AT A REGULAR MEETING OF THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF NISKAYUNA, DULY CALLED AND HELD ON THE 18H 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
DIANE P. O’DONNELL, COUNCILWOMAN
LIZ ORZEL KASPER, COUNCILWOMAN
JOE LANDRY, SUPERVISOR
Others present: Helen Kopke, Town Clerk; Eric Dickson, Town Attorney; Kathy Matern, Town Planner; Paul Sebesta, Comptroller; Kathleen Gansfuss, Director of Recreation; Lew Moskowitz, Chief of Police; Matthew Yetto, Jr. Engineer; Frank Gavin, Superintendent of Highways; Susan Savage, Schenectady County Legislator.
Supervisor Landry honored Trail Ambassadors, a conglomeration of groups who have come together to volunteer their time to work on the bike-hike trail and is the first Trail Ambassadors program in New York State. They assist and inform trail users; offer directions and details about the trail and the surrounding area; promote courtesy, safety, and awareness of the trail as a valuable public resource, and monitor the trail and the conditions around it. Attending was Jillian Scott, Arden Rauch, and Joseph Oswald.
TOWN CLERK’S BUSINESS
The minutes of the Regular Meeting of October 28, 2008 were approved as presented.
Public Hearing No. 1 – establishes a drainage district for Windsor Estates.
Matthew Yetto, Town Junior Engineer, explained that the purpose of a drainage district is to provide a funding mechanism for upkeep and maintenance of a drainage collection system which serves the area of the project.
This project is for 27 single-family homes on 23 acres. It will have a closed drainage system in the street which outlet to two storm water ponds where most of the maintenance will be needed.
To the north, one pond drains to an existing wetland which eventually drains to a tributary of the Mohawk River. It crosses under River Road and eventually travels across the KAPL property and on to the river. The eastern part of the project drains to a second pond which outlets to wetlands east of the project and drains to an intermittent stream which also goes under River Road, enters the Blatnik Park pond, and outlets across the park property to the river.
The project was reviewed by a Town-designated engineer and also by the Town Engineering Department. There should be no additional peak runoff from the site because of the storm water ponds which protect against increased run off and also treat the water before it enters the wetlands for water quality purposes. There are no known existing drainage problems down stream of the project unlike other projects in recent history. It is a short distance to the river and the pipes under River Road are large enough.
When no members of the public wished to be heard, Supervisor Landry closed the public hearing.
Public Hearing No. 2 – enacts proposed Local Law No. 9 to add a new Article VIIA to Chapter 220 of the Code: Town Center Overlay District, Neighborhood Commercial and Highway Commercial Standards.
Kathy Matern, Town Planner, explained that the purpose is to add standards to three existing areas of commercially zoned property in the Town: Union Street, Hanaford Plaza, and a very small portion of Troy Road near the intersection of Rosendale Road. This allows the Town more control for new projects coming in for site plan review for such things as choice of materials or the appearance of a façade. These standards currently exist for the Town’s overlay district (the area around Town Hall and in the Highway Commercial Zoning District along State Street) and will allow the Town to upgrade renovations of existing buildings.
When no members of the public wished to heard, Supervisor Landry closed the Public Hearing.
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR
XXXXX Brookshire Drive, stated that with the current state of our local and national financial crisis affecting our tax payers, they are not looking forward to budget neutral, they are looking forward to budget reduction. They have made the Recreation Department the focus of this year’s budget, making a claim that the current Director could not deliver the t-shirts on time and she insisted that registration deadlines be adhered to. With the emphasis on the inefficiency of the Recreation Department this argument seems without merit to many of them.
She has never known anyone who moved to Niskayuna because of the Town-supported recreation department. People move to Niskayuna because of our schools, wonderful Town resources, a fully manned Police Department responsible for low crime, high visibility and great public relations, our tireless Highway Department (who keep the best cared-for roads in the County) along with the management of our Parks Department where all residents can enjoy the open space preserved for all.
