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Camp TLC Wants You!
Spring Break Overnight Camp Seeking Families with Special Needs
LAKE GEORGE – If you are part of a family that has a child with special needs or a life threatening illness, or know one – this may be the most important story you read today.
A fully funded overnight family camp program is looking to add 10-15 additional families to take part in this free, yet priceless experience. The details are below, but you must act quickly.
Camp TLC – a free camp experience that connects children who have experienced medical or life trauma by offering unique ways of coping through recreational and performing arts based activities – is expanding to include Saratoga County families, and will take place during this year’s spring break period – from April 24-28. The camp will be hosted at the YMCA Camp Chingachgook in Lake George.
Camp TLC, which stands for Together Living a Challenge, has a program model that incorporates the whole family unit into the camp experience – with an emphasis on developing necessary skills and building self-esteem as a means to overcome challenges.
According to Founder and Executive Director Caroline Baumis, herself a native of Saratoga Springs, similar camps around the country have been successful over the past five years and she is particularly excited about establishing Camp TLC in her native region. “We are honored and grateful for our connections in Upstate New York and excited to expand our program to meet the needs of more children and families in Saratoga County. Our relationships with local organizations – including the Upstate New York Austism Alliance – help us recruit new families so that we can provide a week of resources, respite, love and wellness.”
“We are especially thankful for the support of foundations such as the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, Charles R. Wood Foundation, and the Kennedy Mulcahy Fund of the Ethel and W. George Kennedy Foundation for their continuous support of our camp program.” Baumis has previously been involved with a day camp for backstretch workers and other charitable activities such as with Medical Missions for Children. She noted that the overnight camp model has proven to be logistically easier to achieve than day camps (where daily transportation could be an issue for some) while proving to be a superior experience for participating families.
While many local families have been recruited for the April camp, the good news is that there is room for up to about 15 more. There is an application process, and it is requested that you apply by March 21, to allow for screening and processing. Here is what you do:
Families that participate in Camp TLC at Chingachgook will be able to participate in a broad variety of activities that you would expect from a comprehensive camp experience, including yoga, massage, a petting zoo, arts and crafts, bingo nights, sing-alongs with local favorite Rich Ortiz around the campfire, drive-in movie night, hiking and other outdoor activities, guitar and theater lessons, in addition to special theme days such as carnival day and color games in which kids get to ‘pie’ their parents. “That’s always a favorite,” Baumis said, laughing.
Overall, “Our campers will love the warm and encouraging atmosphere and it serves the entire family,” Baumis said.
For more information, visit www.thecamptlc.org. Camp TLC also has Facebook and Twitter pages.
Saratoga: a New Golden Age?
SEDC and the Partnership See Great Promise in County’s Future
This is the second in a three-part series on economic development in Saratoga County. The first in the series, "Taxpayers Triple Down on Saratoga," can be read here.
SARATOGA COUNTY – While the rest of the nation is still pulling slowly out of the Great Recession, Saratoga County has been holding its own and growing.
According to Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the prognosis and outlook is good. “Last year was one of the first years since I have been here that everyone around the table [local CEO’s] expected growth. Anecdotally, I think every sector I’m aware of saw job growth.”
Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), a nonprofit 501(c)3, agrees. “Saratoga County is known in upstate New York as one of the best counties for economic development,” said Brobston, who has been dedicated to growing the local economy for over three decades. “It has one of the lowest unemployment rates across the state across all sectors, and is in the top three fastest growing. You can see it in the boom of jobs, housing, low county taxes and more. We’re really blessed we have such great product to sell [Saratoga County], and there are plenty of ancillary jobs created because of what we do.”
Marty Vanags, president of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, is also working to build on the strengths of the county to multiply the economic development efforts here. The Partnership’s Saratoga Strategic Plan is focused on four main objectives:
First, the Partnership will engage in a proactive, targeted and collaborative campaign to attract new business to Saratoga County in key clusters and industries, including: Advanced Manufacturing; Agriculture; Financial Business Process Outsourcing; Research and Development; and Specialized Distribution. According to Vanags, he intends to bring trade shows here so CEO’s can experience everything Saratoga has to offer, and use those events to encourage them to explore staying.
Secondly, the Partnership will engage existing businesses, stakeholders, partners and other economic development agencies in an all-inclusive, multi-year Business Retention and Expansion Campaign that will help the private sector secure new jobs and capital investment in Saratoga County. Vanags will work with local partners on branding and awareness campaigns to get the news out about the benefits of the county.
