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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 1, 2009

2008 in review: Voorheesville
Heroes honored, Atlas Copco conserves water, cuts workers

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — At the start of 2008, the lives of everyday Iraqis reached Voorheesville in photographs displayed by high school students here.

“They’re very humble, simple photographs,” said Marie Triller, a photographer who teaches art at the high school, and acts as advisor to the students responsible for the exhibit.  “This gave the Iraqi people a chance to have a voice,” she said.

A not-for-profit organization called the Daylight Community Arts Foundation gave 10 Iraqis each a disposable camera and a chance to photograph whatever they decided to fix their lenses on.  Their mission: to give the American people an insider’s perspective on what it meant to be a citizen of a war-torn Iraq.

The next month, in February, the cameras were in Voorheesville as a young filmmaker, raised in the village, Chris Faulisi, shot an independent feature film.

Faulisi’s family moved to Voorheesville when he was in eighth grade, and, at 19, he couldn’t think of a better place to shoot his film, he said. “We shot mainly in my parents’ home, and in a lot of locations that I knew and was very comfortable with,” he said. “This is also my first feature film, so this seemed like the perfect place.”

“House of Cards” tells the story of a home invasion in a middle class neighborhood during the holiday season.

Larry Holden co-stars as the suburban father whose home is invaded. He’s been in three films by Oscar-nominated director Christopher Nolan — “Memento,” “Batman Begins,” and “Insomnia” — and in major network dramas like “ER” and “CSI.”

Written and directed by Faulisi, the film explores the ambiguity of morality.

“The best films are where you pose questions as opposed to where you try to provide answers, and with this film I’m trying to do that,” Faulisi said. “In life, there’re really no heroes or villains.”

Heroes, young and old

Voorheesville came up with a hero this year, though. Ninety-year old Ethel Smith was named Ladies Auxiliary Albany County Volunteer Firemen’s “Woman of the Year.” 

Smith, who is one of the founding members of Voorheesville’s auxiliary, recalled one of its first achievements.  “The ambulance service started in ’52,” she said. “We needed an ambulance so we had to solicit money. It wasn’t until years later that the town paid for it.” 

Smith helped to write the first constitution for the auxiliary, which is typed in mimeograph and jacketed in faded blue construction paper.  The auxiliary’s founding purpose was threefold: to help out the firemen during a fire (such as providing refreshment to them as they worked), to create friendships between the women in the county, and to help fund the burn unit at the Albany Medical Center.

Sitting at her dining room table, Smith displayed a lifetime’s worth of memories from her service with the auxiliary.  She has every gold button embossed with a fire hat and ladder that she has earned for her services, as well as advertisements for the auxiliary’s most popular fund-raiser for 19 years — the card parties. 

When Smith considered what her greatest achievement has been with the auxiliary, she thought back to 1951 and the early obstacles: “Getting it organized in the very beginning,” she said. “Some men in the early days weren’t in favor of including women.  Men had their own things they wanted to do.  Some didn’t want the auxiliary.”

A much younger village hero this year was 12-year-old Paul Rothberg who hosted a “Breast Cancer Event” in the village park and plans to do so again next October.

Judy Rothberg said she had pressed her son for ideas about what to do for his mitzvah and he came up with the breast cancer event on his own. In the Jewish faith, a mitzvah can be interpreted as a good deed done prior to a Jewish adolescent’s coming of age, which is usually celebrated as a bar mitzvah for boys and a bat mitzvah for girls.

Mrs. Rothberg’s mother, Ann, is a breast cancer survivor and Paul said he wanted his good deed to benefit breast cancer research. In a letter to the Voorheesville mayor in May, Paul wrote, “If I could be the reason one more woman like my Nana is breast cancer free, that would mean the world to me.”

