Larry Goodwin

Larry Goodwin

Thursday, 13 April 2017 18:37

Village Faces Difficult Budget Future

In photos: The Ballston Spa Village Board in action. (From left) Volunteer firefighters Glenn Bowers Jr., third assistant; Kevin Krogh, second assistant; Michael Bashore, first assistant; and Chief Bill Lewis. Photos by Larry Goodwin. 

 

BALLSTON SPA — In the 16 minutes before he invited comments about the budget from village residents, Mayor John Romano shared his own blunt assessment of the $4.1 million spending plan.

“We’re facing unprecedented fiscal challenges,” Romano told a full Village Hall conference room.

Rising costs, he said, are “devouring” the village budget, including a 99 percent increase in workers’ compensation payments and a 116 percent increase in contributions to the New York state retirement fund.

When combined with “aging infrastructure” and various unfunded mandates from the state, the mayor said, small villages like Ballston Spa are in a bind.

“There’s a lot of hidden issues that people don’t understand,” Romano concluded. “We have to come up with creative ways to increase our revenues.”

Newly elected Trustee Noah Shaw suggested redeveloping for commercial use the former Angelica industrial property one block north of Village Hall. “Those are the kinds of things that jump out to me,” he said.

“The question is how do we build from here” and find ways to ensure that “the village is properly funded,” Shaw added.

About a half-dozen local residents spoke up during the public comment period, inquiring about subjects that ranged from online access to Ballston Spa’s budget, to fund balance procedures, to discounted water and sewer rates.

Gina Marozzi, a village property owner, said more residents should make it a priority to pay their property taxes on time. “Everybody’s got to do their part,” she said.

Romano responded by explaining that an average of $160,000 gets caught up in collection efforts each year, usually for about 6 months, but that Saratoga County provides financial support to the village in that time.

Eventually, the board voted unanimously to adopt the $4.1 million budget as written. An estimated $1.3 million of that amount will be raised through property taxes.

In other business, Trustee Robert Cavanaugh announced that a yard-waste pickup has been scheduled to take place in Ballston Spa from Monday, April 17 through Friday, May 12. Crews will start in the south of the village and work north, and he suggested that residents should act sooner rather than later to avoid second trips by work crews.

Residents are not permitted to mix their natural piles of leaves and branches with any type of household garbage or construction debris, Cavanaugh emphasized.

The board also approved the Ballston Spa Fire Department’s new leadership team. They represent both the Eagle Matt Lee and Union Fire Company stations.

Chief Officer Bill Lewis said the all-volunteer department has nearly 130 members, who elect the leadership team internally before presenting the lineup to the village board. 

In photos: The Wilton Town Board concludes its weekly meeting. James Norton and Janine Stuchin at The Prevential Council's main office. Photos by Larry Goodwin. 

WILTON — With his laptop in hand on a recent Thursday evening, James Norton politely informed the Wilton Town Board about his group’s coordinated efforts to tackle opioid addiction in local communities.

“If you have any questions as to how we, as a government, can help your organization, let us know,” responded Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson. “It really is a big problem in this area.”

Norton, a coordinator for The Prevention Council in Saratoga Springs, shared his findings with the board on April 6. He said drug addiction is not caused solely by heroin and fentanyl sold illegally in the streets.

He talked about the hundreds of pounds of prescription pills—most containing synthetic opiates—that people have thrown out during drug take-back events.

Norton said more than half of “misused medications” are emanating from cabinets inside the homes of friends or families, which often leads to more serious problems.

“Four out of five individuals in treatment for heroin misuse started with a prescription opioid,” Norton says in a written compilation of his research.

“There has been a 222 percent increase in treatment rates in upstate New York and a 136 percent increase statewide,” Norton added.

He also described the measurable impacts on both drugged and drunk driving.

“The younger generations tend to drive under the influence of drugs more than they do alcohol,” Norton said.

Norton went on to promote the next prescription drug take-back event scheduled for April 29, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., at eight locations from Clifton Park to Moreau.

