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Hilltowns Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 19, 2005

Celebrating Frances Swart

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

DORMANSVILLE — More people turned out to celebrate Frances Swart’s birthday than she had candles on her cake. Swart is 95; close to 100 well-wishers celebrated her life on Sunday.

The covered-dish luncheon, featuring a table too full with food to fit flowers, was held at the Dormansville United Methodist Church.

Swart was born on March 16, 1910 in Dormansville where she has lived all her life.

"She said March is not a time to have a party," said her friend, Laura Palmer, explaining the delayed celebration.

Swart’s father was a dairy farmer and her mother tended to the house and children. Swart became a teacher, teaching in the Dormansville schoolhouse she had attended as a child.

Swart has written about her neighbors, as an Enterprise correspondent, for years. And, she has been a member of the Dormansville Church for her entire life.

At Sunday’s celebration, Rev. Steven Peiffer, who helped organize the party, read a declaration from a friend. Some 40 years ago, said Palmer, "Frances saved her career in teaching. She was ready to throw in the towel. Frances took her under her wing and encouraged her."

A proclamation from Assemblyman Jack McEneny was read, too. "She also got a card from Laura and President Bush," said Palmer.

Many far-flung admirers came to celebrate Swart on Sunday — including friend Kathleen Trenchard from Frostproof, Fla., and niece and grand-niece Valerie and Beth Overcash from Plano, Texas.

"The community all pulled together to make it a memorable day," said Palmer. "There was lots of reminiscing, lots of laughter...Frances was the reason for old friends to get together...She is really sharp; she’s got more history up in her head than volumes of history books."

Palmer concluded, "She is a good mentor, a good teacher, and a friend of everyone."

Sutton named assessor, Watkins put on zoning board

— Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE — The town board made two appointments to replace outgoing town officials at its meeting last Thursday.

Eric Sutton was appointed in a split party-line vote as one of the town’s three assessors, replacing Sean McCormick, who was unable to complete the required training courses for the job.

James Watkins was appointed to the zoning board. Valerie Greenberg resigned, leaving one seat open on the five-member board.

Watkins was recommended for the job by the zoning board chairman, William Whitbeck. He was appointed unanimously.

"I don’t know Mr. Watkins, but I appreciate Mr. Whitbeck’s opinion," said Councilwoman Myra Dorman.

Greenberg was not available for comment. Her husband, Robert Greenberg, told The Enterprise she resigned for personal, not political, reasons.

Watkins, an environmental consultant, will be taking his first position in government.

"I like being involved," Watkins told The Enterprise. "In local government, you can actually do something."

Watkins said he will support development and growth in the town, while keeping an eye on its effect on the environment. He intends to use his environmental background, "if it comes up." He said, "I don’t know if it will be appropriate."

Rensselaerville has a panel of three elected assessors.

Sutton’s appointment was approved 3 to 2. Supervisor J. Robert Lansing, Councilman Kenneth Decker, and Dorman, all Republicans, voted for Sutton, while the board’s Democrats, Edward Ryder and Gary Chase, voted against him.

Ryder and Chase sided with Democratic assessor Jeff Pine, who recommended that the board appoint Sue Britton, a Rensselaerville resident who is already certified as an assessor. Britton is not interested in running for the elected position in November, and would only serve the last few months of Democrat McCormick’s term, Pine said.

"I don’t think it would be fair to the new guy to take a couple of classes and then find he didn’t win the election" Pine said.

The third assessor, Peter Hotaling, is a Democrat.

Sutton told The Enterprise that he was asked by Supervisor Lansing to take the position.

"I live here in Rensselaerville. I love it up here," Sutton said. "I thought maybe I could help out in that respect."

Sutton, who runs his own seal-coating business in Greenville, said his business is seasonal, so he can focus on the assessing position in the winter. He is not worried about the training required for the job.

"I figure, if you can show me a manual and what’s expected of me, I can get up to speed pretty quickly," Sutton said.

