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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 21, 2006
Conservancy gets Knox land
Preserve: 138 acres of tremendous benefit
By Tyler Schuling
KNOX Daniel Driscoll is excited about the new preserve in Knox, calling it a "tremendous benefit" to the town, and he’s doing everything he can to get the town involved and allow visitors access to the property.
Dr. Steve Brown, a retired biology professor at the University at Albany and environmentalist, donated his land along Bozenkill Road this summer to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization based in Slingerlands.
The 138-acre preserve includes land on both sides of Bozenkill Road with about 3,000 feet of frontage, and on both sides of the Canadian Pacific railroad. Wolf Creek and an unnamed creek run through it, and the forest is made up of hardwoods maple, oak, and hickory. The preserve also has six waterfalls.
During the 25 years they owned the land, Brown and his wife, Dr. Patricia Brown, also a biology professor and environmentalist, slowly created a network of trails.
Patricia Brown, who taught at Siena College, died in 2004, and the family donated the land to the conservancy to preserve it for public enjoyment. According to Knox Town Assessor Russell Pokorny, the 138.6-acre parcel has a full-value assessment of $163,077.
To date, Driscoll said, the conservancy has protected more than 1,300 acres in the region. Driscoll, its president, helped found the organization in 1992. Last week, he introduced the latest aquisition to the Knox Town Board and asked for the towns help.
The property, he said, doesnt have an adequate parking area for visitors.
Driscoll asked for the town to help access the property by grading an area along Bozenkill Road, clearing it of trees and brush, and adding a layer of shale to make a small parking area large enough for six cars.
A culvert, he said, is already in place, to access the property. Supervisor Michael Hammond told The Enterprise this week that he and Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury havent yet looked at the property, but plan to in the future.
Driscoll also plans to erect kiosks with visitor information about the trails and features of the preserve.
The property, Driscoll said, will foster recreation and preserve the towns rural character.
The conservancy has three preserves in the town: the Hudson and Nancy Winn Preserve, the Bozenkill Creek Preserve, and the most recent addition Browns property on Bozenkill Road is yet unnamed.
The conservancy, Driscoll said, doesnt want to name it after the donor. He asked the board and residents for suggestions, and added that the name should relate to the history or features of the property.
Brown, who now lives in Michigan, had a house and cabin on the property; the house was sold to a man from Long Island, and the cabin, Driscoll said, was given to Browns daughter, who lives there part-time.
History of the preserve
"Part of the 12,000 square mile Van Rensselaer estate, known as Rensselaerwyck, this parcel initially 160 acres was first passed into public ownership in 1864, when Andrew Van Auken received legal title to the land," Steve Brown wrote in a history of the land.
The land was originally used to raise sheep; the wool went to the Huyck Woolen Mills in Rensselaerville. After the felt market collapsed, the land fell into disuse.
The original farmhouse and barn, located on the north side of Bozenkill Road, were destroyed, and the cottage that now stands at 816 Bozenkill Road, was built on the remains of the farmhouse.
A succession of owners purchased the land during the later part of the 19th century and the first 75 years of the 20th Century. These owners used the land in a variety of ways operating a commercial stone quarry, building a pheasant-raising barn and cabin for hunting, and erecting barbed-wire fencing for beef cattle.
The Delaware & Hudson Railroad once had "switched siding" on the north side of the property to facilitate loading washed stone into hopper cars.
Driscoll, a retired engineer, was born in Brooklyn and now lives in Knox. He said he chose to live in the area because it is close to the Adirondacks and the Catskill mountains.
Having served in the Air National Guard for six years as a surveyor, Driscoll is methodical and precise in measuring. He paces along the road from the prospective parking area on Bozenkill Road to what he thinks would be the best entrance for the public.
As he hikes along the trails on the Bozenkill Road preserve, he stops when coming upon a unique feature of the property. Since the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy acquired the property this summer, Driscoll has walked its trails and explored it about "half a dozen times," he said. Each time he visits the property, he said, he finds something new.
