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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, October 6, 2005

Conservatives tied for Berne supervisor

By Matt Cook and Holly Grosch

BERNE—Though the primary election was held weeks ago, the winner of the Conservative Party nomination for Berne supervisor remains unknown. Incumbent Kevin Crosier and a write-in candidate, Councilman James Hamilton, tied with 12 votes each, according to the official results released Monday by the Albany County Board of Elections.

Richard Stack, chairman of the Albany County Conservative Party, said the executive committee of the party will choose a winner at a meeting later this week. He would not comment on who he thought would be chosen.

Crosier’s was the only name on the ballot. The first-term supervisor has already secured the Republican nomination. Hamilton, who is in his first full term on the town board though he served a partial term before that, has the Democratic nomination. Both men, however, are registered Democrats.

In the Sept. 13 primary, Hamilton won the Independence Party nomination for supervisor with 10 votes. Crosier received four write-in votes and Rudy Stemple, a Republican and one-time supervisor, received one.

Other Hilltown offices

Elsewhere in the Hilltowns, Karen Catalfamo won the Independence and Conservative party nominations for Knox receiver of taxes with four write-in votes for Independence and seven for Conservative.

In Rensselaerville, Jost Nickelsburg won the Conservative Party nomination for supervisor with eight write-in votes to David Bryan’s one. Nickelsburg already has the Republican nomination and Bryan has the Democratic nomination.

The current supervisor, Robert Lansing, a Republican, is running for a town-board seat. He won the Conservative Party nomination with seven write-in votes to Tim Becker’s five and Democratic incumbent Ed Ryder’s one. Lansing appeared on the ballot for the Independence Party nomination and won with 11 votes.

Becker, a Republican, received the Independence nomination for a second seat with six write-in votes. Sherri Pine received four write-in votes, Ryder received three, and Donna Kropp received one.

The three-member Rensselaerville board of assessors has two open seats. Though he was the only name on the ballot, Sean McCormick, a Democrat, lost the Conservative Party nomination with no votes. Republicans Eric Sutton and Donna Kropp secured the two nominations with five votes each. The pair also won the Independence Party nominations. Sutton received 11 votes and Kropp received nine write-in votes.

New Scotland

The Republican candidates for town board and supervisor, who were endorsed by the Conservative Party, won the party line, although some Democratic candidates came close with a write-in campaign.

For the two council positions on the Conservative ballot, Democrats Wayne LaChappelle and Margaret Neri received 33 write-in votes each. Republican candidates, Douglas LaGrange received 46 votes and incumbent Councilwoman Andrea Gleason, 39.

For supervisor, incumbent Ed Clark received 44 votes and challenger Elizabeth Stewart, a Democrat, received 34 write-in votes.

For town justice, there was both a Conservative and Independence party primary. In the Conservative primary, incumbent justice Thomas Dolin, a Democrat, won with 55 votes. Republican challenger Susan Aron-DeFronzo received 26 write-in votes.

In the Independence primary for town judge, Dolin received 41 votes and Aron-DeFronzo 15.

Camp Cass raises fears in Rensselaerville

By Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE — A recent escape from the Cass Residential Center in Rensselaerville has reawakened fear. The friends and family of a Cass worker who was kidnapped and raped by a resident are worried about the security of the juvenile detention facility.

"An incident involving AWOL residents did occur," a spokesperson for the state Office of Children and Family Services confirmed; the Saturday, Sept. 24, escape is under investigation by the State Police. Because the escapees, who are now back at the facility, are juveniles, the spokesman, Brian Marchetti would not comment on the details of the incident.

The Cass Residential Center, known by some locals as Camp Cass, is located outside of the hamlet of Rensselaerville on Camp Cass Drive, off of Route 353. It’s the home of 25 male delinquents, between the ages of 14 and 18.

September’s escape comes less than a year after an escape last December in which a resident, Michael Elston, 16, of Buffalo, raped a 51-year-old employee and held her at knifepoint as they drove to Albany in her car. The victim was able to escape in Albany.

A close relative of the victim, a Rensselaerville resident who asked that her name be withheld, spoke to The Enterprise last week about her reaction to the latest escape. She alleged that one of the escapees was schizophrenic and had written about a plan to stab a worker’s ear with a pencil.

"It’s gotten to the point that the community should be afraid," she said. "It’s beyond protecting kids because they’re minors."

