AT A BUDGET HEARING & REGULAR MEETING OF THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF NISKAYUNA DULY CALLED AND HELD ON THE 22nd DAY OF OCTOBER, 2002 AT THE NISKAYUNA TOWN OFFICE BUILDING, ONE NISKAYUNA CIRCLE, IN SAID TOWN, AT 9:30 A.M. THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS WERE PRESENT:
HONORABLE LIZ ORZEL KASPER COUNCILWOMAN
WILLIAM R. CHAPMAN COUNCILMAN
RICHARD A. HOLT COUNCILMAN
DIANE P. O’DONNELL COUNCILWOMAN
LUKE J. SMITH SUPERVISOR
Representatives from the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce presented the Town with a photo display and recognized and thanked the Town for being a participant in their programs. Supervisor Smith commented that things are moving ahead in Schenectady County and the City of Schenectady. Optimism has been seen in the last several years.
Public Hearing No. 1: A public hearing was held to amend the vehicle and traffic code to install a Stop sign on Comanche Trail and a Stop sign on Randall Road. When no members of the public wished to be heard, the Supervisor closed the public hearing.
Public Hearing No. 2: Preliminary Budget and Special District Budget for 2003
Supervisor Smith presented the Preliminary Budget and gave a brief overview. Spending will increase $525,000 that results in a tax increase of 2.9% over last year or a tax rate of $2.89/$1,000 of assessed value. A home assessed at $135,000 will see an increase in Town taxes of $10.98 for a total of $390.14 for General and Highway (does not include Water and Sewer).
Last year the total spending for General and Highway was $9,169,000. This year it will be $9,690,000. A number of factors are driving the increase in spending. Employee health benefits are increasing $118,000 for Town employees. The Town has engaged the services of an insurance broker to examine our health benefits and contracts to make sure we are getting the best deal for the employees and taxpayers.
Retirement benefits are increasing from last year’s budget from $100,000 to $237,000. It has been fairly flat for the last five year with little or no contribution from the Town because the stock market was so good. With the stock market troubles, municipalities now have to contribute to the system. This year is not really the anomaly, the past five years is the anomaly. Normally, it would be routine practice to contribute to the pension system.
The Board is proposing a 3% cost of living raise that is consistent with other municipalities. They are adding an additional police officer prorated for half a year. The Town has grown, we have increased the number of roads that they patrol, and also Mohawk Mall is coming on line in a phased fashion. We are also looking at an increase of $95,000 for Highway (an 18-1/2& increase) to reconstruct and pave an additional mile of road. The hope is we can get to a point where we can reconstruct all Town roads on a 20-year cycle. At present, we have some roads that have not been reconstructed since the late 1970’s. We will try and get back on a schedule. We are doing additional security enhancements at the various facilities.
An average home assessed at $135,000 is paying $5,206 in taxes. The highest amount is paid in school taxes. The county portion is $1,342, fire department is $249, and the Town tax with water and sewer is $608. Showing the history of the trends since 1993 shows increases in school taxes with the county fairly flat with a spike this year. The Town taxes have been fairly flat.
$.38 of every dollar goes to the Police and Justice Department, dispatchers, and animal control. Public Works and engineering services, building inspection is $.09 of every dollar. Parks and Recreation account for $.09 of every dollar. $.29 of every dollar is spent by the Highway Department for plowing, reconstruction, and maintenance of the roads, and equipment. Administration that includes the Supervisor, Town Council, Town Clerk, Receiver of Taxes, Assessor, Payroll function, billing, etc. is $.15 of every dollar.
Town debt, is about $800,000 per year. We have an aggressive payment schedule to pay this off. The Town tries not to carry out more than five years so we pay off our debt fairly quickly. 53% of our debt goes to the Town Hall, other debt are tax rebates, the Recreation Center, soccer fields, sidewalks, and Highway Department equipment. The Town has $5.5 million in total debt. Every point of increased taxes represents $40,000.