The Prevention Council supports a variety of programs that are aimed at young people and funded mostly through state and federal grants. The group “is always looking for new members” to help out, Norton told the board in Wilton.

The council’s motto is “Helping Youth Navigate Life’s Challenges.” It is part of a coalition of groups and law-enforcement agencies organizing the pill take-back events, including another on August 26, with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

On May 10 at the South Glens Falls High School, the group Community Coalition for Family Wellness is organizing more informative presentations on the subject of “Addiction and the Opioid Epidemic.” That event starts at 6 p.m.

“We’ve got to get the drugs out of the medicine cabinets,” insisted Janine Stuchin, executive director of The Prevention Council, in a subsequent interview arranged by Norton.

Stuchin admitted her surprise three years ago when a family member was prescribed two bottles of painkillers for the removal of a wisdom tooth. Many of those pills went unused and were later discarded, she said.

According to Stuchin, there was a time when opioids were prescribed by doctors only for intensive medical care at the end of life. But by the late 1990s, she said, economic markets motivated doctors to rely more heavily on pills for all sorts of “palliative” relief among their patients.

That, in turn, fueled much higher abuse rates for opioids, which are classified in federal law among the most addictive of all drugs.

Stuchin thinks that medical professionals should prioritize finding solutions for such problems right alongside cancer research. But the public stigma of opioid addiction prevents the emergence of more compassionate strategies, she added.

“People relapse with addiction,” Stuchin said, “and they need community support.”

The Prevention Council, in conjunction with Project Safe Point, offers training classes and free kits every month to parents, teachers, nurses and many others to administer the nasal spray Naloxone (or Narcan), which can prevent opioid overdoses.

According to Mike McEvoy, a coordinator for Saratoga County Emergency Medical Services, there was a substantial increase last year in overdose calls to 911— an average of roughly 30 per week—but they appear to be decreasing in frequency.

“There are occasional spikes but the steady increase we had been seeing prior to and during 2016 seems to have leveled off,” McEvoy said in an email.

Saratoga County Commissioner of Mental Health, Dr. Michael Prezioso, said equally important addiction services are provided to individuals by emergency departments, drug courts, counselors and treatment centers.

He said establishing short-term detox facilities also should be considered by local officials as a means to address drug addiction.

“It’s not just the arrests” that make a difference, Prezioso said.

On April 10, both Prezioso and Saratoga County Director of Public Health, Catherine Duncan, were scheduled to give reports to the county’s Public Health Committee.

At that meeting, Duncan was pressed on efforts being made in the county to counteract drug addiction.

She explained that her department, among other measures, is working with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to reduce drug problems during seasonal concerts.

Clifton Park Supervisor Philip Barrett ended the discussion by emphasizing how the Saratoga County Sheriff ’s Office routinely posts related updates on its Facebook page.

A major difficulty, according to Barrett, is that certain opioids are “easy to get” and “cheap” in the streets. He said those basic facts affect “every single community in the country.” 

Thursday, 13 April 2017 18:13

Daycare on the Hill

In photos: J’Mae Shemroske and her daughter Estrella with their baby goat. Shemroske in the entrance of her Sweet Chickadee School daycare. Photos by Larry Goodwin. 

GREENFIELD — Amidst the boulders and tall trees of Daniels Road sits the homestead in which J’Mae Shemroske delights in caring for kids. 

Shemroske’s daughter and son—third and first graders, respectively, at the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs—are probably her most important charges.

But Shemroske and her partner, Alan VanDyk, make the best use of their woodsy one-acre property by operating a licensed daycare business for infants and kids up to age 5, as well as summer camps for kids between the ages of 3 and 11.

Parents drop off their kids at the bottom of a steep slope, and follow a wood-chip path to the daycare room itself.

“There’s not many daycare models that have a male in the picture,” Shemroske said during a recent interview. “It’s really special for us.”

“You feel appreciated,” added VanDyk, a former commercial truck driver.