As he walks along the trails, Driscoll often breaks free from the footpath and scouts. He studies the propertys boundaries, and considers the most suitable places for public entrances.
Consulting his map of the preserve, Driscoll also takes note of the features of the property. Some features are noted, while others are not. Revisions need to be made.
Though he hasnt worked with Albany County before on clearing land, Driscoll said, hes going to talk to the county about clearing brush from a ditch along Bozenkill Road and ask to have a section of a guardrail removed to allow visitor access.
He is also going to ask neighbors for cooperation maintaining the preserve as well as creating new trails for the public that would edge their properties.
Driscoll stops and takes note of the stone walls that had once served as pens for sheep. The stones, he said, were pushed from under the ground to the surface. This took thousands of years, and, throughout the next thousands of years, the rock will slowly descend back below the surface.
The Browns cleared some spots of the forest and placed benches in the clearing. Driscoll said Brown told him that he and his wife went to these places to meditate.
On the north side of Bozenkill Road, there are ruins of an abandoned wash house, where, Driscoll said, rocks from the nearby quarries were brought and washed. They were then loaded onto railcars just to the north.
A number of waterfalls also cover the property, and shale and glacial erratics boulders left by glaciers line the banks of the streams. Driscoll looked at the waterfalls, not yet frozen by winters cold temperatures.
"This is an amazing gift Steve Brown gave to the town of Knox," he said.
Out of order"
State trooper at Rville meeting
By Tyler Schuling
RENSSELAERVILLE Meetings have turned hostile at town hall in past months, with residents catcalling, yelling, and verbally attacking each other and the supervisor.
Last Thursday, at the behest of the supervisor, a State Trooper showed up just before the meetings public comment period.
"I see we’ve got a cop here now in case democracy breaks out," said Jeff Pine, husband of Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Pine, and one of the town’s assessors; he has been critical of Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg since he took office in January.
It was a measure to "keep order" in what has become a hostile environment, Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week. The addition of the officer is also in response to the comments of concerned residents, he said.
Nickelsberg, a Republican who presides over a politically-divided board, told The Enterprise this week that residents, "many of them in the Democratic party," have contacted him and told him they no longer attend meetings because of audience "haranguing" and "bad behavior."
"‘It bothers me,’" a woman told him.
"Some people don’t like confrontation," Nickelsberg said. "Bad behavior," he said, "stops people from coming."
Since Nickelsberg took office Jan. 1, town hall has often been packed for board meetings.
Nickelsberg said that, with resident behavior at past meetings, there are two options. "You can either adjourn the meeting or you can have law-enforcement there," he said.
"I’m 64 years old. I’ve never seen such despicable behavior," Nickelsberg said at last week’s meeting. About 30 people are in the group that does the "haranguing," said Nickelsberg.
At its November meeting, Sal Santo, a surveyor and developer, asked about town bidding procedures. Santo had previously asked about the procedures at several town-board meetings, and, he said, he was tired of not getting an answer. Santo has said the town "didn’t properly put things out to bid," that the town board "wrote a blank check" to Lamont Engineers, and that a form wasn’t signed by a licensed engineer. "It’s bad government," Santo said last week.
Nickelsberg asked Santo to sit after he began yelling during the November meeting, and Santo yelled louder.
Nickelsberg then asked Santo to leave. Santo refused and remained standing as other residents in the gallery made comments.
Prior to the November meeting, residents were given two chances to speak for three minutes each once at the beginning of meetings and again at the end. Residents now are only allowed to comment at the meetings end, and speaking time has been reduced to two minutes for each resident.
The states Open Meetings Law requires meetings of elected municipal boards to be open to the public; the public must be allowed to observe the meetings, but the law does not require boards to allow public comment such comment periods are at the discretion of the board.
None of the other boards in the Hilltowns have a time limit for residents comments.
Nickelsberg said the public-comment session was taken out of the beginning of town-board meetings, because, "with that kind of behavior, it gets us off our game." He went on, "We have a busy schedule. Two minutes is plenty of time."
"We’re trying to run like a business," Nickelsberg said at the Dec. 14 meeting.
