.6-acre mobile-home park, is located east of the cemetery along Route 85. Howard Amsler owns it; he has more than 35 lots currently occupied.

Amsler did not inform his tenants of the public hearing, Abrams told the board; she added that some residents were upset they were not told. Abrams suggested that the town revise its notification policy, adding that 500 feet is too small of an area for a proposal such as the cell tower, which would likely affect commuters along routes 85 and 85 A more than residents who live only 500 feet away.

Cantlin said this week that there is "almost no way" the town would have access to the names and addresses of Amsler’s tenants. The notice of the hearings on the cell tower proposal, he said, was sent to landowners within 500 feet.

At the request of the planning-board or zoning-board chairmen, the town can increase the notification area to 1,000 or 1,500 feet, or whatever they feel is adequate, Cantlin said.

"I checked with neighboring towns and they do the same," he said.

Amsler told The Enterprise this week that he has "unfortunately" been out of town for several weeks. "I wanted to notify my residents and attend the public hearing, but I am out of town," he said.

He has some concerns about the fall zone and aesthetics, as well as long-term medical effects the tower might have on local residents, he said.

"I don’t ever like to stop growth," said Amsler. He said he believes there are other locations in town that would be better suited for the tower. "Why would we want to put it in a residential hamlet"" he asked.

Opposing views

Daniel Mackay, a New Scotland South Road resident who works as the director of public policy with the Preservation League of New York State, has been vocal in his opinion that the tower would negatively affect the historic character of the area.

"It irks me that, in one of the more historic corners of our town" the applicant has manipulated the process" and SHPO [State Historic Preservation Office] let them get away with it," Mackay said at last week’s meeting.

At the time the application was first submitted, neither the church nor the cemetery had been nominated for consideration of eligibility on the state or national historical registers.

Since SHPO issued a letter indicating there would be "no effect" to historic or cultural resources, members of the church have contacted the state’s historic office requesting an eligibility determination, which was granted, said church member, Margaret Ewart.

"We ask that the board consider this status," said Ewart.

"While the federal process may be over, the zoning and planning process is not," said Mackay.

Murray said this week that historical concerns have already been considered. "We did everything that was required," she said. "We asked SHPO for their opinion, it replied there would be no effect," she said, adding that the applicants’ obligation has been met.

"The cemetery can’t afford to operate anymore" This is an economic boon for the cemetery," said Chris Hendrickson, who has been the cemetery’s caretaker for the past 25 years.

"The cell tower is coming whether it is at the cemetery or some place else," said Hendrickson.

"There is all kinds of stuff in there that needs to be restored, and it’s never going to be restored when the highway department takes it over," he said of the cemetery’s disrepair.

The tower would be an all-out gain for the cemetery, he said. The area where the tower is proposed is "worthless wetland," he said.

"If it’s a win for the cemetery, it’s a win for the town of New Scotland, and for the taxpayers," Hendrickson said.

Mardell Steinkamp, a landscape architect and member of the church, said that she feels the cell tower will be an eyesore. "We’re selling out to corporate interests," she said, adding that if the tower is approved she will be "very disappointed" with the town and its people.

"We love this town for what’s here now and we don’t want it ruined," Steinkamp said.

Barbara Moak, a member of the cemetery association, said that she has numerous family members buried in the cemetery, and had always planned to be buried there as well. "I do not want to be buried in a cemetery run by the highway department," she said.

"No one has ever come up with any real good ideas to help fix it up," said Moak, who is in favor of the tower.

"Good neighbors make good neighborhoods," said resident Katy O’Rourke. "This is all of our problem."

O’Rourke gave her "personal commitment" to the cemetery. "The cell tower seems like a drastic solution to a cemetery problem," said O’Rourke, who asked that the board give the community a chance to come together.

The town’s rural character, she said, makes New Scotland unique, and is a valuable asset. It is the zoning board’s responsibility to preserve that rural character, she said.

