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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 18, 2005

Federal grant to help Karner blue

By Nicole Fay Barr

By next year, the endangered Karner blue butterfly will have more places to subsist.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has been awarded a $143,289 grant, from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. The funds will be used "for habitat restoration and the preservation of private land, specifically to promote and expand the habitat for the Karner blue butterfly," said Christopher Hawver, the commission’s executive director.

The Karner blue butterfly is listed by the federal government as an endangered species. A viable population of the Karner blue is 3,000, scientists say. In 2004, there were barely 1,000 in the entire Pine Bush, down from 65,000 in 1980, and millions in the 1940’s.

The Karner blue eats the blue lupine, a perennial in the pea family. The survival of the Karner blue is directly linked to the lupine. Lupine plants thrive in sunlight and open meadowy fields, and, with more and more area development, lupine land is destroyed.

For the past few years, the preserve commission, an inter-municipal agency, has been aggressively working toward conserving the Pine Bush, a rare inland pine barren. With the help of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, and two private not-for-profit organizations — the Wilton Wildlife Preservation Park and The Nature Conservancy — 200 acres have so far been restored, Hawver said.

"It’s a big partnership between all of us. We all work together on this," he told The Enterprise. "It’s a joint effort that we’ve been working hard on for a long time."

With the latest grant, trees, like the black locust, will be removed from 30 acres of land, he said. The black locust is a non-native, invasive tree that pushes out native plants that the Karner blue needs to survive, he said.

Then, native plants, grasses, and shrubs will be added to the area, Hawver said.

"It’s going to be more like an open prairie, like in the Midwest," Hawver said.

He expects the latest project to happen off of Kings Road, near the border between the towns of Colonie and Guilderland. Work will most likely begin next year, he said.

"Thirty contiguous acres is really significant," Hawver said. "We’re thrilled. Without the help from the grant, in no way would we be able to do what we do."

The work, he said, "is expensive but worthwhile." For example, it costs $4,800 to remove black locusts from one acre, he said.

"It really works," Hawver said. "We can see there are actual changes in the area where there were no butterflies before."

Purcell at helm of Community Caregivers

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Joseph Purcell loves to volunteer and, as Community Caregivers’ new president, has made it his mission to improve the agency.

"It’s a great organization," he said.

As a retired school teacher and administrator, Purcell will bring his experience in working with others and coordinating activities to the group, he said.

Community Caregivers harnesses the energy and skills of volunteers to provide free services for Albany County residents in need. For example, a volunteer may drive an elderly person to a medical appointment or help an ailing young mother with child care.

The Caregivers was originally based in Altamont and is now located at 300 Mill Rose Court, off Route 155 in Guilderland.

Purcell, 68, was a member of the board of directors for six years. His term was up this year and he was asked to replace co-presidents Judith and Arnold Rothstein.

"I’ve been a member of the board for a long time," said Purcell. "They needed someone to be president, so I said I’d do it."

As president, Purcell said his responsibilities include providing leadership to the board of directors and working with the group’s executive director to coordinate policies set by the board.

"I’ll help carry on the operation of the organization," he said.

Purcell first heard about Community Caregivers at his church, Christ the King, in Guilderland. At the time, the organization was based in Altamont, but trying to expand to the Westmere area.

The Caregivers’ executive director spoke about the organization at a mass one Sunday, Purcell said.

"I was about to be retired for the second time and I thought it was a good organization to get involved in," he said.

Purcell was the executive deputy director of the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Before that, Purcell served as a teacher, supervisor, counselor, curriculum and instruction administrator, and principal for the Guilderland School District.

He lives in McKownville with his wife, Eileen. They have five grown sons.

Purcell draws from his experience in education in his new role as Caregivers’ president.

In his career, he said, "You’re leading and coordinating and motivating. You’re trying to get people to work their best. It’s the same thing with Caregivers.

"It’s a different kind of thing, but you’re trying to provide activities with people both in educating kids and making people more content living in their homes," he said.

Purcell hopes to make transportation a bigger part of Community Caregivers, since it is highly requested by senior citizens.

"Whether it’s taking them to the doctor, or to therapy," he said, "We’re making an effort to increase our availability to help."

Purcell also wants to recruit more volunteers to drive people to medical and other appointments.

He’ll also work to increase the group’s financial backing.

"The real exciting part is there are services, but there is a cost to providing them," Purcell said. "One of our goals is to have an organization whose income matches its expenditures."