"This isn’t a business," said Georgette Keonig, a resident who is often critical of Nickelsberg.
"What’s resented is you’re ignoring limits at your own discretion," said another resident, who identified herself as a teacher, implying that Nickelsberg cuts people off if he doesn’t like what is being said, but allows them to speak if he agrees with them.
Another audience member had a stopwatch, and said she timed the speakers from the audience; some spoke for less than two minutes, and others spoke over two minutes, she said.
Ed Pizzigati, a member of the Medusa Volunteer Fire Company, asked why the opening comment period was taken out of the beginning of the meeting. Pizzigati said the people have a right to comment at the onset of a meeting. Audience comments prior to the boards conducting business could affect the boards decisions, he said.
Jeff Pine called the reduction of time allowed to the public a "disservice to the community," and added that Nickelsberg doesn’t like what some people have to say. "Too bad," Pine said.
The State Trooper will be at future board meetings, Nickelsberg told The Enterprise yesterday.
"His presence, in part, helps," he said. Nickelsberg added that the trooper will be seen at board meetings "until people voice their opinions in a more genteel fashion."
In other business, the town board:
Heard a letter from Steve Wood. Wood, a Conservative, thanked the board for keeping the budget down. Wood, who ran a close race against incumbent Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase last year, urged Chase and the town board to work more closely together. Wood also encouraged citizens to stop name-calling and catcalls at town board meetings.
Wood, who has worked on various projects in town with Bob Bolte to lower costs, also encouraged hiring local talent to save taxpayers money. Wood and Bolte both consider themselves part-time town employees.
They began repairs to the salt shed and completed its first phase.
Tons of salt had been stored against the back wall of the shed, at two to three times the allowable height, and weakened the beams. Repair costs were estimated in July at $5,000 to $10,000.
Wood said he and Bolte didn’t finish the project, which would have have cost the town less, and they were "stopped by the narrow-mindedness" of certain town-board members. Wood urged Conservatives to get together;
Received a document from G. Jon Chase for the boards annual highway agreement. The document listed the roads the highway department plans to repair in 2007.
"Prices are not going down," Chase said. Chase said the town could save some money if he buys stone by March.
"We have one-third of the stone in stock for roads," he said.
"How many roads have blacktop"" Nickelsberg asked.
"All of them," Chase replied.
Nickelsberg addressed Chase, and said hed like to get together with him in the next five days;
Heard from County Legislator Alexander (Sandy) Gordon. Gordon said Albany Countys 2007 budget has decreased 2 percent from this year, although $1.6 million was added to the county budget for workers compensation insurance. Instead of buying on the public market, Gordon said, the county created a pool for itself.
"We would like to extend this service to municipalities and schools," Gordon said.
Gordon also cited the Advanced Life Support program, which provides fly-cars in emergencies.
This year, Bethlehem joined the group of municipalities, resulting in a reduction for each member.
Gordon also reported that sales tax receipts countywide were up 12 percent from last year;
Heard from Nickelsberg that residents will be able to take three five-gallon buckets of salt and sand from the towns supply for $1. The practice was stopped in February after Vernon Husek spotted G. Jon Chase loading a private truck.
William Ryan, the town’s attorney, said that the practice was illegal and that the resolutions passed in the 1990’s allowing it were also illegal. In November, former councilman Barry Kuhar asked the board to reconsider the decision. "We live in a small town. The town always took care of us, and we always took care of the town," Kuhar said.
"It’ll be on the honor system," Nickelsberg said; and
Welcomed new members Shane E. Schroeder and Kyle McCormack to the Medusa Volunteer Fire Company.
In split vote, Knox Town Board hires Quay for town post
GOPs Gage says job candidates should be interviewed
By Tyler Schuling
KNOX The Knox Town Board appointed David Quay to be a transfer-station attendant, despite Councilwoman Patricia Gages recommendation to interview candidates before appointing.
William Salisbury, who has worked at the transfer station for 17 years, is retiring at the end of the year. His son is the highway superintendent, Gary Salisbury. There are three transfer station attendants.
