What if?

Do you ever play that mental game when you buy a lottery ticket? What would you do if you actually won?

It’s a fun game, and probably the leading reason why people buy lottery tickets despite the astronomical odds against winning. They even used to use a tagline that read, “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” But what about playing that game with stakes that are closer to home and easier to realize?

What if you were elected mayor of Altamont? Now there’s an interesting game.

The reason I mention it is because several people have suggested, over the almost 30 years I’ve lived here, that I should run for mayor. It’s very flattering, but the truth is, I know myself well enough to know that I would be terrible at the job.

I hate attending meetings of any sort, especially ones that last more than 10 minutes. I’m not the most diplomatic of folks, as I tend to speak my mind with few if any filters. I consider being dressed up wearing a clean T-shirt. I’m not into public speaking and mostly, I loathe politics and politicians.

Having said all that, if, in some strange universe, I did get the job, I do have some ideas on how to make our little village a better place to live for all of us.

At the top of my list would be to suspend all new housing development in and around the village. When I first moved here, they were just building Kushaqua Estates and people were mad. Then came Brandle Meadows, which then-Mayor Ken Runion assured me would never be that big and it ended up with 80 units.

Then along came the 10 McMansions along Bozenkill that were originally supposed to be on land that was forever wild, but ended up getting sold somehow or other. Now I hear rumors of another 13-acre parcel that is going to be developed and I see ground being broken on Schoharie Plank for yet another new house.

I don’t get it. We live in Altamont because it’s a village, not another endless Guilderland suburb.

We have a real community here, and one of the things that keeps us special is the green space that surrounds the village.

If certain developers just keep on being allowed to throw up houses on any open plot of land, even if it falls within zoning rules, then we’re not going to be a village for much longer.

I have a sneaky suspicion that even the fairgrounds is on some land-grab wish list with plans for a condo community called Fairgrounds Estates. And don’t tell me how we need a bigger tax base. Every new development costs us more to hook up and service than it ever pays in taxes.

Next, I would hold a public referendum on the Altamont Police Department. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend wherein younger people don’t see a need for the APD and older, more conservative or frightened people want to keep it.

Ask many of the teenage and 20-something citizens here and you’ll find a pretty consistent antipathy. For a department that costs $185,800 per year but generates around $20,000 in fines, the math is less than ideal.

That’s not to take anything away from the hard work and dedication of the fine men and women of the APD. But the question remains: Why does a village of 1,700 people need its own police force when larger places like Voorheesville don’t?

Guilderland, with a population of 35,000, needs a police force, though it appears much of its energy goes into looking after Crossgates Mall. My feeling is to put that question to the public and let the chips fall where they may.

Next on my agenda would be to do far more for the teenage residents of our fair village. Altamont has always been a great place to raise a family. That is, until your children reach the age of 13.

Then, you’re expected to find something useful for them to do, and very little exists in the village itself.

The playgrounds are mostly aimed at small children. The Bozenkill park has one tennis court, one basketball court, a couple of empty fields, a pool that’s open roughly two months per year, and some hiking trails that need some love and attention due to having been washed out repeatedly. The fairgrounds are fun to walk on but most teens are now routinely accused of vandalism as soon as they show up, even though only a small number are actually responsible for the damage.

Altamont needs to offer a few more options for teens, including a police department that doesn’t routinely harass them (this has almost led to several lawsuits over the years). Perhaps improve and update the Bozenkill trails to encourage some MTB or BMX riding. Add a skateboard park to part of the park (liability is not an issue, despite what public officials say).

Follow the example of the Altamont Free Library, which has done a great job with teen-centric programming. And finally, just encourage teens to come out into the daylight and away from their screens.

Another issue that has been covered in the news pages of The Enterprise is the rather high (astronomical) amounts residents pay for sewer and water services compared to what residents in the town of Guilderland pay. Now, yes, having a base of 35,000 residents versus around 1,700 means that each home has to shoulder a much higher percentage of the costs.

But if the APD were dissolved via public referendum, then we’d have almost $200,000 per year to pour into the debt load on our aging water plant. We could also look into some sort of debt restructuring and explore the possibility of grants from the federal or state governments that could aid a small village like ours.

I claim no expertise in this area but, when you see the sort of pork barrel money that some pols seem quite good at getting, you’d think our elected officials might be able to step in and help us beyond just showing up for ribbon-cuttings and photo ops.

And my final thought would be a 20-percent raise for the hardworking folks at the Altamont Public Works Department. Larry and his crew work year-round to keep our little village looking clean, trimmed, plowed, updated, and beautiful, and I think they deserve to be compensated.

I am always amazed at the depth and breadth of what they manage to accomplish year after year: from dealing with backed-up sewer pipes, plowing the sidewalks, and picking up lawn waste and leaves. These are the sorts of public employees I am very proud to support, and I think we should reward their efforts.

Well, that’s it. Please don’t ever vote for me (no write-ins either). But maybe think about what I’ve said when the next election comes up. Maybe it’s time for a new vision that doesn’t begin and end with more building, more politics, and most of all, maintenance of a status quo that doesn’t work for many people.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he is a registered Democrat leaning towards anarchist Buddhism; he hopes to never hold public office but to be a problem for those who do.