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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 9, 2006


More porn charges

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — More child pornography charges have been brought against Marc S. Sardella. The Guilderland resident was arraigned last week in town court for 10 additional counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child, all class E felonies.

He pleaded not guilty on all 11 charges.

Sardella, 47, who is a music teacher at Gardner Dickinson Elementary School in Wynantskill, lives at 12 Norman Ave., Guilderland, with his wife and five children. Sardella has been placed on administrative leave, with pay, by the Wynantskill school district.

Guilderland Police say they found numerous photos in Sardella’s possession, of both male and female children depicting sexual acts. Some of the photos found were printed and some of them were on Sardella’s personal computer, according to Guilderland Police.

Town Judge John Bailey remanded him to Albany County’s jail without bail last Thursday, and granted an order of protection to Sardella’s wife.

Sardella, manacled and wearing a prison jumpsuit, quietly entered the crowded Guilderland courtroom last Thursday with his head down, only nodding when asked if he understood the charges against him. The courtroom, usually loud and filled with random chatter, became completely silent as Sardella entered the room.

"After learning this information...Mr. Sardella’s classroom lock was changed, his computer password invalidated, and his computer seized by the Guilderland Police Department pursuant to a search warrant issued by Judge Randall, a town justice from Guilderland," the Wynantskill school said in a released statement after Sardella’s first felony charge on Dec. 28.

The new charges were brought by Guilderland Police Investigator David Romono after police reviewed evidence taken from Sardella’s home and work place. Sardella’s home computer and two other computers from the Wynantskill were confiscated by police.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with both the Guilderland and East Greenbush police departments on investigating the case.

Sardella is currently in Albany County’s jail and his case was adjourned for two weeks.


Townboard civil service

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — As the town continues to feel repercussions of a Civil Service crackdown, Guilderland may consider a lawsuit against Albany County.

"I suppose we could bring a lawsuit on the basis that they didn’t follow proper procedures," Supervisor Kenneth Runion told The Enterprise yesterday. "It might be an option we may have to look at."

Runion said he is particularly concerned about three water and wastewater employees who are still waiting for the results of their Civil Service exams. The Enterprise reported extensively on the matter in January. The three employees in question have nearly 30 years of combined experience.

So far, one employee in the assessor’s office has been fired and two employees at Guilderland Public Library, have all been fired due to failed exams. There is also a Voorheesville Public Library employee of 15 years who has failed the Civil Service exam and was subsequently fired.

"The water test was the last test to be given," said Runion.

Guilderland has invested over $10,000 to get these workers trained, and receive the proper permits and certification from New York State, in order to do their jobs, according to Runion.

Runion said if these long-time employees were replaced by newer, inexperienced workers from the county’s Civil Service list, that it would be a complete loss for the town. Not only would the money be lost for the former employee’s training, but more would have to be invested for a new employee’s training.

Runion called for an executive session at the end of the board meeting to discuss, "personnel matters resulting from changes required by Albany County Department of Civil Service."

Runion called the Civil Service exams, "aptitude tests," and said they do not necessarily pertain to the jobs they are created for.

A motion was made after the session to consolidate some town positions and add additional responsibilities for the town’s bookkeeper.

The motion will effectively turn the bookkeeper’s job into a full-time position — it is currently a 30-hour a week position — and set the hourly rate for the job at $24.72, according to Runion.

"We’re going to be hiring a part-time personnel assistant in the supervisors office," Runion added about other changes.

The meeting started with the appointment of Donald Albright as fire inspector; he has already held the position for the past eight years.

Albright’s position was recently reclassified by Albany County. The annual salary for the town’s chief fire inspector is $39,700.

Many jobs in town are being changed from non-competitive, where no Civil Service exam is required, to competitive, where an exam is now required, said Runion.

"The system is broken," Runion told The Enterprise, "when you can go back, with a stroke of a pen, and change a person’s position from non-competitive to competitive."

The town has recently received another reclassification for a record management officer, Runion said.