The Partnership shall leverage the investment of GlobalFoundries and the presence of Luther Forest Technology Park to attract new advanced manufacturing businesses, suppliers and allied industries to increase employment and capital investment in Saratoga County. One aspect of this is an area that SEDC is working on, too, creating a supply chain to feed the work at GlobalFoundries.
The Partnership will build and expand relationships with appointed and elected officials at the local, state and federal government levels to enhance investments in Saratoga County, and the next article in this series will touch more on the impact of state and national government on our local economy.
Both the Prosperity Partnership and SEDC are providing decades of expertise and national relationships to build on the county’s current growth and tremendous economic potential.
“The role of an economic development agency is to create jobs, good paying jobs,” said Brobston. “It enables a person to live a decent life, pay bills, and contribute to the investment in a community. And, our role is to get companies to invest in the community, because that investment brings dollars in taxes which helps our schools, existing local businesses, and more.”
SEDC’s goals for the county’s future include much of what they have been working on already – encouraging businesses to locate here that provide a supply chain for GlobalFoundries; that manufacture advanced technologies like medical supplies and sensors; building on the hotbed SEDC’s created here for warehouse distribution; and working on relocating corporate headquarters here.
“Saratoga County is a wonderful place to live and have a business,” said Brobston. It offers a lot of access to the world through Boston, Montreal, Buffalo – just jump on a plane and be anywhere. Within a day’s drive of here is 54 percent of the population of North America.”
Shimkus sees a benefit to having both SEDC and the Partnership out marketing Saratoga County to industries to relocate here. “There’s so much interest in moving into Saratoga County that having two organizations selling with more feet on the street doing sales is helpful,” said Shimkus. “When you could have a lot of demand, you want to make sure you’re doing as much prospecting as possible.”
And that double-prospecting can help fill in the employment gaps that exist in the county. Brobston acknowledged that the northern end of the county has a higher unemployment rate than the southern, partly due to access to Albany and government jobs at that end of the Northway, but he foresees change for the northern end, as well. The addition of Dollar General’s new warehouse in Wilton, should that come through, would make a big difference.
“We’re a county that’s been growing a lot later than other counties,” said Brobston. “These were bedroom communities in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Saratoga Springs was a resort that was busy only five months out of the year. We’re maturing, now. We’re less transient than when GE and the paper mill were moving their employees in and out. People are staying and we’re seeing a need for senior housing like we never had before.”
Brobston described the impact of Ball Corporation, one of SEDC’s first projects. The company is celebrating retirees now, people who moved here 35 years ago due to SEDC’s efforts to relocated Ball Corporation in Saratoga Springs.
“Now we have people who want to stay because their families are here,” said Brobston. “I was here at age 27, moved away, moved back, and now I have grandkids here. I’m never leaving – first my wife would shoot me and then my grandchildren would,” he joked. “I’m not the only one. According to census estimates, the brain drain has slowed down a bit. People who’ve left are coming back. Once you add in the GlobalFoundries personnel into the numbers, we’ve got a great mix of all ages and people are staying, aging in place. We’ve never had that before, and it began with Ball. They were a great success story. We have many of those success stories. Ball, Quad Graphics, Saratoga Eagle, Ace Hardware, Delmar Thomas, all corporations from somewhere else.”
Brobston had some thoughts about how county citizens can contribute to job growth beyond showing up with welcome signs at planning board meetings. “Local residents can help by paying attention to what the world needs,” he said. “It’s okay to say if they aren’t thrilled with a new project, but also say let’s figure out a way to do this together.”
He described the proposed expansion of Saratoga Hospital as an example, saying that community could use some of the corresponding road improvements that would go along with the project, but those improvements will be slower coming without the investment dollars a hospital expansion would bring.
“Some people are worried about traffic, others are more worried about access to healthcare,” said Brobston, “but they might be afraid to speak out in fear of being ostracized. We need to be thoughtful, vocal, and positive. Be more willing to find compromise. I believe there’s hope and ways to do this. The individual is what this country was built on, and home rule is what this state was built on, but we can’t forget that what we say and do has an impact on others. It’s not always about us.”
Shimkus adds, “It’s easy to tell people to shop and go to independent local stores, but I think the bigger issue is that we need the community to always support efforts to grow the economy. You have to always be trying to create new jobs, local jobs, so there are jobs here for their kids to come back to. We can’t be complacent in Saratoga and believe we have it all. We have to always be focused on growing the economy like what SEDC and the Partnership are doing.