In addition to demonstrating the value of vegetarian, all-organic and homemade meals, Shemroske said her goal is to “ease” children into their kindergarten years.

By next autumn, Shemroske hopes to reach the state-required maximum of 12 kids enrolled in her Sweet Chickadee School daycare.

At present, Shemroske and VanDyk watch over five little ones, mostly in a room that he renovated on the lower level of the house. A large woodstove in the middle of the space is cordoned off for safety. A second room will be renovated sometime this summer.

Weather and season permitting, kids can ascend the rocky slopes outside to observe and pet a herd of goats the family keeps in a pen, or even Polar Express trains passing by roughly 50 yards away on tracks in the woods.

Shemroske plans to let loose flocks of chickens to scurry in the yard as well. “We always accept random animal donations,” she said.

In a statement posted online, Shemroske makes her daycare’s mission clear: “Sweet Chickadee School invites children into our home to be nurtured and loved by our family. We provide the best care possible while offering a broad range of developmentally appropriate activities that will delight and inspire children,” she explains.

“We live a rich life here,” Shemroske adds, “where beauty, nature, art, warmth, animals, joy and farming are always present and eagerly shared.” She also notes the irony of her business “growing in a shrinking countryside.”

According to records at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, the daycare received two inspections in the last six months and “no violations” were found.

VanDyk’s family members have long owned property on the opposite side of Daniels Road, near the intersection of Route 9N. Yet he has owned the property at 337 Daniels Road for about 20 years.

Shemroske admits that her “very wholesome, earthy” daycare plans took root in the Greenfield Farmers’ Market, in which the couple had become involved for the first time about 10 years ago.

The market, located on Middle Grove Road, opens at the end of June and runs through September. Local vendors sell products there on Fridays between 4 and 7 p.m.

The Sweet Chickadee School’s phone number is 518-567-9527. For more information, Shemroske also can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

MALTA — A large development called Sage Estates is being proposed for a densely forested area across from the Malta Drive-In movie theater, behind and to the north of the St. Peter Lutheran Church.

On April 3, the Malta Town Board discussed the proposal by Cohoes-based Prime Companies to build more than 100 homes of varying sizes, in addition to retail operations along Route 9, on about 75 acres.

The residential portion of the project calls for one-, two- and four-family structures.

“We’re trying to mix it up,” explained Dean DeVito, a Prime Companies principal and developer of The Hamlet luxury apartment complex in Saratoga Springs. “We’re trying to create a few different price points.”

DeVito said he’s owned the land in Malta for nearly 20 years. He estimated that construction would not start until 2019, considering his familiarity with the lengthy environmental review and approval processes.

The Sage Estates project is being designed in such a way as to attract people who aim to “downsize” in their older years, DeVito said.

James Easton, a land-development specialist at Clifton Park-based MJ Engineering and Land Surveying, joined DeVito in making the presentation.

As planned, the project “provides a nice community setting for everybody,” offered Easton. “There’s a lot of green space and a lot of trees that are going to be preserved.”

DeVito and Easton had sought input from town board members regarding the commercial frontage aspects, as well as increasing the number of homes specified in the Prime Companies proposal.

Councilman John Hartzell expressed his concern that too many residential properties are already being built in Malta. “I would not support increasing the density,” he told DeVito and Easton. 

Anthony Tozzi, Malta’s building and planning coordinator, indicated that the Planning Board—not the town board—has jurisdiction over the matter and would give any final approvals to the Sage Estates subdivision.

Water and sewer lines would have to be extended approximately 1,000 feet, but it is unclear if the town or the developers will pay for that extension.

The recently completed Steeplechase luxury apartment complex is located on the opposite side of Route 9, while another large development of townhouses is under construction off Cramer Road roughly one mile south.

In other business, the town board approved an amendment for a smaller project and referred it to the planning board for review.

According to the resolution, the Park Place Planned Development District would result in nearly 9 acres of “retail, restaurant and commercial uses” about a half-mile south of the town complex.