The way reclassification works, Runion explained to The Enterprise, is the Albany County Civil Service Department sends the town a questionnaire on a particular position. The questions included are about job duties, responsibilities, and salary. The county then takes the questionnaire, determines if a position is testable, and then creates a test for particular jobs based on the questionnaire and Civil Service regulations.

"These people who’ve been here all these years, they know how to run their jobs," Runion said. He continued, saying town workers should not be responsible for not being tested in the first place, then be expected to take a standardized exam years later.

The Albany County Civil Service director, Caitlin Frederick, did not return a call yesterday.

However, Frederick told The Enterprise last month that she does not want people lose their jobs, but that county regulations will be enforced regardless of the number of years people have served.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Unanimously approved the request of the superintendent of the transfer station, Timothy Spawn, to hold two hazardous-waste days at the highway garage, and participate in the Regional Electronics Day held in Colonie. The two hazardous-waste days will be May 13 and Sept. 23, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The electronics day, which allows residents to dispose of all electronic items, will be held in the parking lot of Taft Furniture on Central Avenue, on April 22, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.;

— Unanimously adopted a resolution that authorized filing out a grant application with the state of New York for financial assistance with the household hazardous waste programs;

— Unanimously adopted a resolution concerning issues involved with Albany County’s reconstruction project on Schoolhouse Road, at the county’s request. Some of the issues included installing sidewalks along Schoolhouse Road, which will be the responsibility of the town, including the maintenance, and the water main relocation work at the county’s expense;

— Unanimously authorized Spawn to bid for the grinding and removal of yard waste from the transfer station for 2006. "We’d like to go out for just one bid at the beginning of the year...That price will hold for the rest of the contract year 2006," Runion said during the meeting;

— Unanimously authorized the highway department to bid for various items for 2006. Some of the items included crushed gravel, galvanized piping, diesel fuel, and heating fuel;

— Unanimously authorize an inter-municipal agreement with the village of Altamont to purchase a parcel of land, on the corner of Route 146 and Gun Club Road, from Albany County for back taxes. The cost of the taxes is roughly $40,000 and will be split evenly with the village. "It’s a good location, on a main traveled roadway, and it’s a good parcel of land," said Runion during the meeting. The town’s assessment for the property is currently valued at $121,500; and

— Unanimously agreed to meet several conditions laid out by Boswell Engineering to dedicate the subdivision of Windsor Court to the town. Some of the conditions include an escrow agreement for a deposit of $54,370 in order to complete work; two additional building permits; and installing 200 feet of sidewalk along Arbor Drive. Runion made a stipulation before voting on the motion that the building permit for lot number seven will not be issued until a sidewalk is in place, for the safety of potential buyers.


IAA denied

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Insurance Auto Auctions would run a junkyard, according to Guilderland’s zoning board.

I.A.A. wanted to store wrecked cars at the Northeastern Industrial Park. The town’s zoning law does not allow junkyards in the industrial-zoned area, but I.A.A representatives claimed their operation would not be a junkyard, selling car parts.

When the board met last Wednesday, its first order of business was defining the term "junkyard," and giving I.A.A. an interpretation of the zoning law.

I.A.A. buys and stores total-loss vehicles from insurance companies, then acquires the vehicle titles, and sells the vehicles in auctions at its warehouses throughout the country. A total-loss vehicle is any vehicle needing repairs costing more than its overall value. I.A.A. wanted to store up to 1,850 vehicles at the industrial park, according to its application.

"Our interpretation is set forth by the zoning codes," said the board’s Chairman, Peter Barber.

The zoning laws states, "a junkyard is a lot, land or structure, or part thereof, used for...the collecting, dismantling, storage, procuring or salvaging of machinery or vehicles not in running condition or for the sale of parts thereof, operated as a business on site where an employee is in attendance."

After giving their interpretation of the zoning codes, six of the seven board members deemed I.A.A.’s business proposal a junkyard. Board member James Sumner, abstained from the vote.

Barber said, while he believes the code’s definition may be "overly wordy," the code still clearly defines a junkyard, and he believes I.A.A. fits the description.