The tower will not help to preserve open space, it has no school-tax benefits, and will be a "scar" on the community, said O’Rourke.

"As mush as I don’t want the cell tower, I don’t want our community divided," said Ewart after more than an hour of back-and-forth between residents.

"We have tried every trick we can think of," said Corinne Weeks, a 20-year member of the cemetery association. She explained that the financial problems the association is facing are not new.

"We need a lot of things," said Weeks.

"We just lost a 1745 stone," she said, anger rising in her voice. She urged any residents with any information as to the stone’s whereabouts to come forward.

The cell tower, she said, "looks to us like a funding possibility.

"Our responsibility is to keep the cemetery going," said Weeks. Many important people are buried there, she said, adding that no one will ever know about them if the cemetery is not kept up.

On line
Two judges get Working Families bid

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – The names of two candidates running for town judge — David Wukitsch and Brendan O’Shea — will appear on the Working Families Party line in Tuesday’s election, though the party did not endorse them and it took just one signature to get them on the ballot.

"We are not supporting anyone in the race," said Karen Scharff, a party representative, who said the process had been subverted.

Wukitsch and O’Shea, who are both running on the Democratic line, circulated a petition with the help of Thomas Dolin, also a Democrat, a former town judge, and a current candidate for town supervisor.

Dolin did not seek the party’s endorsement in his campaign because he would have needed the permission of the party, and his understanding, he said, is that it does not endorse local candidates.

Under New York State Election Law, judicial candidates have the right to petition to get on the ballot; the candidates don’t need the permission of the party.

Neither Wukitsch nor O’Shea contacted the party, Scharff said. Their names will appear on the ballot even though the party did not endorse them, she said.

"It really confuses voters, because voters don’t know that the candidates got on the ballot without the support of the party," Scharff said. "Neither candidate has been interviewed or considered by party members," she said.

"It’s not their choice," Dolin said of party officials, citing the state’s Election Law.

"We’re not happy that these candidates chose to subvert our process," said Scharff.

Wukitsch and O’Shea could not be reached for comment. They arerunning a four-way race against Republicans Margaret Adkins, an incumbent judge, and John Keenan, for two judgeships. The two highest vote-getters will be elected.

Because New Scotland only has 11 voters who are enrolled in the Working Families Party, in order to satisfy the requirement of 5 percent of enrolled voters signing the petition, the candidates needed only one signature.

Wukitsch and O’Shea expressed their interest in the party’s endorsement to Dolin, he said.

"Since I’m a notary, I can witness a designating petition," said Dolin. Dolin approached Ernest Sacco, a Voorheesville resident whom Dolin knew was an enrolled member of the Working Families Party.

Dolin said that he explained to Sacco that Wukitsch and O’Shea are "fine candidates." Sacco signed the petition, which Dolin notarized, on July 12.

"It really surprised me that the Republican candidates did not do the same thing," Dolin said.

Adkins, the Republican incumbent, contacted the Working Families Party in the spring, seeking its endorsement, she said.

The Working Families Party, she said, goes through its selection process very early. "I was past the deadline," she said. She was told that she could fill out some information on-line, as some other candidates had also done, and the party would decide if it would consider any late applications, said Adkins.

The party informed her that it would not endorse any candidates, she said. Although the law allows it, Adkins was asked by the party not to circulate petitions. "And I didn’t," she said.

"I did what they asked, which is, I think, the honorable thing," Adkins told The Enterprise Wednesday.

"She did not need their permission" so that was her choice," Dolin said of Adkins’s decision not to circulate a petition.

The judicial nomination process allows party members in a township to select a candidate as opposed to being selected by a party leader who doesn’t reside in town, Dolin said.

"The process which judicial candidates pursue is probably more democratic," he said. "It puts the decision at a local level.

"There could have been a primary" for the Working Families Party line, Dolin said. "It was uncontested because no one else sought the line," he said.

"We really think that candidates who want to be on our line should go through our process," Scharff said. "We think the party should have the option to not support any candidates.