The relative said others in Rensselaerville are also worried.

"It’s not just us," she said. "There are a lot of people in the community that are worried. There’s been numerous escapes over the years."

J. Robert Lansing, Rensselaerville’s supervisor, said security at the center also worries him.

"It’s something that I’m concerned about," Lansing said. "I’m concerned about the whole episode."

Though Town Hall has only received one complaint about the center in his single four-year term as supervisor, Lansing said he is more concerned as a citizen of Rensselaerville since 1934. He would not comment on what he is doing about the problem or to whom he is speaking.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares has assigned an assistant district attorney to investigate allegations against the camp, said Soares’s spokesman, Richard Arthur. These allegations emerged during the prosecution of Elston, who received a 27-year prison sentence, one year short of the maximum, Arthur said. He would not comment on the allegations themselves.

The DA’s investigation is intended to determine whether or not the allegations are true, Arthur said.

"We haven’t made any such determination at this point," he said. "We are working with state investigators and we will make a determination based on our findings."

Marchetti said the center is classified as non-secure, the lowest level of security in the correctional system. The juveniles sentenced there by the court receive counseling, education, and vocational training. They also participate in a number of indoor and outdoor sports.

The Cass Residential Center referred all questions to Marchetti. Marchetti refused to comment on how security is handled at the center or the qualifications of the guards. A promised fax on security policy never arrived at The Enterprise.

Marchetti did say, "We constantly work to provide a safe and secure environment." As for people who live in the surrounding area, Marchetti said, "They’re extremely important to us."

On matters of security and relations with area residents, the center consults with a citizens’ advisory board made up of Rensselaerville citizens.

"We work very closely with them," Marchetti said.

Marchetti didn’t have available the names of the members of the advisory board. He suggested The Enterprise "track them down."

None of this is very reassuring to Rensselaerville residents. Adele Claypoole, a long-time resident and close friend of Elston’s victim, said she thinks the center does nothing to communicate with those who live near it.

"There’s nobody even to warn you," Claypoole said. "We’re basically in the woods here. They shouldn’t even be there. Obviously, they haven’t ever done a darn thing."

Claypoole questioned the center’s hiring practice for guards and other employees. She noted that her friend, the victim, was hired as a cook/secretary even though she had no kitchen experience.

"They just seem to hire anybody off the street, it seems to me," Claypoole said.

In her former job as a care provider to homebound Hilltowners, Claypoole said, she encountered many people who were afraid of escapees from the center.

On the other hand, Claypoole said, many of her neighbors don’t even know it exists. One new neighbor with children, Claypoole said, just found out about it.

"He told me that, if he had known, he never would have bought it," she said of his new home.

Grant to help with water hookups

By Matt Cook

WESTERLO — As Westerlo’s new water system comes closer to completion, the town hopes a state grant will help cover the costs of bringing the water to low-income residents.

At a meeting Tuesday, the town board announced that it had received a $82,000 Small Cities grant through the Governor’s Office to aid poorer residents with the cost of hooking into the system.

Westerlo’s water project, in development since 2000, is under construction. It will update and connect two private systems in the hamlet of Westerlo, creating one large public system.

Water-district residents are responsible for paying the cost of hiring a contractor to connect their homes to the system. With the grant, that requirement will change for some.

"Our goal is none of the low-income families need to take any money out of pocket," said town attorney Aline Galgay, who did much of the work applying for the grant along with Councilman R. Gregory Zeh.

To prepare the grant application, Galgay said, the town sent out two anonymous surveys to determine how many water-district residents would qualify for the funding. According to the surveys, 37 households qualified, Galgay said, but only 60 percent of the water-district responded. If more than 37 apply for the funding, she said, there may not be enough money to completely cover everyone’s costs.

Two qualify for the funding, a resident needs to get bids from three contractors. However, the town has gotten permission to send out requests for proposals on behalf of its residents, saving them time and effort. There is a trade-off, though. Residents must accept the contractor to whom the town awards the bids.

"If you contract with someone else, you are no longer eligible," Galgay said.

Eligibility starts at an annual income of $35,550 for a one-person household. Applications will be mailed out to all water-district residents.

About $12,000 of the grant money is allotted for administration costs. Galgay suggested the town use some of that to hire a grant administrator.