Steve Wilson, a project manager for Bohler Engineering in Albany, informed town board members that Park Place would add about 80,000 square feet of commercial space to property currently owned by SEFCU.

Wilson said he was not sure if the Malta planning board is expected to address the matter at its next meeting on April 20. 

Friday, 07 April 2017 09:43

Milton Republicans Prepare for Change

MILTON — Three candidates have expressed interest in the town supervisor position that will be open in November.

At the Milton Town Board meeting on April 5, councilmen Scott Ostrander and Benny Zlotnick both indicated that they will seek an endorsement for supervisor from the town’s Republican Committee at its April 24 meeting.

Milton Supervisor Dan Lewza reportedly will not seek reelection to the position in November.

Councilwoman Barbara Kerr was the first to announce her intention of seeking support for the Republican endorsement to replace Lewza. Ostrander and Zlotnick recently decided to add their names to the mix.

In a statement, Ostrander explains how he has been a patrolman for the Ballston Spa Police Department for 29 years and plans to retire from the force in June. He also has served as a Saratoga County Sheriff’s deputy, and for 15 years as president of the local Police Benevolent Association.

Ostrander reports that he has partial ownership of “a private security firm” called Saratoga International Group, which employs 30 people.

Ostrander asserts that “his knowledge of budgeting, staff development and leadership will bring a new perspective and fresh ideas” to Milton government.

Zlotnick first became an active member of the Milton Republican Committee nearly 20 years ago. He then served on the town Planning Board from 2002 until winning an election for his current seat late in 2015.

As a member of the planning board, Zlotnick reviewed several large construction projects on Geyser Road—primarily condominiums and apartment complexes not far from the town offices—that have been welcomed by officials as positive signs of economic growth in Milton.

“We have to make sure we don’t go too fast and get in over our heads,” Zlotnick said, when asked to describe his vision for Milton’s future. 

Friday, 07 April 2017 09:24

A Decade of Fashion, Saratoga Style

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Laura Pileckas cites two main reasons for her decade of success as a women’s fashion retailer in the city: her employees and her customers.

“We’ve all kind of grown up here,” Pileckas says of the ladies who helped her build the business since she first opened its doors in April 2007. “We work with good women. We serve good women.”

The boutique at 494 Broadway carries products from nearly two dozen designers such as Free People, French Connection, Frye, Seychelles and Susana Monaco, according to a list presented on its website (www.violetsofsaratoga.com). 

On Saturday, April 8, Pileckas will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Violet’s of Saratoga—located in the green Collamer Building—by offering various specials to shoppers all day.

Between 6 and 8 p.m., hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be served so that customers can mingle among Violet’s clothing racks, handbags and shoes as local acoustic artist Emily Teller offers her distinct guitar rhythms and vocal sound.

“Violet’s is one of my favorite places for retail therapy, not just for the merchandise, which is always terrific and refreshed, but for the overall experience,” reports loyal customer Helen Susan Edelman. “Laura and the sales associates are always willing to give candid feedback on whether something looks great, or is best left behind.”

At the time Pileckas started her business, gas prices were heading toward $4 per gallon, a housing-market bubble was bursting, and the country was entering a long recession. Yet the faltering economy of 2007 turned out to be “a good opportunity,” she remembers, because “the only way to go was up from there.”

The economy of Saratoga Springs bucked the national trend, so Pileckas and her employees focused on catering to the area’s fashion-conscious ladies.

“People truly want to live here, work here and play here,” Pileckas says, noting how the same dynamic supports a dozen or so other women’s fashion retailers on Broadway.

Edelman, a journalist who lives in Wilton, said she strongly believes “that we have to keep our dollars downtown.” She claims to have a mailing list of women in neighboring communities who are curious about sales at Violet’s in particular.

Pileckas indicated that her husband, Paul, also has contributed to the success of Violet’s by renovating its retail space three times, utilizing his own wealth of experience as a local contractor. The couple and their three sons live in Greenfield.