The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership is located at 2911 Route 9 in Malta. They can be reached at 518-871-1887. The Saratoga Economic Development Corporation is located at 28 Clinton St, Saratoga Springs and can be reached at 518-587-0945. The economic development plans for both agencies can be found on their respective websites.
Taxpayers Triple Down on Saratoga
Economic Development A Good Bet?
This is the first in a three-part series that explores taxpayers’ investment in economic development in Saratoga County.
SARATOGA COUNTY – When political strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “the economy, stupid” back in the early 90’s in answer to a question exploring top voter concerns, he could not have known it would become a standard part of the American vernacular.
Debates may rage throughout this Presidential election year on foreign policy, health care, immigration, and a variety of other important issues, but it can be arguably said that none resonate more with the average voter than how that voter will be hit in the pocketbook. That is just as true in Saratoga County as it is across the nation. People want jobs, good-paying salaries, and affordable goods and services. The glimmer of hope seen in the slow rate of the national upturn of job creation and drop in unemployment may have restored some consumer confidence, (as seen in the record sales experienced by the automobile industry in December) but a December Gallup poll showed 57 percent of Americans think the economy is “getting worse.”
Placing the Bet
The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors (the Board) understand, in no uncertain terms, that it is “the economy, stupid,” and have been making preparations to assure the county economy grows in a sustainable way in 2016 and into the future. In late spring of 2014, the Board made a decision to sever its three-decade relationship with the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and begin a new economic development agency from scratch.
For county taxpayers, this resulted in a substantial increase in allocation of their tax dollars for economic development. SEDC was paid $200,000 in 2014, but in 2015 the Board allocated $750,000 to the newly created Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership (the Partnership). That’s more than triple the prior year allocation. The Partnership did not utilize all those funds and returned the unused portion back to the County, as statute required.
State legislation that was passed last year at the request of the County authorized one-half of one percent of the County’s hotel occupancy tax to go to the Partnership in perpetuity, beginning this year. That, combined with other County revenue, will continue the $750,000 a year for the Partnership.
According to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Peter Martin, there were no tax or fee increases or existing program cuts to cover the additional half-million-dollar expense. The Board used a combination of unallocated surplus funds and increased sales tax revenues to cover the cost in 2015. The local economy was better in 2015, and consumers made more purchases, so the money was there. The Board decided it would be a good bet to reinvest that money into the economy, and additionally decided that it would increase their odds on a return by directing the money to a new economic development agency rather than give it to the existing one.
Arthur “Mo” Wright, who is currently serving his first year as chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors after nine years of representing Hadley as Town Supervisor, reiterated what other supervisors have been saying, that they didn’t feel they were seeing much in the way of results from SEDC.
“Once GlobalFoundries came in, we haven’t seen much else,” said Wright. “Marty [Vanag]’s presentation to the Saratoga Springs City Council [Tuesday, January 5] was the same as what he gave to the Supervisors, and the number one goal of the county is to work with him and support the Partnership. You can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s more to this county than just GlobalFoundries. Obviously they are a new entity and it takes a while to get staffed and up to speed, but it sounds like he’s hitting the ground running.”
Dennis Brobston, Saratoga Economic Development Corporation president, was unavailable for comment, but SEDC has recently been working to bring Dollar General to the county with a $92 million dollar warehouse project that would bring over 500 new jobs to the area. On Monday, January 11, the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved a package of tax incentives valued at more than $11 million to sweeten the deal against the competition. Dollar General is also weighing locations in some New England states. If that deal and others like it come through, taxpayers might wonder whether that additional half a million dollars for the Partnership might have been better spent.
The Ace in the Hole?
Marty Vanags was hired as president of the new Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership back in May of last year. He moved here from Indiana, bringing the heavy-hitting resume of an economic development veteran. According to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch, his salary is in the neighborhood of $125,000 a year.
“He’s worth every penny,” said Veitch. “You have to understand, we didn’t create SEDC. They are an independent entity. It’s not like we can dissolve it if we feel it’s not meeting its responsibilities. The Partnership was created by statute, and even though it is formed as a nonprofit corporation and has its own board, there’s a degree of transparency there that we just weren’t getting from SEDC. This is taxpayer money, and we have to know where it is going and how it is being used. The straw that broke the camel’s back with SEDC followed a request of the Supervisors to sit on the board – given the financial contribution. When SEDC refused and frankly told us that there was some legal problem that meant they couldn’t do it, the board decided we’d go our own way to meet our needs.”
