AT A BUDGET HEARING OF THE TOWN OF NISKAYUNA DULY CALLED AND HELD ON THE 23RD OF OCTOBER, 2001, AT THE TOWN OFFICE BUILIDNG, ONE NISKAYUNA CIRCLE, NISKAYUNA, NEW YORK, THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS WERE PRESENT:
HONORABLE: PATRICIA A. DONNELLY COUNCILWOMAN
SCOTT M. HORTON COUNCILMAN
WILLIAM R. CHAPMAN COUNCILMAN
LIZ ORZEL KASPER COUNCILWOMAN
LUKE J. SMITH SUPERVISOR
Others present: Barbara Nottke, Deputy Town Clerk; Kathy Matern, Town Planner; Paul Sebesta, Comptroller; Darryl Ostrander, Deputy Police Chief; Richard Pollock, Superintendent of Water & Sewer; Frank Gavin, Superintendent of Highways; Carol Bechta, Administrative Supervisor; and Steve Noyes.
A Public Hearing was held on the Preliminary Budget and Special Districts Budget for 2002. Supervisor Smith reported that the budget presented flowed from the Tentative Budget that reflected a 1.7% tax increase or $2.80 per thousand. After the Town Board met in a budget workshop, the actual tax increase has risen to 2.1%. The average home with a value of $135,000 will pay an additional $7.00 for the General and Highway Fund for 2002.
The Supervisor showed total appropriations for 2001 and 2002 and a budget increase of $330,000. One factor that caused the increase is the Town’s contribution for health and retirement benefits that rose $131,000. We have been notified that retirement expenses could increase another $87,000 according to the New York State Comptroller. The Town may have to tighten it belt to accommodate this increase.
Employee will receive a 3% raise that is consistent with other municipalities. A half time person has been added to the Town Clerk and Comptroller’s office. The Supervisor would like the Comptroller to work more on issues such as banking and investment so we can maximize revenues.
The Town is adding one additional Police Officer pro-rated for a half year. The Chief requested two additional officers due to the growth of the Town and potential of the Mohawk Commons coming on line. The Mall is progressing and the needs will be monitored carefully. The expiration of the Police School Resource Officer Grant has resulted in the Town picking up 2/3rds of the cost in 2002. The school had indicated that they would support the continuation of this position financially. Hopefully we might get some revenue from that to offset the cost.
$45,000 has been designated for Highway improvements over last year and we have additional hours and salary for Senior Services. The Coordinator ‘s hours will increase by one-third and her salary by 20%. The Assessor’s Office has an increase in the budget to support the processing of the STAR program requests.
Using a sample home with an assessment at $135,000, the taxes are $4,839. The Town portion is $582, County $1,079, and School $2,882. The Fire District tax is $291 or 6% of the budget. Police and Justice services cover 36% of the budget, Highway is 32%, Public Works is 14%, and Parks and Recreation and Administration is 9%.
The Supervisor showed that Town debt is decreasing and he stated it is important to continue to aggressively pay off our debt so we can cut some of our recurring expenses. Outstanding debt includes highway equipment, Town Hall, Recreation Center, Tax Rebates, and the Soccer Fields.
There is an additional increase is the Supervisor’s salary from the present salary of $23,000. This past year a community group appointed by the Town Board recommended that the Supervisor’s position should be full time and so designated by a full time salary. A number of Towns were surveyed and the Town most comparable in population to us is Queensbury with a Supervisor’s salary of $53,800. Bethlehem is $84,000, Clifton Park $17,000 with a Town Manager of $67,000 for a total of $85,000 and Guilderland is $73,000. This is not an increase of what has been traditionally paid for the Supervisor’s position. It is a change in the form of government. The Deputy Supervisor’s position was not filled nor was it budgeted for last year. This year’s budget is not an
increase over what has traditionally been funded for personnel services of the Supervisor’s office. Previously, a Supervisor and a Deputy/Administrator at $35,000 to $40,000 staffed the office.
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR
Don Brown, 11 Macaulay Lane (and a candidate for the Town Board) is concerned about the issue of the full time Supervisor. He did not believe residents of the Town would be willing to become a full time Supervisor at a salary of $53,800. Many residents can do the job on a part time.