"We want to be sure that people who run on our line support our agenda" and that’s why we find it very problematic when candidates subvert that process," Scharff concluded.

New Scotland drafts $5M budget, fund balance undecided

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – The tax levy and tax rate for the town’s $5.5 million proposed 2008 budget have not yet been decided, says Supervisor Ed Clark. The town board will need to decide if it is happy with the status of the fund balance, and, if not, a decision to either raise taxes or cut spending will have to be made, Clark said.

"The fund balance is very, very strategic," Clark said of the approximately $110,000 projected rainy-day account, for the general fund in 2008. "We have to think about raising taxes to raise money for the fund balance."

When the town board approved its budget for 2003, it voted to use $364,000, leaving $725,000 in the fund balance, which was nearly double the $400,000 recommended by the state comptroller’s office.

Democratic Councilwoman Deborah Baron said that, she too, is concerned about the fund balance.

"We will need to sit down once more and fine tune it," she said of the 2008 budget.

The proposed 2008 budget represents roughly a 10-percent increase in spending over this year.

"Our A Fund is in very bad shape," Clark said of the budget’s general fund. When the fund balance gets to a point where it is too low, said Clark, the town must "spend less or tax more." It is the "very heart of the budgeting decision," he said.

Other options for consideration include cutting expenses elsewhere, not giving town employees raises, or cutting things intended to be purchased, he said.

The town’s highway budget is proposed at $1.76 million, up from $1.6 million this year.

"We have to look toward the future," said Clark, who serves as the town’s chief financial officer. The town increased taxes for the last several years at least, he said. The current tax rate is $1.07 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Clark said he is unsure how the board will act. It will have to decide where to cut expenses, or "sign off on significant tax increases," he said.

The town board is split politically with three Democrats and two Republicans.

Clark, who ran successfully for three two-year terms on the GOP line, is stepping down. Republican councilman Douglas LaGrange is running against Democrat Thomas Dolin for the supervisor post. Two Democratic council members — Baron and Richard Reilly — are running for re-election against challengers Charles Voss and Gary Schultz, both running on the Republican line.


The salaries of town employees make up a very significant portion of the budget — nearly $1.6 million, said Clark.

Typically, he said, employees receive an annual 3-percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). "I always check with other municipalities to see what they’re doing before we decide," said Clark of the raises.

Raises have an "enormous" effect on the budget, he said.

Increasing salaries is one of the areas in which the town’s Republican and Democratic board members differ.

At a budget workshop last week, Reilly suggested a two-tiered system for pay raises, said Baron of her running mate.

This year marks her fourth budget cycle, she said. It is Reilly’s eighth.

"Each time you learn a little more, and look toward the experience of others," said Baron.

Reily spoke about the inequities he has seen within the town’s clerical staff, she said. "Over the past four years, the margin has widened," she said.

In some cases, an uncomfortable working relationship has developed because of pay differences, she said.

"We believe in our people" We want them to work as a team," Baron said.

At budget time, each supervisor comes to the board and explains how wonderful their staff is and how worthy of a raise their employees are, she said.

Because the town’s workforce is so small, she said, "We can’t have too many levels."

Reilly’s proposal for two tiers — a top level and a lower level — puts a cap on raises, said Baron. The top level was determined to be $19.28 per hour for the proposed 2008 budget, she said. Once an employee reaches that level, they would be eligible for the COLA only, she eaid.

Clark said that he has unsuccessfully lobbied the board to adopt a different way of providing raises for employees. He refers to it as a "systematic job ladder."

The town should have a category of jobs and a list of what the employees for those positions should be paid relative to other jobs, he said. The salary should reflect the amount of responsibility and skills involved, he said.

"The board prefers to decide on a person-by-person basis without any systematic way of distinguishing between jobs," said Clark.

"I think there should be at least four levels of skill and responsibility," he said. "You can’t balance a budget on the backs of employees" It’s not really fair," he said, adding that denying raise requests affects employee morale.