Sutton said he will run for election on the Republican ticket in the fall if he is able to take time away from his business.

"I will make as good an effort as I can," he said.

Assessors in Rensselaerville make $4,510 per year.

Other business
In other business at the May 12 meeting, the Rensselaerville Town Board:

—Accepted bids for an Abele tractor, for $65,993, and an Eager Beaver trailer to go with it, for $13,995. The total, $79,988, is $12 below the $80,000 cap the highway department was budgeted for the purchase; and

—Switched insurance carriers to New York Muncipal Insurance Reciprocal. Lansing, the only one who voted against the switch, wanted to stay with the current provider, Marshall & Sterling, Inc. New York Munincipal offers more coverage for a slightly higher price.

Encounters with black bear both amaze and scare residents

— Maggie Gordon

KNOX — The warm weather is here, and just like clockwork, the bears are back in town.

There has been evidence of bears on Lark Street in the village of Altamont, where a bear left tracks on Alice Jacklet’s front porch. It has also been spotted on Helderberg Road, Whipple Road, and Berne-Altamont Road in Knox.

While there have been sightings in several places, this does not necessarily mean that there is more than one bear. Black bears typically have home ranges which cover hundreds of square miles, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Jim Catalfamo, a resident of Helderberg Road in Knox, saw a bear last summer, digging through a neighbors garbage cans. "It was looking for something yummy," Catalfamo said.

He said it was a large, black bear, and "it had to be at least a minimum of four feet, maybe five feet tall, on all fours."

Frank Horn, of Whipple Road in Knox, found wet footprints on his garage floor when he was leaving for work at 5:50 a.m. a few weeks ago.

"My garbage was just thrown all over the place. It was a mess," Horn said. While he did not see the bear himself, he said that it was dark outside and he did see a flash run down the road.

Lori Leonard who lives across the road from Horn, heard about the four-legged visitors across the way. "I was a little afraid because we were having a camp-out at my house after the prom. So I told the kids to have a big bonfire," she said.

These bears are usually very shy creatures and are reluctant to visit residential areas. However they can become a "nuisance" and cause a significant amount of damage if they think they can get food easily, according to the DEC’s website.

"I never felt threatened. I was kind of amazed in awe because I didn’t hear of any bear sightings before. I was more curious — watching the creature. It was beautiful," Catalfamo said. "He was just interested in the garbage can."

"To prevent encounters between bears and humans, people should never intentionally feed bears and should take every precaution to discourage bears from seeking out food sources in neighborhoods and other residential areas," the DEC Regional Director, Steve Schassler said in a press release this April.

The website says that feeding bears is illegal, and "it is in the best interest of both bears and people if bears get their food solely from wild sources." A black bear’s diet usually consists of grubs, dead animals, ants and plants.

The website also instructs residents to call the DEC if they suspect that bears are being fed.

The DEC suggests a few ways to keep bears away. It recommends that residents stop feeding birds after the snow melts in early spring, and bring the feeders inside. The DEC website states that residents should dispose of garbage frequently and wipe out garbage cans with ammonia. It also suggests that garbage cans are not left outside for pick-up until the last moment possible.

Barbecue grills should be cleaned regularly and stored inside when possible. Pets should be fed indoors and their food should be stored inside as well. The DEC discourages placing melon rinds, meat and bones in compost piles, and burning garbage.

"Black bears will take advantage of almost any readily available food source, including garbage," Schassler said.

Rick Georgeson, a spokesperson for the DEC, and hilltown resident is not immune to bear visitors. "We had one back in March," he said. "We had a little bit of food left in the bird feeder. He came through and kind of bent it."

Georgeson said he did not see the animal, but knew it was a bear. "You can just tell because the bird feeder was about six-feet up There was just a little bit of residue left and he just licked it clean," he said.

For more information about bears in the Capital Region, contact the DEC Region 4 Wildlife office at (607) 652-7367, or go to the DEC website at www.dec.state.ny.us

BKW suffers budget defeat

— Matt Cook

BERNE—The Berne-Knox-Westerlo school budget was voted down by district residents Tuesday by a margin of only 17. Westerlo residents, angry about the closing of their elementary school, may have been the deciding factor in the vote.