Rodney Sutton, newly elected chair of the Saratoga County IDA, said Vanags has already brought some business to the county, but is pragmatic about the fact that there are now two agencies with the same goal in the area.
“All due respect to partnership,” said Sutton, “they are the new kid on the block and we are more than willing to cooperate with the Partnership so we can work together to continue the growth of the county. They have to go out and generate activities that they think SEDC has not. That’s the capitalistic enterprise that we live in. If they can bring something to the table, that’s great. I do think over the years SEDC has done its job admirably, but things change. Our economic message could change, economic winds could be changing as we speak.”
Vanags recently announced a four-point strategy for economic development in the County. Veitch said, “In the time we’ve had Marty around, for him to come out with a strategic plan and move forward with it is huge for me. I don’t know that we’ve done anything like that in the past. Now the public knows this is our plan and it’s out there, open to people for them to add suggestions, concerns and criticisms. Now, that’s accountability. The outlook for 2016 and beyond, I think is good.”
Sutton agrees. “My firm belief is that good strong businesses will still come to Saratoga County and find it an attractive place to stay,” said Sutton. “We’ve got good educational institutions, good housing, good transportation, a stable tax base – there are a variety of reasons for companies to move here. Through the recession, we still held our own through that whole period of time. Now we’re seeing an uptick in manufacturing and other companies that might move into the area.”
In our next edition, we’ll take a closer look at the strategy and its potential impact to the local economy. The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership is located at 2911 Route 9 in Malta. They can be reached at 518-871-1887 or visit SaratogaPartnership.org.
Local "King" Goes To The White House!
GREENFIELD – Business owner and Christmas décor designer Claire Henderson learned last week that she and her company, Christmas Night, Inc., had received a special honor. Her giant 12-foot-tall Nutcracker King decoration, which Claire designed, is now standing tall in the White House State Dining Room as part of the annual holiday decorations that deck the White House halls.
Claire and her husband Donald are owners of Christmas Night, Inc., a designer and seller of nativity scenes and all-weather Christmas decorations (www.ChristmasNightInc.com). They reside in Greenfield, and ship their decorations worldwide from a facility in Amsterdam, NY. They have had many large clients and celebrities that have purchased their decorations since incorporating the business in 1999. But nothing like this.
“I was extremely pleased to learn that my work was selected,” Claire Henderson said. “It is a great acknowledgement of our Christmas décor and a true honor that the White House would select one of my pieces to sit alongside so many other beautiful holiday ornaments.” They learned that one of the designers that represented the White House had bought the Nutcracker King, which Claire originally designed five years ago, when one of their manufacturing partners had seen photos and video of this year’s holiday decorations.
The Henderson’s Nutcracker King joins a long tradition of decorating the White House for the holidays, dating back to 1800, during the administration of John Adams. More recently, in 1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy made “The Nutcracker” her first theme for the White House’s holiday décor.
An estimated 68,000 visitors will view the Henderson’s Nutcracker King at the White House this holiday season. The King looms large (12 feet tall, weighing 284 pounds) over the State Dining Room. Video of the holiday décor can be viewed at www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/holidays-2015.
While their business is all about the holidays, it is anything but seasonal. Claire noted that they start bringing in products in the spring, and most designers and churches start planning their holiday décor in the summer. One of their most popular items through the years has been “Santa’s Sleigh and Reindeer,” which is big enough for the jolly one, along with two children and plenty of gifts. Claire is already at work on a new design for next year – a 10-foot toy soldier.
The Hendersons have been married for 24 years, and have resided in Saratoga County since emigrating to the U.S. from Canada in 1997. Claire is a native of Ireland, and you can sense that she was warmed and gratified by becoming a big part of one of the most American of traditions.
“It’s an honor. Not just the honor to have a product in the White House - it’s an honor to start a company in the U.S., and to be a U.S. Citizen,” she said.
For more information, visit www.ChristmasNightInc.com
EOC: Now More Than Ever
Holiday Appeal Begins December 1
BALLSTON SPA – “We are committed to help people overcome barriers.”
So stated Former Saratoga Springs Mayor A.C. Riley, a Past President, current Board Member and Chair of the Community Liaison Committee of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (EOC), an agency that provides a variety of programs and services – all designed to enable individuals and families to reach self-sufficiency.
EOC clients are not just the hardcore unemployed or impoverished. Even in a relatively affluent county like Saratoga, their programs offer a crucial lifeline to a wider section of the community that struggles with financial uncertainty and distress every day.