"I’m not happy with the manner in which decisions were made about individual employees," said Clark.

Baron said that very few positions warranted a raise.

The assessing clerk’s job responsibility changed, and, said Baron,"We felt we would be comfortable with her getting more than a COLA." Under the 2008 proposal, she will earn $17.40 per hour, up from $16.41 per hour this year.

The same was true with the building department clerk, she said. Her job duties have expanded as she has progressed in the position, Baron said. "That could be justified," said Baron of the raise given to the building department clerk. She is slated to get $13.41 per hour, up from $12.65 this year.

Raises were also given to clerks for the town justices and the highway department, Baron said. "We felt that, because all the supervisors felt they were worth more, we felt comfortable with it," she said.

"We’re looking to be fiscally responsible to the town residents," said Baron. "I didn’t see any big job changes in any other category," she said.

The town assessor, Julie Nooney, had requested a pay increase of nearly $9,000, bringing her salary to $55,000. Nooney told the board that she is skilled at her job, and has gone through a townwide revaluation.

"The building inspector has a much higher salary, but I believe the responsibilities are parallel," Nooney said. The building inspector this year earned $52,624. The budget proposal increases his salary by $5,400 in addition to the COLA because of more duties for storm-water management, said Clark. His proposed 2008 salary is $59,602.

Clark backed the raise for Nooney but was outnumbered and the board decided that she should get only the COLA.

Board members are slated to earn $7,626 in 2008, and the supervisor is to earn $54,523 for the full-time post.

Senior outreach

The town’s senior outreach liaison, Susan Kidder, will now be working full time. The board approved the change and it is reflected in the 2008 preliminary budget. When the position was created, it was very part-time — the liaison primarily handed out informative pamphlets to the town’s elderly residents. The job has steadily grown — 20 hours per week became 30 hours per week in last year’s budget cycle, and now, it is full-time.

The change reflects a salary increase of roughly $7,000, to $29,178 annually.

Baron, who is the town board’s liaison for senior citizens, said that she has been impressed with the program’s growth.

When Kidder was appointed, Baron said, the board requested that she provide monthly reports. The reports really reflect the need for the position, she said.

The latest federal census, for 2000, showed that, since 1990, said Baron, the town’s population as a whole has decreased, while the senior population has increased.

In 1990, New Scotland’s population was 9,139; it decreased to 8,626 in the 2000 census. It increased slightly to 8,711 in 2006, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Seniors make up about 16 or 17 percent of the town’s population, said Baron.

"We have to do our part to make sure they have the things they need," she said.

As senior liaison, Kidder’s job entails providing elderly residents with information regarding services offered by the county, Baron said. "We need someone to help spread the word," she said.

Kidder helps people to understand, said Baron. "She’s a voice, a connection" She helps educate them," she said.

In February, the town was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Albany County and started "The Yellow Bus" program in which the town rents a bus and a driver from the Voorheesville School District to transport seniors to various community events.

"I’m just thrilled it’s gone so well" Seniors really appreciate and enjoy it," said Baron.

In the preliminary 2008 budget, the board allocated $10,000 to finance a 14-passenger senior van.

The $10,000, said Clark, is a "demonstration of the board’s intention to finance a van" We haven’t decided the best way to go about it."

The senior outreach program has "really been such a positive thing," said Baron. "There is no question we’re all extremely pleased" with the job that Kidder does, she said.

Major changes

Through the budget workshop process, the town board chose to spend $38,000 to replace the roof at Town Hall. The board decided to use funds from the 2007 budget instead of the 2008 budget, Clark said this week.

"It leaves less money in the fund balance, but it doesn’t appear in the ’08 budget," he said.

"Roof work is already underway, he said.

"I’m just thrilled it’s being accomplished in 2007," said Baron of the roof project.

The board also approved $4,000 for a software upgrade for the building department.

Last year, the board voted in favor of separating election costs out of the budget, making it a separate line item.