Robert J. Coan, 1394 Ruffner Road, is the appointed Chairman of the committee to evaluate the need for a full time Supervisor and to recommend a salary. He supplied 20 copies of the Committee’s report to those in attendance. The committee’s meetings were publicly noticed, they interviewed quite a few people from the Town, and sought the advice of prior Supervisors. He read the Executive Summary of the report, which unanimously recommended that the position of Supervisor be a full time elected position, that the term of office be changed from two to four years, and that the compensation be set at a range of $45,000 to $55,000.
Mr. Coan was surprised that there was no discussion tonight about the 20% increase in the fire tax. Very few people know how the fire district operates. It behooves them to explain the 20% increase in their budget. He has the greatest respect for the volunteers and the service they render to the community, which is invaluable. In this time and age when anyone increases a budget by 20% they have an obligation to explain it to the community. At some point there should be a public meeting where the issue of paramedics is discussed and the people in Town let the fire district know how they feel.
At this time if the paramedics are called residents would not get a bill and the Town would not be reimbursed. If we called a private ambulance service the resident would be taken to the hospital and his insurance would pay for this. At the present time most of the residents of Niskayuna have health insurance. If we need an ambulance, insurance would pay for it. If we use the District No. 1 firemen the Town does not pay for it so most citizens pay for it twice. He doesn’t object to this but he didn’t think the public was aware that we are paying for this twice. The fire commissioners owe it to the public to call a public meeting, explain why the budget has gone up 20% and explain why we are not using our insurance dollars to pay for this ambulance service as
opposed to tax dollars. The residents deserve an explanation so people can give their opinion.
Supervisor Smith commented that last year the Town Board passed a resolution encouraging a change in legislation that would allow the fire department to charge insurance. Supervisor Smith was informed that they lose close to $250,000 per year in revenue for calls that they make. $80,000 of this is for non-residents coming through Town and they can’t charge for service because of a quirk in the law. We sent this legislation to Senator Farley and Assemblymen Tedesco that supported legislation that would allow them to charge. To date, this has not passed. Supervisor Smith agrees that we pay for our insurance but we are not able to use this insurance to pay for the bills. In theory, the taxes could be reduced $250,000 for the Fire District so we would only pay it once
and that would be in our insurance premiums.
Joe Battiste, Niskayuna Fire District No. 1 Fire Chief, announced that the budget increase this year is due to a recommendation that he made that they put three new fire fighters on staff. They have had a decline in volunteerism over the last several years and they are seeing fewer volunteers show up at calls. They are seeing a population that is growing older and as this happens it is a bigger draw on their services. The Town is also growing. Schenectady International has doubled in size with a double work force. We will soon have ten new apartment buildings on Hillside Avenue that will add 100 apartments to the Town. Environment One will double in size and double their work force in the next year. Houses are being built everywhere and in the
interest of public safety he recommended that they hire three new people, with one new person added to each shift. The Fire Commissioners have not made a commitment to hire the additional people. The recommendation was made in August and funds were included in the budget anticipating approval
Regarding ambulance billing, General Municipal Law 209B will not allow them to bill and they are trying to get this changed. If they were out of the paramedic business we still need the fire department. We would still be responding to the calls and we still need the people. They have public meetings the second Wednesday of every month in which the public can attend. The budget is reviewed at the public meeting and any resident can attend and vote. Last year the whole paramedic system was explained at a Town Board meeting. They have 12 professional firefighters and added an extra person two years ago for day hours because of the number of calls they receive and because most of the volunteers have daytime jobs. They make their decisions based on the interest of
public safety. Their district covers G. E. R & D, Algonquin Road off Route 7, Rexford Bridge, past Knolls, and one-half to three-quarters of Rosendale Estates. Fire District No. 2 has paid station keepers and Fire District 5 is Stanford Heights who also have a paid station keeper. Most of the volunteer departments have hired station keepers to answer the calls. To get volunteers they have instituted retirement benefits, they ask for volunteers when they do their fund drive they have a booth at Niska Day for volunteers and have open houses. Our current volunteers do not have enough time.
Tony Vatrano, 4 Pine Ridge Drive, would also like to know about insurance and paramedic services.