Mrs. Rothberg described the day as a great success. Paul and his grandmother led a group of people on a walk from the Voorheesville Public Library to Nichols Park for a carnival-like afternoon filled with face painting, tug of war, basketball, and a bouncy-bounce. Judy Rothberg raffled off donations from numerous local businesses that she and Paul had solicited.

Paul and Judy Rothberg raised over $800 for their efforts that day, and had the satisfaction of sending the check and a thank-you letter to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Atlas Copco

The biggest news in business this year came from Voorheesville’s biggest business — Atlas Copco Comptec. It announced in November that, in order to specialize in the gas and process industry, it would be eliminating 42 of its 364 jobs by the end of 2009. 

Atlas Copco Comptec is part of Atlas Copco Group, a 135-year-old global company based in Stockholm, Sweden with products including compressed air and gas equipment, industrial tools, and assembly systems. 

The School Road factory in Voorheesville makes centrifugal compressors that are used to increase the pressure of gases, including air. The compressors are used in various industries ranging from natural gas processing to renewable energies. 

Company officials cited plans to outsource unspecified operations occurring at the Voorheesville facility to other Atlas Copco branches in Belgium and China. Vice President of Communications Paul Humphreys said this week that the layoffs “are not a result of the financial crisis.”

He went on, “Being a global company, there’s an opportunity to consolidate parts of business in other parts of the world. The Voorheesville plant works for a few divisions of Atlas Copco. Now it will purely be a gas and process plant.  We are consolidating resources at other plants.” 

Humphreys also stated that the Voorheesville facility’s new focus would be solely on customers in the United States.

Atlas Copco’s quarterly and annual reports confirm that the company’s finances appear to be in robust health.  The compressor sector, which includes the Voorheesville facility, posted an 11-percent revenue growth and a 7-percent growth in orders for the three quarters of 2008 over the same period last year, according to Atlas Copco’s third quarterly report for 2008.

Earlier in the year, the village had to raise water rates to make up for funds lost because Atlas Copco revamped its cooling system to conserve water.

Since Atlas Copco Comptec built its recirculating cooling tower system in late 2006, it reduced its annual water usage by more than 90 percent, or about 20 million gallons. The building process began nearly four years ago.

The company estimated that it saved $100,000 thanks to use of the cooling tower. “But it was never a cost-reduction project,” said Robert Matthews, quality assurance manager for Atlas Copco Comptec in Voorheesville. “The focus was regulatory compliance, and water conservation.”

Village budget and water

The village board subsequently voted unanimously to raise the water usage rate. At the same time, it passed a preliminary budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which showed a $30,000 decrease in revenue from metered water sales.

Trustee David Cardona told The Enterprise why.

“Atlas Copco is recycling their water now,” Cardona said, “which is wonderful on the one hand, but it hurts our revenues because they are not buying as much water from us.” He said revenues were dropping “drastically,” and that it’s “Voorheesville’s biggest issue right now.”

“It’s just that they’re our largest customer,” said Mayor Robert Conway, “so that revenue needed to be made up somehow.”

The 2008-09 budget proposed in the spring at $1.9 million was about $10,000 lower than the previous year’s.

“I think it’s a good, balanced budget,” Mayor Conway told The Enterprise.

“There’s about a 5-percent increase in taxes,” Conway said, noting the increase in the real-property tax levy, from $214,367 in the current budget, to $226,144 in the new budget. The tax rate has risen to $1.02 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“That’s about $10 more for homeowners,” added Trustee Cardona. Cardona acts as the budget officer for the village.

“Each year, we deal with pretty much the same challenge, which is to continue to provide the services our residents need, and to try to do that without incurring additional costs,” Mayor Conway said. “We make decisions on which services to continue providing, and what services to curtail, though none were curtailed this year. I think we’ve done that with a relatively small impact on the tax rate.”

There is, however, an ever-widening hole in Voorheesville’s revenue pool. Metered water sales are down $30,000.

