AT A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF NISKAYUNA, DULY CALLED AND HELD ON THE 6TH DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2008, AT THE NISKAYUNA TOWN BOARD ROOM, ONE NISKAYUNA CIRCLE, NISKAYUNA, NEW YORK, THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS WERE PRESENT:
JULIE McDONNELL, COUNCILWOMAN
MARIE P. FREUND, COUNCILWOMAN
LIZ ORZEL KASPER, COUNCILWOMAN
JOE LANDRY, SUPERVISOR
DIANE P. O’DONNELL, COUNCILWOMAN, absent
Others present: Helen Kopke, Town Clerk; Eric Dickson, Town Attorney; Richard Pollock, Superintendent of Water & Sewer; Kathleen Gansfuss, Director of Recreation; Lew Moskowitz, Chief of Police; Amy Houlihan, Assessor; Paul Sebesta, Comptroller; Kathy Matern, Town Planner; Tom Cannizzo, Building Inspector; Frank Cannizzo, Assistant Director of Recreation; Frank Gavin, Superintendent of Highways; Matthew Yetto, Junior Engineer.
PRESENTATION OF BUDGET
Supervisor Landry presented the Preliminary 2009 budget showing an increase of $282,000 for General Highway over 2008 (a 2.29% increase). Water & Sewer has about a 5.31% increase for a total budget appropriation increase of about 3.36% with the total tax increase of about 5.5%. The difference between the levy and the appropriation has a lot to do with the decreases and the stagnation of the non-property tax revenues which are the mortgage recording tax and sales tax.
Some major reasons for the tax increase this year is contractual salary increases of $156,000; increased fuel and energy costs of $116,000; benefit costs increases of about 8%,
and material cost increases for salt and asphalt of $50,700. Non-property tax revenues are down about ½% which is mostly the mortgage recording tax which we are expecting to be down quite a bit next year.
He described the various tax rates for the Town, County, and School based on each of the Town’s fire districts and broke the budget down by department, (General and Highway 48.6% (21.2% of which is for salaries and benefits); 38% for the Highway Department (58% of which is for personnel, 38% for road improvements and paving, and 5% on debt); 31% for the Police Department (96% of which is for personnel, 4% for equipment and fuel); 15% for Engineering, Building and Planning; 8% each for Administration, Parks & Recreation.
Various tax rates of nearby municipalities since 1997 showed an increase for Glenville of 129%; Rotterdam of 78%; Niskayuna of 68%, and for the County of 56%.
For a 10-year period since 1994, Water District No. 1 and Sewer District 6 showed rates went down or were stagnant. In the last few years they have been increasing. There weren’t a lot of improvements made, we have to spend more on wells and we are seeing more of a need for infrastructure replacement now which we have to do in the near term. In the next year or two we hope this levels off to where it will show once again a slight increase or leveling or small decrease. Because of the 10-12 year period where rates were held the same, the last five years the rates have gone up to compensate.
Public Hearing No. 1 – 2009 Preliminary Town Budget 2009
XXXXX Rosehill Boulevard, suggested there are ways the Town could save on fuel without sacrificing service and proposed that the Town convert vehicles to compressed natural gas. The benefits would be fuel cost savings, lower greenhouse exhaust emissions and the use of less imported oil. CNG is now available and currently 8,000 cars are running on it (with over 150,000 in the U. S.) NYSERTA offers incentives to convert municipal fleets and he gave the Board contact information. We could install our own filling station (there are currently five filling stations in the Capital District now). This would give a possible fuel savings of 40-50% per year. He believes oil production will decrease in the future causing costs to increase from its present cost.
XXXXX Via Del Mar, thanked the Board for their work of putting together the budget. From what he has seen, a 5.5% tax increase (given the present economic situation) is not a bad deal. The reorganization of the Recreation Department has come to his attention and he read it will be two people at $45,000 per year and would be budget neutral because money would be taken from other positions. This seems in conflict with the plan of a hiring freeze that was going to accrue savings for the taxpayers as the two $45,000 per year positions will replace one $64,000 per year position.
Beyond the potential budget effects, one of the positions will be Special Projects dealing with youth programs and the other is dealing with contracts and reservations for Town facilities. The youth programs consume a lot of time, but in his experience he doesn’t see how the other could be a full time position (there may be other things that go with it).
