Mayor’s message raises squad’s ire

VOORHEESVILLE — The village board here Tuesday heard from Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service volunteers angry with the mayor’s description in a village newsletter of the longstanding conflict between the village and the VAAS.

The board also announced revised estimates of the cost of a quadrant-gate railroad crossing system that could lead to Voorheesville’s designation as a quiet zone for train whistles.

VAAS responds

Voorheesville published its “The Village Report” newsletter for autumn and winter this month, and mailed it to each residence. The bulk of the newsletter was a written statement by Mayor Robert Conway that reviewed the disagreements between the village board and the ambulance squad over the last few years.

The statement followed a contentious contract agreement between the two bodies, wherein the village and the ambulance maintained their financial obligations to each other for partial budget support and billing recovery.

The ambulance had previously asked to be released from the village’s oversight and to be turned over entirely to the town of New Scotland for its budgeting. Currently, the town covers 61 percent of the ambulance budget and the village 39 percent.

The ambulance contract with the village board expires in December. Last month, the village board considered using Voorheesville Fire Department members for emergency medical services rather than the VAAS, but this month the VFD declined the ambulance duties, said Trustee Jack Stevens.

The village board has consulted other services, including Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, about covering the village. VAAS members are also communicating with the “vendors” the village contacts, said VAAS volunteer Ray Ginter at the village board’s workshop Tuesday.

Later on Tuesday, during the portion of the board meeting for public comment, Conway allowed speakers but did not argue with them. At one point, he needed to use his gavel twice to quiet arguing residents.

VAAS volunteer Kate O’Dell read a formal statement prepared by the squad to address “the incorrect statements [Mayor Robert Conway] presented in the newsletter.”

One resident described the relationship between the two boards as that of two adults in an estranged relationship.

“I was a little disappointed in your letter…because there was no proposed resolution,” he said. “We need a reliable and, yet, affordable service in the village.”

Ambulance and fire department volunteers from the village and the town of New Scotland said that using a service other than VAAS would be disastrous.

No matter the cost, said volunteer Larry Pakenas, waiting for an ambulance “to get here in time for a loved one on the living room floor suffering cardiac arrest” was “ridiculous.”

Marty Finkle, a volunteer firefighter, said that he had watched victims “bleed out” while waiting for an ambulance.

“We do not need to lose an ambulance in this village. Voorheesville is always there,” he said. “There’s nothing where you want to put a dollar over a life. We’re going to sit there and watch someone bleed out” if an alternate service is used, he said. “You’re going to lose lives over it.”

Conway said that he would join town of New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin when he meets with the VAAS to develop the town’s contract with the squad.

“I don’t think you’re going to be surprised by anything we would want in the contract,” Conway said of the village’s contract due in January.

When all speakers on the topic of the ambulance had finished, VAAS members loudly interrupted the village board’s meeting as they poured out of Village Hall.

Quiet Zone

Conway told board members that estimates for installing quad gates at the two village railroad crossings could cost $200,000, instead of the $1.1 million that village engineers Barton & Loguidice had suggested last year. Upgrades done by CSX over the past year account for the difference, he said.

“Thanks to quiet zone committee work, the new estimate from CSX is coming in at approximately $200,000, give or take,” Conway said. “A lot of the preliminary work has already been done, eliminating $900,000 or so. It certainly makes the project…within grasp.”

Engineering required for the project by CSX would cost about $27,000, he said.

“I am hopeful we’ll have that $27,000 picked up in total,” or partially, he said.

Steven Schreiber, who chairs the quiet zone committee, said that the engineering fees were included in the $200,000 estimate obtained by the committee’s consulting engineer, Vinny Valetutti. Valetutti corresponded directly with the CSX project manager for public projects. The village’s engineer confirmed the new number with CSX, Conway said.

Other business

In other business, the village board:

— Approved the annual audit of the justice court;

—Learned that the zoning board of appeals denied a request of a resident for more than two dogs. Village code only allows for two dogs or two cats;

— Heard from Village Attorney Richard Reilly that he will prepare documents so that a public hearing can be held as part of the process to dissolve the village court. The village court can be dissolved when Justice Kenneth Connolly’s term ends in 2014. Connolly said previously that he will retire and not seek re-election; and

— Learned that Trinity Construction bid $89,000 to do drainage work on Pleasant Street. The work could be completed this construction season, the board said;

— Gave a standing ovation to Trustee Richard Berger, who was recently named Firefighter of the Year in Albany County.

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