District adds $220K to tax levy

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board Tuesday night added $200,000 to the district’s tax levy but Guilderland residents will still have a lower tax rate than projected when they passed the $76 million school budget in May.

By unanimous vote, the board followed the district’s recommendation to add $100,000 to make up for a reduction in state aid on the renovation of Farnsworth Middle School and another $100,000 to set up a reserve fund for tax certiorari cases.

The State Education Department discovered an error in its calculations, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said, and so cut aid on the $20 million renovation and expansion project at the middle school. The project, slated for completion this fall, added 18 new classrooms for a fourth house and renovated much of the 30-year-old school.

The town of Guilderland reassessed properties this year, for the first time in five years, reflecting soaring values.

"With the reassessment, the growth was higher than expected," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala.

The taxable valuation of Guilderland properties in the school district now totals $2.6 billion.

So, even with the $200,000 added to the levy, the tax rate for Guilderland residents will be $18.35 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The estimated tax rate at the time of the budget vote had been $18.55.

The average home in Guilderland is now assessed at $180,000, Sanders said. At the time of the May budget vote, the projected taxes for an $180,000 home were $3,338.

With the increased tax levy — to $52,279,229 — a Guilderland resident with an $180,000 home will pay $3,303.

"So in every case, they would pay less than we projected," said Sanders.

He also pointed out that the public votes on expenditures in a budget, which will remain the same, not on the tax levy, which the board has the power to increase.

The Guilderland School District extends to small parts of three other towns besides Guilderland — Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Knox.

Those towns have not recently revalued property. So, while Guilderland now has a state-set equalization rate of 100 percent, Bethlehem’s is at 68 percent, New Scotland’s is at 74 percent, and Knox’s is at 75 percent.

At the time of the May budget vote, the district had predicted tax rates per $1,000 of assessed valuation for Bethlehem of $27.15, for New Scotland of $24.43, and for Knox of $25.72.

With the $200,000 added to the levy, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation for Bethlehem will be $26.82, for New Scotland will be $24.97, and for Knox will be $24.47.

Court challenges

Sanders said that 26 property owners have filed in State Supreme Court for 80 parcels; additionally, 100 property owners have filed in small claims court.

A fund of $100,000 for tax certiorari claims will be set up at a future meeting, said Aidala.

If the reserve is not used for four years, it will be returned to the general fund.

The district has in the past made payments because of claims that have been filed, said Aidala, but this year the number of claims is "significantly higher," he said. "Our exposure is in the range of a half-million dollars, but that in no way indicates we’ll be on the hook for a half-million dollars."

Board Vice President Linda Bakst noted that, during the decade of legal skirmishes with Pyramid Cos. over the assessed value of Crossgates Mall, the school district never set up a reserve fund. The matter was settled out of court this year.

Board member Thomas Nachod said that the board had felt so secure in its position that a reserve fund wasn’t needed.

"It may not have been a prudent decision, but it turned out to be lucky," said Nachod. "With revaluation, we know we’re going to get hit with something."

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo added, "We were talking about $9 million." If the district had lost to Pyramid Cos., she said, it would have had to put up a bond issue.

Other business

At its Aug. 16 meeting, the board voted unanimously, 7 to 0, on every motion made. The board’s two newest members, Catherine Barber and Peter Golden, were absent.

The board:

— Heard from Sanders that tax rates for the Guilderland Public Library for 2005-06 have been set at 80 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for Guilderland residents — a penny less than predicted in May when voters passed the library’s $2.4 million budget. This represents a 23-percent decrease over the 2004-05 rate of $1.04.

The library, which is governed by its own elected board of trustees, follows the school district boundaries. The tax rates for the other towns, per $1,000 of assessed valuation, are: $1.17 for Bethlehem, $1.09 for New Scotland, and $1.07 for Knox;

— Heard a range of suggestions from resident Timothy Burke that energy savings be used to make changes for "real savings down the road"; that, in recommending changes in state legislation for teachers’ pensions, the district remembers "we have a responsibility to our teachers to take care of them"; and that there be better record-keeping by and supervision of social workers and psychologists in the schools;

— Heard praise from Aidala for Ellen Klein, "a loyal employee" who will be missed. Klein is retiring after working 31 years for the district, 25 of them in the office at Westmere Elementary School;

— Learned that, with the resignation of Beth Bini, who will become an assistant principal elsewhere, the second-grade slot she is vacating at Altamont Elementary School may not be filled.