Regarding the reorganization generally, he spent eight years working with the Recreation Department with Kathleen Gansfuss, Frank Cannizzo, Sue Leonard, Edie Cannizzio and Annette and it was a great working group. The program expanded tremendously and they were very responsive to the needs of the community both young and old. He hears that the emphasis seems to be with young families and he doesn’t remember reading anything about where the seniors fit in with the two new positions and he thought the work done by Kathleen Gansfuss and her staff was exceptional. He heard rumors that Kathleen was very rigid in her policies in that deadlines were set up for the parents so they could effectively run their programs. The policies were not that of Kathleen; they were the Town Board policies that were
established in committee. He and Liz were on that committee and they all agreed to those policies which they felt were necessary when they were are dealing with 700 at Rec Soccer and all the different things that were going on. To manage it all they had to have guidelines and deadlines.
Through the eight years he was Supervisor he had about 15 complaints and he pointed out that they were not Mrs. Gansfuss policies and he explained why policies were put in place. Most residents were very reasonable but some didn’t care about the Town’s reasoning.
He hoped that workers in the Rec Department would be recognized for the work they have done in expanding the Rec programs. They have been exceptional, loyal Town employees. He hopes that this continues and we continue to run effective programs and we do not let them get out of control in a situation where we try to be all things to all people. It becomes very difficult when you are dealing with families with children who have a lot of competing demands. He wanted to endorse the present staff that has done an excellent job and he hoped that they remain intact.
XXXXX Fairlawn Parkway, thinks the Town Board has to keep in mind the 9.9% tax increase last year on top of the 5.5% increase this year. She noted local cities with smaller or zero increases that have many more issues than a Town does. They have more employees and often provide garbage service that we do not provide. She is concerned we cannot keep increasing every year as people cannot sustain these increases and if residents have to tighten their belts the Town has to do the same. She doesn’t believe that additional hiring is budget neutral since it is almost 1% of the increase. She doesn’t know the people involved in the reorganization but feels there is something inherently wrong.
She heard a lot about sports programs but she felt in most towns the school districts sports programs are the hallmark of the Town, not the Recreation Department sports programs. We are already paying hefty school taxes to support these programs. She’s concerned about adding new positions, taking positions away from people and giving it to someone new. She asked for a 2 year fiscal plan so we would know the effects of hiring. She doesn’t believe this budget is neutral and she doesn’t believe it is vital to the Town. She asked the Board to reconsider the reorganization.
XXXXX Camanche Trail, has two children in the Rec Program and for many residents it is the only part of Town government that they interact with. He has been frustrated as a parent and taxpayer observing organizations run solely by volunteers (Niskayuna baseball, lacrosse, softball) that are run at least as well as programs that our taxes support.
The fall soccer programs were much better run than they have been in the past. It was organized, there weren’t two or three games scheduled for the same field, and coaches got their assignments ahead of time. If this improvement in the program is a reflection of Laurie Peretti’s work due to the reorganization, he thinks it is money well spent.
Kathleen Gansfuss, XXXXXXX Director of Recreation for the last 10 years stated that as a taxpayer she is outraged to know that in July the Town Board voted 3 to 1 (with one member absent) to create a new part-time position in Town government. She is outraged to know that this position was created because there was no one else presently working for the Town who could be trusted or was able to do this job and that a resident came to the Town offices looking for a job. She was outraged to know that the position is primarily involved with data entry into an on-line system, that this position pays $25 per hour for 17 hours per week since early August, for an estimated cost of around $5,000. She is particularly outraged to know that the money to pay for this unbudgeted position had to be taken from
the Town’s contingency account and that the Recreation Department has essentially (for the last 25 years) been doing the same work for free. In these uncertain economic times if money must be spent from the contingency fund wouldn’t it be better used for essential services such as road repair, snow removal, water quality protection, etc. rather than duplicate work that is already being done.
As a taxpayer she is concerned that this position has now been made permanent and full time in the budget we are discussing tonight and that the salary has now increased to $45,000 per year plus benefits. To create this new position, one position has to be split in half. We are being told that dividing one job at $65,000 per year into two $45,000 a year we will be saving $20,000 in the budget.
