||[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]
New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 6, 2006
4-percent hike on $20M budget
By Holly Grosch
VOORHEESVILLE The school board unanimously approved a $20 million budget proposal on Monday night, which is a 4-percent increase over this years $19 million plan.
The amount to be raised by property taxes, $13.7 million, is a 3.67-percent increase in the tax levy . Voters will have their say on May 16.
"It’s pretty bare bones," board member Kevin Kroencke told The Enterprise. With taxes going up, New Scotland’s town-wide property revaluation, and the recent allegations from state comptrollers of former administrator’s improper appropriations, "we are taking a very conservative and cautious approach to spending," Kroencke said.
"It’s important to show the voters fiscal conservatism," board member Tom McKenna told The Enterprise. His personal goal, he said, was to get the budget as close to contingency as possible.
When Superintendent Linda Langevin started the budget process, she announced to the board she was planning on being very conservative, because of the current environment, McKenna said. As the new chief administrator, Langevin was given free rein by the board and she "came out in spectacular fashion," McKenna said.
"Her objective was to craft a really tight budget," and continue to offer a sound education, board member James Coffin told The Enterprise.
"We didn’t have to strip away any programs," Coffin said.
The public budget workshops consisted of Langevin giving PowerPoint presentations of her proposed budget, one line item at a time, and board members asking a few questions along the way about some increases or decreases. A handful of residents also attended the sessions and asked questions as well. But the board members did not weigh in with major requests for changes and did not make many suggestions on where to add or subtract from Langevins proposal.
During the budget session there were not many recommendations or demands from the board about places to make cuts. Board President Joseph Pofit agreed with this observation, telling The Enterprise this week that there wasn't much room in the tight budget for the board to finagle expenses, and that the board was very satisfied with Langevins proposal.
All the board members this year carefully reviewed, each line item and asked questions, he said. Langevin; Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell; and Gordon Durnford, who filled in for Winchell when she was briefly placed on leave during a state audit, made a very, very, very, tight budget, Pofit said.
It was clear during the budget sessions that Langevin had carefully examined every line item, Coffin told The Enterprise. "We literally saw every line item in the budget," he said about her budget presentation slides.
Department heads and building principals bring their budget requests to the business office where staff members then hash out each line item. The elected school board doesnt see the budget until the public does, when the preliminary document is proposed by the administration. The board did, however, express its goals to Langevin early on, Kroencke said, at its annual retreat. The main goal, this year was a simple one, to keep the schools as strong as possible at minimal cost, Kroencke said.
Kroencke said he is concerned about this years budget passing because of reassessment, and public opinion after the comptroller announced the discovery of misappropriated funds, but hes not overly concerned, Kroencke said. He said he is optimistic that the community will realize how much the school has kept the cost contained.
With the uncertainty in state aid, because of Voorheesvilles wealthy community, the district has to anticipate receiving similar aid as last year, Coffin said.
Kroencke pointed out that two-thirds of the districts revenue used to come from the state; now one-third is funded by the state.
The Voorheesville School District could possibly get anywhere from $150,000 to $159,000 in aid, Pofit said. The local school board is in agreement if it were to receive any extra money beyond what it projected, it will use it to reduce the tax impact, and return dollars to the taxpayers, Pofit said. For now, the school remains conservative with is projections since the governor can still veto the proposal.
"This was not the year to consider additional spending," or to experiment with new programs Coffin said.
But that is a focus and objective for next year, Coffin said; the board wants to, over the next school year, take a serious look at the education program and curriculum.
Pofit said Langevins expertise and experience in curriculum development is the main reason she was hired by the board. Everyone is eager and enthusiastic for the changes next year, Coffin said. He had hoped to start curriculum development within a year, but that had to be held up because the board was occupied dealing with the state audit, public relations, and the lawsuits against former administrators.
Auditing expense is increasing from $10,000 this year to $27,000 next year to fund state-mandated positions. The district has hired a claims auditor to review checks and warrants at a salary of $2,000. The board also this month hired Henry Binzer as an internal auditor at a annual contract payment not to exceed $15,000, and the board plans to hire a new annual external auditing firm soon but at the same rate as last year $10,000.
Attorneys fees for 2006-07 are seeing a budget increase of $25,000 to $51,000.
Langevin, Winchell, and Durnford all got the message to sharpen their pencils, Pofit said. This year is tough for everyone and its going to be tough next year, too, he said.
