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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 10, 2008
Tax hike of 2 %
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND After hours of discussion and a flurry of proposals to amend the budget all defeated the school board on Tuesday night unanimously adopted an $83.8 million spending plan for next year.
The public will vote on the proposal on May 20.
The budget framers predicted a tax-rate hike of 2.03 percent over this year, up from the 1.54 percent they had predicted when the plan was first presented to a citizens’ committee for review at the end of February.
With the passage of the state budget yesterday, Guilderland regained enough aid that the school board could decide to make the local tax hike as low as 1.43 percent.
Based on the figures that were available Tuesday night, however, administrators calculated Guilderland homeowners would pay $19.54 per $1,000 of assessed value, up 39 cents from this year.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the school board that this increase was because the $20 million of growth in the town of Guilderland that the school district had first estimated now looks closer to $10 million.
Guilderland’s assessor, Carol Wysomski, said yesterday that it might go as high as $12 million. “The school has picked an average number,” she said. “They don’t check with me. I told Neil about a month ago, it’s not going to be $20 million. Construction is dead in town.”
Sanders told The Enterprise yesterday, “When we put the budget together for the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee in the middle of February…the town is not usually able to give me a definitive answer on projected assessments. I keep a record of growth over time…and use that as the basis of coming up with that part of the tax rate.”
He went on, “We always check with the town again at the end of March. Oftentimes, we’re very close… The past several years, it’s been closer to $25 million.”
Overall property value for the entire town of Guilderland, not just the part in the school district, is close to $4 billion, Wysomski told The Enterprise.
She stressed that property values in town have not fallen. “It’s just with the economy,” she said. “They’re not speculating on building homes.”
The only development growth in Guilderland in the past year, she said, has been four new houses in the Saddlebrook development on Johnston Road at about $600,000 apiece and “a couple in Lone Pine Village.”
“It’s the quietest I’ve ever seen it in my 37 years,” concluded Wysomski.
Superintendent John McGuire told the school board Tuesday that the district is “still being conservative,” not counting on the restoration of BOCES aid, which the governor’s budget had cut. This would amount to about $350,000 for Guilderland, dropping the tax rate by .60, said Sanders.
The state legislature adopted New York’s budget on Wednesday. Figures obtained by The Enterprise through Assemblyman John McEneny’s office show that Guilderland will receive $1.2 million in BOCES aid.
That figure represents “full restoration of BOCES aid,” Sanders told The Enterprise. “It’s the same aid ratio as before.”
It will be up to the school board to decide how much of that will be applied to lower the tax rate. “If we decide to apply all of it,” Sanders said, the tax-rate hike would drop from 2.03 percent to 1.43 percent.
He stressed, “The voters only approve the expenditure budget,” and the tax rate can be adjusted as late as August by the school board.
The Guilderland School District has traditionally given voters its best estimate on taxes before they go to the polls.
Project Lead the Way
The board had heated discussion and debate Tuesday night on several budget items.
The majority appeared to be against including funds for Project Lead the Way until they had some of their questions answered by the high school principal, Michael Paolino. The program, which will cost $57,450 next year, is to teach pre-engineering courses.
“Why don’t we prepare the ground first before we plant the seeds?” asked board member Gloria Towle-Hilt.
Several board members said the program wouldn’t work with the block scheduling at the high school, which allows for few electives. Others said students haven’t been recruited for the new program or that it trains technicians rather than engineers.
Paolino explained that 140 students in a half-dozen sections have already signed up for a course in design for drawing and production. Three teachers will be trained by Project Lead the Way to teach those classes using a hands-on, cooperative approach.
“That collaboration...is the wave of the future,” said Paolino.
He also said there are ways to modify the schedule, including offering summer courses, as the project moves forward and that students don’t have to take all four courses.
“The thing that excites me the most,” said Paolino, “is the project-based learning“ and that the program ”is designed for the top 80 percent of our students.”
After hearing Paolino’s explanation, board member Colleen O’Connell withdrew her motion to delete Project Lead the Way, and the other board members agreed to keep it in the budget.
“I love it when we talk together,” said McGuire.