To create this new full time position a department has that worked smoothly and efficiently is being reorganized (eliminated) in order to benefit what seems to be a single individual. This reorganization will result in three long-time employees’ job descriptions changing radically and will lead to less efficient government when two people do the job that one person has done. In these uncertain economic times isn’t efficient and cost-saving government better?
As the Director of Recreation for the past 10 years she wanted the Board to know that the Department values honesty and integrity above all. They treat every resident fairly and the same no matter how high their tax bill, how old they are, or whether they own or rent their home. Sometimes this makes people unhappy. But they feel it is important that our residents know they can count on them not to show favoritism or bias towards anyone and follow the rules and policies given to them by the Recreation Committee and the Town Board.
Even before these awful economic times happened they operated as efficiently and economically as possible. They only had two full time employees, the rest are hourly and work as needed. They also embrace the use of volunteers especially in the senior and youth programs. This saves tax dollars and promotes community spirit and volunteerism. They enjoy an excellent relationship with other government and private agencies. Their relationship with the Niskayuna Foundation has led them to receive a $7,000 grant which was used to purchase needed items for their Senior Center and Town Pool.
In these uncertain economic times don’t you want your government to find creative ways to save and find money while continuing to provide the kinds of quality services that they have always enjoyed. As they know, spending more money does not always lead to better quality. She is aware that costs are going up for everyone including the Town and she doesn’t begrudge the taxes being increased. But she is counting on the Town Board to make the best choices as to how to spend our tax dollars.
Steve Becker, 1523 Dean Street, stated that Rec positions are not tenured positions. If changes have to take place, then they should take place. If it displaces or moves people around so be it. At different points in our lives we reap different levels of benefit from our tax dollars. At this time, he uses the children’s rec programs while in the future he may see these programs as extraneous or wasteful. These programs are also about our parks and pools for all ages. The soccer program this past season went off incredibly smoothly and no child was turned away. He has personally heard that Niskayuna parents are “prima-donnas,” they need to learn, and a line has to be drawn in the sand. They may be “prima donnas” but their children should not be made to suffer. If
there is the potential to restructure and bring a more modern capacity to work the program (computerization may be it) then it just happens to be Laurie Peretti. She’s a nice lady who happened to be in the right position at the right time with the right skills and it makes sense. She has done a phenomenal job. Before this, she was involved with the lacrosse and baseball program as a volunteer and the Town will benefit from Laurie being on its staff. Our kids are our future and the school only takes care of the sports programs starting at middle school level. Prior to that it’s our rec program or we pay to have our kids involved in baseball, travel soccer, and lacrosse.
He felt that there were at least 15 complaints over the course of the preseason. In the past, parents missed deadlines because of communication methods getting the information out through the schools and the months that it was done. This fall it was computerized, it was efficient, and no child was turned away. His children missed a season of soccer which was his fault but his kids suffered. This makes sense it is good for the Town and the children.
XXXXX Viewmont Drive, thanked the Board for the new focus on expanding what we have available for our youth and families in the community. She has always marveled at other Town’s recreation and community programs for youth and felt like we weren’t offering as much as other communities knowing we had the capacity but feeling as though we had limited resources because we didn’t have a lot of people working in the rec department. She sees this plan is not about adding a new person but adding a new position that expands the capability to grow the programs for everyone. She can see where this is budget neutral and will be a benefit for all our Town residents. Our sports programs are there for the elementary children and for those who choose not to compete on teams or sports clubs. We
should always want to improve our offerings to our children and this plan makes a lot of sense.
XXXXX Brookshire Drive, is a senior on a fixed income and felt that taxes need to be reduced. She hoped the Board would review some of the budget items and consider lowering the increase.
XXXXX Pawtucket Avenue, hoped that information would be shared among all council members as each is elected with the same responsibilities and privileges. She questioned various lines within the budget such as the Secretary for the Engineer and Attorney. Supervisor Landry clarified that there would be a $65,000 position eliminated along with Confidential Secretary to the Engineering Department and Attorney that was unfilled and eliminated which amounts to over $100,000. They are filling these with two $45,000 positions. The overall savings to the Town will be about $20,000.