There are many ways that people can support the diverse programs EOC provides. EOC will be launching its annual Holiday Appeal beginning December 1, and they will be accepting cash and food donations at the Canadian Pacific holiday train when it arrives at the Saratoga Springs Train Station this Saturday, November 28 at 7:20 p.m. “Last year, through the generosity of the public (at the Holiday Train) we received 1,100 pounds of food, $200 in on-site donations with a $4,000 check to support our food programs,” said EOC Executive Director Anita Paley. “It was four times better attended than the previous year.”
A tour of EOC’s facility, at 39 Bath Street in Ballston Spa, brought many surprises. Riley and Paley described and demonstrated a wide array of services and programs available through EOC, delivered in a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere, all designed to help people help themselves. “We are not paternalistic, it’s about developing goals and giving people the means to achieve them,” Riley noted.
EOC’s programs run the gamut from affordable housing and energy assistance and weatherization programs; to food pantry and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition programs; Head Start, career preparation and language education courses; from soup kitchen lunches to tax preparation and family development services. These and other programs are delivered in an atmosphere of hope, collegial goal development and empowerment.
“We are constantly conducting needs assessments of the community,” Anita Paley noted, “and we raise funds and develop programs based on those assessments. The bottom line is that people want to work. We provide support systems, and programs to give people the means to do so.”
While the variety of programs can be characterized as a pleasant surprise, a sobering fact is that the population that needs EOC’s programs is broader than people might generally believe. “It is much more than the unemployed,” Riley stated. “Many of our clients have two working adults in the household.”
To that end, not all of EOC’s programs are income-based. The food pantry as labeled “barrier free” – making it responsive to a need that might be greater than generally believed. “People who don’t meet ‘income standards’ can still be hungry,” Riley said. The food pantry accepts donations year-round from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. The emphasis is on items that contribute to a balanced diet: Anita Paley noted the generosity of local farms and groceries that made available items such as grass-fed beef and other items rarely available in food pantries. As much as they receive, it often barely covers the demand.
“We do get the most donations of food around this time of the year, but it gets depleted quickly,” Paley said. In addition to food, EOC accepts donations of clothing (clean coats, hats, scarves, mittens and socks are most needed now) and even pet food donations are welcome.
In addition to providing needed funds for their core services, part of EOC’s mission has a goal to provide appropriate referrals to other agencies/organizations where relevant, as well as advocacy at the county/city level.
EOC’s Holiday Appeal is one of their major fundraising efforts. Your contributions help to fill large gaps in areas of the “safety net” that would otherwise be unmet. It is important to recognize what your donations help fund, and what they do not.
For this is not a government handout. It is not welfare. It is all about providing people with the means to help themselves and break the constricting cycle of poverty.
At holiday time, as we gather with loved ones and count our blessings, consider all the ways that the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council is making a difference in our neighbors’ lives. At the heart of their name is their concise message: Opportunity. This is a perfect time of year to consider giving a leg up to those in our community who want to walk on their own.
To learn more about EOC’s services, donation and volunteer opportunities, visit saratogaeoc.org/opportunities-with-eoc/donate/
Honoring Gene Corsale
BALLSTON SPA – The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors honored Eugene J. Corsale at a monthly ceremony that was attended by family, friends and colleagues on Tuesday, November 17.
They came together to honor a man who was the epitome of the word honor. A man who had done so much his lifetime in service to others. Indeed, this monthly ceremony to honor a deceased veteran had been founded and chaired by the man they were honoring on this day.
Gene Corsale was not only heralded as a tireless advocate for Veteran’s affairs, but the many dignitaries who spoke in tribute to him also noted his leadership in fostering a revival on the West Side of Saratoga Springs, as well as his love of trains.
Gene Corsale entered the US Navy in 1950 and served on the Battleship USS Wisconsin in Korea. His career in the Navy took him to 22 different countries, and, among the many honors issued during his service were the National Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal, United Nations Service Medal and Korean Service Medal.
The Corsale family was presented proclamations on behalf of the City of Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County and the New York State Assembly. Senator Hugh Farley’s office bestowed a unique honor – a second New York State Senate Liberty Medal – to the family. They were also presented a US flag, which had been flown over the Capitol Building, and, following the ceremony, attendees witnessed that flag being raised in front of the Saratoga County offices. This flag will fly for 30 days in tribute to a unique man and his lifetime of service.
