Berlin Town Board Action – To Stop Or Not To Stop
by Kieron Kramer
A petition with 121 signatures was presented to the Town Board at the Berlin Town Board meeting on Thursday, November 10. That’s a lot of signatures for a town as small as Berlin. According to Doug Goodermote, who presented the petition in a somewhat dramatic fashion during Highway Superintendent Jim Winn’s report, all the signatories are in favor of putting a stop sign on Watson Road where it intersects with Bly Hollow Road. Goodermote had brought up the issue of the stop sign at the last four meetings and finally decided to take matters into his own hands. The presentation of the petition was followed by a heated discussion between Goodermote and Billy Hammersmith, who owns a mining operation on Watson Road and who has continually stated that he thought a stop sign at that intersection would cause more harm than good, with Highway Superintendent Jim Winn caught in the middle.
Everyone partaking in the discussion agreed that the intersection is dangerous, particularly in the summer when the line of sight and the light is blocked by leaves. Goodermote and Town Supervisor Rob Jaeger feel they have been almost run off the road. The problem is that people drive down Bly Hollow at high speeds and people on Watson Road are likely to drive through the v-shaped intersection without slowing down and looking, since it seems like a straight road, in spite of the yield sign that is there.
The debate is what to do about it. There is plenty of heavy truck traffic leaving the Hammersmith mining operation, Quality Construction, and Hammersmith maintains that the trucks would start up so slowly from a complete stop at the intersection that more accidents might occur if speeders continue to speed down Bly Hollow. He also said that the trucks would have to use their “jake brake” to come to a stop, which, he said, he asks them not to use now. The jake brake uses engine compression to slow down the truck; the brake is noisy and gives off a lot of diesel fumes. He said that Susan Womersley, who lives on the corner there, would complain about the noise and smoke. Goodermote said she had signed the petition. According to Hammersmith, his mine permit contains NYS DOT route restrictions that force him and his customers to use Watson to Bly Hollow Road to get to Route 22. So even when a destination is south of the mine the trucks must take a circular route heading north on Watson Road rather than south. He also said that he has permission in his permit for a much higher number of vehicles to use the road. He added that he had contacted the State Police who, he said, reported that there have been no incidents recorded at that intersection.
Goodermote, who said he has experienced a close call at that intersection, is worried that someone will be seriously hurt there. He wants a stop sign on Watson Road. Supervisor Jaeger feels strongly that there should be stop signs installed on both roads.
Goodermote recounted what he thinks is the history of traffic control at that intersection, implying some favoritism toward Hammersmith by the previous Highway Superintendent. Hammersmith said he “has been accused of many things,” claiming that Goodermote’s attitude comes from the recent problem Goodermote had with the DEC when he was mining his farmland nearby for agricultural purposes. The heat generated during the discussion prompted Jaeger to halt the exchange.
Winn and the Board are caught in the middle. Winn has been waiting for some advice from County Highway experts before putting up a sign. It was suggested by Scott Gallerie of the County Highway Department that the Town hire a traffic pattern consultant to put down tapes to measure the amount of traffic and determine what was best. Winn said that although the County regulates speed limits the Town has the authority to put up traffic signs but if an engineering study is done the Town’s actions will be controlled by the DOT. Later in the meeting, the Board agreed that Winn should see how much a traffic pattern study would cost. If the cost of the study is not too high, the Town will hire the engineer and most likely follow the findings of the study.
The Elusive 2% Tax Increase
One thing that doesn’t stop is the increased cost of running a municipality. At Thursday’s meeting the Berlin Board unanimously passed the budget for 2012. The bottom line, which combines the Town tax rate and the Berlin Fire District rate, shows a tax levy increase of 3.3%.
So what happened to the 2% tax cap mandated by the Cuomo administration? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than you might think. First, the 2011 tax levy of $380,415 is multiplied by 7/10s of one percent. This is the “tax base growth factor” which is based on the inflation rate calculated by the State. This new tax base figure comes to $383,115. Multiply this by 2% and the tax levy allowable in 2012 is $390,778. Add to this “the tax levy necessary for pension contribution expenditures caused by growth in the [pension] system average… in excess of 2%.” For Berlin this amounts to $5,078 that can be added to the tax levy for 2012. The total tax levy allowed by State law for Berlin in 2012 amounts to $395,854, which is an approximately 4.1% tax levy increase for the Town. The Fire District held its tax levy increase to 2%. Together the total tax levy increase is 3.3%.
In dollars, this tax levy increase amounts to a $24.80 property tax increase for a property assessed at $50,000.