Water-district residents will each be responsible for a $358 hook-up fee, which includes the cost of a water meter. Galgay said the town is looking into making that cost part of the request for proposals, which would mean the contractor would foot the bill for low-income households.

The town’s engineer, Keith Menia, of Vollmer Associates, suggested that, since his firm had not received as many change orders as anticipated, the hook-up fee could be lowered to $217. The town board decided against lowering it, for now, because it may still have to hire someone to operate the water system.

Supervisor Richard Rapp said he had two volunteers lined up, but they backed out just before the meeting.

"It’s a thankless job," Rapp said.

"I’d rather send a check back and say, ‘You paid enough,’" said Councilman Edward Rash, of the possibility of a refund if costs continue to stay low.

Other business

In other business at the Oct. 4 meeting, the Westerlo Town Board:

—Agreed to pay Southwood Equipment $510 to service the town’s generator; and

—Charged the town’s code enforcement officer, Edwin Lawson, with looking into possible violations at a former body shop on Route 143.

Mark Vendon, a neighbor, complained about the building, which he said was in extreme disrepair.

"It’s falling down," Vendon said.

Mapping a future of prospertiy in the Hilltowns

By Matt Cook

KNOX—Building on the success of their farmers’ market, the Friends of the Helderbergs are working on a more ambitious plan to stimulate the Hilltown economy and support local business owners, craftspeople, and farmers.

The goal is to create a map and a series of signs directing visitors and Hilltowners to businesses and other local attractions, "places that are sort of hard to find and hard to get to," said Amy Pokorny, of Knox, who is heading up the project with her husband, Russ.

The Friends of the Helderbergs began holding their Hilltown Market at the Pokornys’ octagonal barn in Knox last year. The weekly event has been a success, Pokorny said, bringing in Hilltowners as well as customers from as far away as Schenectady and Troy.

At the market, Pokorny said, the Friends posted a map of the area, with labels representing the different vendors.

"The idea sort of evolved from that," she said.

Members of the Friends of the Helderbergs were aware of farm trails in different areas, so the concept was originally based on that. However, it changed very quickly.

"It became obvious that we couldn’t make a trail," Pokorny said. "It was just too complex."

A tentative map, handed out as an example at the last Knox Town Board meeting, lists 53 different sites. They range from farms to convenience stores to craft stands to parks to taverns.

"We had a hard time drawing the line between attractions that are businesses and attractions that are not," Pokorny said.

Right now, Pokorny said, the project is centered in Knox and Berne, but the Friends intend to expand it southward into Westerlo and Rensselaerville. It would allow a family to plan a whole day in the Hilltowns, she said.

"You could spend the day, having breakfast at one end of the region and end the day with a nice meal at the other end of the region, and maybe a performance at Conkling Hall or something," Pokorny said of the historic and recently restored Rensselaerville theater.

Besides the map, the other half of the project are bright yellow signs with black lettering. At the entrances to the Hilltowns, signs will be erected that read, "Discover the Helderberg Hilltowns," Pokorny said. Each participating business or farm will be given small, handmade, wooden signs with bold exclamation points. With or without the map, motorists will be able to spot Hilltown destinations by the signs, Pokorny said.

"It’s our hope that people will connect the colors of the signs," she said.

The town of Knox is already on board with the project. At the last town board meeting, Supervisor Michael Hammond directed the town’s planning board to work with the Friends on putting up signs on town highways. Meanwhile, Pokorny said, her group is in contact with the Berne, Albany County, and New York highways departments to get permission. Now that the farmers’ market season is winding down, she and her husband have more time to dedicate to the new project.

"We’re ready to get re-energized and back to the sign project," she said.

Business owners interested in participating may contact the Pokornys at 872-9131 or through the Knox Town Hall, Pokorny said.

In addition to bringing in new people to the Hilltowns, Pokorny said she hopes the project will help Hilltowners be more self-sufficient and create habits of staying on the Hill for shopping and recreation.

"I think it makes the Hilltowns a better place to live," she said.

Resource center to open — Empowering troubled parents

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

A $9.4 million federal grant, to be spent over six years, will bring mental-health services to the rural Hilltowns and to two other resource centers in Albany County — one in the city and the other in the suburbs.

Families Together in Albany County working with the county’s Department for Children, Youth and Families secured the grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"We’re one of 96 sites and 21 more were just awarded," said Moira Manning, project director; this brings the national total to 117. Altogether SAMHSA has awarded grants totaling $212 million this fiscal year to New York State.