Barber also said, countering I.A.A.’s earlier argument, that the current definition does not render homes and other local businesses as junkyards, simply because they have a broken lawn mower or car stored there.

I.A.A.’s only recourse now is to apply for a zoning variance and special-use permit, both of which would place greater restrictions on the company.

The board did not discuss environmental concerns, which were raised earlier because I.A.A.’s proposed site was the same used by a controversial mulching facility in 2003. The site is near the Black Creek, which feeds Guilderland’s main water source.

"We wish you luck if you want to take further review of this," Barber told John Stockley from the firm Stockley Greene, which is representing I.A.A.

Cat concerns

The board also heard from Dr. Susan Sikule last week, who operates the Just for Cats veterinarian clinic, on plans for the expansion of her 2073 Western Ave. business.

Sikule wants to add 4,500 square feet to her feline clinic by expanding into an adjacent building, which she also owns. The construction plans propose building a connecting corridor between the two buildings and renovating the front of the building facing Route 20.

She asked the board for a zoning variance and a special-use permit for the planned expansion.

A neighbor, Wayne Crounse, voiced his concerns over the expansion during the meeting, even though he was not against the proposal.

The new construction would expand the Just for Cats parking lot to a total of 30 parking spaces. Crounse’s concern was with the driveway he shares with Sikule’s business, and customers using his personal wrap-around driveway to gain access to her business.

"The board has to step up and evaluate the property impact," said Crounse. He told the board there are no proper signs directing traffic, and delivery trucks often take up too much of the driveway and make noise and fumes.

Crounse did say that Sikule was a good neighbor and responsible businesswoman, but he was concerned the new expansion might compound the problems.

"There should be signs, there is none," said Crounse. "You people [board members] never do anything about it." Crounse reiterated that he only wanted to go on record about the issue to make sure something was done.

Crounse said he wanted signs to direct traffic and asked to see the proposed lighting plan for the business and its signs.

"Even back in 1922, Route 20 was busy," said Crounse about the difficulty of gaining access to his home, and he said he does not want it to get any worse.

The board looked over Sikule’s construction plans, and, with some suggestions, the board voted to reconvene the first week of March. The board asked Sikule for a detailed lighting plan, as well as for plans dealing with drainage, signs, traffic flow, and the driveways themselves.

"I’ve got the best spot in Guilderland," Crounse joked. "I’m between a lube shop and a cat house."

Other business

In other business, the zoning board:

— Unanimously granted William and Donna Nieman two variances of the regulations under the zoning laws for additions to their 3 Wood St. residence;

— Unanimously granted Colonial Car Wash an use variance, which Barber said was rare, for its 1769 Western Ave. business. Victor Caponera, the companies lawyer, asked to tear down an existing self-service car wash, and reconstruct a similar car wash in a different location on the same lot. The board will review the application for a special-use permit during the next meeting and found that the business will not have a significant impact on the environment. The board asked to see a more detailed site plan to discuss "outstanding issues," and reconvened until the Feb. 15 meeting for the special-use permit; and

— Unanimously approved a sign, which is less than 50 square feet, for Ray Sign Inc. in Stuyvesant Plaza.


Weisz will seek third term
Bakst bows out after nine years on board

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — After nine years on the Guilderland School Board, Linda Bakst will not seek a fourth term.

Bakst, the board’s vice president, made the announcement at Tuesday’s televised board meeting.

When she first ran for the school board, her son was in second grade and her daughter was in fourth grade.

Bakst appealed to those with young children to run for the board. She noted that only one of the board’s nine members, Colleen O’Connell, has an elementary-aged child.

Bakst said she believes the district is filled with well-intentioned, decent people as she noted there have been many "contentious challenges."

Referring to the superintendent, the director of human resources, and the assistant superintendents for business and for instruction, she lauded the "district team" as being "terrific people to work with."

The other two board members whose terms will be up this year are President Gene Danese and Richard Weisz.

Danese ran against Bakst for the board presidency and won this summer. Like Bakst, he has served three terms.