And, it is important to keep the tax base as high as the law allows because there is a cumulative effect to calculations in future years. So, a Town’s financial position can be compromised if it appropriates less than the amount that would result in a 2% tax levy increase after the various upward adjustments or if it uses too much of its fund balance to offset the tax levy base. So Jaeger’s budget aims to hit the target of $395,854 in appropriations.
Clearly, the 2% tax cap restriction is not appropriate for a town like Berlin which has, through judicious spending and resourcefulness, had tax levy increases for the last several years that were lower than 2%. The tax cap is meant for the profligate municipalities and Fire Districts in the state. Seeming to have the opposite effect from what was intended, the 2% tax cap will likely guarantee that property taxes in Berlin will rise at a faster rate than they would have without the law.
However, this year Berlin may need all the money it is allowed to appropriate. A public hearing on the 2012 budget was held at 7 pm before Thursday’s meeting. During that hearing Supervisor Jaeger summarized the changes over the prior year’s budget and described the areas that will add the bulk of the budget increases. The General Fund expenditures are budgeted to decrease by 18.5% with only $19,971 to be raised by taxes. The Highway budget shows an increase of 5.7% with $369,383 to be raised by taxes, primarily because there are many fewer revenue streams for the Highway Fund. Almost all the increases are caused by the projected increase in fuel and employee benefits. The projected increase in employee benefits, which includes health insurance, comes to 19.3% in the General Fund and 19.9% in the Highway Fund.
Even though the Town’s tax levy increase seems high at 4.1%, in actual dollars the increase in the expenditures in 2012 over 2011 amounts to $15,439. This is gum money in many larger Towns.
The Board voted unanimously to publish bid requests for a red, one ton diesel pick-up truck to replace the 4 year old pick-up with 89,000 miles on it, most of which were plowing miles. Highway Superintendent Winn said that he thinks that the old truck will need thousands of dollars of repairs this year, and he wants to trade it in now to get the most value out of it. There is $19,000 in the current year’s budget that was appropriated for installment payments on a tandem axle plow and dump truck, a purchase which did not materialize this year. With the money in the budget, the trade-in money, the municipal discount and a $5,000 factory rebate, Winn expects that the new truck will be paid for in full without financing. The sander on the current truck will be transferred, but the plow frame may be of a different size and that may cost some additional money.
Winn said that FEMA reimburses time and a half for emergency repairs of storm damage and reimburses permanent work necessitated by the late August storm damage, like ditching and putting riprap in the river, completely. At this meeting the bills related to storm damage repair were voted by the Board to be paid. They amounted to about $25,000. “It will seem like Christmas,” said Winn of the money that FEMA will reimburse the Town. He has submitted all the paperwork and has obtained all the necessary DEC permits for FEMA reimbursement.
Little Hoosic River Projects
Two bids were received for the hauling and seeding of the Little Hoosic River. Large areas of the river bank were eroded by the rushing storm water, and the material was deposited downstream. Four projects, supervised by Len Clapp, President of the Little Hoosic Watershed Association, will restore the river bank. Town Clerk Anne Maxon had left the bids at her house/office and exited the Town Hall to go get them saying, “Talk amongst yourselves.” She returned. One bid was made by Pat Sweeney Excavating to do only sections 2 through 4 along the river for a total of $49,000. The other bid was made by S.M. Gallivan LLC for work only on the first section for $23,000. How coincidentally neat!
There was some debate as to whether all the permits for the work were filed in a timely manner and whether reimbursement by FEMA is guaranteed. At last month’s meeting Clapp said that FEMA would reimburse all the work. But he was not present at Thursday’s meeting to confirm that everything was in order and that the FEMA reimbursements would be forthcoming. The total cost of the project is $72,000 which the Town cannot afford so the Board tabled the bids until it could get confirmation that the projects are reimbursable.
Hoosick River Hardwoods Sold
Jaeger said that he had received a news release from S.M. Gallivan LLC announcing that it had purchased Hoosick River Hardwoods LLC, formerly known as Cowee Forest Products. The new company, Green Renewable, Inc., will keep Tara Cinney Fisher as General Manager and may hire five more people by the end of the year and maybe 12 more in 2012, Jaeger said. “It’s pretty exciting to have a business back in Town; we wish him well.” Jaeger said. “It’s kind of neat.”
Jaeger reported that the Town Justices have arranged to remove and refurbish the radiators in the Town Hall. They will be sandblasted, repainted and reinstalled. The work will begin on November 18 and be finished by Thanksgiving. The Town Hall will be cold so if any meetings are needed the Watipi Building will be used, Jaeger said.
Due to space considerations in the paper edition the rest of the Berlin Town meeting will be reported next week.