"This will form a network of community resources for children and youth with emotional and mental health concerns," said Manning. "In Albany County, children are being put out of their homes and into psychiatric facilities....

"We want to see parents driving the treatment and improve the whole family functioning," she said.

The Hilltown resource center, which is scheduled to open later this fall, will for the first six months be located in St. John’s Church at 96 Main Street in East Berne, where space is being rented while a more permanent facility is found.

"The Hilltowns are near and dear to my heart," said Linda Stewart, the co-project director and family coordinator. "I grew up just down the Hill," said the Voorheesville native. "We used to drive up there after church on Sundays; it’s beautiful."

Stewart said it is a hardship for Hilltown residents to have to drive into the city for medical services.

"We started in March, reaching out and contacting parents through the school," she said. "A steering committee of parents has helped guide us with location and hiring, making sure we are meeting the needs of what parents want."

The committee, for example, designated the area near the Cole Hill Road ambulance center as being a central location for the Hilltowns resource center.

Manning said there have been meetings with community members, ranging from school officials to fire chiefs and emergency medical services workers.

"This will be family focused, child-centered, and strength-based," she said, noting that the Hilltowns already have a strong sense of community.

Mental health issues aren’t confined to any one income bracket, she said. And, since many insurance plans limit mental-health visits, Manning said, "Even folks with medium incomes might be eligible for a waiver."

The program aims to catch problems early — "identify behaviors that might be a red flag," as Manning put it — so that they can be treated before more difficult problems such as depression or substance abuse develop later.

Bridging the gap

Stewart said three staff members have been hired for the Hilltown resource center. The lead family advisor is Marge Capuano, and the two part-time family advisors are Amy Anderson and Marybeth Peterson.

All of the staffers, like Stewart herself, are parents or members of families of children with special needs.

"When there are emotional, behavioral, or developmental needs, the family tends to withdraw and not know where to go for help," said Stewart. "There’s no place for parents to go that is warm and welcoming, where you can ask questions, right in your neighborhood...

"This will give parents a place that meets their culture and their needs."

In addition to the resource center’s staff members, Monica Meyers, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician will also be available through all three of the Albany County resource centers. The others will be in Colonie and Albany.

"There’s a higher success rate if children are diagnosed early," said Manning. "We have a shortage of child psychiatrists. Right now, there’s a three- to six-month wait for psychiatric services. Parents become overwhelmed and children get placed outside the home."

Dr. Meyers, she said, will help bridge that gap.


A mentoring campaign is underway as part of the program. It is directed by Kevin Brown, and is based on a successful model developed at Temple University in Pennsylvania.

Brown is currently recruiting Hilltown residents who are "55 years young," he quipped, or older to be paired with youths ranging in age from nine to 15.

The goal of the Across Ages Mentoring Program, he says, is to help children succeed in school, to feel better about themselves, to help others, and to resist taking drugs.

"The success of our program, and more importantly, its ability to improve services for the youth of the Hilltowns, will be dependent upon strong members," Brown stated. "The Hilltowns senior citizens’ expertise and life experiences are key components."

Brown is asking people interested in being mentors to call him at 432-0333, ext. 24 or at 1-888-326-8644.

The pairs can do school work together, participate in community service projects, or just do something fun together, he said.

Such programs, Manning said, have been successful in getting kids to attend school, feel better about themselves, and reduce substance abuse.

"Having a connection with an older adult can make a big difference," she said.

Linking systems, empowering parents

"This grant has allowed us to network nationally," said Stewart.

When a parent is faced with a troubled child, she said, "A lot of times, they get on the Internet and, what they find out about, there’s no way to know if it works. We’re looking at practices that really work."

Stewart said she feels very fortunate to be part of the program. "This takes parents as experts with their own children to a different level," she said. It gives parents the power they need."

Manning, who has worked in the mental-health field for a decade, said, "It’s a systems approach as well." She named the many agencies that will be brought together through the program — those working in mental health, with developmental disabilities, in education, and in juvenile justice.

Besides Albany County and Families Together in New York State, two other agencies working with the program are the Albany Medical Center Pediatric Group and the University at Albany Center for Human Services Research.

"Everyone is at the table, all working together," she said. "By year six, it will be seamless. Everyone will have cross-trained. Parents will be working directly with all facets."

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