"If you’re going to make changes to the budget, it has to be done with a lot of thought," Coffin said. "We simply didn’t have the time to delve into it." The mentality now is to get through this year’s budget by keeping the educational program the same, and "let’s get the major problems behind us," Coffin said.
McKenna said one thing he would like to investigate in the future is offering full-day kindergarten, which he knows would be a huge expense for the district, but he would like to stay ahead of the eightball he said, as the state legislature is considering mandating it. Its necessary in todays two-parent working family society, McKenna said.
Kroencke said he would have liked to have incorporated more money for the humanities program, offering more art classes and bringing back a gifted-and-talented program at the high school. But this year was more about maintaining and staying within limited resources, he said.
While the budget has remained similar to last years, Langevin pointed out a few additions, including one new reading teacher for the elementary school, funding for tutors for at-risk middle-school and high-school students, and the expansion of the athletic directors position to encompass the management of aquatics through the summer.
There have been some cuts from last year, too.
McKenna said he was disappointed that one additional bus purchase was cut. Two years ago, the board implemented a 5-year plan to replace buses incrementally. This budget year, three were to be purchased, but, with support from transportation director Michael Goyer, the bus proposition will only call for two buses. McKenna said he was assured that the school's student transportation will not be inhibited by one less bus.
Cuts were made across the board in equipment within various section of the budget, operations, maintenance and teaching.
At the elementary school, teaching equipment spending was reduced from $12,000 to $5,300 for 2006-07. High-school teaching equipment went from $20,000 down to $11,155.
"People like new things," Pofit said. Equipment is an easy target in a budget, and the administration did a great job of weeding out unnecessary items, and discussing with the staff what could really wait a year or two, he said.
In total Voorheesville will spend $53,040 less on equipment in the next year, Winchell said.
"We have tried to maintain the status quo while minimizing the expense and cost to the tax-payer," McKenna said.
Board members and the administration have emphasized that about 95 percent of the districts budget increases for the 2006-07 year are costs that the board has no control over at this juncture.
According to a budget analysis by Winchell, 18 percent of the budget increases are energy costs a $139,680 increase.
Energy Education, was hired last year to help manage Voorheesvilles energy consumption, by turning off lights, monitoring heating fixtures, and using less power. The board has not yet seen the benefit of this program at the elementary school, Pofit said.
Energy Education is a $41,000 budgeted expense for next year. while the school had anticipated reaping savings in heating and electricity cost beyond the energy-management fees, those line items are also requiring a substantial increase for next year.
Electricity at the elementary school is going from $40,000 to $59,000. The high-school electricity cost is increasing from $188,600 to $203,000. Gas at the elementary school was budgeted at $45,600 this year and anticipated to cost $60,000 next year. The high-schools gas cost is going from $133,750 to $156,600.
Pofit said the board has notified Energy Education that it is not satisfied with the results, so the firm is going to continue to analyze and implement energy cost reductions.
Fuel for buses is up from $80,600 to $108,630.
Then, 77.3 percent of the budget increase is due to salary and fringe benefits, contractual obligations made through the collective bargaining process with teachers, administrators, and all the other employees, Winchell said.
While the board cant adjust employee benefits now, the board is the authority that approves and negotiates the contract to begin with. The next series of negotiations are already on the minds of board members.
We need to provide for our employees, many of whom live within the district, Kroencke said.
Both Coffin and McKenna said they stand by the collective bargaining contracts they approved for employees. The "raises are fair and reasonable," McKenna said.
"It was an equitable settlement," Coffin said, adding that for the next round of negotiations, "Nothing is off the table."
The public sector has to deal with the same things the private sector is facing, such as increasing costs for prescription drug plans and other health benefits and retirement.
The union representatives understand that its the 21st Century and the pressure the board is feeling, Coffin said.
Currently, Voorheesville employees pay 10 percent of their insurance costs.
Greg Davies, who owns an auto repair shop in the village, asked the board during a budget session if it was going to start reducing expenses by having the employees pay more into their heath-insurance premiums.
Langevin said, "Come next negotiation, everyone knows that will be the first thing to be discussed."
Union representatives are hearing loud and clear that the public doesn’t want to pay for such large percentages of the high cost of health insurance said Pofit. "It’s getting loud and louder as the cost of benefits goes up."