In 2010 Pileckas teamed up with Connecticut native Jessica Guerin, who is expecting her first child in June. Together with Lianne Klopfer, a social media maven, and other employees, Pileckas will take on Guerin’s purchasing and managerial duties during her maternity leave.

Ashley Gardner, a spokeswoman for Saratoga Historic Properties, offered praise to Pileckas for maintaining an anchor retail outlet on the lower level of the Collamer Building. Pileckas currently occupies about 2,400 square feet of space there.

“Violet’s has been a wonderful tenant,” Gardner says. “They have been easy to work with, and an asset to the building as a destination boutique.”

Saratoga Historic Properties manages the leases for a half-dozen retail spaces and a café in the Collamer Building, in addition to about 30 office tenants located mostly on the upper floors. The offices range in size between 300 and 3,000 square feet.

Through the years Pileckas said she diversified the business by stocking popular shoes, and by routinely determining which fashion products are “demographic specific.”

Edelman said she does not “consider shopping for shoes anywhere else.”

“Violet’s rocks when it comes to seasonal sales,” she added. “It is so much fun to be able to bring home twice as much fashion for the same price you pay in a spree.” 

Friday, 07 April 2017 09:05

OrthoNY Moves, Expands Hours

SARATOGA SPRINGS — On Saturday, April 1, OrthoNY Urgent Care moved from Malta to Saratoga Springs and expanded the hours of operation.

The Saratoga office, located at 5 Care Lane, will now offer walk-in, orthopedic care Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. No appointments are necessary.

OrthoNY Urgent Care is efficient and cost-effective, eliminating the need for emergency room visits to treat common injuries. When acute care needs are bone and joint specific, it is an optimal choice for sprains, strains, minor fractures and sports injuries. OrthoNY Urgent Care is provided by orthopedic specialists and supported by onsite radiology services.

To learn more about OrthoNY Urgent Care, call 518-489-2663, or visit orthony.com. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017 17:43

Take a Chance on Trip to Kentucky Derby

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — During the first half of April, Saratoga Casino Hotel will be accepting entries for an all-inclusive trip for two to the Kentucky Derby.

Beginning on April 1, guests can earn entries into the ‘Dash To The Derby’ giveaway in a variety of ways.

Casino guests are encouraged to swipe their Saratoga Club cards at a kiosk on the gaming floor for a free daily entry. Racing fans will be able to earn daily entries by meeting wagering thresholds with their SaratogaBets accounts

on-property, online, or over the phone.

Additionally, an online entry form open to the public has been created on SaratogaCasino.com/DerbyDash. Entries of all forms are accepted through April 16.

One winner will be selected from the total pool of entrants on Monday, April 17. They will receive round trip airfare for two to Louisville, Kentucky, a 3-night hotel stay, two tickets to the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, and $500 spending cash for their trip.

Saratoga Casino Hotel is also hosting a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday, May 6. Vapor will be open beginning at 4 p.m. and will feature the race on its 16 foot screen.

Saratoga Casino’s racing mezzanine will be open at 11 a.m. on May 6 and will feature the Kentucky Derby card in its entirety.

Saratoga Casino Hotel remains the only casino in the Capital Region where patrons can wager on the Kentucky Derby. For more information, visit SaratogaCasino.com. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017 17:28

County Plans to Send Clear Messages

BALLSTON SPA — As a means to streamline information presented about all of its departments, Saratoga County is hiring a public relations firm based in Troy, officials confirmed this week.

On March 21, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a package of resolutions that had been referred by its various committees.

Among them was an authorization from the Law and Finance Committee to hire Gramercy Communications at a cost of $48,000 for a one-year contract.

“We’re searching for a little bit of PR help,” offered Board Chairman Edward Kinowski, the Stillwater Town Supervisor. “I think it’s essential.”

Kinowski suggested that most of New York’s counties and municipalities could benefit by making similar moves.

If local officials neglect to coordinate their responses and “are not forward-thinking,” Kinowski said, they could err by sending mixed messages to the public through the media.