County Funds More Trails
8 Projects to receive total of $100,000
By Arthur Gonick
BALLSTON SPA – At the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, October 20, the board unanimously approved the funding of eight trail projects throughout the county, granting $12,500 to each, for a total of $100,000. Included in this are funds for construction of the Crescent Avenue Connector - a 1-mile segment of the Greenbelt Trail in the City of Saratoga Springs; and funding for a feasibility study for the Bullard Lane Community Trail in the Town of Wilton to create a public trail on a 38 acre wooded town-owned parcel that would connect public lands and Gavin Park.
The Supervisors passed a total of 19 resolutions unanimously, including:
- Expressing support for state legislation to designate Route 9 in the county as “United States Submarine Veterans Memorial Highway”
- Expressing support for the Capital Region’s 20.20 Revitalization Plan,
- Proclaiming October as ‘Manufacturing Month’ and ‘Cyber-Security Awareness Month’ in the county,
- Accepting ownership of four roads in the Town of Malta at the Luther Forest Technology Campus;
- Accepting a security grant of $72,500 from the New York State Division of Homeland Security
- Appointing David Wallingford and Ralph Pascucci as Commissioners of the Saratoga Lake Improvement District.
Dedicated Crew Completes Projects with Rebuilding Together Saratoga County
By Stephanie Hale-Lopez
SARATOGA COUNTY – There’s no doubt Rebuilding Together Saratoga County (RTSC) has made a tremendous difference in the community since its inception 12 years ago.
The organization partners with volunteers year round to ensure that homeowners in need can live independently in safe and healthy home. The volunteers strive to build healthy neighborhoods through RTSC’ s three programs: Home Repair – provides critical repairs for low-income homeowners such as weatherizing, plumbing and electrical repairs, patching and painting, cleaning, re-carpeting, siding and landscaping; Safe at Home – home safety assessments, safety and accessibility modifications for low-income homeowners who are older adults or are living with a disability; and Non-Profit Facility/Community Beautification – provides safe and welcoming spaces for communities to gather through renovation and beautification work for community centers, supportive housing facilities and outdoor community spaces.
Michelle Larkin founded RTSC in November 2003 with an informational meeting. The organization has been growing ever since, boasting thousands of volunteers and completing thousands of projects. In 2014 alone, RTSC helped more homeowners in need than ever before, completing a total of 108 home repair projects – along with eight community space projects – a total of 116 projects.
“The best part of it all for me is just knowing someone will be safer, warmer, dryer because of the work we do," said Larkin. "The hugs and thank you notes from the homeowners at the end of a workday make all of us grateful for the opportunity to help and make a difference in the lives of our neighbors."
While summer is the organization’s busiest time of year, RTSC does work on projects throughout the year – with the exception of winter, unless it’s an emergency – and Larkin says RTSC relies on a special group of volunteers to help year round. They’re known as Weekday Warriors.
Weekday Warriors are a crew of volunteers who donate their time regularly – often on a weekly or bi-weekly basis – to help homeowners in need. I met with six of them: Betsy Miklas, George VanDeusen, John Grassman, Tom Disinger, Al Peters and John Maxam.
“I like the idea of paying it forward. I’m retired, I have time, I like to help people and I’m a hands-on person,” said Miklas. “It keeps me busy. Right in our own backyard, there are so many people in need and so appreciative of what, to us, might seem like small things.”
As the saying goes – in helping others, we help ourselves – that cannot be truer for the Weekday Warriors. While the focus of every project is to help homeowners in need, volunteers also benefit from the experience.
“Other than being able to give back and the rewards that that provides, [RTSC] has also provided me with a group of people that I’ve gotten to know who are pretty fantastic. They’re wonderful friends,” adds Disinger.
“It was about 15 years ago that I retired and my wife saw an article in the paper about [RTSC] and she mentioned that it could be something I’d be interested in,” added Peters. “So much of my life has been spent with paperwork and design and so on. [RTSC] has been an opportunity to work with my hands, be physical, give me purpose and give back to the community. It’s something that I enjoy doing.”
Grassman has been volunteering with RTSC for nearly a decade. He first started with a couple of springtime projects and after that, he says he was hooked.
“I saw that it was a great way to help the community, we’re all part of the community here and it’s a way to help others right where we live,” said Grassman. “It’s a tremendous organization that has an impact. You look at a lot of other organizations and you invest your money and time into places and you’re not sure where it goes but here, you get the best bang for your buck. We go straight to the person’s home with the materials that we need to help them and it’s just amazing.”