Part-time guidance super
Another point of contention was a new post for a guidance supervisor at a cost of about $104,000 for salary and benefits. Based on board comments at the last meeting, the supervisor’s role had been cut to six-tenths with the remaining four-tenths to be used for counseling for a cost of $91,215.
Several board members strongly opposed the supervisor’s post, which they saw as unfair since there are 11 guidance counselors and other supervisors oversee any more staff. Several mentioned the decision made during last year’s budget talks, to combine the supervisors of English and social studies in the high school into one post.
”I’m stunned,” said board member Barbara Fraterrigo of the proposal.
McGuire urged the board not to make “piecemeal tradeoffs” and he also said he wanted to “dispel a myth.”
“This place is not administratively top heavy, quite the contrary,” he said.
Echoing a comment made by board member Denise Eisele, McGuire said that evaluating the combined English and social studies supervisory post was premature; it should be done after a year. An in-depth analysis will be done on supervisory support, he said.
Board member Hy Dubowsky made a motion to hold off on the guidance supervisor’s post until after the study is completed.
“I have no rationale to ask just for a guidance counselor,” said McGuire of the four-tenths of a job that would remain.
“So you don’t need a guidance counselor?” asked board member Peter Golden.
“No,” replied McGuire, “I’m trying to get a supervisor.”
He also told the board, “We have not adequately communicated to you the importance of leadership.”
Vice President John Dornbush suggested thinking of the new position as a “director” rather than a “supervisor.”
“We’re trying to make our program more robust,” said President Richard Weisz. “We owe it to our kids...so, when they get to the end of high school, they have some idea where they’re going.”
“We can commit to coming back to you to demonstrate what value has been added,” said McGuire.
Ultimately, only Fraterrigo and Dubowsky voted to cut the supervisor’s post.
Later, only Dornbush and Eisele vote to make the supervisor’s post full-time.
Golden made a motion to add “a small amount of money” to bring classical musicians into the schools so students could decide what instruments they want to play.
“I’m hard pressed to argue against someone giving us money for culture,” said McGuire.
Board member Cathy Barber, a musician who has been a proponent of supporting the arts since she was elected three years ago, said she objected “as a matter of principle“ since there are many worthwhile programs and no plans for the money.
Weisz said it sounds like pork and any expenditures should be part of the budget process reviewed by citizens. He also said that 70 percent of the district’s elementary students already participate in music programs, playing instruments or singing.
McGuire then chimed in that Guilderland has “absolutely the most transparent budget process” he has encountered. While he said it was the board’s prerogative to add items, it could compromise credibility.
Barber added that older Guilderland students give concerts for the younger ones so they find out about a variety of instruments. O’Connell said that, when the board cut cultural funding from the budget several years ago, school PTAs made the commitment to bring in artists. She said teachers prefer having artists come to the schools, rather than forcing students to travel.
Golden withdrew his motion and proposed instead that some of the $200,000 surplus from this year’s budget be returned to the taxpayers.
Sanders said that decision could be made when the tax rates are set in August.
In a vote of 5 to 4, the board decided to keep the three teaching lines in reserve in case class sizes grew over projections, and, in a 7-to-2 vote, the board decided not to purchase a maintenance truck for $38,5000.
At 10:30 p.m., after three hours of discussion, the board, with a vote of 9-to-0, adopted the modified $83,823,160 plan that the administrators had presented a 2.08-percent increase over this year’s budget.
The board members applauded. So did the only two school principals remaining in the gallery. And so did the students manning the cameras to film the meeting.
Finding Christ behind bars
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND Larry McBride brings salvation to state prisons once a month.
He and his fellow volunteers with Residents Encounter Christ hold seminars in prisons a couple of times a year. They hope to restore inmates to their faith and to society by holding the three-day sessions. The first day focuses on recognizing what has gone bad in the inmate’s life, the second on “rising with the Lord,” and the final day directs inmates to “go forth with the Lord,” McBride said. He spoke while sitting in a folding chair in the cavernous foyer of Christ the King Church, which brought McBride to the area 12 years ago.
REC has a large base at Christ the King, many of its 130 volunteer members are congregants of the church and the group is planning to organize a post-release program to be operated from the Sumpter Avenue parish. Just a room with a phone in it would do, said McBride.