Clark said he guesses that the costs for 2008 will be about $28,000.

The problem, he said, is the town has not yet been charged by the county for 2007 election costs, and has not yet been told what those costs will be.

"I talked to the board of elections, and they don’t know either," said Clark. "It depends on what the legislature decides regarding voting machines," he said.

"It’s quite a mess" There is a total absence of information. We don’t know what to do, so we’re guessing," said Clark.

What to do with 6 acres"
Library surveys public for ideas

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – The Voorheesville Public Library is hoping to generate "some good conversation" around town about its future, says Gail Sacco, the library’s director.

Last September, residents of the Voorheesville School District voted in favor of a $150,000 land acquisition proposal. The overcrowded library purchased 5.6 acres of land adjacent to its existing building on School Road in Voorheesville for $100,000, and will spend $50,000 to plan how to use it.

A survey has been posted on the library’s website, voorheesvillelibrary.org, to generate ideas and give the library’s board of trustees a sense of what residents would like to see happen with the library, Sacco said.

"We have seven acres of land to create a cultural center for the school district," she said, referring to the new land along with the existing 1.5-acre site.

The library has taxing powers and follows school-district boundaries.

"We want some idea of what people who live here would like to see, before the board goes forward with trying to put a plan together," said Sacco. She encourages everyone in town to participate in the survey. It will be available until Dec. 1.

Paper copies of the survey are available at the library, where staff is more than willing to help people use the computer, Sacco said. The paper surveys are more costly, as the information then needs to be keyed into the computer, she siad.

"It should be people who have something to say and it doesn’t have to be someone who uses the library regularly. Everyone who pays taxes supports the library," she said. "However we proceed impacts everyone in the district," said Sacco.

Thus far, only about 5 percent of residents have completed the survey, Sacco said. The board is pushing to increase that, she said. Originally, the survey was going to remain posted only until Oct. 22, but the board opted to continue it to increase the feedback.

The trend, at this point, seems to be that space for young adults is needed, as well as additional space suitable for people with special needs, Sacco said. About 80 percent of those who have responded feel it is important or very important to expand the library’s space and services to keep pace with the growing community, she added.

"People would like to see more technology and more devices for people with disabilities," she said.

"A lot of times, people in wheelchairs, or who can’t see well, or hear well" they come in and they cope," Sacco said. "We want to be able to accommodate those sorts of things."

The board wants to hear residents’ concerns, their likes, and dislikes, she said.

Those surveyed have shown a "strong community support for the library," said Sacco.

Between June of 2005 and June of 2006, Sacco said, the library had 70,000 visits; circulated 115,900 items; and answered about 6,600 reference questions.

"I like the numbers, but I think the numbers can always get better," Sacco said, adding that the library website had 24,000 users in that time period.

The library will also be hosting several "focus groups" or discussion forums, she said. Linda London, an outside consultant who is experienced with community surveys and not-for-profit organizations, will conduct the focus groups. The survey results are all filtered through London, Sacco explained, adding that she was contracted for the job because of her experience.

The focus groups are "just going to be an opportunity for people to talk," Sacco said. "It’s a good thing for a group of people to come together and talk about the future of their community."

The idea, said Sacco, is to "take what people say and translate it into a plan where people get what they want." The board plans to gather all of the information from the surveys and community discussions and use it to come up with a building program to provide a visual idea of how the library will change, she said.

The library building has limited expansion capabilities because of structural issues, said Sacco.

For each new book that comes in, an older book that doesn’t get circulated often needs to be removed, Sacco told The Enterprise earlier.

"This library has no space for a parent to sit down with a young child and read a book" and that would be nice," Sacco said.

"I think that the board sees this as an opportunity to create a cultural center and a hub for the community that can really provide a broad kind of service," she said.

"This is an opportunity for each person to have a say in a major institution in the community," said Sacco, again encouraging residents to take part in the survey and the discussions. "If someone does not have a computer, and they come into the library, we would be happy to help them," she said of filling out the survey.

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