All six volunteers agreed that working with the homeowners and coming face-to-face with the problems/issues that need fixed is exhilarating…especially at the project’s completion, when you can see the final result and the impact it has on the homeowner.
“There are certainly a lot of people in the area that need help fixing their places up,” said Maxam. “We see that on every job we go on. It’s astonishing how much people do need us.”
“Its life changing for the people we help,” added Disinger. “Sometimes, I don’t think we realize the magnitude of what we’ve done.”
VanDeusen adds that the work volunteers put in through RTSC is to improve what politicians consider to be affordable housing.
“You hear a lot of talk on the political level about affordable housing, especially in Saratoga County. Saratoga Springs has a lot of big houses; it’s a very expensive place to live,” said VanDeusen. “But just outside of town are very poor communities. There are projects that we’ve gone on where grandma couldn’t stay there because there wasn’t a ramp or the floor was rotting out. When we repair that, we’re working on affordable housing.”
Rebuilding Together Saratoga County is always looking for more volunteers and the Weekday Warriors say you don’t have to have any particular set of skills or experience. All you need to have is the willingness to donate your time; the rest can be learned.
“You can always use that extra set of hands,” said Miklas.
RTSC is hosting a group of Spring Rebuilding Days to complete various springtime projects and is looking for volunteers to help make a meaningful difference for neighbors in need. The Spring Rebuilding Days are Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26; Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3 as well as Saturday, May 9.
Pain In The Pothole
City, County Try To Catch Up On Road Patch Up
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Take it from a person in a position to know:
“This winter was definitely worse than last year, which happened to be the worst in a long time.”
So stated Commissioner of Public Works for Saratoga County Keith Manz regarding the current pothole outbreak through our region. Of course, anyone need only drive a couple of blocks to conclude the same thing.
We are bouncing around, ruining alignments and losing hubcaps all over the place – increasing the stress of driving under less than ideal conditions. One who experienced this firsthand is lifelong Saratoga Springs resident Anne Proulx.
“In the beginning of February we were heading to Wal-Mart along Weibel Avenue. I made a turn and – boom – right into a hole.” She said. “I thought I was just running through some water, but I had no idea that the water was covering a huge gap in the road until I looked at it closely later on. I didn’t learn until I returned home that I had lost my second hubcap of the winter.”
“The road in front of Saratoga TODAY (Case Street) is an absolute mess because of potholes every winter. I called and left a message for the head of the DPW a few months ago but never heard back or saw any progress.” Said Chad Beatty, Publisher of Saratoga TODAY.
“This road has been an ongoing issue. It’s ironic because the road leads into Fasig-Tipton. They do $20+ million in horse sales on a single summer weekend but there is a low budget road out front all year.” Beatty said.
Generally, winter potholes form after precipitation permeates the pavement, causing the soil and sub-base layers underneath to freeze and expand leading to cracks in the pavement. As thawing occurs, sub-base and soil recede, often leaving a hole underneath the cracked pavement, which breaks further under the weight of vehicular traffic.
There you have pothole pain in a paragraph. Each pothole can deepen or widen over time as more vehicles travel over it if not repaired.
According to Manz, what makes this winter so tough is that we never really got a mid-winter thaw. “Consistent frozen ground is much worse than a typical freeze/thaw cycle,” he said. “Eventually the thawing occurs and leads to a more severe effect.”
Kathy Moran, office manager for Saratoga Springs’ Department of Public Works (DPW) said that they have three crews out each day in the city: covering Geyser Crest, Westside and Eastside. They are marking locations and a truck is dispatched to nearby asphalt providers in the city (Pompa Brothers or Palette Stone) to employ a process called “cold patch,” which is a temporary fix until repaving can occur.
Why this intermediate step? Manz explained that the ground should be above 40 degrees to properly repave the road’s blacktop. He estimates that it is about 32 degrees currently. In the short-term, the prospect is for the pothole outbreak to get worse.
“There is certainly more to come,” Manz said. “A 55-60 degree day or two will make the pavement even more pliable” as the ground thaws further. In fact, the forecast on the day this issue is published calls for a high of 62 degrees, with rain.
Moran said that the crews are aware of most pothole locations by now, but if city residents want to report a particular pothole, they are welcome to call the DPW office at (518) 587-3550 ext. 2555.