District wide, 548 people, 49 percent, voted for the $17.6 million budget, while 565, or 51 percent, voted against it, making BKW the only district in Albany County with a defeated budget.

The only candidate for school board, Maureen Sikule, received 745 votes. She will take over John Harlow’s seat in July.

A proposition to buy new school buses passed, 606 to 490, or 55 percent to 45 percent. According to the proposition, the district will use $330,000 to buy buses. Right now, said Superintendent Steven Schrade, the plan is to use the money for two small buses, two medium-sized buses, and two large buses.

The proposed budget called for a tax-levy increase of $481,904, or 5.6 percent. The largest increases are due to set costs like fuel and employee benefits. Also, because the first payment is due on the last bond issue, the district will have to pay $409,759 towards that, causing a huge hike in debt services.

On the budget, Schrade, said he was disappointed. The school board will have a meeting within the next two weeks to decide what to do, he said. The board has three options: accept the loss and adopt a budget capped according to state-set limits, modify the budget and hold a revote, or hold a revote with the budget as it is.

Last year, a $16.6 million budget failed in the first vote by 32. A month later, it passed by 11. This year, however, the budget proposal is so close to the $17.5 million state-capped budget, the board may not bother with a revote, Schrade said.

"It’s an option," Schrade said, "but the board is concerned and I am concerned that a number of residents find a revote somewhat distasteful. They don’t want to aggravate or upset the voters over this."

The proposed budget is only $110,769 over the state-capped spending plan.

"The stakes are not quite as high this year," Schrade said.

In February, the school board voted unanimously to close the Westerlo Elementary School for the 2005-06 school year. The district will save $100,894 with the school closed, and declining enrollment district-wide will allow for the students to be absorbed into the larger elementary school in Berne.

Many angry Westerlo residents continue to oppose the closing. Some have encouraged others to vote against the budget as a way of sending a message to the school board. Signs appeared in the Hilltowns asking people to "Remember the Westerlo School" when they vote.

"I am quite certain that that was a significant factor," Schrade said.

Mary-Jane Araldi, a member of an organized group of Westerlo residents who want to keep the school open, wrote to the Enterprise editor, "The board has not chosen to resolve the issue and instead seems intent on ignoring the community. The only recourse left is the May 17th budget vote, where the community finally has a say on the board’s budget decisions."

Schrade said the school board is not likely to reconsider its decision on the Westerlo school because of the budget defeat.

Bids approved for transfer station re-do

— Matt Cook

BERNE—The town has finally approved bids for the reconstruction of its transfer station.

Last Wednesday, in the second round of bidding, after rejecting all bids last fall, the Berne Town Board unanimously awarded Valley Equipment Co., Inc., of Schenectady, the main construction work on the transfer station for $234,760.

S & S Electric, also of Schenectady, was unanimously awarded the electrical work, for $9,888.

The total cost of the project, including various other expenses, will be $261,148, said Supervisor Kevin Crosier.

In October 2004, when the project was first put up for bid, no bids came in at an amount the town was willing to pay. On the advice of its engineers, Lamont Engineering, the town decided to wait until this spring when it expected prices to be lower.

In the meantime, Lamont, along with Berne resident Joel Willsey, who designed the project free of charge, modified the plans to cut costs, focusing on the floor of the structure. According to Crosier, the town is saving $43,000 over the lowest bid from October.

The transfer station, located in the hamlet of Berne, is old and deteriorating.

"If you look at it, it’s unsafe," Crosier said. "The back wall is falling in."

The new transfer station will be built on the same site as the old one. Though it is not ideal to have a transfer station on a town’s main street, the town found it was too expensive to move it, Crosier said.

Besides, he said, Willsey’s designs will make the station look like the other historic buildings in the hamlet, and it will conform to the strict appearance standards set forth for the hamlet in the town’s recently changed zoning ordinance.

