By Marcello Iaia
KNOX — Voters approved of the all-Democrat town board, which drafted a lean 2013 budget and rounded out the year with a resolution to offer a new home for the displaced Knox post office.
As doors shut, new ones opened. A Knox dairy farmer recieved state recognition for a lifetime of service to farmers, while the Albany County office he served during that period was closed.
Teenager Hunter Fortuin is laying to rest the high school career that fostered his Hilltowns work ethic into an ambitious tech career. Like Fortuin, town planner Daniel Driscoll explored his tech project with a self-guided smartphone tour.
About half of Knox voters are Democrats, a quarter are Republicans, and a quarter are unenrolled or belong to a small party. The town board was bi-partisan in the previous term, with Republicans Patricia Gage and Travis Stevens.
At the reorganizational meeting for 2012, the board had one seat empty, as Republican Travis Stevens resigned to serve in the Albany County Legislature after winning in the November 2011 election.
Gage and Democrat Mary-Ellen Nagengast did not seek re-election, leaving two empty seats for 2012.
Michael Swain, who narrowly lost to Democrats Dennis Decker and Dennis Barber in the 2011 election to fill the two seats, was put forward as a Republican candidate for Stevens’s seat. At the January meeting, he told The Enterprise that he had submitted a letter of interest to the board.
“I feel it’s being too politicized. They’re looking for a Democratic candidate,” he said at the meeting. “I was the next runner-up.”
At the re-organizational meeting, Supervisor Michael Hammond told The Enterprise that the board was waiting for Democrats to find a candidate before making an appointment. In February, they chose Amy Pokorny, a Democrat who serves on the zoning board of appeals.
At 36, Swain, who is married to the town clerk, Kimberly Swain ran again the following year, when Pokorny’s appointment was approved by voters with 55.3 percent of the vote.
“I have concerns with all one of anything, whether it’s Republican, Democrat, all of it,” Swain said in October before the 2012 election. “Again, these positions aren’t political, once you’re elected.”
At both her appointment and election, Pokorny acknowledged the potential for conflict as she sits on the board, with her husband, Russell Pokorny, as town assessor.
Pokorny said she would recuse herself from the board’s business with “any kind of personnel issue where it comes to his [Mr. Pokorny’s] position.”
Swain said he would similarly recuse himself if he felt it were necessary, but that he does not think a marginal change in his wife’s salary, on par with other salaries in the budget, would represent a conflict of interest.
After the 2012 election, Swain expressed his satisfaction with the process and his respect for Pokorny. A new four-year term for her seat will be decided in the November 2013 election.
Lean budget, stable future
The town board passed its $1.85 million budget in November with a 1.39-percent increase in its tax levy.
The highway fund will remain the same, and $3,500 will be added to the general fund. Hammond said he expected an increase in sale-tax revenues from the county, which could then be put toward a capital reserve fund used to cushion large equipment purchases.
The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value will be $6.22
The Knox Country Store along Route 157 has changed hands multiple times in recent years, but the hub of town social life in the small hamlet remained closed for 2012. At the end of the year, another important town center, the Knox post office, located in the same building as the Country Store, shut its doors suddenly after the discovery of its dangerous backroom conditions.
Work on the post office furnace in November revealed a leaking roof, extensive mold, and rodents. A bank of post office boxes was reserved for all 97 Knox customers at the East Berne post office, seven miles away.
At the beginning of December, Maureen Marion, Northeast operations spokesperson for United States Postal Service, told The Enterprise ownership and maintenance were several weeks away from being resolved.
“We’re waiting to secure documentation and clear with the legal department,” said Marion.
Joseph Best told The Enterprise he bought the property, which includes the Knox Country Store, in 2001, and sold it to his stepson, David Lipper, in 2007 for $215,000.
The United States Postal Service was paying approximately $690 to rent the one space remaining active in the two-story frame house.
According to a listing by Empire Real Estate, the foreclosed property has been in “good/fair” condition for 90 days and is priced at $134,000. The buildings were constructed in 1979.
The Knox Town Board unanimously passed a resolution on Dec. 11 to offer a space in the town hall’s lower level community room to the postal service.
Although a representative with the USPS, Grace Mueller, visited the potential space and, according to Supervisor Hammond, thought it was “excellent,” no official determination has been made.
“Sometimes the most generous and appropriate offer isn’t going to fly for some very small reason,” Marion told The Enterprise in December. “Like, maybe we have a loading dock in the back of the community center but there isn’t enough room for the truck to turn around back into it.”