“You’re going from the known to the unknown,” he said of inmates who are released from prison with $40 and a bus ticket. REC hopes to create a place from which it can reach former participants and help ease them into stable civilian life.
“We’re supposed to be Christians here, so let’s welcome this person back,” said Peter Vance, REC’s chairman, of the group’s attitude towards recently-released inmates.
Beyond fostering religion, the nondenominational group aims to set an example for men who haven’t had committed male role models. After holding their twice-yearly seminars, member’s of the group go back to the prison once a month for a reunion. They meet with those who participated in the program to share a meal and camaraderie. The regular return of the group offers a sense of continuity and demonstrates the volunteers’ commitment, McBride said, and sets an example for the inmates.
“To do a program and never come back is like the circus coming to town,” he said.
REC’s plans for a post-release program is an extension of that philosophy and a $400 donation from the Knight’s of Columbus of Guilderland will go towards funding it. Easing the transition into society will be more successful, said McBride, if residents feel they have support.
Of why REC refers to inmates as residents rather than prisoners, Vance said, “That’s where they are now, not who they are.”
Fireman offers a home
By Saranac Hale Spencer
DUANSBURG Four inches of snow kept the school buses at bay on the day that the Kosiers’ house burned.
Fire trucks made their way through the rural winter landscape as flames from the chimney licked the roof of the two-story house.
“It was terribly icy out,” said Stephanie Kosier, a science teacher at Guilderland High School, whose husband, David, teaches math. “It happened to be a snow day that day,” she said, so school was closed.
The couple and their two children, ages 4 and 1, were home that morning around 8:15 when Mrs. Kosier smelled something burning as she gathered laundry in an upstairs closet.
“You don’t think your house is on fire,” she said.
As she headed down the stairs to tell her husband, a neighbor came knocking, to tell them that their house was aflame. More neighbors soon followed and a group went back into the house to rescue family pictures and albums before the fire overtook the house.
Before the fire, the family didn’t know their neighbors very well, but, Mrs. Kosier said, they learned something: “We have neighbors who were willing to run into a burning building,” she said.
By the time Rick Peterson got to the scene, from the Pine Grove fire department, which was called as an auxiliary squad, the first floor had been consumed, making it impossible for firefighters to get inside and put out the flames.
“It was extremely hard to fight,” said Peterson, a 27-year veteran of the department. Until the Kosiers are able to rebuild their house, which they plan to do on the same foundation, Peterson offered them a home.
“It was a family in need,” he said of his reasoning.
After his mother died in October, he’s had her empty house, which he offered to the Kosiers. “I gave them the key and said, ‘Here. Use it as long as you need,’” he recounted matter-of-factly.
“You have to look at the positive things,” Mrs. Kosier said. “You definitely find out about the generosity of people.”
The Guilderland Fire Department will hold a ziti dinner to benefit the Kosier family on April 25 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Western Turnpike Golf Course clubhouse.
APD gets $12K more
By Zach Simeone
ALTAMONT The village board unanimously passed a $1.2 million preliminary budget for 2008. The mayor called the new budget “lean”; it’s just $20,000 more than the current one. The state comptroller thinks future village budgets should get a boost from state funds, though.
Nearly half of the budget, $510,000, will be funded by county sales tax, and about $232,000 by village taxpayers. Village Clerk Jean LaCrosse told The Enterprise, “The tax rate should be the same as last year,” $2.33 per $1,000 of assessed value. So villagers with $200,000 worth of property will be paying $466 this year.
“I asked them to be more efficient and cut down as much as they can to make it lean,” Mayor James Gaughan told The Enterprise of this year’s budget. “The hardest thing was looking carefully at the budget and keeping it to its minimum while providing the needed services, and they succeeded.”
Still, some appropriations designated for this year’s budget are significantly higher than related costs from the previous year.