"If you’ve seen the design, you’ll never know what it is driving by it," Crosier said.

"It’ll look like the old mill," said Councilman James Hamilton.

To pay for the transfer station, the town has secured a state grant for $50,000 through Assemblyman Jack McEneny and will be drawing $50,000 out of the town’s fund balance.

The town also plans on receiving about $40,000 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through a non-competitive grant. That money is assured as long as the DEC continues the program, Crosier said.

"You get in line," he said. "When your number comes up, you’ll get the money."

Councilman Joseph Golden compared the remaining cost to the cost of two snowplows, out of which the town would get about 10 years of use.

"Hopefully, we get that long or twice as long out of this," Golden said.

Looking at the bids, Golden admitted, "These numbers make me sick."

But, he said, the town has to prioritize where it spends money, and the transfer station is top priority.

"It’s limited resources with unlimited needs," Golden said. "I’d like to see a library built starting tomorrow."

Other business
In other business at the May 11 meeting, the Berne Town Board:

—Listened to a complaint from resident Jackie Murray about Peasley Road. The road is a town road, but runs through state land, the Partridge Run State Game Management Area.

"The thing has been graded off and graded off," Murray said. "It’s now a belly. It doesn’t drain."

Crosier said the town is committed to fixing Peasley Road and is in contact with the DEC, which operates the preserve, about getting funds for it.

"It’s the dialogue that we need to get started in," Crosier said. "In the meantime, we need to fix that road";

—Recognized Robert N. Wright, who recently became an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America;

—Discussed hiring a grant writer for the town.

"It may not be such a bad idea because the towns that secure the most grants seem to do the best," Crosier said.

"I would suggest we get a couple of them to come in and tell us about their business," said Councilman Mark Huth; and

—Voted to purchase a military surplus 1977 Osh Kosh truck from the United States government for $3,400. The truck, a former tank transport, has only 10,000 miles on it.

Highway Superintendent Ray Storm said it will serve the town’s needs well as a highway truck and snowplow.

"The money that we save here we can invest in the road repairs," Crosier said.

Berne library in a bind

— Matt Cook

BERNE—The Berne Library is out of room. On busy days, pa-trons have to squeeze by each other in the tight spaces between the shelves, "doing the dance," said Jeannette Miller, president of the Friends of the Town of Berne Free Library.

The crunch has gotten so bad that, as the library gets new books, magazines, CD’s, DVD’s, or videos, old ones, still in circula-tion, have to be taken off the shelf and stored or thrown out.

Four weeks ago, for example, the library workers found a boxed-up set of books on the li-brary’s doorstep. It was a leather-bound collection of 50 novels, in mint condition, by Louis L’Amour, the popular and pro-lific author of American Westerns. Most libraries would show off such a gift, worth hun-dreds of dollars, but in Berne, the books are still in the box, sitting underneath the librarian’s desk.

"We don’t even have room to display them," said Mary Alice Molgard, president of the library board.

The library board, which gov-erns the library, and the Friends of the Library, which helps sup-port it, both hope to get support from the community and the town government to solve the crunch.

Unlike public libraries, which follow school district lines and have taxing powers, free li-braries, like Berne’s, must ask municipalities and private-sector sources for funds.

On Tuesday morning, Molgard, Miller, and Gayle Burgess, another member of the Friends of the Library, met with The Enterprise at one of the li-brary’s two small reading tables, which almost completely cuts off the main aisle between the shelves. They spoke about the need for more space, not just for the collection, but for research and Internet access.

"This is one of the only places that people can go and get access to the Internet if they can’t afford it in their homes," Molgard said.

Right now, the library only has two public-access computers, also in the middle of the aisle. Patrons who want to use the computers to connect to databases, the on-line card cata-log, and the Internet, have to wait their turn on busy nights.

Students doing research after school have to go to larger sub-urban public libraries in Guilderland or Bethlehem, not for lack of resources, but for lack of space and easy access to a computer, the trio said.