“Water conservation is great for our water supply, but as Atlas Copco slowly weans away from purchasing our water, and starts to recycle more, we see our revenues drop drastically,” said Cardonna. “This is our biggest issue right now,” he said.

The Voorheesville Village Board tightened its water regulations for outside users in May. 

Residents outside the village who purchase Voorheesville water and are behind in their bills now have to pay sooner, or they face having their water service cut off. Residents outside the village who are delinquent in paying their water bills as of May 1 of the following year will be charged a $100 administrative fee along with having to cover the cost of a mailed notice from the village.

Prior to this, outside purchasers of village water had until May 31 to pay their bills from the previous year, after which they risked losing their water. But this, Trustee Cardona said, caused the village problems.

“Basically, for this year, the water bill goes out on June 1 whether you’re in the village or out of the village,” Cardona said. “You have until July 31 to pay it, after which you will incur late fees. We reserve the right to terminate the water service the following May.”

Finished initiatives

Several initiatives drew to completion this year in Voorheesville.

Three years ago, the village made plans to upgrade the 40-year-old firehouse on Route 156 in a million-dollar project that Trustee John Stevens, who was then the mayor, called “functional not fancy.” More space was needed for training, equipment, and community events — and the building was to be renovated to comply with current codes.

Despite controversy — particularly over the floor finish — and the looming threat of a lawsuit, Dutch Valley General Contracting finished its work in late August. The village made a last payment of $53,000 to Dutch Valley in September.

After years of controversy over billing for ambulance services, the village board heard its first report at its November meeting on revenue recovery payments.

In 2005, the ambulance squad had decided against revenue recovery, where the insurance companies of patients are billed for services. Since it’s a volunteer squad, members felt that charging for services didn’t seem right, Captain Lawrence Pakenas explained last year.

The village board and the town board requested last year that the squad reconsider because billing could alleviate the tax burden.

At the November meeting, Mayor Conway commented on the new practice, “Hopefully, all of the years of anxiety over that will have proved to be for naught.”

Pakenas responded in a December letter to the Enterprise editor, “While I would agree that this observed outcome is true, I contend that it did not happen without careful thought and a tremendous amount of effort by members of the squad.”

Finally, after years of planning, Albany County Executive Michael G. Breslin in December signed a contract to purchase the long-awaited Albany County Rail Trail from Canadian Pacific Railway.

The trail will run from the Port of Albany, partially through the town of Bethlehem, and end in the town of New Scotland in the village of Voorheesville.

The non-profit organization Scenic Hudson and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation each contributed $350,000, meeting the sale price of $700,000.

Albany County Legislator Herbert Reilly Jr. represents New Scotland and was a principal sponsor of the program five years ago, he said in August. Reilly said that the legislature has money set aside to do improvements like adding guide rails where the rail had run over a creek. Highway crossings already have guide rails, he said. The county will put in a 10-foot-wide strip of leveled and graded crushed stone — a surface that would be good for a runner’s ankle, he said.

The county cost will be $2.9 million, which will be used to refurbish the trail, according to Albany County Legislator William Aylward, who represents Guilderland. Aylward and Reilly are members of the legislature’s conservation and improvement committee. Of that, $2.4 million will be federal funds and interested groups will raise the remaining $500,000, Aylward said in August.

“We thought it would be a tremendous asset to the county and the town [of New Scotland], and now for Bethlehem, too,” Reilly said then.

Since 1995, when Reilly was supervisor for the town of New Scotland, the project has been negotiated and altered several times. Originally, he said, the proposal included the rail from Albany to its end in Delanson. Now, Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns the line, will keep the spur from Voorheesville to Delanson, Reilly said.

Reilly told The Enterprise in August that he had ridden on the line.

“It’s a very scenic route. Oh, my goodness, it’s gorgeous,” he said then. “You see a different perspective on the world. People will enjoy it.”

— This year-in-review article is based largely on reporting by Zach Simeone and Philippa Stasiuk.

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