David Quay, who has worked for Albany County as an operator, sent a letter to the town listing his qualifications and experience, and stated his interest in the position. Gage said Linda Carman was also interested in the post.
The board deliberated, and Gary Salisbury said that the two remaining transfer station attendants, John Oliver and Richard Dexter, move up by seniority. Salisbury said his biggest concern is moving Oliver inside. Salisbury also said the work at the transfer station is "really tough."
Councilman Nicholas Viscio, a Democrat, made a motion to appoint Quay to the transfer station, not as Salisburys replacement.
Gage, a Republican, then asked if the board is obliged to interview candidates before making a decision, and added that it wasnt fair not to give both people a chance.
The board voted 4-1 to appoint Quay, with Gage the sole dissenter.
Supervisor Michael Hammond asked the board to thank William Salisbury and wish him good health. He said that Salisbury was a "very good employee" and, that, while he was at the transfer station, "everything ran smoothly."
Though William Salisbury is scheduled to stop working at the end of the year, his son doesnt know whether he will last that long on the job.
"I don’t know if he’s going to make it to the end of the year," Gary Salisbury said, adding that his father has been very sick.
In other business, the town board:
Held a public hearing on the towns Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program for next year. Terry Ray, of Section 8 Rental Assistance in Schenectady, told the board that Knox currently has 16 families in the federally-funded program, and two are on the family self-sufficiency program.
Joseph Mastrianni told The Enterprise yesterday that, of the 16 families, 12 still reside in Knox. Knox has been participating in the program since 1995, he said. There are 20 slots available to the town, and Ray expects the remaining four slots will soon be occupied.
Knox receives $106,000 annually in government grant money to pay the subsidies, Mastrianni said;
Heard from planning board Chairman Robert Price that the meteorological tower, located on Middle Road, measured the average wind speed for October at 17 miles-per-hour. The tower was erected to gauge whether a commercial-grade municipal wind farm would be feasible in Knox. Price was encouraged with the initial data;
Set its annual re-organizational meeting for 9 a.m. on Jan. 1;
Heard from Helene O’Clair, who would like a committee to "do the legwork" for the construction of a new town hall. Knox planned to expand its town hall a year ago, but, after plans came back, the board determined it was cost-prohibitive.
OClair told The Enterprise that, when the town planned for construction, the board didnt talk to townspeople.
OClairs husband is handicapped and cannot enter town hall, she said. OClair recommended using the towns new website to ask for interested residents from the community.
Hammond said, "We have a lot of investment here, and it’s served us well." When the town planned for the town hall expansion, he was "shocked into reality."
"I don’t like being in debt," Hammond said.
O’Clair asked if the board would revisit the topic in January, and Hammond said, "Yes"; and
Heard praise from Albany County Legislator Alexander (Sandy) Gordon. Gordon commended Hammond on budgeting for 2007, and "holding the line." Gordon said the operation of the town funds "shows experience."
Pro-merger crowd complains about taxes
By Tyler Schuling
BERNE Residents responded last week to the towns 20-percent property tax increase for next year by asking the town board for more information, open forums with county officials, and a referendum regarding the proposed merger of the towns highway department with the county.
Supervisor Kevin Crosier wasnt at the meeting. He had pushed for the merger along with Highway Superintendent Ray Storm and county officials. None of the four town council members supported the plan after town highway workers launched a campaign against the merger.
Crosier told The Enterprise this week that he isnt giving up on it.
The plan to combine the two departments was developed after the first Inter-municipal Cooperation Forum held by County Executive Michael Breslin in April. In July, The Enterprise met with Breslin, Crosier, Storm, Deputy County Executive Joseph Pennisi, and Public Works Commissioner Michael Franchini and outlined the proposal in a page-one story.
The plan outlined a one-shot savings for not having to build a salt shed ($300,000) or a fuel-storage facility ($44,000). It estimated annual savings for utilities for buildings ($6,600), fuel ($14,100), equipment ($40,000), and road materials ($12,050). Savings for personnel would total $90,000 now and $220,000 in the future, Crosier and county officials estimated. The county would save because it wouldnt have to replace its field office, estimated at $50,000, officials have said.