Up until now, our Town elected officers have worked together to produce the best comprehensive budget possible. It is clear some of our elected council have not been in the loop of budgets and personnel talks. She urged the Board to reject the budget and force the Supervisor to put a freeze on increased hiring other than emergency personnel and restrict all but emergency purchasing to reduce the proposed $12million+ budget. The residents don’t need to be reminded of the rise in costs as they also experience the same increases in their home budgets and they have had to adjust to meet their financial shortfalls.
The new Town assessment left some with tax increases that will affect Town, County, and School taxes. It is up to the Town to reduce the Town tax and demonstrate to the residents that they are mainly concerned with the Town that elected them and its well being.
XXXXX Fairlawn Parkway, stated that in her opinion, the Town is taxing its way out of a crisis with a 5-1/2% tax increase while reorganizing the Recreation Department by adding additional staff. It is the Town Council’s prerogative to reorganize its department’s, however, it does not take deliberate planning or fiscal constraint to reorganize by simply adding staff. If there is a serious issue in any department reorganization should be done in a time of fiscal crisis without adding additional staff. This takes deliberate planning and a great deal of fiscal constraint.
If there are any Town council members who feel it is inappropriate to hire additional staff while taxing the property owners who elected them with a 5-1/2% increase, and/or do not agree with the reorganization she urged them to vote no on this budget because words about being against high taxes are meaningless. A 5-1/2% tax increase in this financial climate is high. Elected officials need to realize that their vote speaks volumes. She believes residents need to speak out when things are happening that aren’t fair to members of the community.
XXXXX Keyes Avenue, stated that this was the first year that they did not have their three children participate in the fall soccer program because of previous years where she was very disappointed with the treatment she received at the hands of the current Recreation Department staff. She is encouraged to hear that this year changes were implemented and she supported the changes being proposed to the department. She supported the budget and hoped that the Board would vote for it as this is a positive change.
Transportation Committee - Councilwoman O’Donnell reported that they are about half way through the leaf pickup and are getting ready for winter. Their next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, November 26 at 7:30 a.m.
Education & Recreation Committee – Councilwoman McDonnell reported that they are working on finalizing the winter program brochure and getting it ready for distribution. They met with the soccer and lacrosse clubs and Ray Gillan from Metroplex to brainstorm ideas for expanding their indoor recreation space as the closing of Center City has provided a shortage of space for clubs. Next meeting is Wednesday, December 3rd at 7:00 p.m.
Public Works – Councilwoman Freund stated that their next meeting will be held Wednesday, December 3 at 7:30 a.m. Tonight the Board will vote on an inter-municipal agreement with Fulton County for disposing of the Town’s sludge. We are also going out for chemical bids for the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
Public Safety & Parks Committee – Councilwoman Kasper stated that the next meeting of the Public Safety Committee will be Monday, November 24th at 4 p.m. and they are working on a Central Dispatching Agreement. The Becker Street Park equipment has been installed by the Highway Department. The next Senior & Parks Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, December 1st.
Economic Development, Historic Preservation & Environmental Conservation met in late November and will not be meeting in December.
Finance & General Government Committee meeting is yet to be determined.
The following resolutions were approved with a vote of five ayes unless otherwise noted.
Resolution 2008-217 adopts the Annual Budget for 2009. The resolution was approved with a vote of three ayes (Councilwoman O’Donnell and Councilwoman Freund voted no).
Supervisor Landry thanked the public who took the time to provide comments on the budget. The Board appreciate their efforts and thanked them for their suggestions and ideas. He thanked each department head for their participation in the budget process which started in August. It is three months of preparation, review, comments, and analysis. Their insights were very helpful and he learned quite a bit over the last three months. He also thanked Paul Sebesta, Valerie Peters, Sandy Busino and Margeaux Cusano who provided all the critical information during the budget process as they prepared the Preliminary Budget analysis, and provided the different reports that were helpful. He thanked the members of the Town Board for their efforts and
hard work that went into developing the Town budget as it went from a Tentative to a Preliminary and now to a Final Budget. Each Board member played an indispensible role in their respective areas of interest by providing essential input during the budgetary process.