A health committee has been formed where administrators and elected officials are making a collective effort to solve the cost of health insurance, McKenna said.
Weve got to find creative ways, Pofit said.
One new initiative is that prescription costs were self-insured for this year, and the district is already seeing those savings, Winchell said.
In case of defeat
"The vote [by the public] is really relevant because included in this budget is technology," Langevin said. If the budget does not pass, then Voorheesville will go to a contingency budget with a state cap. The 4-percent increase would be the same amount in dollars, but the school would have less control over how the money is allocated.
Under a capped budget, the school is not allowed to purchase new technology and some new equipment.
Pofit said 73.3 percent of the budget increase is due to increases in salaries and benefits, but adding debt service which the board has to pay, brings the amount up to 86 percent of the budget increase; and tacking on fuel and energy costs, rates which are also out of the boards control leaves only about 5 percent of the budget to be finagled by the board, Pofit said.
Resident Tom Mensching, said at a budget session that, with 4-percent annual increases, the budget doubles every 10 years; it just keeps going up, he said. He questioned if some day the Voorheesville schools will have to consider merging with a larger district. Hes afraid hell have to move in a few years at the current rate, he said.
Pofit said that this years budget is very fair, and the 4-precent increase matches the rate of inflation.
Country club living in New Scotland on course
By Holly Grosch
NEW SCOTLAND A country-club community is proposed for New Scotland literally.
Many people dream of living on a golf course, and that could become a reality for 37 families who can afford $400,000 or more for a home.
Amedore Homes development company is back before the towns planning board, but this time at the request of the owners of the private Colonie Golf and Country Club. They want to build a 37-house exclusive golfing and club residential neighborhood on 50 of their 244 acres along Route 85A, also known as Maple Avenue in New Scotland, not far from the Voorheesville village line.
George Amedore Sr. had stormed out of a New Scotland planning board meeting in December, stating he was fed up with the boards inability to be consistent in its views delaying his planned unit development approval. He withdrew his application requesting a re-zone in the commercial corridor on Route 85, next to the old Saab dealership, to permit 206 units of senior condos and townhouses with 125,000 square feet of commercial space by the road. Amedore told The Enterprise then that he did not see himself coming back to New Scotland until town officials conducted themselves more professionally.
Amedore did not return phone calls this week, to comment about his return to New Scotland.
His single-family homes now proposed for the country-club property will not require a rezone like the PUD did. This land is already zoned for residences at a density of 44,000 square feet per lot.
Joseph Lanaro, an engineer from Chazen Companies, presented a preliminary subdivision plan to the planning board on Tuesday night. He said that the proposed parcels are all at least one acre that is, 43,560 square feet.
Jeff Sperber, one of the country clubs co-owners told The Enterprise after the meeting that the owners approached Amedore Homes asking if Amedore would be interested in the project.
Amedore Homes is now under contract to purchase the 50 acres from the club.
"It’s another way of enhancing the property," Sperber said. Some existing members would like to live at this location, and he would also like new people to move and join the organization as well, Sperber said.
As part of the agreement of buying one of these houses, the purchaser also has to buy a club membership, Lanaro said.
Currently, the subdivision application states that a private well and septic system will be located on each lot, although, Lanaro said, it would be preferable to have public water, supplied by the village of Voorheesville.
Planning board Chairman Robert Stapf informed Lanaro that the procedure for an inter-municipal agreement is that the applicant would first submit a water application to the town of New Scotlands water committee and then the town would approach the village to discuss the possibilities of an intermunicipal water agreement.
"It’s certainly a possibility," new village mayor Robert Conway told The Enterprise on Wednesday. The village has recently lifted its moratorium on outside users, Conway said, and village officials have begun offering public water to New Scotland residents who lie within 150 feet of the pipeline that runs up to the high school.
The village is starting to look at areas of need where infrastructure already exists, Conway said. There is village public water service to the Scotch Pine development, which borders the country club, Conway said.
The fees to outside users are double those for village residents.
Amedore Homes is proposing two entrances into the neighborhood off of Route 85A, by constructing a new private road that is to be maintained by a homeowners association. The road will, however, meet the towns specifications.
According to Lanaros drawings, the private roadway enters where there is an existing sign for the country club now, then winds along, heading back toward the village, forming a T. The left side of the T continues out to form a cul-de-sac with houses along both sides of the private road. To the right side of the top of the T, the road continues back out to Route 85A alongside Scotch Pine Drive.