Rod Riehl, 1846 Hillside Avenue, (and Niskayuna Fire District No. 1 Commissioner) said he joined the fire department as a volunteer twelve years ago. They were doing about 380 calls per year and last year did over 1,500 calls. 85% are paramedic calls. Fire calls are down because of fire prevention programs and inspections that the fire department does. They give classes, and visit schools. The number of volunteers and paid firepersons remained the same over this time. They asked for three paid firefighters this year and if the need arises the funds will be there.
They have two responsibilities, which is to watch out for their money and to provide health and welfare. District 1 paramedics on two different years have received the statewide Agency of the Year Award. District 1 can respond anywhere in the district in less than three minutes. They would love to be able to bill, Joe Battiste has been working for five years on this. They would be glad to have an open meeting to explain their budget. Niskayuna has the best of the best in their paramedics and firefighters serving this Town. Most residents of Niskayuna have no idea what they have at their disposal unless they call 911.
Regarding a full time Supervisor, Mr. Riehl stated that with a Town budget of $9 million he definitely we need a full time Supervisor and Board.
Scott Crowder, 2485 Troy Road, was at first hesitant at supporting a full time Supervisor’s position. Dr. Reilly was doing a full time job on half time pay. He feels that the Town should support a full time Supervisor and thinks $53,800 salary is very low. He could not do the job for this salary and he doesn’t think there are many who could. There are only a select number of people in our community who have the inclination to public service but also have the financial situation to run for Supervisor. The Town is too important and there are too many important issues to consider. It is an $80,000 job and he would gladly take any tax increase to support this salary.
Judith Calvelli, 2644 Troy Road, (and a member of the advisory committee who studied the Supervisor status) stated that at first she was totally against a full time position and salary. The more she heard from department heads and former Town Supervisors including Ed Reilly and Marty Moore the more they realized that this is a full time job with a full time salary. It isn’t the best salary but hopefully we can get good people to fill the position.
Peter Coffey, Highland Park Road, felt that the Town’s surplus is going down, extra money we are getting is being spent, salaries are going up, positions are being created, and taxes are going up.
Paul Schonewolf, Orchard Park Drive, has had the opportunity to serve with a full time Supervisor (Reilly) and a part time Supervisor (DeCataldo) and felt we need a full time Supervisor. The prior Supervisor’s budget was $65,000 for personnel services. The next year, with no Deputy the salary was $20,000 and the Supervisor was full time. This year, the salary was $23,000 with a full time Supervisor and no Deputy, so the Town saved $42,000. The proposal of $53,800 is still less than what was spent with a part time Supervisor. A full time Supervisor is what the Town needs and the proper thing to do. It does not matter if they are retired or not.
While discussing the fire department, Mr. Schonewolf commented that a public meeting would be a good idea. There are three ways of providing paramedic service one with firemen as first responders and a commercial ambulance takes the patient to the hospital. Firemen and paramedics can be on the payroll that go with an ambulance and take the patient to the hospital. A third way is a town-wide EMS service.
Leslie Gold, 1919 Pawtucket Avenue, has watched the Town grow and the Town become far more accountable since she started attending Board meetings in 1983. There is a lot more to be managed and the Supervisor’s job cannot be done adequately on a part-time basis. Our Town deserves the very best and she supports a full-time Supervisor.
Sally Lester, 2451 Troy Road, expressed her displeasure that many of the Town’s salaries are higher than those paid to City of Schenectady workers. In particular she mentioned the Police Chief, Police Lieutenants, and the Supervisor. Supervisor Smith remarked that the starting salary for police officers is being raised to $24,000 from $21,000. The Town was concerned that we would not be able to recruit officers with this starting salary. The second year the salary jumped to $36,000.
Supervisor Smith commented that he expects that the sales tax revenue from the County may be higher this year rather than lower. If things change and we have dramatic problems, then the Town will look to cut expenses. The Town has gained population, and the equalization puts us in a better position for non-Metroplex sales tax.
Lorene Zabin, 2455 Brookshire Drive, is pleased with the budget especially for senior citizens. It is about time that they were released from the appendage of the Recreation budget. Now they can see where their funds are coming from, and what they need to do to have fundraisers to encourage their own identity. The seniors have focus and goals and she would like to see the senior citizens get out of the basement of the current Community Center. This has been an annoyance for four years. She hopes that this Board can make some changes for the seniors. The numbers are increasing and this is a good area for the Town to give its attention.