In July, when he assumed the presidency, he said this would probably be his last term on the board. Yesterday, Danese told The Enterprise he hasn’t made a final decision yet, but will announce his intentions at the Feb. 28 board meeting.

Weisz, a lawyer, has served two terms. He told The Enterprise yesterday that he will run for a third term.

"I believe in public education," he said, "and I feel a commitment to continue. I still feel I have the energy to and something to contribute."

School-board elections are in May, at the same time as the budget vote. The posts are unpaid and candidates do not run on political party lines.

Bakst told The Enterprise one of the things she is proudest of accomplishing during her tenure on the board is helping to convince the New York State School Boards Association to lobby for pension reform.

"I think we’ve become more active lobbying," Bakst said of the Guilderland School Board. "We’ve become more visible with our legislators. I think I’ve been part of that."

Asked why she decided to step down, Bakst said, with a smile, "I need to look for gainful employment."

Her daughter is a college student now, and her son, who will be a senior at Guilderland next year, will be a college student soon, she said.

Bakst holds a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton, a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, and has completed all the requirements for a doctorate degree in public administration from the University at Albany save for writing a dissertation.

After staying home to raise her children, she started a full-time job in 2003 at the Anti-Defamation League. She was program director of the World of Difference Institute, training students and staff on issues of prejudice, until the job was cut.

"I feel nine years is a long time," Bakst went on of her board tenure. "It’s good for the district to have new blood, new ideas."

Asked about the future of the board, Bakst said, "I feel we need people who really value public education as their first priority. Yes, we need to have conversations on health insurance and saving money," she said after the meeting Tuesday night, where those were topics. "But we need to hear from people who hold education near and dear to their heart and see the investment it represents."

When Bakst announced that she would seek re-election three years ago, she said, "My philosophy is very much centered on looking at our students as whole people. There’s a lot of pressure in the world today to only look at performance and to measure in specific ways that I think are not enough...Not all children fit in a cookie cutter and we need to meet all their needs."

Bakst was elected to the board after a period of turmoil when budgets had been voted down, fueled by a citizens’ group demanding lower taxes.

Bakst chaired the board’s policy committee for a number of years and said at that time on an issue of major debate, "There are those not satisfied with the grading policy, but I think we took the right approach."

Bakst has been a stalwart opponent of seeking alternative funds, which was once the position of the board’s majority. This year, the rest of the board voted to set up a committee to consider non-public funding for the schools.

"There’s a lot of pressure to look for other sources of revenue," Bakst said three years ago, referring to such means as pouring rights, foundations, or in-school advertising. "I want to communicate what my concerns are."

She had stated her view succinctly: "Public education should be supported by the public. It’s about democracy..."


Decision-making clarified

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district here is still refining the shared decision-making plan required by the state for a dozen years and instituted initially in Guilderland nearly three decades ago.

Guilderland began its practice of participatory management, letting staff help run the schools, in the late 1970’s. In the mid-nineties, it added parents to the mix, as required by the state.

Now building cabinets in each school — the high school, the middle school, and the five elementary schools — help in making a wide range of recommendations.

Every two years, school districts are required by the state to review and update their plans. This year, Guilderland made just one change. Each building principal is to clarify the decision-making level for major decisions, which may be made in three ways:

— Level I represents a decision made by consensus or by a majority of stakeholders;

— Level II represents a leadership decision influenced by input from stakeholders; and

— Level III represents a unilateral leadership decision.

"Some decisions just need to be made by a principal," Nancy Andress told the school board Tuesday night, as she reported on the biennial review.

Andress is the district’s superintendent for instruction and she co-chaired a Jan. 18 meeting of stakeholders with Superintendent Gregory Aidala. The group reviewed the district’s plan and agreed to clarify the types of decisions administrators make.

In a report to the board, Andress wrote what each building principal had said was accomplished by that school’s cabinet.

Peter Brabant, the principal of Altamont Elementary School, for example, reported that his cabinet had looked at concerns for larger class size, researching multi-age programs, making visits, and developing a recommendation.