He believes that the budget that is before the Board delivers better services to the residents while keeping costs down for our taxpayers. This budget reflects specific priorities; the importance of public safety and emergency services; maintaining our Town’s infrastructure; the advancement of senior, adult, and youth programs; and assisting residents through our yard waste and leaf pickup and plowing services. These are the services that our residents have come to expect and will continue to be provided without additional fees, limits, or other restrictions. Further, this budget anticipates cost increases for certain equipment, materials, and contractual services that will result in additional expenses to the Town. For example, we are realizing cost increases in fuel,
salt, paving materials, equipment, and many other supplies. We have worked very hard to minimize the impact on the Town’s budget to pay for these increases, and we will continue to search for creative solutions so that Town services are not diminished.
He believes that this budget balances the need to provide the best possible services to our residents while recognizing the fiscal situation that the Town and all residents are facing. He thanked the public for allowing him and my fellow Board members to participate in this budgetary process as we move forward in 2009.
Councilwoman McDonnell wanted to clear up some misconceptions that she either heard or saw in the newspaper regarding the reorganization of the Recreation Department. The public should know that there is no increase in the number of positions resulting from the reorganization. Two positions at the Recreation Department would be abolished, the Director of Recreation who earns approximately $65,000 and the Secretary who earns about $40,000. These two positions will be replaced by two newly titled positions, Community Programs Coordinator at a salary of $45,000 and a Parks & Facilities Coordinator also at a salary of $45,000. This action alone saves about $16,000. In order to avoid a layoff the employee who is currently the secretary in the Recreation
Department will be transferred to a recently vacated secretary position in the Public Works Department that needs to be filled that resulted in additional savings. Also, the Project Aide position created in the Supervisor’s office will be eliminated in 2009. There is no increase in the number of positions and there is an estimated savings of at least $20,000.
She read in the newspaper that members of the Town Board were unaware that changes were being proposed in the Recreation Department. She clarified that Board members were first briefed in July at our Finance Committee meeting about on-going issues and the need to make changes. At that meeting they discussed hiring a part time position as a temporary measure to help with the fall programs and they also discussed restructuring the department in the 2009 budget to improve services to our residents and to save money for the Town. The minutes of our Town Board meeting also reflect this discussion. At that time Ms. Peretti’s resume was distributed to all Board members on paper and by email and everyone was afforded an opportunity to interview her. Her resume
reflects substantial financial and computer expertise and a passion for youth programs. For the brief time she has worked for the Town, we have received nothing but positive feedback and gratitude from parents that she has helped.
These changes are being made for one reason only – residents have asked for the change. Last year when three Board members where knocking on doors campaigning they heard many parents express their concerns about the way they had been treated by staff in the department, concerns that their children were unreasonably shut out of participating in programs, and concerns about receiving program information too late. During fall soccer last year Councilwoman Kasper intervened to insure that many children who were on a waiting list could actually play soccer and the kids and parents were very grateful for that help.
For the past ten months, as chair of the Education & Recreation Committee, she has worked with volunteers from many of our youth sports organizations in Town who have had similar concerns about working with the current structure. As an auditor she has concerns about our information tracking and financial and hiring practices. Moving these functions to the Supervisor’s office will provide better oversight, responsiveness, and more convenience for residents.
She thanked all the parents and representatives of the youth sports clubs (who collectively represent thousands of children and parents) for taking the time to come to our budget meetings and speak in support of these changes. The support has been overwhelming. The public has spoken and their message has been loud and clear; we need to make these changes.
This reorganization is not about politics or anything other than responding to the residents who have asked us to represent them. One of her political opponents for Town Board (who is also a parent of children who participate in recreation programs) has sent a letter of support for the reorganization. If we can provide better services and save tax payers money at the same time, then she believes we have an obligation to do so.
Councilwoman Freund thanked the department heads, Paul Sebesta, Supervisor Landry, and the rest of the Town Board for the 2009 budget. They all realize that it is not an easy task and the process takes knowledge, patience, and time. Although we are all in possession of a little less money these days she is optimistic that our economy will slowly recovery and we will pull out of this recession. In the meantime, we must face reality that County, State, and Federal funds may no longer be available and that funding to our schools will also be reduced putting increased burden on the taxpayer. We are all tightening our belts and our residents are imploring us to keep the tax rate as low as possible.