Employee health and retirement benefits and the need for security enhancements drive Special District costs. We have begun to put funds in reserves again for equipment repairs and projects in the next several years. Increases are still fairly flat.
Water rents are going from $1.45 to $1.52 per 1,000 gallons.
The Supervisor thanked Paul Sebesta, Town Comptroller, in helping formulate the budget. Town employees do a good job in being as efficient as possible in managing and large part of the credit goes to these individuals for the work they do. There may be an issue this year with the state retirement. The $197,000 increase is based on the assumption that the Dow Jones is going to be at 10,004 on April 1, 2003. It is coming back and going in a positive direction right now. The Town may be hit with an increase higher than $197,000 and it may be necessary to cut expenses.
Eric Wagner, 1111 Regent Street, spoke as a concerned citizen and concerned Town employee. He feels there is a serious public safety concern regarding emergency communications within the Town. The Town employee Police Dispatchers are responsible for the Town Police Department and for the three local fire and EMS agencies. They answer all 911 calls placed by Town residents, providing emergency medical dispatch pre-arrival instructions when needed, as well as taking both emergency and non-emergency calls on the Department’s eight administrative lines which last year totaled 200,000 requests for service. With the development of Mohawk Commons and The Eddy, this number is sure to rise. If they make a mistake the consequences can be disastrous for all
parties involved and yet they are often forgotten in the grand scheme of things.
In an article from the Gazette dated 10/06, regarding starting salaries it was noted that the lowest was $22,612 with a top salary of $28,197 which is also the lowest in the county. Our Town has the highest average family income in the capital district. Its full value assessment is the largest in Schenectady County and allows town taxes to be the lowest in Schenectady County. Our residents deserve the best and understand the needs associated with the need for public safety. Dispatchers are the first link in any type of emergency. They are responsible for the safety of the residents and also police officers paramedics that are on duty. A well-trained dispatcher can mean the difference between life and death.
They have a very high turnover rate. In his fourteen years of employment with the town I have seen over 20 dispatchers come and go. They have all left because of having to work nights, weekends, and holidays with no pay and no room for advancement in a high stress environment. This keeps people from applying for the position, and prevents them from staying with the position. Other than cost of living allowances, Niskayuna dispatchers have not received a substantial raise since 1994. Perhaps this is because they are the only non-union dispatchers in the County. Training time has increased from six to eight weeks to seven to eight months. Several years ago the need for two dispatchers per shift was determined, but there was no consideration for
making the salary commensurate to the responsibility.
Supervisor Smith commented that he did not dispute that the Dispatcher had a difficult job. The Gazette article was incorrect. The top salary for the Dispatcher this year goes up to $35,000. We have a ten-step plan with a starting salary of $23,290. In the last three years, this Town Board has given raises of 3% per year to increase the salary and this is a problem being discussed in all municipalities.
Ellen Malkis, 719 Bobby Court, commented that even with higher insurance costs and higher contributions mandated by the state into the retirement system, Niskayuna is still able to forecast only a small increase in taxes and be able to also add a police officer and maintain the highway maintenance program. She commended Luke Smith, Town Supervisor, and the Town Board, for being fiscally prudent and responsible during these difficult economic times.
Leslie Gold, 1919 Pawtucket Avenue, was glad to hear that the Transfer Station would remain open.
There being no further members of the public who wished to speak, the Supervisor closed the public hearing.
Elmer Birch, Orchard Park Drive, introduced himself as a member of the Green Party. He commented that there was scant information about the agreement between G. E. and the IDA and he didn’t think Niskayuna residents knew what was in the agreement. He asked if an informational meeting could be held by the Town in which the agreement would be detailed. He wants to know if G. E.’s investment is for jobs or construction. He questioned the impacts for the school district, and the obligation of G. E. under this agreement. The agreement seems to be seen as a boon to Niskayuna and he felt this would be an opportunity to present the plan to the residents of the community.