Each school, as well as the board, had to check off how successful they were in meeting each of six components: Educational issues subject to shared decision-making, involvement of all parties, means and standards used to evaluate improvement of student achievement, accountability for decisions, dispute resolution process, and coordination of state and federal requirements for parental involvement.

In each case, except where the component was not addressed, the highest level of success was checked off — with just three exceptions. Altamont Elementary in two instances checked off one level down from the top — "moderate implementation and success" for dispute resolution and for standards used to evaluate student improvement. Guilderland High School also checked off that category for standards used to evaluate student improvement.

The high-school cabinet is working on building community, Andress said in her report, and has mapped out what is going well and where the gaps are. The school has a new principal after having had an interim principal for half-a-year and a two-year principal before that.

"What does it mean""

Board member Colleen O’Connell said she had heard from parents on "different sides" of a recent school-security debate that "meaningful shared decision-making did not take place" with that issue.

This fall, monitors were placed at the front entrances to the district’s five elementary schools, on the recommendation of a district subcommittee that had studied school security. But the school board ultimately stopped short of the subcommittee’s recommendation to lock the school’s front doors.

"We could have done a better job," agreed Andress of involving stakeholders in the decision-making process on school security.

"What does it mean"" asked school board member Peter Golden.

"We should have done more work with the building cabinets and PTA’s," said Andress.

Golden asked if shared decision-making involved a vote or if it was a non-binding search for opinion.

"It just makes a lot more sense to get as much feedback as possible...There were some hard feelings," said Andress.

Shared decision-making is regulated by the State Education Department, said board President Gene Danese. While the board is not bound by the decisions made, he said, "We do want their input and we value it."

Board member Thomas Nachod asked about the committee of volunteers that reviews the district’s budget proposal each year. He said it was conceivable that the presentation this year could "contain cultural shifts in our philosophy."

"Do major structural changes have to go through building cabinets and PTA’s"" asked Nachod.

"It’s kind of like Level II," responded Superintendent Aidala, referring to the second level of decision-making now clarified in Guilderland’s plan.

After the budget-review sessions are complete, he said, "It goes back to the board to provide direction to the administration."

Board Vice President Linda Bakst said that, when she used to be a member of the building cabinet at Westmere Elementary School, in the first rounds of budget discussions, there were "conversations about what was percolating."

She went on, "Shared decision-making to me is a misnomer...The principal makes the decision, just like we’re making the decision."

Board member Catherine Barber pointed out that, traditionally, the citizens’ committee has not been charged with reaching a consensus on the budget.

"We’re listening to a wide variety of opinions on a wide variety of topics," she said.


Is another bus needed"
Sanders proposes buying nine school buses for $700K

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — As the school board on Tuesday reviewed a proposal to purchase nine new buses, including six large ones, two board members questioned whether that was enough.

"We decided not to get the seventh bus even though the consultant said it would be useful"" asked board member Richard Weisz.

"Eventually, it will catch up to us," conceded Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders who presented the proposal to the board. "We’re trying to be cognizant of the fact it does have an impact on our debt."

Last month, officers of the local union that includes bus drivers and mechanics expressed concerns to the school board about a $10,000 efficiency study on busing students it had agreed to; the NEA (National Education Association) officers were particularly concerned about privatization. They handed out invitations to each board member to shadow bus drivers as they work.

Board member Catherine Barber said she had ridden on a bus that day and she was surprised how many demands there are on the transportation services.

The district currently has a fleet of 110 buses; 90 are assigned to routes and 20 are used as spares. Overall, the bus fleet travels 8,000 miles a day or 1.5 million miles a year.

Weisz said he thought the number of spares sounded like a lot until he realized the state could call up a half-dozen for inspection. Spares are also used when buses break down or when field trips or sports trips overlap with regular runs, said Sanders.

"We’re really out of spare buses in the large-bus category," said Christine Sagendorf, the district’s transportation supervisor. "A lot of times, the lot is empty."

Weisz said that was why he was concerned about not buying the seventh large bus this year. "I don’t want to pass on to future boards a year when they have to buy 10 buses," he said.