Older people, meanwhile, re-searching genealogy, have the same problem.

"If you do research, you have to have all the things spread out so you can write," Burgess said.

Burgess does her genealogical research by computer, but the li-brary does have genealogical records for the town of Berne, jammed with dozens of other books into what used to be a closet, now called a reference room, with room for no more than one person.

In addition to all this, the li-brary has to find space for its children’s programs, reading groups, and movie nights, which can bring in as many as 30 peo-ple. Recently, the Friends of the Library held a computer course for seniors at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school because there is not enough room at the library for a group to gather around the computers.

"That’s a staple at most li-braries, doing that sort of thing," Molgard said. "We just don’t have the space to do that."

The Berne Library began in 1962, Miller said. People brought all types of books to the Grange Hall, and staffed the library themselves.

"Twenty-four different people volunteered to be part-time li-brarians," Miller said.

The library moved into its own building a few years later. It was a tiny building that used to be a general store, perched precari-ously at the edge of the Fox Creek.

"The building didn’t actually fall into the creek, but they were afraid it would," Miller said.

In 1969, the library moved into its current location, in the hamlet of Berne, sharing a building with the town hall, town court, and Berne History Museum.

Currently, the library has one main room, which has sections for children’s and adults’ books, videos and DVD’s, audio record-ings, and magazines. Two small tables and one comfortable chair are in the back for reading.

The library shares a meeting room with the town hall and town court.

The library has 11,505 books and 891 non-print items.

To pay for all this, the library relies heavily on the town of Berne. Since it is a free library, and not part of a state-set library district, the Berne Library has no power to levy taxes. Instead, the town funds it directly, paying for the building and its maintenance; the salaries of the six part-time li-brary employees; and for mate-rials, equipment, and program-ming, $65,000 this year.

In addition, the town of Knox gives $550 annually, and the Upper Hudson Library System gives out an annual grant that averages about $4,000, Molgard said.

The board has considered, and rejected, creating a taxable li-brary district, Molgard said.

"We have explored that, but it’s not exactly a comfortable fit for us," Molgard said. "It would take some doing and we would have to convince the taxpayers in a very tight year that it’s a neces-sity."

After a moment, she said, "We are going to have to have the taxpayers’ support anyway."

Off and on at meetings, the Berne Town Board has discussed building a new town hall some-time in the future. If that were done, the town could give the en-tire ground floor of the current building to the library.

For the library board and the Friends of the Library, though, that would not necessarily be the best solution to the space prob-lem. The old building would probably have to be rewired to be able to power the library’s com-puters and the support beams may not be strong enough to hold the library’s considerable weight.

"Books are extremely heavy, and these shelves aren’t the light-est things," Molgard said.

Another possibility is to move into a vacant building some-where in the town. Unfortunately, there are not many such buildings around.

"When you have a public building that you’re looking at, it’s usually occupied by someone already," Burgess said.

The best option, Molgard said, would be to build a new building. The problem with that, besides the cost, would be finding a good site. It would have to have room for both the building and a de-cent parking lot, Molgard said.

It would not, however, have to be in the hamlet of Berne. Somewhere between East Berne and Berne would work just as well, Molgard said, since people from both hamlets, and the entire town of Berne, use the library.

Then, there is the cost.

"It’s going to be a substantial amount of money," Molgard said. "Right now, the library itself doesn’t have those resources."

The library has some seed money saved up, but not nearly enough to fund a move. The town would have to pay most of the bill.

"They’re very supportive, but the problem is, without a demon-stration of community support, they can’t move," Miller said of the town board.

The library groups urge resi-dents who want a bigger library to tell town officials.

The groups plan to canvas res-idents on what they want in a li-brary, either by sending out sur-veys or going door-to-door. At the same time, they hope to con-vince people of the importance of a library in the community.

"What we would be asking people, is to see it as a media cen-ter, a community center, rather than just a place where books are," Miller said.

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