As a tax payer she too would like to see it kept as low as possible but she worries that we are not dedicating enough funds for our road maintenance and our water and sewer infrastructure. Thanks to Frank Gavin and Rich Pollock, the budgets were carefully scrutinized and kept to a minimum. However, with decreased revenue, there are fewer dollars available for the much needed road repairs and general upkeep as well as necessary improvements to our water and sewer lines. These are improvements that must be made to avoid expensive emergency repairs that are bound to follow. Faced with this, the Town may need to bond future projects which may be costly and also become an on-going permanent tax increase. She hopes the Town Board members keep this in mind and carefully examine all future bonding
and keep it to a minimum.
She supports new innovative ways to better serve the public and find the on-line registration for our Recreation Program seems to be cost cutting, time saving, and fuel efficient. However, she feels the need for new personnel to perform on line registration (or any other web related programming) is unnecessary. We already have a strong, competent staff capable of handling these duties. In a time when resources are tight we must focus on the needs of the Town’s greater majority -- residents travelling our roads each day and drinking our water -- rather than introducing additional staff. You wouldn’t spend money on a plasma television if the roof was leaking.
Kathleen, Annette, and Frank have brought knowledge, experience, and dedication to the Town and created a Recreation Department that serves those of all ages. Not only would the acceptance of this budget allocate money to unnecessary projects it might injure the department that these three have worked so hard to build. We are a community as much as we are a municipality where people should come first, therefore, I vote no on the budget.
Councilwoman O’Donnell stated we are all aware of the difficult economic times we are all facing and we are all very aware of rising property taxes by the school district the County and the Town. We all need to be concerned about what lies ahead. Will revenues decrease while our costs continue to increase? Will money be cut from important programs? Will responsibility for certain services be pushed from one level of government to another? What will happen with our retirement and health care costs?
Managing all of this will be very challenging for all of us. We need to be realistic about projecting revenues and we need to hold the line wherever we can on expenditures. She believes our focus needs to be on the basic and direct services we provide as a Town: public safety, the maintenance of our streets and properties; and our water and sewer systems. She is concerned that we are not adequately funding these areas in the budget while funding other areas. She is also concerned about future plans proposed to bond road maintenance and reconstruction on top of our equipment needs and projects that we need to do.
She always welcomes opportunities for improvements and she doesn’t oppose change. One of our department heads pointed out that we should all leave things a little better than we found them and she agrees and feels discussions and plans for any hiring, reorganization, and restructuring of the Town departments and positions requires the input and involvement of the full Town Board.
In order to define our needs and deliver services she recommended that we make a collaborative effort to review the functions and services that are currently being performed by Town employees. Define the functions and level of service and the manner of service delivery we want to aspire to and then leverage our existing staff with their many years of experience to most effectively and efficiently service the residents of this Town.
At this time she does not support the creation of any new positions in any department. If new positions are determined to be necessary the process of identifying the duties, the rate of pay, and the hiring process should be available to the public and the process should be open and competitive.
Councilwoman McDonnell said that we discussed this position in July at a Finance Committee meeting which was called on a Thursday to be held the next Friday afternoon but she was out of town. It was supposed to be a critical meeting so they could fill a position on the following Tuesday night.
She is pleased that this year the Town Board supported implemented of the on-line registration process, additional communication via email and improvements made to the fall soccer program and congratulated everyone that was involved. She supports further use of the internet for on-line tax payment, resident communication of issues to various Town departments and increased communication about our Town meetings, events, and services. She voted no on the budget.
Councilwoman Kasper stated the public wants lower taxes and she’s heard two Board members that really want higher taxes for highway and water and sewer. She supports the improvements to highway and water and sewer and thanked Frank Gavin for trying to be creative with developing different shifts. Rich Pollock has begged the Board for more money for infrastructure. She is confused that some are voting against a 5-1/2% budget increase because of Recreation whose budget we have been told doesn’t increase, they think is too expensive, yet they want more money in the budget.