Supervisor Smith commented that the seniors had asked for a separate budget line so they can measure year-to-year what their resources are. In the past senior services were allocated in the Recreation Department.
She is pleased that the Town is looking into our own sludge dehydration plant rather than hauling sludge to Rochester. Supervisor Smith added that the tolls for the month of August were $250. Our truck travels two times per week to dump the Town’s sludge. Eventually the Rochester plant may refuse to accept the sludge. We have to look to new technologies to deal with this. The dehydration plant reduces the sludge to a small pile of clean debris that can be spread in roadbeds and reconstruction. We spend $55,000 just in deposal fees, plus labor, plus the cost of our truck. Last year we had a $16,000 repair expense on one of the trucks. The sludge dehydration is not a burning plant but is a way to take all the moisture out and what is left is a very
small residue, which is clean. It has not been budgeted for but the hope is we can use reserves in the sewer district budget to pay cash for the plant and have it on line hopefully sometime this year.
Bill Chapman, reviewed the last ten years of Town fees and put together fees for an average $135,000 home. In 1993 they would have paid $664.51 for their Town tax, water and sewer fees and their water bill. This stayed flat across the ten-year period and in 2002 they will pay $704.80, an increase of $40. There has been a sharp decrease in the water bill. Sales tax and Metroplex revenues have improved the Town. We have added staff to our police department, have emergency medical 911 and have new radio equipment for the Police and new dispatchers. The Police Department has better cars, we have Town Hall, a beautiful library and 48 of the 80 miles of roads have been paved in the last 15 years. We have excellent snow removal, we have capped the
landfill, created a transfer station and pick up brush. We have drilled new wells, which allow us to pump more water; we repaired water tanks and improved the Waste Water Treatment Plant. We have a town-wide revaluation in the 1990’s and an update in 1997.
The Supervisor has saved money on lights, telephone service, insurance savings. In Recreation we have added a bus for seniors, added the new soccer fields, added Little League fields, driving range, park at River Road, Community Center, Skateboard Park, full court basketball court at River Road Park, bathrooms at the train station and computers for seniors at the Recreation Center. Plan 93 is a good plan and we are working on Plan 2003. We have St. James Square and Mohawk Mall as improvements.
Vincent Daly, 2231 Webster Drive, praised the fire department for bring up the standards of the department for the safety of the community. He supports this department. He agrees we need a full time Supervisor because of the growth of the Town.
When no other members of the public wished to be heard, the Supervisor closed the public hearing. The Supervisor praised the Town Comptroller Paul Sebesta for his hard work on the budget. He also introduced department heads who were attendance who are Kathy Matern, Planning; Rich Pollock, Water & Sewer Superintendent; Carol Bechta, Administrative Supervisor; Frank Gavin, Superintendent of Highways; Steven Noyes, and Darryl Ostrander, Deputy Police Chief.
TOWN CLERK’S BUSINESS
The minutes of the Regular Meeting of September 25 and October 9 were approved by the Board.
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR
When no members of the public wished to be heard, the Supervisor closed Privilege of the Floor.
Resolution 2001-257 authorized the removal of brush around the water towers of Consolidated Water District No. 1 at a cost of $1,600.
Resolution 2001-258 authorizes attendance at conferences for Janet Hollocher and William McColl to attend the 2001 Conference on the Environment November 9, 10, 11 in Saratoga Springs at a total of $126 each plus mileage.
Resolution 2001-259 appoints Donald Frame to serve a one year term, Lorene Rucinski to serve a two year term, and William Connelly to serve a three year term as co-chairmen of Park District No. 2 and Lillian Stacy, Marian and Hutch Tibbets, Kiernam Ryan, Ben Pack, and Karen Kavney as Assistant Commissioners
Resolution 2001-260 authorizes the Supervisor to retain cleaning services from Pat & Company Cleaning Services to scrub, recoat and buff all floors at the Community Center at a cost of $670.
There being no further business to come before the Board, the Supervisor declared the meeting adjourned.
Barbara Nottke, Deputy Town Clerk