Crosier promised no one would lose their jobs.
In late August, County officials, the town board, and highway workers met at the East Berne firehouse to discuss the merger, and workers raised many questions and objections. In October, Crosier made a motion to apply for grants to be used in the merger, and did not get a second from the Democratic board. Crosier ran twice on the Republican ticket.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, some residents said they weren’t aware of the merger. One, who said she works with kids, said she hadn’t known what the "no merger" signs in town meant, and added she didn’t have time to read The Altamont Enterprise.
Berne resident Richard Ronconi recommended the board "make a vote on the merger." Ronconi also said the town should have meetings. "People are upset with the tax increase," Ronconi said.
Residents speculated about a circulating petition, relative to the merger.
"I think people thought it was a good idea, and it was just going to happen," Crosier told The Enterprise of the merger and last weeks public response.
He doesnt think a petition is being circulated.
"Nobody’s called me. I don’t believe that’s actually happening," he said.
Susan Larrabe, a town resident, told the board Wednesday that a 20-percent tax increase is "quite a lot of money." Residents will pay $4.71 per $1,000 of assessed value in town taxes next year.
Larrabe said many Berne residents don’t get annual salary increases, and that, if the tax increases continue, the town will lose community support. She said she would like to know more about the merger. Residents, she said, cannot support the tax increases "over the long-term."
Crosier agrees, saying the tax increase could force many families out of town. "Berne, as we know it today, won’t exist," he said.
Larrabe said only a small percentage of the towns population was represented at the Oct. 11 meeting; only 28 people attended, she said, a small percent of the towns population.
At that meeting, Crosier made a motion for the town to apply for grant money totaling $575,500 that could have been used with the county. Crosier said that the board could turn down the grant if it decided against consolidation.
"What’s the worst-case scenario" You get it and you turn it down," Crosier said.
No board member seconded the motion, and the room erupted with applause.
Councilman Joseph Golden told The Enterprise in October, during the budget process, that he thought everyone proposing the merger to be well-intentioned, but said that he thought the whole idea of the merger to be premature.
"We wouldn’t have any idea, fiscally, where we would be," he said. He also said he thought the economics of the merger were unclear.
Both Golden and Councilman James Hamilton have called the merger "a takeover" by Albany County. Both have written letters to The Enterprise editor; Golden said changes in government take time, and Hamilton said inter-municipal sharing of roadwork already takes place.
Hamilton favors sharing services with neighboring towns rather than merging the two departments.
None of the seven current Berne highway workers favor consolidation.
In November, the town board held a budget workshop and reduced the tax increase from 28 percent down to 20 percent, and adopted the budget, with all four Democratic board members’ approval. Crosier voted against it, saying, "I cannot support this budget."
Councilman Hamilton said Wednesday that the board didnt refuse the merger by not seconding the motion, but that the board refused the grants because they didnt have enough information.
The two letters
At the beginning of October, the towns newsletter, The Berne Courier, was sent out to residents with a letter from Supervisor Kevin Crosier and Highway Superintendent Ray Storm.
It said: "In the potential merger, the Town of Berne employees who maintain the roads in Berne would still maintain those roads. The same conscientious Town and County employees that serve you now, will serve you after consolidation. No town or county employee will lose their job, pay, or benefits because of consolidation. This is about ‘smarter’ government. One unified public works department is more efficient than two separate ones serving the same geographical area."
Following public discussion last week, residents voiced concerns about the newsletter, saying the newsletter only showed "one side of the issue."
Patricia Favreau, the town’s clerk, who puts the newsletter together, said she suggested Crosier write an "informative" letter about the proposed merger, and added that the merger was "important for everyone to know about."
"I thought he did a good job," said Favreau, a Democrat.
Hamilton said the board should look at the newsletter before publication to be assured that "articles are fact, not opinion."
Joe Welsh, a highway worker, said the issue is "controversial," and information in the newsletter "only showed one side of the issue."
