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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 4, 2010
By Philippa Stasiuk
VOORHEESVILLE Citing village appreciation and a desire to continue serving the people, Mayor Robert Conway and trustees Richard Berger and John Stevens will be running unopposed for re-election on Tuesday, March 16.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing and serving the people,” said Conway, explaining why he is running for a second four-year term as mayor. Before that, he was a trustee for four years. He works as the commissioner of human resources for Albany County.
“We have a really great village,” said Conway. “We still have some projects I’d like to see finished and I get a sense of accomplishment doing so. Sometimes, we see government on a national or state level and I don’t know if those individuals see immediate results, whereas at the basic level, government is very responsive.”
Conway said that the project he’d like most to see finished is a sewer project on Maple Avenue opposite the Quail Run development where he said the board is contemplating running a new line, hoping to address some of the sewer problems along that stretch of road.
Stevens, who had served as Voorheesville’s mayor for four years before swapping jobs with Conway in 2006, said he is proudest of helping to bring about the water interconnect with the town of Guilderland. “If there was an emergency and, God forbid, we had a problem with our water source, we could open a valve and water would be supplied from Guilderland and vice versa; we can open a valve and send water to them. I’m happy about that. Plus the new tank in New Salem has increased our capacity. Our quantity has gone up, which leads to why are we trying to put on water users. Quite frankly, it’s to build up our reserves. The tank was expensive and, along with the interconnect, we spent millions. Then, because of Atlas Copco, we dropped forty thousand plus per year.”
Atlas Copco, which had been the village’s biggest water customer, began recycling its water and so used less.
Stevens retired from Verizon five years ago and owns Voorheesville Motor Car.
Berger, who is the plant superintendent for Capital District Psychiatric Center, said his strengths lie in being a liaison between public safety and the board. “That’s where I have a lot of experience. I’ve been with the fire service for over 40 years and on the Albany County Advisory Board. But all of us on the board have a lot of different ties and connections to the community.”
Berger, who is running for his third four-year term as trustee, said what he likes best about the job is his relationship with villagers and the positive feedback he gets.
The candidates were each asked to comment on three current village issues:
Water and development: Mayor Robert Conway has said he hopes to curtail new development around the village by striking a water deal with the town of New Scotland for homes that are already built, reasoning that, if the village water is used for existing structures, it won’t be available for new ones.
Candidates were asked if it might be wiser to follow the Altamont model and come up with a master plan that would proactively plan for development in and around the village.
“While I’m not opposed to a master plan,” Conway said, “and we’ve had several discussions with engineers about one, I’m reluctant to spend conservative estimates of $30,000 to come up with a plan to address areas that I think we’ve already addressed in several different ways. We have good zoning laws, an active planning board and zoning board of appeals, and we’ve undertaken several studies in the village to determine our capacity with sewer and water studies. There is also only 10 to 20 percent of land left to develop in the village. I’m not sure it’s the best use of public funds.”
Conway went on, “I think a more practical approach is to continue conversations with the town of New Scotland as they address development in the town. That obviously will indirectly and directly affect the village. A primary example is the controversy around the big box on [routes] 85/85A. While it didn’t fall within village limits, the ancillary problems were going to spill over into the village, specifically with traffic and public safety.
“We need to work closely with the town to make sure the interests in the village are being served by any type of development that goes up. We don’t have a direct vote on development outside the village limits but certainly we have the right and plan on exercising that right to voice our concerns on any development that might adversely affect the village. We have a good working relationship with the town government and we’ve not been shy about expressing our concerns about different issues.”
Berger responded, “The village has done several water studies on the areas in the village that are left to be developed. We know we have water but we know we don’t want to give water away to developments outside of the village if people who live here need it.
“This is where Conway said we’d take care of homes that are here already. Someone living in the village should get water before we give it to a developer to develop areas that don’t have water. The village has done studies and we know what we have left and what we have for undeveloped land in the village. It’s nice if we help out neighbors in town but our main concern must be that village residents have a good supply of water in the future.”
Stevens said, “I have no problem with a master plan. We know the direction of how we want to go with water. If you ask nine out of 10 people in Voorheesville how they want the village in the future, they want it how it is now. We don’t like change. We like the status quo.
“But, that said, there are a lot of people with families that want to come back to Voorheesville. As a result of last census, we lost people, which was a result of empty-nest syndrome. I came here in the early ’70s with small children and Voorheesville was a young community. Now people want to come back but they can’t because there’s no turnover of homes.
“People stay here. Lots retire here and they don’t go south. I’m not anti development but I don’t want too much change either. That’s what our contingents think. Leave it alone; it’s not broke. But people who own property have a right to develop and we have to provide water to those building lots.”
Stevens said that studies done in the past let the village know how many lots could be developed. “We’ve put aside a certain amount of water reserve to take care of those people,” he said.