Out in force
The largest increase, tacking an extra $12,000 onto the current $146,478 police budget, reflects the extra hours that Commissioner Anthony Salerno anticipated for the coming year, Mayor Gaughan said. The extra funds will help with “coverage of special events, court related activities relating to warrants, and instances where we have to bring in officers to be in court or send them to pick up people,” said Gaughan. “If we have an arrest at the end of the day, for example, where an officer has to stay late to do paperwork during off-hours, that’s where he is estimating the need for the extra money.”
“Commissioner Salerno expects that the money coming in from events at the fairgrounds, for example, will cover some of the additional costs,” Gaughan explained. “Based on agreements made with vendors, we determine what the public-safety needs are, and we are paid for our extra people needed on duty.” It’s essentially reimbursement for personal services for public safety during special events.
The village received $27,000 in grants last year to deal with drunk driving arrests, which will factor into the police budget as well, Gaughan said.
“This is now an administration that has been around for two budget cycles, and there is a better understanding of how the police operations happen,” the mayor continued. There was previously no subsidizing for work during public events, so the village is taking steps with this budget to look more closely at the need, and consequently, the cost for personnel at these events. “I’m insisting that we do it, and I want to make sure it’s budgeted for and covered,” the mayor said, pointedly. “It’s just better planning.”
Moving on up
The village will also be sending $6,000 more towards personal services for the clerk and treasurer than last year, raising the total to $71,715. The additional funds are aimed at hiring an assistant for LaCrosse, the current clerk.
“In anticipation of my retirement someday, I would have to train a new clerk, and that should take a considerable amount of time,” said LaCrosse. “The search for a trainee for deputy clerk will probably take place sometime during the new fiscal year.”
Another $7,000 will go towards paying for the new village attorney, Michael Moore, who took the position just months ago. “We had, in the middle of the year, the resignation of our previous counsel,” said Mayor Gaughan, “so we have a new village attorney who costs us more money than the last.”
Addressing the $10,000 increase in shared building expenses, Gaughan said, “There’s an anticipated cost relating to a roof repair. Since the village hall houses the police department, fire department, etc., the cost for repairing the village hall’s roof comes from shared buildings.” The increase brings the total for shared buildings to $57,301.
Changing the formula
“It takes a lot of hard work, which was initiated in February by our treasurer, Catherine Hasbrouke,” said the mayor, referring to the crafting of the budget. By May 31, Hasbrouke will have assembled a complete budget to be sent to the office of the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli.
This year, the comptroller is pushing for changes that could dramatically affect future village budgets.
In a recent report, DiNapoli called for an overhaul in state aid to towns and villages. In his report, the comptroller states that there are 279 small villages in New York State that should collectively be receiving millions in additional state aid.
Mayor Gaughan said that, on a practical level, since Altamont gets such a small amount of money from the state about $5,000 DiNapoli’s report makes little difference.
“Philosophically though,” said Gaughan, “I would be concerned because to reduce funds across the board to small places puts a larger burden on them.”
He concluded, “I’d like to have input into these decisions.”
“The current formula for state aid ignores the reality that many villages and towns have surpassed cities in size and provide similar services,” DiNapoli said in his report. “In the interest of fairness, the state’s decades-old revenue sharing formula needs to change.”
The report goes on to say that “the current revenue sharing distribution is based on a formula that is almost 50 years old and an increasingly outdated municipal classification system.”
The comptroller is favoring a revision of criteria for revenue sharing, focusing less on a municipality’s label, and more on the needs of residents, the services it provides, and the condition of its economic condition.
As of right now, Mayor Gaughan sees good things ahead for the village, he said. “I’m proud of the entire budget and the work that all of the department heads did.”
In other business, at its April 1 meeting, the village board:
Deferred until next month on formation of a committee on the historic Crounse house. The village and the town of Guilderland bought the empty house from the county with the intent of restoring it for use by senior residents;
Voted unanimously in favor of the construction of a 2,550 square foot SEFCU building at the intersection of Route 146 and Gun Club Road. [For more on this, look under “archives” at www.altamontenterprise.com, for April 3];
Voted unanimously in favor of a public hearing, to be held at the regular May 6 village board meeting, regarding John Donato’s request to rezone his Altamont Lanes Bowling Center as apartments; and
Voted unanimously to appoint Trustee William Aylward as village marriage officer for one year without pay.