"I, as a taxpayer, don’t feel it should have happened," Welsh said. Welsh asked the board to run a letter written by the highway workers on the first page of the next issue, which will be distributed in February.
The highway workers’ letter says: "Every employee of the Berne highway department is opposed to the merger"To date, no documentation has been presented to the employees or the town board. We consider some of the proclaimed savings as exaggerated and speculative, and also feel that real savings can be achieved through shared services contracts, which do not require the merger."
The highway workers also say the merger would result in poorer services.
"Currently, the county plows state roads under contract. During real emergencies, there are some county roads that get lower priority because county trucks are plowing state roads. If town roads get added to the county list, they will have even lower priority in serious emergencies," they say.
In other business, the town board:
Set its end-of-the-year meeting to pay bills for Dec. 30 at 9 a.m.; and
Set its re-organizational meeting for Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Rural route to insurance scam"
By Jarrett Carroll
EAST BERNE A New York City insurance scam was broken up after being traced back to the Hilltowns, according to the Albany County District Attorneys Office.
Eight downstate men have been charged with multiple counts of felony insurance fraud after authorities contended that they registered fleets of vehicles at upstate addresses including East Berne and Hunter for use downstate.
Commercial insurance rates are lower in rural counties.
The change in registration addresses resulted in premium reductions totaling nearly $1.5 million dollars, with $944,665 worth of the reductions coming from registration to 219 Joslyn School Rd. in East Berne, according to the district attorneys office.
The office also says that the eight men arrested are not a part of an insurance fraud ring.
"The eight defendants were individuals; this is not a conspiracy. They are just being tried as one," said Richard Arthur, director of administration for the district attorney’s office.
There is no house at the Joslyn School Road address, only a mailbox with the number 219 and the company name "Extreme Trans" printed on it in blue lettering.
Arthur told The Enterprise yesterday that Peter J. Albano, 48, is the owner of that mailbox.
Albano, who lives at 1902 Coleman Ave., Brooklyn, rents an undisclosed amount of land from the property owner for his mailbox, according to Arthur.
The property owner is not under investigation and is testifying for the prosecution, Arthur said; he declined to name the property owner.
"The owner of the property in Berne was just approached by some of these guys and asked to rent some property," said Arthur. He said that he didn’t see a connection between Albano and East Berne.
Although Arthur does not know how many vehicles Albano registered to the East Berne address, he described the number of vehicles as "a fleet," and said that at least one of the vehicles was a "stretched Hummer."
District Attorney David Soaress office said that Albano and another man, Richard Shavel, 44, of 74 Bonney Court, Monroe, were both charged with more severe felonies because the amount of the insurance fraud for each of them was over $100,000 the other six men are below this number. Shavel, who had used an address in Hunter, according to Arthur, fraudulently saved $399,000 from his insurance company.
If convicted on all counts, Albano and Shavel will each face up to 15 years in prison, and the other men arrested will face up to seven years, according to Soaress office.
Soares said in a released statement that the real victims of insurance frauds are the "law-abiding" citizens. He applauded the inter-agency cooperation between his office; the New York City Police, who arrested the eight men; the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles; and the state’s Insurance Department.
In the same release, Superintendent of Insurance Howard Mills said, "Aggressive fraud prosecution has helped New Yorkers save half a billion dollars in insurance premiums this year."
Arthur said the men are in the custody of the NYPD, but that they will be tried by the Albany County District Attorneys Office. He said he did not know when the next court date would be.
In addition to Albano and Shavel, the following men were charged with second- and third-degree insurance fraud and first-degree offering a false instrument:
Harris J. Thorpe, 34, of 4062 Laurie Place, Bronx;
Petar Bojilov, 30, of 3419 Irwin Rd., Bronx
Roben Allonce, 46, of Ocean Ave., 5K, Brooklyn;
Zeev Lichtick, 53, of 2057 East 68th St., Brooklyn;
Roman Ashurov, 35, of 1202 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn; and
Winston A. McLean, 59, of 254-24 Craft Ave., Rosedale.
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