The proposal presented by Sanders was to replace four 66-passenger buses, three 47-passenger buses, and two 20-passenger buses. The buses are each over 10 years old and have between 118,000 and 156,000 miles, Sanders said.

The district would buy three 30-passenger buses at $165,000 each, and six 66-passenger buses. The three big buses with chains, "for hilly areas," said Sanders, would cost $268,390 each and the three without chains would cost $262,330.

The total cost for the bus purchases would be $695,720.

Sanders said that Transportation Advisory Services, the company that is doing the efficiency study on the district’s transportation system, reviewed the proposal and said seven big buses would maintain the average age of the fleet.

Board member Colleen O’Connell stressed, "He’s being paid for that opinion and we’re not going to buy buses from him," which Sanders said was correct.

Sanders’s proposal also included replacing one plow truck in the maintenance and grounds department at a cost of $45,000.

The new truck with salter would replace an 18-year-old plow truck that has rusted and has parts that are not readily replaceable, Sanders said.

Board member John Dornbush asked if that was the truck the district had proposed buying a year ago "and we took it out of the budget."

Sanders said it was.

The truck and bus purchases would be financed through short-term Bond Anticipation Notes, Sanders said, which are renewable for up to a five-year period. The first debt-service payment would be in 2007-08 and would be offset by a prior maturing five-year note, he said.

Sanders recommended that, as usual, there be a separate bus-and-equipment proposition for voters to decide on May 16 with the budget vote and annual election. The total amount for the proposition would be $740,720. Currently, the state reimburses Guilderland just over half in transportation aid.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Mike Murphy, who spoke for the Hockey Booster Club and the varsity team, asking that the hockey budget not be cut further.

Last year, he said, the $21,000 budget was cut by about $9,000. The school district gets about $4,000 in gate receipts against the $13,000 it pays, said Murphy.

"The kids were called upon to do fund-raising to make up that difference," he said; this came to about $650 per player.

Additionally, Murphy said, families pay for much expensive equipment, such as $200 or more for a pair of skates and $180 or more for a helmet.

He also said that hockey was "an easy target" for budget cuts because it was the only team with facilities costs listed separately.

"We’re not complaining," said Murphy, stating the families had accepted the responsibility. "We’re asking you to consider the sacrifices that have been made and not to make any more cuts in the hockey budget";

— Appointed Barry Hughes as a community representative to the audit committee now required by state law, and appointed O’Connell as a board representative, replacing Thomas Nachod.

Danese said Nachod was stepping down because of a perceived conflict of interest; he commended Nachod for his work;

— Appointed eight more members to the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, bringing the total now to 18 — half new members and half returning members.

This week’s appointees are new members Bryan Anderson, Jeanna Cornetti, Tracy Murphy, and Joe Siracusa, and returning members David Heller, Richard Young, Timothy Burke, and Rae Ellen Burke.

Last year, 29 volunteers participated. The superintendent urged district residents to contact him or a school board member if they are interested in joining.

The committee will meet six times in March, beginning on March 2. This year, for the first time, each session will include a 20- to 30-minute question-and-answer period facilitated by Aidala;

— Adopted, by a vote of 8 to 1, a policy on notification of Level 3 sex offenders, deemed to be the most dangerous in the state’s three-tiered system.

Barbara Fraterrigo, who chairs the board’s policy committee, went over the point system, which accounts for 14 factors, in determining a sex offender’s level.

Weisz asked why the district sends home notice only of Level 3 offenders.

"We want to really focus on the most serious offender," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala. Staff is notified if a Level 2 offender moves into the district so they can be on the lookout, he said, but notices are sent home only for Level 3 offenders.

Board member Linda Bakst cast the sole dissenting vote. She had said at an earlier board meeting that she opposed sending home pictures of the offenders, stating that they are available on-line and it is "unnecessarily scary";

— Heard that Seneca House, the new, fourth house at Farnsworth Middle School will host a Diversity Celebration on Feb. 17 where each student will make a flag for their family’s country of origin and families will bring in foods that celebrate their heritage;

— Heard from board member Peter Golden that motions he had proposed on how the district procures health insurance be tabled until more information is provided;

— Heard from Bakst about a legislative breakfast she attended during which, she said, the Guilderland contingent made it clear to state representatives that school-aid cuts proposed by the governor should be restored.