Supervisor Smith commended that there was a public hearing in April and there will be a public hearing on November 13 by the IDA who is developing the pilot. Mr. Birch stated that the public hearing in April offered no information as to what the project contained. He hoped that the agreement would be made available for residents to review. Mr. Smith said he would forward Mr. Birch’s concerns to Mr. Roberts and the IDA to provide this at the November 13 public hearing. Mr. Birch felt that at public hearings held by the IDA there is nothing presented by the IDA and not infrequently there aren’t even representatives of the IDA that attend. He has been told that the purpose of the meetings is to gather public comment, but there is no information.
Mary Matz, 2605 Balltown Road, understood that the Adult Business zoning will be in the industrial part of town. This area is very residential and she asked the Town to reconsider looking for other areas of Town. In the Hillside area it will be hidden. She is concerned about fewer police patrols in this area that could promote more deviant behavior in a hidden area.
Jim Gunther, 2481 Eastern Parkway, and Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church at 2635 Balltown Road spoke about the Adult Use Business in Town. He is concerned about the designated area because of the heavy concentration of residents. The chosen area is a difficult location for such businesses. He asked if the residents themselves could outlaw such businesses and was told they could not because it is unconstitutional.
Supervisor Smith stated that a municipality cannot prohibit these types of businesses. None of the Board wanted to take this vote but if they voted ‘no’ the Town could be sued and this would irresponsible. If the Board does not act promptly, someone could come into Town and propose an adult use business in any commercial area of Town, such as St. James Square. As time goes on, Niskayuna is becoming more vulnerable because other municipalities were zoning and restricting these types of businesses.
Patrick Griffiths, 2542 Banker Avenue, is concerned about the location of adult use businesses that thrive on confidentiality and seclusion. The location decided on is off the road and out of sight. Although the current owner would not open such a business, the next owner of the property may have different ideas. His home is far too close to the site for any adult use business.
John Thomsen, 414 Taurus Road, is opposed to the chosen location of the adult use businesses. The area is highly residential with high-density apartments.
Terry Maxon, Banker Avenue, is opposed to the proposed location for adult use businesses. He feels there are other areas that are more conducive to this type of business.
Lydia Griffiths, 2542 Banker Avenue, is opposed to the adult use business proposal and expressed concern about the property adjacent to the proposed site of adult use businesses.
There being no members of the public who wished to be heard, the Supervisor closed Privilege of the Floor
The following resolutions were approved with a vote of five ayes, unless otherwise noted.
Resolution 2002-257 authorizes the Supervisor to retain Conrady Consultant Services to provide inspection of the interior of the water towers of Consolidated Water District No. 1 at a cost not to exceed $8,000 and inspection of the underwater line from the Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Mohawk River at a cost not to exceed $1,600.
Resolution 2002-258 authorizes the execution of an Outside Sewer Agreement with Yolandi Cancio, owner of 1276 Hillside Avenue.
Resolution 2002-259 reappoints Bethany A. Vena to the temporary full-time position of Clerk to the Town Justice, to terminate December 31, 2002.
Resolution 2002-260 employs additional persons in the Recreation Program.
Resolution 2002-261 authorizes the sale of the 14 unclaimed impounded vehicles to L & A Auto Salvage, for a total price of $2,800.
Resolution 2002-262 amends the Zoning Ordinance and the Zoning Map concerning Adult Use Businesses in the Town.
Resolution 2002-263 calls for a public hearing November 19 at 7 p.m. to consider application of Michael McPartlon for a change of zone for premises located at 2317 Balltown Road from R-2 Medium Density to R-P Residential Professional.
Resolution 2002-264 calls for a public hearing November 19 at 7:05 p.m. to consider the application of Shelco Development for a change of zone for premises located on Nott Street East to allow the construction of 24 condominium units.
At this time, the Town Board voted unanimously to go into Executive Session to discussion a contractual agreement.
There being no further business to come before the Board, the Supervisor declared the meeting adjourned.
Helen Kopke, Town Clerk