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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 30, 2010


2010 in review: Voorheesville
An ambulance contract signed and another ready to go,
fire department wants a new truck, village limits development by controlling water

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — At its last meeting of the year, the village board agreed to a contract for 2010 with the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service, ending months of accusations and contention.

The contract, with a total of $6,105 to be submitted to the VAAS by the village for the remainder of the year, arrived by e-mail to village attorney Anne-Jo McTague at 12:28 p.m., she said at the Dec. 28 meeting.

VAAS attorney Terence Hannigan also gave McTague what he called a “final incarnation of the 2011 contract.”

“It provides for the payment after the fact. Politely, we’re here to get our money,” Hannigan said.

The village board agreed to give the VAAS a check the following morning for the 2010 amount owed.

“It’ll be ready by 10 o’clock,” said Clerk-Treasurer Linda Pasquali.

“We’ll be there at 10:01,” said a VAAS member.

The ambulance squad received a call for emergency help as soon as the agreement was reached.

Tensions still flared after the discussion, as audience members, trustees, and ambulance volunteers continued to blame each other for the delayed contract; aspersions of lies during the process flew from both sides. Amid the commotion among neighbors in this small village of 2,400, Mayor Robert Conway quietly called for a motion to accept the 2010 contract. The contract was accepted 4-0, with one abstention by Trustee John Stevens, who drives for the VAAS.

The town of New Scotland has covered about 60 percent of the ambulance squad’s $100,000 budget and the village has covered the remaining 40 percent. Two years ago, at the request of both municipalities, the squad began a revenue recovery system, collecting payment from insurance companies for transporting patients, and then presenting checks to each municipality.

The cost of an average response to an emergency call is $450, a group from the squad told the town board at a recent meeting, and they’ve been getting returns of 68 to 70 percent from insurance companies.

The village has a fiscal year that runs from June 1 to May 31. The ambulance service’s fiscal year matches the town’s from January to December. The squad depends on having money from the municipalities up front so that it can operate, and pay back the revenue recovery funds as they come in, but the squad hadn’t received any money from the village since May, the members said this fall.

According to Mayor Conway, the village needed to get an annual financial report and quarterly usage reports from the ambulance service. At one town board meeting earlier in the year, members of the squad said that the village is provided with the same paperwork that the town gets.

Another point of disagreement in the contract negotiation was that the village would prefer to pay the ambulance service at the end of the year rather than the beginning. Conway explained that, if the revenue recovery fell short of the squad’s budget, the village would then pay its 40 percent of the difference.

“It would make sense if the squad only had to deal with one municipality,” Thomas Dolin, New Scotland’s supervisor, said in late November. It’s up to the village and the squad to decide what they want to do, Dolin said, adding of the town, “We are going to accommodate the village and the Ambulance Service whatever way they like.”

“We’re not going to talk about the 2011 contract tonight,” McTague said at the meeting this week.

“We’ll put you on next month to take care of it,” Trustee David Cardona said.

“The village board really appreciates the Voorheesville Ambulance,“ said Trustee Richard Berger. “We’re all friends. We’re all neighbors.”

His comments sparked questions from VAAS Captain Robin Shufelt, who asked why the squad had not been included on the board’s agenda that night.

At previous meetings and pre-meeting workshops, the board had discussed the contract issue and whether or not the contract would be ready for its final meeting in December.

VAAS members said that they had sent six renditions of the contract over the last few months. 

Board members disagreed, saying they had not received one copy.

After the board voted to accept the contract, Shufelt asked to speak to refute the comments from the audience.

Conway stopped all public comment, and said, “The contract’s been signed.”

The board accepted the month’s bills and adjourned.

Although he had not yet reviewed the 2011 contract in detail, Cardona told The Enterprise, “It should be in accordance with what we requested. I feel this is done.”

Shufelt told The Enterprise, “I’m glad we finally have reached an agreement. It’s taken far too long to agree to a contract. We’re volunteers.  It’s been frustrating. The contract was changed drastically.”

Hannigan told the room, “God help you if you ever had to pay for the services they provide.”

2010 IN REVIEW

Voorheesville also dealt with fire and water service issues in 2010, while keeping a close watch on village finances.

And, area residents showed support for the locally proposed rail trail between Albany and Voorheesville, and for far-distant children in need of new schools in Ethiopia.

Fire protection

The village fire department this year requested a $400,000 truck that would allow it to carry water to mutual aid fire scenes.

At its Dec. 28 meeting, the village board told Fire Chief Frank Papa that it transferred $200,000 into the fire department’s truck fund at its workshop Dec. 15. The board also voted then to do a study to see what vehicle the department needs, Cardona said.

“We want to be 100 percent sure before we spend the money,” he said. The money was sent to a fire reserve fund, and was not necessarily to be spent on the requested  truck, he said.

“It’s our vehicle fund,” Cardona said.

“Saving money is fine. But, we’re talking about saving lives,” Papa said. “This has really been tough for me. I enjoyed being chief, but I’m not getting anywhere.”

Papa said, “After four years, I’m done.” Papa’s term as chief with the fire department ends in January.

He asked if the village would put a referendum for the requested truck to the voters, and if the department would be part of the study.

The board did not respond about the proposed vote, but Conway said that an outside party doing a study would need access to the firehouse.

“The firehouse is going to be involved,” Conway said.

“Let me be very clear,” Cardona said. “We have two trucks that work. A new truck costs $400,000.”