Expanding fire coverage: The fire department chief has said he would like to expand the reach of Voorheesville’s fire department outside of the village limits if he can get a new truck through an efficiency grant with the town of New Scotland.
Candidates were asked if Voorheesville’s fire department should expand to cover part of the town of New Scotland, thereby justifying a need for a new truck, or if a small and compact village like Voorheesville, surrounded by fire departments with which it has mutual aid agreements, needs another truck.
“I think the way it’s written, with mutual aid, it works very well between the departments,” said Stevens. “The idea of a tax base between New Salem and Voorheesville, we’re different taxing districts. In Voorheesville in order to raise monies, large sums, it comes directly from our budget. To purchase a $400,000 truck, which we did several years ago, it takes a lot of our budget.”
He went on, “In this case, where we can possibly get a grant between municipalities, and I thank the town of New Scotland and New Salem for backing this proposal for the mutual purchase of a vehicle; it’s a great idea. We respond with mutual aid now regardless. Those are agreements in place, to better serve the public. If we can get the truck and incorporate coverage and help out a neighboring district, I’m behind it 100 percent.”
Berger responded, “By law, the village has to provide fire protection to village residents. The village board can’t decide to come in and ask someone else to provide fire protection. The village also can’t assess village residents a fire tax; it’s something that has to be included in our taxes. The only thing that we can separate is water and sewer. I wouldn’t be in favor of taking someone else’s fire protection away from them. New Salem goes around Voorheesville completely, yes they do, but it’s not comparing apples to apples.
“The Altamont Fire Department provides protection outside of the village. Those people pay a fee for that protection. It could be something along those lines.
Berger concluded, “We also don’t carry a lot of water because we have hydrants in the village. The truck that Chief [Frank] Papa is looking into would be a 1,000-gallon tanker, which would double the village’s water capacity. That would be beneficial if we did respond to mutual aid calls because we would be carrying water to the scene. The truck is due to be replaced in 2012 regardless. Chief Papa is being proactive and trying to be a better neighbor in mutual aid situations.”
“I read the chief’s letter in The Enterprise,” said Conway. “I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the concept of the village fire department taking on or contracting out their services. That’s a discussion that we’ll certainly need to have as a board and with the chief. We do have mutual aid with surrounding communities, and that’s for obvious reasons; it’s a mutual benefit.”
Conway went on, “I’m concerned that we would create a situation where fire departments are vying with each other for the tax dollar. That’s not necessarily the most productive way of addressing the issue. It’s premature to be talking about expanding our reach as a village volunteer fire department.”
Budget cutbacks: As sales tax revenues, which fund municipal budgets, diminish, Trustee David Cardona, the budget officer for Voorheesville, mentioned that, based upon preliminary meetings regarding the 2010-11 budget, cutbacks would be needed. Where do you think those cutbacks should come from?
“Next Wednesday is the budget workshop and we’ll go over this more,” said Berger. “We’ve asked all departments to try and reduce. I haven’t seen any actual budget stuff yet. The only thing I’ve heard is that public works will be able to reduce a bit. I’m just hoping that the economy turns around. We’ve been conservative with our sales tax estimations the last couple of years, which has been in our favor. We’re not in real bad shape.”
“I think at this point with my conversations with David, that everything is on the table,” said Conway. “There are no sacred cows. We have to look at every program and every department and make a decision of where to cut back if needed. We’ve been very fortunate that large departments, the fire department and public works, Will Smith and Chief Papa, have been great to work with on their budget. Neither are necessarily always happy with the final outcome but they understand the situation that we’re in and it makes it a lot easier to come to a consensus if you’re not fighting tooth and nail with department heads and that hasn’t been the case.
“We’re looking at everything: personnel costs, infrastructure, maintenance; anywhere that we can save a few dollars, we’ll explore that, without adversely affecting village services and not getting too far behind the eight ball with maintaining infrastructure. You can only curtail street repair and paving for so long before it finally becomes so bad that you’ve created a bigger problem. We have to strike that balance and do what we feel we need to do, to maintain roadways and systems and ride out this economic downturn.”
Stevens responded, “For several years, the board hasn’t taken any pay increases.” Stevens said he hated the annual cuts made to the public works department, headed by William Smith. “He and his department are a great bunch of guys and they do a great job,” Stevens said. “Instead of putting $150,000 in paving, we cut that budget to $100,000. It always seems to be taken from that department in order to balance.”
Stevens went on, “But maybe we will buy or refurbish one less truck. I believe all village jobs are safe we’re not at that point yet and that would be my last place to go. We really cherish and respect our employees and we’re not even close to that. Our most important function is to maintain the health and welfare of our employees they’re our key asset.
Stevens concluded, “Since I’ve been trustee and mayor, we’ve never had any problems with any of our employees. We’ve been so lucky. With our taxes being as low, and people being as happy, all I hear from people who want to move here is, ‘I can’t wait to get in.’”