Manz said that up to four of his eight crews are consistently out each day now, rotating through the county to make pothole repairs. He also noted that the county has a repair hotline to report potholes and other road hazards – (518) 885-9020. When they receive a complaint, they dispatch a foreman to inspect the location and, if deemed necessary, will divert a crew to that spot, usually by the next day.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen doesn’t control the paving budget items under the city’s commission form of government, but she certainly hears about citizen’s discontent.
“We do recommend that their first call go to DPW. Many people do call us though as a secondary measure, feeling that it will lead to a quicker response and we want to be attentive to that and not give them ‘the city hall shuffle.’” She said.
Mayor Yepsen said she was pleased that some relief came from the state in the form of increased money from the Department of Transportation’s CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Plan) fund. A total of $40 million extra was allocated for “Extreme Winter Recovery” statewide, with the city receiving over $57,000 (Saratoga County also received over $209,000) according to the New York State Conference of Mayors website (nycom.org). This represents just under a 10 percent increase over the initial CHIPS funding levels.
The money certainly will help this region recover from the ravages of nature’s wrath this past winter, but there is likely long road ahead to getting us all “patched up,” let alone paved.
“There’s an image component, of course. You don’t want people to have a miserable experience driving around our city.” Mayor Yepsen said. “But even more important are safety issues, not to mention the potential for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in damage to our citizens’ and visitors’ vehicles.”
Matt Veitch Takes the Reins of County Bd. of Supervisors
BALLSTON SPA – On Tuesday, Jan. 20, Matthew Veitch took the gavel and ran his first monthly meeting as Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. Elected from the City of Saratoga Springs, he is the first to be chair from the city since Phil Klein had that role in 1992.
This meeting represents a milestone in that Veitch now has overall responsibility for county operations, as he and his colleagues begin to administer the 2015 budget – which, in fact, Veitch had considerable input in creating as Vice Chairman and the head of the County’s Law and Finance Committee in 2014.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, we discussed a wide range of subjects relating to 2015 plans and priorities:
It’s a considerably different city and county since 1992…
“Yes, We didn’t have many of the major developments you see today.” Veitch noted, “We had no racino, the flat track ran for only four weeks. In Saratoga Springs, we might have had 5,000 less people, but the overall makeup is completely different now. Because of the developments in the county – GlobalFoundries chief among them, you have a situation where perhaps only 50 percent of the population is native now. Our challenge is to handle the larger size economy, but in some ways it is much easier because it is growing, in contrast to 1992 when there was a recession happening.”
How do you see the 2015 budget going into the year and what initiatives are you looking towards as chairman
“We got a lot done last year (in the budget process) to set us up in good shape,” Veitch noted, listing funding for open space and trails, economic development and public safety as some of the priorities for the coming year. He also spoke about working along with Supervisor Phil Barrett on the county’s Public Safety committee. “Our priorities there are to focus on two broad areas, and in fact the committee just formed two subcommittees to reflect that: one to focus on equipment needs such as body cams, and another for operations and procedure.” Veitch said. “This has always been a priority for me even though I represent an area that has it’s own police. First of all, your taxes pay for the sheriff regardless of where you live, and a safe county makes for a safe city.”
How is it starting to feel as the person who leads the team?
“Overall it’s great,” Veitch noted, citing inheriting a great staff such as Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Pamela Wright. “The biggest change is that I’m at the County offices every day now – with my new responsibilities there are always contracts and forms to sign, and learning operations. Another interesting development is that I am seeing my colleagues are looking to me for guidance on a variety of matters.”
There are many new aspects that go with his new position, and it appears that Matt Veitch is embracing them all.
For one, chairing the monthly Board of Supervisors meeting has an important ceremonial component. At Tuesday’s meeting, Veitch participated in issuing official proclamations and honors: To residents Adam Myers and Mike Campanella, as well as Deputy Sheriffs Jonathan Grady and Jeffrey O’Connor for their heroic life-saving efforts on behalf of a man in a burning vehicle that plunged into Murphy’s Pond in Clifton Park; and to William J. Davis upon his retirement as Chairman of the Saratoga County Sewer District.
Committee appointments also fall under the Chairman’s purview. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved two appointments to the County Fire Advisory Board; as well as three to the Capital Resource Corporation – one of which was filled by Veitch himself, who volunteered to take the vacancy.
Each Chairman also puts their own stamp on the office by announcing their own initiatives. One that Veitch has already pledged is to visit each Saratoga County town’s meeting at one point during the year to keep them updated about county proceedings. This is an extension of Veitch’s regular attendance at twice-monthly Saratoga Springs City Council meetings.