"They’re going to have to get to some hard work about how schools are funded," she said. "Some of the governor’s proposals are dead on arrival...which I think is a good thing for us";

— Heard that school-district representatives met with representatives of the Guilderland Public Library on Feb. 1 to discuss matters of mutual interest, including computer innovations at the library, a joint Reading Connections program, and the library’s long-range plans; and

— Met in executive session to discus administrator and supervisor performance reviews and a real-property issue.


Thomas objects to water fees

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — A local developer, hoping to keep costs down on a large senior complex, protested the village’s proposal to charge a fee for new hookups to the Altamont water system.

During a public hearing at a village board meeting Tuesday night, Jeff Thomas, who is planning to build homes for seniors along Brandle Road, just outside of the village, said the village’s plan is unfair to seniors and unfair to developers who make improvements to the water system.

"You have an opportunity today to do more than just submit information," Thomas told the board. "You have an opportunity to assist some seniors on their utility costs....I don’t want you to get hung up on numbers. I want you to get hung up on principle."

The water-strapped village is planning a two-phase project to improve its water system—over a century old in some places—at a cost of $2.5 million.

To help pay for the project and ease the burden on taxpayers, the village board and Mayor James Gaughan have proposed a fee of $2,500 per unit for each new residential unit hooking into the water system. Those already on the system would not be charged.

The fee would apply to users in and out of the village. An apartment would be considered a fraction of a unit, depending on the number of bedrooms it has, and commercial property owners will be charged by usage, one unit per 200 gallons of water used per day.

In material prepared for an informational meeting on the topic, Gaughan claimed that the so-called benefit-assessment fee is common for municipalities. Saratoga Springs charges $3,000 per unit and Colonie charges between $1,125 and $3,750 per unit for the Latham Water District, depending on location, he said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Thomas countered that, according to his research, Saratoga and Colonie credit developers for improvements they make to the water system, subtracting it from the cost of the hookup fees.

Thomas said his project will generate $140,000 worth of improvements to the infrastructure, including bringing fire hydrants to the Brandle Road area. The benefit assessment fees would cost him $60,475, he said.

"I say it’s unfair," Thomas said.

The mayor told The Enterprise last week that the fees are not intended to target Thomas’s project or any other specific project, and Thomas told The Enterprise this week that he doesn’t feel targeted. However, the Brandle Road complex is by far the largest pending proposal for the water system.

The project is currently on hold as the village’s new source of water—a well on a five-acre site on Brandle Road—is tied up in litigation. The unwilling sellers, the village, and Thomas are involved in a lawsuit triangle.

Thomas said that, if the village approves the fees, the cost will have to be paid by his tenants and home-buyers.

"Any construction costs end up getting passed down to the end user," he told The Enterprise.

Thomas also proposed a senior discount for the fees.

"They’re retired and they’re on a limited fixed income," he said. "It seems like the village is all about senior services. This is a way that they can help upstanding, retired seniors, by setting up a senior rate."

A few elderly residents, who have spoken in support of Thomas before, spoke in favor of Thomas’s proposals or said Thomas was speaking for them. Gaughan noted that the village had received eight letters opposing the fees.

A few residents also spoke in favor of the fees.

"As a taxpayer, I think the water and sewer rates are pretty high right now," said Chris Marshall. "To have just the current taxpayers pay for all [of the improvements] will be a hardship for us."

Government response

The village board voted to continue the public hearing at next month’s meeting. Gaughan told The Enterprise he had hoped to have a decision this month, but that the extra month is necessary to consider the information given by Thomas.

In particular, Gaughan said, he wants to find out if the credits given in Colonie and Saratoga apply to projects outside of the town or city.

He noted that the village is considering several routes to attach the water system to the well on Brandle Road, phase one of the project. The route along Brandle Road, through Thomas’s project, is the most expensive one, he said.