Since the proposed cul-de-sac is longer than 1,000 feet, it will need a variance from the towns zoning board.
The road will also need a second variance if it is to be a private drive, legal counsel Louis Neri said.
There are people who want to live in the community, Sperber said, and be a permanent part of the golf community. The plan is to house people who enjoy golf, the club environment and entertainment, Sperber said.
Its a golf-course community with access to the county club, Lanero said. Walking paths connecting it all together.
Changes come with new owners
The Colonie Golf and Country Club used to carry the name just Colonie Country Club up until February of 2005, when five long-time members of the club formed a limited liability company (LLC) and purchased the property for $1,918,000.
A new sign was put out by the side of the road in April of 2005, reflecting the new name and ownership.
With what seems like an out-of-place name along Route 85A, the club has a long history. It had originally been a nine-hole course located on Wolf Road in the 1960s, where Colonie Center now sits.
When the new sign was installed in 2005, the club had 235 members and Bob Desautels was hired to be the membership director to increase membership.
This is the first time that the club is privately owned; it had previously been member owned and run by a board of directors.
The club needed more money and the financial soundness of private ownership, Desautels said. The club had felt financial strain in the past few years, and the new owners invested money in order to continue to play golf and maintain their community, Desautels said.
Desautels told The Enterprise last year that the owners are striving for a more well-rounded country club, with an extensive tennis program, three outdoor swimming pools, dining, and social events like jazz nights and barbecues.
Members come from all over, Desautels said; many travel in from Delmar and Slingerlands, while others live in Troy, Niskayuna, Clifton Park, and some come from within New Scotland and Voorheesville.
Fuel-tank leak contaminates soil
By Michelle ORiley
VOORHEESVILLE A fuel tank leak has led to soil contamination at the Mobile station on Route 85A.
Groundwater & Environmental Services, Inc. an environmental solutions and liability management company will remove the spilled fuel from the soil. Valley Equipment, which is under contract with Exxon Mobile, will be removing the defective tanks.
Village Building Inspector Jerry Gordinier said he assumes removing the tanks will take only a couple of days and they should be removed within the next four weeks.
Some village residents were notified by e-mail of the soil contamination and fuel-tank removal. At this time, none of the residents contacted have expressed any concerns, said Gordinier.
Alta East, the new owner of the Mobile station, plans on installing new fuel tanks after submitting an application to the planning commission for a site review. Once Alta East receives approval, it should take about four weeks to install the new tanks, said an Alta East field representative on Tuesday.
According to Gordinier, this will be the third set of fuel tanks installed at this site over a 25-year period.
The board agreed at its March 28 meeting that the village would be interested in leasing land for a cellular tower.
Bill Biscone of Wire Free said the tentative site for the tower would be on the southwest corner of the Voorheesville Public Works property. According to Biscone, several landowners around the proposed site were contacted and seemed to have no problems with a tower being built.
The board and Biscone agreed that photo simulations and a balloon drop to gage the visibility of the proposed 160-foot tower are needed. Concerns were raised about the tower toppling, and Biscone responded, "They are not made to fall."
The tower would hold four to five cellular phone carriers and radio antennas for village services such as transportation, fire, and the ambulance. According to the board, some of the areas currently with little or no reception are the high school, town park, and soccer fields.
Biscone said that the tower would provide "reliable service for the entire community."
The board directed Biscone to take the next step and submit a proposal to the planning board.
In other business, the village board:
Heard the suggestion for village elected officials and the planning board to attend informational meetings on water programs. These meetings would also allow village officials to meet leaders from other communities in Albany and Saratoga County to discuss what steps are being taken in the region to deal with water issues;
Heard the proposal from a village resident to add a 120- to 150-foot sewer line connection. The board decided an engineering review is needed to find out the systems current capacity and if the plant can take on any more users.
After recent requests and allocations, including 48 units for a proposed senior-housing project, the current sewer system may be at its maximum capacity;
Approved a street-sweeping budget of $3,300 and the purchase of chain-link fencing for the village office parking lot. Also, approved that the premium mulch delivered by the village will now cost residents $25 a yard; and
Heard that an application for a subdivision on Pine Street is pending review by the states Department of Environmental Conservation. Also, heard that Omni is back on track with the building plans for the new senior housing development. The company recently had delays due to managerial changes.
[Return to Home Page]