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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 24, 2007

Ackroyd unsure why he lost

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — In a district where incumbents are rarely defeated, Edward Ackroyd, currently vice president of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, was not re-elected for another three-year term.

He said this week he didn’t know why.

At BKW, board members rotate into vice president and president roles.

Ackroyd had backed the $19.3 million 2007-08 budget, and would have moved to a contingency budget had it been voted down last week. Ackroyd, the first elected to a three-year term, favored serving a longer five-year term. He ran for the school board unopposed in 2004 after Lynn Countryman stepped down.

Ackroyd grew up in East Berne and owns Thor Power Supply, which he formed in 1985.

"I think the next two years are going to be interesting," said Ackroyd this week. "I think they’ll do a fine job," he said of the new school board.

Asked if he had any idea why voters hadn’t re-elected him, Ackroyd said, "No, not really."

"I think the candidates ran a strong campaign," he said. A retired BKW teacher and former school board member, Helen Lounsbury, and PTA president Michelle Fusco, won in a four-way race.

In 2004, Ackroyd had riled some in the Berne community by suing the Berne Fire District over lack of absentee ballots. The judge ruled to allow the settlement, which had been reached in his chambers before the case was presented in open court. And, he authorized the commissioners to move the date of the elections. He also waived a legal requirement to release the new absentee ballots at least 60 days before then elections.

This year, Ackroyd sued the town of Knox because he was unable to obtain an updated version of the zoning regulations. The suit was withdrawn, as Knox provided Ackroyd with updates to the town’s zoning ordinance.

Ackroyd said he is proudest of working with the administration to keep the district’s taxes lower than in past years. In the last two years, he said, the tax increases have been low. "I’m concerned that they stay that way," he said.

This year’s tax-levy increase was 2.4 percent; in 2007-08, the tax-levy will increase 3.99 percent. Next year’s budget, passed last week, shows a 4.1-percent increase over this year’s spending plan.

This fall, voters will consider a building project to make the high school accessible to those with handicaps. Also, teachers’ contracts will be renegotiated.

"I hope the board coming in watches them closely," Ackroyd said of the upcoming project and contracts, adding that the cost to the taxpayers needs to stay down.

Paper ballots

Late last Tuesday on election day, administrators, school board members, and candidates waited nearly three hours for election results.

Around mid-morning, because of a glitch in the system, voters changed from using older lever voting machines to a paper ballot.

Nothing on the voting machines had malfunctioned, said Superintendent Steven Schrade. The machines had been "set up erroneously"; they had been mechanically set to allow voters to select just one board candidate instead of two, he said. "That was the whole crux of the problem," he said.

BKW administrators consulted attorney Robert Schofield with Whiteman, Osterman, and Hanna in Albany, who recommended not using the machines and using paper ballots, Schrade said. Much confusion and too many questions would have resulted had the machines been reprogrammed, Schrade said, adding that Schofield recommended a paper ballot because it would give "a more valid vote."

Poll workers appointed by the school board, as well as election and public budget hearing chair Alan Zuk and district Clerk Denise Martin, counted the paper ballots shortly after the polls closed at 9 p.m. There was a total of 872 votes, nearly 200 fewer than last year’s election.

At this time, BKW will continue to use the older, traditional lever voting machines, the same as towns use, Schrade said. BKW does not have its own machines and borrows them from towns, said Martin.

"We take our direction from the Board of Elections, and we’ve heard nothing from them at this point, nor have any other districts that I’m aware of," said Schrade, adding that the exception is Troy, which used new electronic voting machines in last week’s election.

Cass closes

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — A youth detention center that has stirred up a rural community will be closing in 2008.

The Cass Residential Center will close May 21, 2008, said Brian Marchetti, spokesman for the Office of Children and Family Services, the state agency that runs Cass.

Cass had been an all-male juvenile detention center intended to house non-violent offenders.

"In the interim, OCFS is planning to use the facility temporarily as a training center for the anticipated increase in staff that are being recruited to work in our residential services programs," says a May 21 letter from OCFS to Kenneth Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation, which has workers staffing Cass.

Since a 15-year-old escaped in November, stealing a vehicle and money from a nearby house, many area residents called for the facility to close. A kitchen worker was raped and abducted at knifepoint by a youth at the facility in 2004. The Enterprise withholds the names of victims of sex crimes.

The rape survivor circulated a petition last winter that was signed by nearly 500 area residents, calling for the facility to close. It was presented to the town board in January.

In April, some of Cass’s 32 workers presented a petition to the Rensselaerville Town Board saying, "We want to keep our jobs working with kids, but not at the expense of our own safety or yours." Cass workers said earlier that the facility is safer than it has ever been and many security measures had been put in place over the last two years.

Cass was changed from a youth detention center to a training facility in late February.

The agency will "begin discussions with employees regarding options for the continuation for their employment at other OCFS sites," the letter from OCFS to Brynien says. "Over the next 12 months, OCFS will work with you and the various other public employee organizations, the local community, and our other state agency partners in an attempt to minimize any impacts this closure may cause."

"That’s good news," said Rensselaerville Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg yesterday. He said he’d been traveling town roads for three days to assess damage from a recent storm for federal aid. "Keep Camp Cass Closed" signs covered 70 of the town’s 86 miles of roads, he said. "So it’s a real issue in the town," he said.

"I got a chance to look at the state of the town," Nickelsberg said. "There are a lot of people," he said of those who want Cass closed. "A significant majority."

Cass workers could not be reached for comment.

Manure spill contained

By Rachel Dutil

KNOX – Carl Peterson can see positive in even the messiest situations.

Following morning chores on Friday at his Bozenkill Road dairy farm, he noticed fluid was pouring out of the barn, and knew that wasn’t normal.

The fluid was cow manure that had flowed back through the barn from the manure pit on the back side of the barn.

The manure pit is located at a slightly higher elevation than the barn itself, Peterson said. An air-pressure system pumps the manure from the barn into the manure pit. A piece of iron that is hinged to open and close, called a baffle, prevents backflow, he said.

Somehow, the baffle failed. ‘It didn’t close," Peterson said. "I think we caught it within a few minutes.

"We were able to close a cover and stop it" I have no idea how much got out," he said.

"We called the DEC ourselves," Peterson said of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Wolf Creek runs near Peterson’s property and flows into the Bozenkill which feeds into the Watervliet Reservoir, said Kerri Battle, a spokesperson for Albany County. The Watervliet reservoir is Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

Battle said that the county’s Department of Health estimates that about 135,000 gallons of manure were spilled. "Very little actually reached Wolf Creek," she said. "There are no signs it has reached the Bozenkill," she said. "There are no signs thus far of contamination," said Battle of the city of Watervliet and Guilderland water districts.

"Nothing reached our water supply," said Mark Gleason, the general manager for the city of Watervliet. "There are no threats whatsoever at this point."

The spill, Peterson said, spread manure about three or four inches deep throughout the barn, but presented "no danger to the animals.

"It’s a very disappointing thing that it had to happen," Peterson said.

The manure system, he said, is about 15 years old, and has never had a problem of this magnitude. "We’re embarrassed by it," he said.

The manure is used to fertilize the farm’s fields. (see related story.)

The DEC has been very reasonable, Peterson said, adding the agency was appreciative that the Petersons called. "We have not been cited for anything at this point," Peterson said. "That doesn’t mean that we won’t."

Peterson suggested to the DEC that the family install a second underground pipe with a baffle that could be controlled manually for emergency situations.

"We’re still working through it," Peterson said. "We feel somewhat fortunate that we were here and able to keep it contained," Peterson said. "We’re going about business as usual" That’s a farmer’s life."

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