Papa said that one truck has an open cab, and that use of that type of truck will not be legal next year.

“We’re not asking for a $400,000 truck. I don’t think we ever were in the beginning,” Papa said. He said that he has looked at trucks costing between $275,000 and $325,000.

Papa complained about the lack of communication from the village board, and he asked Cardona to communicate better with the new chief.

“I get it, but I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Cardona said. He said he had a responsibility to village taxpayers not to spend unnecessarily.

Within the village, the fire department has access to fire hydrants. Board members, of whom three — Cardona, Berger, and Trustee William Hotaling — are firefighters, hesitated to make a large purchase this year.

“The [current tanker] truck is due to be replaced in 2012, regardless,” Berger said last February. “Chief Papa is being proactive and trying to be a better neighbor in mutual aid situations.”

After the village board, in a tight budget year, had turned down Papa’s initial request, the New Scotland Town Board in a 4-to-0 vote agreed to apply for funds with the Voorheesville department as part of a mutual aid agreement.

Although Papa is leaving the chief’s position, he will stay on the truck committee, he said. At Tuesday‘s meeting, Cardona told Papa, “As a fireman, I want to thank you. As a trustee, I want to thank you.”

Water and sewer

In February, Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway suggested that the village provide water to residents in the nearby Orchard Park develpment, as a way to fill village coffers after its largest water customer, Atlas Copco Comptec, began recycling water. The village lost $50,000 per year in water fees.

Offering water to other customers might stem village development, Conway said.

“What I’m concerned about is, when we grant water, that it possibly opens the door for further expansion,” said Conway. He said that he had talked to New Scotland’s supervisor, Thomas Dolin, about Orchard Park because “those are current residents that have a water issue.” He went on, “The village would realize an increase in revenue but it does nothing to expand the development of the area. Those are already current homeowners. By granting them water, it’s not encouraging development.”

While running unopposed for his third four-year term as a village trustee, Richard Berger said, “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.”

Early in the year, the board agreed to extend its agreement to sell water to the Colonie Country Club development. The board later adopted a moratorium on selling water.

At its fall and winter meetings, the board discussed imposing benefit assessment fees on property owners who have requested sewer access, but who have not yet hooked into the system. The fee would solidify true interest in joining the system, and defray the ongoing costs of the maintenance system, Conway said.

Community

Albany County continued to make progress on the proposed rail trail between Albany, Bethlehem, and Voorheesville with the purchase of the nine-mile stretch from Canadian Pacific Railway.

In January, the county paid $700,000 to the railroad for the former track, from which rails were removed several years ago. Before area residents can use the trail, the county must clean it at an estimated cost of $7.8 million, for which the county is seeking grants.

Although the county learned in June it would not get a substantial grant from the Department of Energy, it still remains committed to eventually completing the project.

Voorheesville resident Mary Beth Dollard, who is a member of Friends of the Rail Trail, said of the purchase, “It was one of the best things I’d ever heard, that they were trying to do something with that empty train corridor. I believe it will be well-used by this town.”

Village residents came together in May to help children in Ethiopia. Mary Ann Morrison’s organization, It Takes A Village, sponsored a two-band concert, drum jam, and bake sale at Old Songs to raise $1,000 of the projected $20,000 needed to build a school.

“You don’t have to beg or plead. People say, ‘Let me give what I can give,’ ” Morrison said about small-scale fund-raisers. Her son, Rob Morrison, performed with his two bands with local musicians Josh Ross, Thomm LaFond, Jeremy Ferguson, Laura Baboulis, Dmitriy Bolotny, and Chris Duffy. 

“They appreciate this cause,” Mary Ann Morrison said. “How blessed we are that we don’t even have to think about that our children don’t have to go out and study under trees, without restrooms and paper.”

Small-town considerations

Local residents looked to the village board for solutions to parking, access to public records, and recreation alternatives this year.

Resident Glenn Schultz complained about an increasing number of parking tickets, saying that families on Maple Avenue do not have safe places to park.

“I can’t sit here and offer a solution,” Mayor Conway said in June. “There’s no vacant land there.”

Maple Avenue, also known as Route 85A, is a state highway.

“The state is saying it’s against the law,” said Conway of parking on the state highway. “If they decide to ticket you, they’re going to ticket you.

Resident Steven Schreiber repeatedly asked the board to make its website more up-to-date with minutes and agendas, and offered his services for making updates online. By June, Schreiber praised the updated website, but asked that unofficial minutes from recent meetings be included online.

He called the website “tremendously improved,” and went on, “It does the village justice. It’s much more current and informative.”

The board heard requests to use parts of the Voorheesville Avenue park for different uses. In May, board member David Cardona said that local parents were interested in reviving the skate park, which had gone unused for some time.

In June, several dog owners sent a representative to the board asking for part of the park to be fenced in for a dog park.

“It’s getting a little crowded down there,” Conway said. The board agreed to consider the request, and alternate sites for a dog park.

Village business

The village adopted a $1.975 million budget, raising taxes incrementally. Trustees John Stevens and Richard Berger, Village Justice Kenneth Connolly, and Mayor Conway ran unopposed and were re-elected with a turnout of only 87.

The board appointed former trustee and village attorney Camille Jobin-Davis, who is the assistant executive director for the state’s committee on open government, to be an acting justice. Jobin-Davis was appointed to cover Connolly’s position when he is out of town, she said. She also said that she would recuse herself from voicing any opinions about open meetings and freedom of information laws involving the village and its court.


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