A Knox legend
Carl Peterson, a storied dairy farmer who never left Bozenkill Road, was honored at the 2012 New York Farm Bureau’s state annual meeting with its Distinguished Service Award on Dec. 5.
Peterson helped produce the first shipment of milk out of the area into the New England dairy market, and has been invovled in agricultural bureacracy since he took over his father’s farm in 1961. Eventually rising to be chairman of Agrimark, a co-operative of northeastern dairy farmers, Peterson helped secure a merger with Cabot Creamery that was one of his initial acheivements during his 11-year tenure.
According to Peterson, Agrimark pioneered the development of whey, a byproduct of cheese-making, into Milk Protein Concentrate, which is now valued for its use in health bars and energy drinks. He testified in front of Congressional committees, and distinguished the northeastern dairy market from the rest of the country with a program to regulate milk prices, which expired at the end of October this year.
The Milk Income Loss Contract would be replaced by a voluntary insurance program in a 2012 farm bill the House of Representatives has so far struggled to pass.
The expiration of the MILC this year means dairy farmers no longer receive government checks, while prices of fuel and corn are increasing.
“From what I’m reading in the papers, cheese prices have been dropping dramatically in the last two weeks, and, if that continues, farmers are going to be really hurting very soon,” Peterson said in November.
In the winter of 2010, several men were shoveling snow off the roof of one of Peterson’s largest storage barns during a storm when it collapsed. His grandchildren decided the insurance money was not enough to fully rebuild the barn.
Without storage facilities, the Peterson farm now earns its most of its income selling corn for ethanol as well as hay. The family plans to sell most of its 25 remaining Holsteins this spring.
Peterson has served on the local Farm Service Agency committee for three terms. The Albany County FSA office, located on Martin Road near Voorheesville’s high school, was closed this year and merged with its Schoharie County office, 18 miles away.
The merger was part of a nationwide effort by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s efforts to cut waste by closing offices, laboratories, and other facilities. The plan is estimated to save approximately $60 million for the United States Department of Agriculture.
Dozens of area farmers, including Peterson, came to a hearing held by the USDA at the 40-year-old Voorhesville office in February to petition for it to remain open.
They argued that the FSA, which had shed 12 percent of its employees since spring 2011, needed a presence in the state’s capital county in order to lobby, as Peterson did during his time at Agrimark.
A Knox prodigy
Hunter Fortuin has spent the end of 2012 toiling away on his website, Flitti.com. The social-networking site was devised and developed in 2011 by the 17-year-old Knox teenager with his friend, Shane Boland.
The pair first met at Tech Valley High School in East Greenbush, which aims to prepare its students, chosen from surrounding districts, with science and technology backgrounds for 21st-Century demands.
Flitti users can interact with profiles, sharing photos, videos, and comments, as on Facebook. The more they interact, the more points they earn, which are then used in a Flitti.com marketplace Boland and Fortuin are hoping to extend across the Internet.
A beta-test for Flitti.com was made this past spring to find possible flaws and gauge user activity.
The point, Fortuin says, is to radically change Internet productivity.
Fortuin worked with his hands on his father’s Knox farm, and both of his parents are self-employeed business owners. He didn’t enjoy working on the farm, but he said he always looked for ways to do his work more efficiently, giving himself deadlines and thinking about workflow.
“It’s helped me to love more than just the Internet,” Fortuin said in November of growing up in the Hilltowns. “I love doing things that are hands-on. You’re picking up rocks, stacking wood. There wasn’t a lot of virtual, growing up. I think that’s a thing I’ve recently adopted in the past four years.”
Fortuin told The Enterprise that his business ideas will keep him from going straight into college after he graduates from Tech Valley in 2013.
He is taking night classes at a University at Albany program called Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which helps train pre-college students to start their own businesses, and he completed an application for a Thiel Fellowship, which grants $100,000 and mentorship for people under 20 years old to start work on their own ideas. Fellows for 2013 will be announced next May.
Innovating in nature
The Hudson and Nancy Winn Preserve in Knox is now smartphone-ready. Knox Planner Daniel Driscoll showed The Enterprise this fall his project of equipping trees in the preserve with laminated cards of “Quick Response” codes that can be used as part of a self-guided tour.
With a downloadable application and a nearby cell tower, the phone user can scan QR codes at eight different trees to playback a recording of Driscoll’s voice describing the significance and history of the surrounding area. The codes can be scanned using an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone. Other devices, such as iPods or tablets, can scan the codes as well. Driscoll has been on the Knox Planning board for over 30 years. His experience as a sound engineer led him to the construction of musical bridges, like large xylophones, in Delmar and Rensselaerville before the one he built at the Nancy Winn Preserve.