Trustee Harvey Vlahos said he supported lowering the proposed fee.

Tim McIntyre, who heads Altamont’s department of public works, when asked by a trustee for his view, said Thomas should pay the fees because his project does not benefit the rest of the village.

"We don’t need an improvement out there," McIntyre said. "We’re all set."

Other business

In other business at the Feb. 7 meeting, the Altamont Village Board:

—Approved spending up to $7,000 for upgrades to the fire department’s security system and transferring $140,872 from the fire equipment reserve account for a new mini-pumper truck;

—Agreed to enter into a one-year contract with Metro Media to record village board meetings onto two DVD’s, one for the village and one for broadcast on public access television;

—Passed a resolution designating the village as a Hudson River Valley Greenway Community. Altamont was the last municipality in Albany County to join the Greenway, which assists municipalities in counties along the Hudson River in planning and development; and

—Authorized the village to co-purchase, with Guilderland, a property at 759 Route 146. The town and village will split the cost, 50-50. In total, Gaughan said, the property can be bought from the county for back taxes of about $45,000.

The property, known as the Crounse home, is in fair to good condition, Gaughan said. After an initial assessment, he said, the village could form a committee to propose uses for the building. The uses could include senior or youth functions, and historical and cultural activities, Gaughan said.


Dismissed: Two more cops let go by village

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — Two part-time officers were dismissed from the Altamont Police Department Tuesday as part of the new commissioner’s restructuring project.

After an executive session, the Altamont Village Board voted unanimously to take Peter Yakel and Richard Vanderbilt off the force.

Yakel and Vanderbilt have not been on duty for a long time and have not been available to fit into the department’s schedule, Public Safety Commissioner Anthony Salerno said.

"I feel it’s important that, in order to be a police officer, you have to work as a police officer," Salerno told The Enterprise.

Mayor James Gaughan told The Enterprise that the officers’ inactivity was the only reason for their dismissal.

Salerno, who works nights as an Albany Police investigator, was appointed Altamont’s commissioner in August after an examination of the department by a citizens’ committee. Residents had been complaining about excessive police presence in the village of 1,700, which is covered by the Guilderland Police Department, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, and the State Police. The committee recommended keeping the department in the village, but was critical of a full-time commissioner that couldn’t make arrests and of so many part-time officers.

Subsequently, the commissioner, Robert Coleman, offered his resignation. Coleman was active in an officer’s training program, and the ranks of the village police swelled during his tenure.

When Salerno took over in the fall, three officers resigned and five others got letters from Salerno, stating that he couldn’t fit them into the future work schedule.

"We had too many officers when I came, and I felt it wasn’t appropriate," Salerno said on Wednesday.

Nine part-time officers remain in the department. Salerno said, usually, one officer is on duty plus himself. An officer is on duty at all times, he said. During peak times, like the during the Altamont Fair, held anually in August, Salerno said, more officers will be on duty.

The nine remaining officers are the ones who most want to be there, Salerno said.

"They’re committed," he said. "They want to work and they want to help people."

Salerno has also created a department mission statement and a standard operation policy, provided more training for his officers, and employs a mounted and a bicycle-riding officer.

The police department now has the capability to take the lead in any kind of investigation, including criminal investigations, Salerno said.

"That was my ultimate goal," he said. "We’re a full-service agency."

Altamont Police investigations have led to two high-profile arrests recently: one of three juveniles for stealing computers from Altamont Elementary School, and another of Thomas Stevens, of Altamont, for stealing his mother’s identity to make over $50,000 of credit-card purchases.

"This is the professional policing that comes from a well-trained, experienced force and that comes directly from the commissioner," Mayor Gaughan said.

The nine part-time members of the Altamont Police Department are: Matthew T. Hanzalki, Scott A. Mannarino, Maurice McCormick, Walter Pajak, Melanie Parkes, Todd Pucci, Patrick Thomas, Josh Davenport, and Kenneth Lebel Jr.

Thomas is the community-relations officer, and Pucci and Lebel are training officers. Parker sometimes patrols on a horse and Lebel on a bicycle.


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