Councilwoman McDonnell stated it was budget neutral prior to the part time position. It saves $20,000 if they had taken the part time position out of the 2008 budget and benefits are included in the cost savings. Support staff is being reallocated to fill the other position which will save the Town money.
Under Shared Services, Building equipment outlay was up from $5,000 to $18,700 for the Town Hall leaky roof, gutters, and an improvement in thermostats which will help with energy efficiency. She requested that light controls be installed in the back of the Town Board room using a wireless remote unit.
XXXXX Rosehill Boulevard, has not been involved in youth soccer but is the parent of a swimmer and diver. She hoped that if there are two positions in the Recreation Department that grant writing is included to attract more funds to the Town. The Town diving board broke the first week in July and they didn’t get a new board until this year. She would like to see it made easier to have picture ID’s taken, and hoped that new personnel can make all the programs more accessible. Directories went out late (close to when the swim season started) so they had a hard time attracting kids to the program. She would love to have someone who is able to work more with residents. For many residents, the Recreation Department is the first entry into what’s going on in Town and things that are
XXXXX Downing Street, thanked the Board for their efforts in working on the budget. He appreciated that the Board listened to residents opinions. Although we don’t want to spend money, he appreciates that the Board has been working on reducing the budget and he hopes they continue to do that in the future.
There being no other members of the public who wished to be heard, Supervisor Landry closed the Public Hearing.
Public Hearing No. 2 – on the assessment and maintenance of the Town’s Water, Sewer, Drainage, Lighting, and Parks Districts.
XXXXX Pawtucket Avenue, was informed by Superintendent of Water & Sewer Richard Pollock that we have been talking about the aging infrastructure for many years and the need to repair and replace lines. In the past few years we have replaced relatively small sections of water main (Niskayuna Road, Winne Road).
They have also hired a firm, and are going out to bid to possibly replace 1 mile of water main on Old River Road, part of Rosendale Road, Niskayuna Road, and the first block of Lishakill Road. We have over 125 miles of water main some 100 years old. The anticipated life of a water main is about 100 years. There has been a lot of talk about the Recreation program (which is wonderful) but from his position it is “out of sight, out of mind.” People don’t think about or see what is under ground and only worry when it breaks and effects them. He wishes he could get residents to be as interested in the infrastructure as they are in the Recreation Program.
Comptroller Paul Sebesta noted that page 39 of the budget showed the amount that is raised through property tax for reserves from 2005 to 2008 totaled $80,000 and in 2009 it is at $200,000. For four years they have a total amount of $80,000 and have almost tripled that in one year which is a significant change in this budget; although it doesn’t begin to replace one mile of water pipe.
Supervisor Landry announced that the Board will be reconsidering the budget and will be voting on a final budget at their next meeting, November 18.
There being no other members of the public who wished to be heard, Supervisor Landry closed the Public Hearing.
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR
XXXXX Pawtucket Avenue, is concerned that the emphasis seems to be on team sports in Town. For the long term this won’t help people maintain a healthy life style would like both the Town and school to offer more of these activities. Supervisor Landry noted that the Town is looking at all programs, for all ages.
Richard Pollock, Superintendent of Water & Sewer, observed that the City of Troy had a zero tax increase but he has seen multiple water main breaks that are flooding and wiping out downtown. He can’t understand how they can have a zero tax increase and allow the infrastructure to continue to deteriorate and this is exactly what he desperately trying to avoid in Niskayuna.
At this time, there being no further members of the public who wished to be heard, Supervisor Landry closed Privilege of the Floor.
The following resolutions were approved with a vote of four ayes (Councilwoman O’Donnell was absent), unless otherwise noted.
Resolution 2008-214 retains Joseph Twitty to the position of Sergeant in the Police Department on a permanent basis upon completion of his probationary period.
Resolution 2008-215 authorizes the purchase of grout and chemicals from Avanti International at a total cost not to exceed $5,800.
Resolution 2008-216 retains Valerie Peters to the position of Accountant in the Comptroller’s Office on a permanent basis upon completion of her probationary period.
There being no further business to come before the Town Board, Supervisor Landry adjourned the meeting.
Helen F. Kopke, Town Clerk