She is happy to hear how wonderful the soccer season was for residents and sees the need for change and applauds on-line registration. As past Chair of the Recreation Committee4, she has worked with Kathleen and Annette for 20 years and they are good people. The 2009 budget contains a position not for a specific person.
She believes in deadlines and Kathleen was following the committee’s policies. Children and parents need deadlines and rules and she doesn’t think this was a bad thing. Rules help run a program and she doesn’t think it was fair that things were chaotic because they had deadlines. Sometimes they didn’t get t-shirts on time and some of the teams were late in getting called. People worked hard, but we are bigger now and we need improvements. She prides herself on going with improvements and thinks we need to track many more things within the Town and to tell the public where their tax money is going. She feels this year’s budget process was more democratic than last years. She doesn’t agree with eliminating deadlines, but she does agree we need change. She agrees we need more money for
roads and infrastructure but 5-1/2% is where they agreed and she votes yes for the budget.
Supervisor Landry clarified that there were three or four budget workshops scheduled to go over the budget. After they finished there was a request to have one more workshop to discuss open items and the Recreation Department was an open item. They scheduled the workshop (he believes it was on a Thursday evening) and Councilwoman O’Donnell did not attend that workshop. There were other times when we had meetings and she was not available. They provided an opportunity but if Board members don’t take advantage of that opportunity there is nothing they can do. Four other board members were there and he came back from visiting his hospitalized father for the meeting.
It is never easy to vote for a tax increase. This is especially true when the Town’s tax payers are realizing tax increases from almost every other taxing jurisdiction. While he understood the financial strain that our residents are facing, at the same time, the Town is facing numerous financial challenges as it tries to insure that appropriate services are provided to the residents. As he tried to balance these competing interests, his budgetary goal for the town remains the same – to deliver better service to the residents while keeping costs down for our taxpayers. He believes that the budget before us does just that.
As we move forward he believes it is important to put this tax increase in perspective by using a simple example. A homeowner who owns a house assessed today at approximately $300,000 will pay about $654 in Town taxes for the general and highway fund under this budget. This same homeowner (whose home would have been assessed at $165,000 in 2007 if the equalization rate was correct) paid about $640 in Town taxes last year. Assuming no other changes, this homeowner would realize less than a $20 increase in taxes from last year to this year under this budget. As this illustration demonstrates he believes he used his best efforts to keep costs down for our taxpayers while continuing to insure that the Town can deliver better services and he voted aye.
Resolution 2008-218 adopts the Special Districts Budget for Consolidated Water District No. 1 for 2009.
Resolution 2008-219 adopts the Special Districts Budget for Consolidated Sewer District No. 1 for 2009.
Resolution 2008-220 adopts the Special Districts Budget for Sewer District No. 6 for 2009.
Resolution 2008-221 adopts the Special Districts Budget for the Town’s Drainage Districts for 2009.
Resolution 2008-222 adopts the Special District Budget for the Town Lighting Districts for 2009.
Resolution 2008-223 adopts the Special District Budget for the Town’s Park Districts for 2009.
Resolution 2008-224 authorizes the Town Supervisor to extend an inter-municipal agreement for the disposal of sewage sludge for the year, January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.
Resolution 2008-225 calls for a Public Hearing December 16, 2008 at 7 p.m. for a proposed increase in improvement of the facilities of Consolidated Water District No. 1.
Resolution 2008-226 authorizes that advertisement be made for bids on the purchase by the Town in 2009 of required quantities of materials needed for the Public Works Department.
Resolution 2008-227 makes certain 2008 budgetary modifications.
Resolution 2008-228 retains William S. Pedicone as a full time Grounds Maintenance Worker in the Parks Department following the successful completion of his probationary period.
Resolution 2008-229 authorizes the purchase of snow tires for use on Police Cars from Motostar Tire Company, at a cost not to exceed $3,687.36.
Resolution 2008-230 recognizes the efforts of individuals who volunteered to be Canalway Trail Ambassadors during the pilot project and encourages the continuance of this program next year.
There being no further business to come before the Town Board, Supervisor Landry adjourned the meeting.
Helen F. Kopke, Town Clerk