Although a third section was originally scheduled, Aidala said, the 21 students per section is just one student more than the 19 or 20 throughout the district;

— Agreed to hire an athletic trainer from Top Form, Inc. of Rensselaer for the 2005-06 school year, for a base amount of $21,500, the lowest of three bids. The company’s references were "very favorable," said Sanders.

The state-certified trainer helps care for and condition athletes and works to prevent injuries, evaluating them when they occur.

In the past, Guilderland had used a staff person who taught part-time; that person has now been given a full-time teaching post, Sanders said.

Aidala said that a trainer who works from afternoon practices through evening games may work out better than a staff member who had morning teaching duties with "no relief."

Two candidates from Top Form will be interviewed by the district to see if their philosophies match, Sanders said.

Bakst said she’d like the board to discuss later the protocol that is followed when a student athlete is injured, the adequacy of training, and the resources available on site.

She asked, "Who is responsible to respond when there is an injury...The coach" This person"";

— Approved a resolution calling for the formation of a task force to "develop mechanisms and strategies to fund the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) while at the same time protecting school district budgets from major fluctuations in the rate of employer contributions."

Guilderland’s contribution to the TRS went up 48 percent or $862,500 for the 2005-06 school year.

Board member Richard Weisz first proposed the idea. The resolution will be presented to the New York State School Boards Association at its annual convention, held this year on Oct. 29 in Rochester;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that nearly 700 teachers from Guilderland and area schools attended Guilderland's Annual Reading and Writing Institutes this summer.

Also, on Aug. 12, James Stronge from the College of William and Mary offered a workshop for nearly 40 teachers, supervisors, and administrators on teacher evaluation. Guilderland’s new teacher system is based on Stronge’s research and his book, Qualities of Effective Teachers; and

— Heard from Aidala that 31 new teachers are slated to begin work this fall at Guilderland — seven at the elementary level; 17 at the middle school; and seven at the high school.

He said that 18 are first-year teachers and 13 have had an average of six years’ experience at other districts.

Six of the new teachers have just bachelor's degrees, he said; six more are working on master’s degrees; and 19 have already earned their master’s degrees. A dozen completed their schooling in the Capital Region, he said, while 19 went to schools out of the area, including Oregon, Notre Dame, Mount Holyoke, and Cornell.

"It’s going to be a great year," the superintendent concluded.

Plans for a new eatery on track"

By Bill Sherman

ALTAMONT – Village residents may have a new place to eat by next spring if Timothy Coughtry and his family have their way. Coughtry and his daughter, Danielle Anderson, have requested a special-use permit from the village to operate a restaurant and bar on 1.88 acres of land behind the post office in Altamont.

In their application to the village, Coughtry and Anderson stated the establishment would have up to 98 seats and 84 parking spaces, although it would likely start off smaller, Coughtry said. He said the unnamed restaurant will be family focused.

Coughtry said initially he and Anderson will focus on pizza, burgers, chicken, seafood and steak dinners. They will include a daily special, which will change every day.

The restaurant will have a small bar if "someone wanted to stop by after work for a drink or two," he said. However, they would not operate the bar as a late-night establishment. The restaurant will be the focus.

Coughtry told The Enterprise on Wednesday, "Altamont is starving for a place like this." He also said they would like to blend into the old style of Altamont. The building they will remodel is one of the oldest buildings in the village, Coughtry said; he believes the building formerly was used as a sort of loading dock and turn-about for trains.

The two hope the neighbors are supportive of the project. They were interested in starting a restaurant a few years earlier, but received resistance from neighbors because the property in question was zoned residential.

This time Coughtry does not expect any problems because the area is zoned commercial. A public hearing is set for next Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Village Hall.

Coughtry said he hopes to start work as soon as all the permits are in place. He expects the work to take six to eight months before it is completed.

Coughtry has owned and operated TEC/Northeast Fire Systems located at 100 Park Street for 35 years. His brick fire systems building abuts the old railroad building.

His experience renovating other property has given him a "good grip on what it takes" to complete this project, he said. "The area now is a mess, with scrub brush all over. We will dress up the whole area," said Coughtry.

As for the restaurant business, Coughtry and Anderson have been busy taking restaurant-management classes at Schenectady County Community College. Those courses have included culinary arts, management, baking and food preparation. Anderson, who is a practicing attorney, is currently taking a course that includes bar management and menu selection.

As part of his fire-suppression system business Coughtry said he has been in about 15,000 restaurants. However, that does not make him an expert in the business. Coughtry said neither he nor Anderson will be the main chef. They expect to hire a professional chef with a culinary degree.

Coughtry concluded, "If we can’t do it properly, we won’t do it at all."

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