2014: A year of festivity and solemnity in Rensselaerville

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Fresh pavement: Residents suggested lowering the speed limit could ease safety concerns related to driving on Route 85 in the hamlet, pictured at night on Dec. 11, where cruising on the newly repaved road is considered risky at a narrow stretch with parked cars.

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

A big race through a small hamlet, the Rensselaerville Cycling Festival in September drew a large crowd and local residents, who cheered for the cyclists as they passed.

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Valerie Lounsbury, Rensselaerville’s supervisor, discussed changes to the town’s ethics law with the town’s attorney, Thomas Fallati of Tabner, Ryan, and Keniry, and town board members in February. The town board unanimously adopted a revised code of ethics in September.

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

The Village Voices a cappella group from Rensselaerville, led by Jan Bishop, sang “America the Beautiful” during the town’s annual picnic in June.

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

As awards were handed out to firefighters and their teams at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Rensselaerville Fire Department in September, kids chased and raced one another around the lawn at the Carey Institute for Global Good.

RENSSELAERVILLE — The town both mourned and celebrated in 2014.

On the festive side, the Rensselaerville Fire Department marked its 75th anniversary in September with an all-day gala that had the air and intimacy of a family reunion, ending with music and fireworks.

In June, the town-wide picnic featured a flag-folding ceremony, demonstration by the sheriff’s German shepherd, and plenty of homemade food accompanied by Cajun blues played by Greg Speck on his accordion.

A new celebration was introduced in September with the Rensselaerville Cycling Festival, led by Tyler Wren, who races professionally all over the world. Townsfolk practiced for weeks ahead to join in the fun.

Mourning

Rensselaerville mourned the deaths of both young and old in 2014.

In June, Emmit John Stannard died at the tender age of 12 from a brain tumor. A sixth-grader at Greenville Middle school, he was a good student who loved Halloween and had a Halloween birthday party every year. He also loved animals and being outdoors with his brother and being anywhere with his sister.

In July, the community held a fundraiser at the Medusa firehouse to celebrate Emmit’s life and support his family.

In October, the town mourned Paula Britton who died at age 64. A graduate of Berne-Knox High School, Britton was an active member of the South Berne Congregational Church and a frequent attendee at her grandchildren’s sporting events. “She never met a stranger,” her daughter said. “If she did, they weren’t a stranger for long.”

Later that month, on the 29th, Rensselaerville lost one of its leaders, Myra Dorman. She was a vivid woman who held an array of community positions and was also a dedicated teacher. Originally from Staten Island, she moved to Rensselaerville 45 years ago with her husband, Alexander, where they raised five children. She was also a sheep farmer and skilled weaver, teaching textile arts at Russell Sage College.

Her first venture into community service was as a Cub Scouts den mother. She later became a councilwoman, school board member, president of the Rensselaerville library, town judge, and the town’s first Republican supervisor in 25 years.

Commerce

The Carey Institute for Global Good this year continued its mission to help farmers and brewers produce local beers. The institute hosted farm-to-glass workshops and continued work on building its own brewery, as a model.

This year, too, the institute announced a new direction as it sets up residencies for journalists, artists, and musicians while still offering practical help for its rural community.

The center, which has been evolving for more than a century, is now on firmer financial ground in its latest incarnation. It had carried the torch of its predecessor, the Rensselaerville Institute since William P. Carey purchased the land in 2012. He was a trustee for 20 years, but died just before the sale was announced. His estate, which owned the 100-acre campus, finalized its donation to the institute in September.

Sarah Avery Gordon’s FarmieMarket got a $24,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture this year to do online marketing. She delivers homegrown foods from farmers like her father to reach far-flung customers. The grant will help low-income people on food stamps buy the local produce.

In Preston Hollow, the greenhouse on Route 145 held a fundraiser in September for the Preston Hollow Beautification Committee, which prepares seasonal decorations for the hamlet, and has installed welcome signs for four of the five hamlets in town.

On a down note, the Medusa General Store in December announced it would close. Owners April and Jason Caprio said, “We will be closing our doors for good at the end of the month, with considerable sadness and after a whole lot of debate. We are grateful for the many that kept us around these years — we have loved every minute of it. But long winters and an endless recession have won.”

The store had served as a cultural center for the hamlet.

Government

Rensselaerville felt the lash this year of the state-set tax-levy cap when it drafted its $2.17 million budget. Town board members asked Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury to do what she could to keep taxes below the limit so residents could qualify for rebate checks.

The initial spending plan would have caused a 4-percent hike in taxes, but, by using money from the town’s fund balance and reducing emergency snow-removal funds, the tax-levy increase was brought to 1.3 percent — under the state cap.

The 2015 budget is driven largely by increased costs for medical insurance and wage increases for highway workers as a result of a newly negotiated contract.

“The men had not had a raise in five years and they were given a 2-percent raise,” said Lounsbury, adding that the 36-cent increase is nearly a wash with the rate hike in medical insurance.

In an off election year, the only opening was for town judge. Deputy Sheriff Ronald Bates, a Democrat, ran unopposed to replace Timothy Miller, who did not seek another term. Bates had followed in his father’s footsteps, pursuing a career with the sheriff’s office as well as holding town government posts. Both Bates men retired from the sheriff’s office after a quarter century; the younger was feted with a bagpipe exit.

After its first use, the town’s code of ethics was revised and passed by the town board with a new timeline. The September vote was unanimous and set into law changes that were largely designed for efficiency — time limits were set for various steps in the process for the board of ethics to hear and investigate a complaint. The changes reflected the ethics board’s first case, when, in 2013, it took several months and cost the town money in attorney’s fees.

A newsletter started this year by Marie Dermody, a former town supervisor, and others raised hackles and caused some changes. This fall, responding to criticism in a community newsletter, the town board voted to formally allow the use of the town’s car for town business when it’s not being used for taking residents to medical appointments. In December, the town started its own newsletter again.

Controversy erupted in December over parking in the historic hamlet of Rensselaerville. Residents were chilled by police warnings not to park on the street on a 600-foot section of Route 85 where navigation around a steep curve is difficult.

At a packed meeting, many residents said the repaved road encouraged speeding and suggested lowering the limit would make the whole hamlet — with its narrow sections, pets, children, and pedestrians — safer.

Lounsbury told the crowd that the town board could consider lowering the speed limit, by requesting the state to do so, and create a citizens’ committee to investigate alternatives.

J.R. Delia, who recently moved to Rensselaerville from Brooklyn, said, “I just hope the town doesn’t turn into a nitpicky little town like I just got out of.”

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