In recent years, explained County Administrator Spencer Hellwig, the process of managing communications for 26 county departments with 1,100 employees and expenses of almost $300 million has “become a lot more complex and time consuming.”

Of particular concern in the event of any crises, Hellwig said, would be a need for consistent information from the county’s public health and safety departments.

According to Hellwig, the supervisors used to fund two related positions within the county clerk’s office—devoted to public relations—at an annual cost of nearly $90,000. But they have not done so in quite some time.

That often leaves Hellwig, who said he currently shares an administrative assistant with another department, struggling to respond in a timely manner to the many dozens of phone calls and emails he receives each workday.

“There’s clearly a need to have a coordinated voice here,” Hellwig admitted.

He added that an initial meeting between Saratoga County officials and representatives of Gramercy Communications would be held no later than next week.

Andrew Mangini, director of public affairs in the company’s Troy office, deferred to Hellwig for comment.

The March 21 meeting started out with a brief presentation that was warmly received by the Board of Supervisors. It focused more on respecting Saratoga County’s past than preparing for its future.

County Historian Lauren Roberts reminded supervisors how the New York State Legislature had approved the Village of Ballston Spa as the Saratoga County seat on March 14, 1817. Soon, Roberts said, she will post information related to that 200-year-old political decision on the county’s website (www.saratogacountyny.gov). 

“Ballston Spa has proven itself as a well suited, central location for our county seat over the past two centuries,” Roberts said in a statement.

“Like our predecessors, current residents of Saratoga County hike its mountains and wooded paths, boat on its rivers, fish in its lakes and streams, and farm its rolling lands. Today’s residents also enjoy visiting a vast number of preserved historic sites, museums, and parks that have been established throughout Saratoga County,” Roberts writes in her section of the website.

“Combined with the economic prosperity that Saratoga County enjoys,” she says, “it is easily understood why over 200,000 people choose to call Saratoga County home today.” 

Thursday, 30 March 2017 17:17

Public Hearing Set for Village Budget

 

BALLSTON SPA — On Monday, the Village Board approved the date of a public hearing at which local residents are welcome to discuss the $4.1 million budget plan for the next fiscal year. It was the last formal vote made by two departing village trustees.

Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano and the four trustees voted unanimously to approve the date of Monday, April 10. The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. inside Village Hall, whose address is 66 Front Street.

Mayor Romano praised the efforts of outgoing Trustee Courtney Mancini, who recently decided against pursuing another four-year term on the board; and Trustee Ron Henry, who was previously appointed by Romano but lost a bid for re-election on March 21.

“You’ve contributed immensely to the success of the village,” Romano told Mancini and Henry. “I will miss working with each of you. I urge you to, please, stay involved.”

A large crowd of onlookers in the room applauded the mayor’s comments. Among them were Shawn Raymond and Noah Shaw, the two Democrats who won seats on the all-Republican Village Board.

After an organizational meeting scheduled for the week of April 3, Romano said, Raymond and Shaw will formally join the board at the April 10 meeting.

According to the tentative spending plan presented on March 27 by Romano and village staff, Ballston Spa has more than $16 million in taxable property that will be charged at a rate of $81.40 per $1,000 of assessed value. The amount derived from property taxes is projected to exceed $1.3 million.

The total cost of government operations in Ballston Spa, home to about 5,500 people, will surpass $3.7 million through early 2018, according to the tentative budget.

Operation of the village’s sewer system—Romano said it connects to Saratoga County pipes that end up at a treatment plant near Mechanicville—and the public library will cost an additional $250,000.

The six largest expenditures out of Ballston Spa’s general fund will be for employee benefits, at $960,000; public safety, $940,335; village offices and support, $546,552; street maintenance and clearing, $538,912; home and community services, $449,250; and for culture and recreation, $147,366.

More than $2.4 million of revenue will be raised through sales taxes in village businesses; fire protection funds provided by the towns of Ballston and Milton; water distribution charges; fees levied on individuals by the Village Court; and a host of other sources. 

 

 

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