Rochester board meets, kittens nap

ACCORD –The Rochester Town Council held a meeting on June 26 which was so short that the kittens in town hall barely woke up for the proceedings. The only formal action taken by the board was approving the monthly invoices for payment, which is typically done at these end-of-month workshop meetings. None of the board’s ongoing projects warranted much in the way of discussion among the three board members present. Deputy Supervisor Tony Spano was joined by council members Sherry Chachkin and Brian Drabkin for the meeting. Supervisor Carl Chipman was out of the area attending a training session on disaster preparedness, and councilman Tavi Cilenti has not been in regular attendance for many months, as he has family matters requiring his attention out of state.

Two kittens, 4 months old, in a cage awaiting adoption in from the Town of Rochester dog control officer.

These kittens, in search of a new home, sincerely hope that it will be more interesting than a summer town board meeting.

A brief discussion about proposed changes to various town fees occurred; Councilman Drabkin indicated that it was his preference that fees for reclaiming lost dogs not be increased precipitously, as this might result in the pets not being claimed at all.

Spano reported that the zoning code changes have not yet been codified, or phrased in standard legal form by the town’s attorney. When that task is complete, a public hearing on the changes will be scheduled.

Constable Richard Miller reported that his department continues to conduct police trainings, which continue to bring in revenue for the town. The next round of classes begins July 22, and will bring another $3,000 into town coffers. Miller said that the constable program has already made $30,000.

The next meeting of the board will be on July 3 at the usual time, 7 p.m. Board members discussed moving the meeting in consideration of Independence Day, but opted not to do so since, in Drabkin’s words, “There’s nothing controversial on the agenda, and no public hearings scheduled.”

Local sourcing, housing agreements finalized for Williams Lake Project

ROSENDALE –Two key agreements — one laying out local sourcing of materials and labor, the other providing for a number of more affordable rental untils on the property — were approved by the Rosendale Town Council at its May 14 meeting. The agreements were required as part of the master development plan for the site, where the old hotel is being razed and replaced with new state-of-the-art hotel and spa facilities as well as a number of townhouses and several hundred more acres being locked into permanent conservation easements.

Ken Hassett continued to speak highly of the local sourcing agreement, saying, “This is my area of expertise, and I think this will be a model throughout the state.” The plan sets up three tiers of “local” which the Williams Lake Project will give priority to when considering bids: within Rosendale, in Ulster County, and in the Hudson Valley. Bids that are slightly more expensive than one coming from a less local source will be given priority consideration.

Councilmembers Jen Metzger and Chris Pryslopski had a number of questions and suggestions about each of the agreements, each of which project manager Tim Allred addressed in turn, mostly by explaining why no further suggestions would be included, usually because they would introduce inflexibility into the process. For example, Pryslopski wanted to specify the Dispute Resolution center for arbitration with tenants, but since the housing agreement will be in place for 25 years, its administrators may have their hands tied if that particular service doesn’t last as long.

Other suggestions which were politely rejected including defining a living wage and how a database of local contractors might be managed. Allred did confirm that local food sourcing was in the works, with Rondout Valley farms being given preference in the resort’s kitchens.

Finally, Bob Ryan had had enough. “We don’t have a dime invested in this company, and we’re awfully critical,” he told his fellow board members. “I think we are just going overboard.”

 Beltane pronounced a success

Councilman Hassett said that a memo from Police Chief Perry Soule described this year’s Beltane festival in positive terms. “[It] portrays a successful model to move forward,” he said. “Chief Soule was pleased to work with the staff, and said it was a good event that provided for the safety of participants.”

The permit for the festival was in doubt, as the chief had concerns about safety after a drug-related incident took place during Forest Fest, an event which was also held at Stone Mountain Farm, albeit under different organizers. The Beltane staff worked feverishly with town and police representatives to come up with a plan that would comply with the town’s code on festivals, and satisfy the allay the chief’s misgivings. Apparently, those efforts were successful.

“I’m not against any of these parties,” said councilman Bob Ryan, who was outspoken about the importance of a sound safety plan for Beltane. “I want to make sure everybody’s safe.”

Energy audit for sewer plant planned

Jessica Barry of the town’s environmental commission briefed the board on how to arrange an audit of the Rosendale sewer plant’s energy usage. NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, has money available to pay for such audits, as it does with residences, but the entire process is more complex and more expensive to complete.

“First is a scoping session with a preapproved contractor,” Barry told the board. That session, which is free, will result in the contractor providing a price for the full energy assessment, for which NYSERDA will pick up half the tab. “We recommend you do scoping sessions with 2-3 contractors,” and include other facilities, such as the new municipal center, she added. The full assessment will result in a plan for improving energy efficiency, but where the money to pay for that work would come from wasn’t immediately clear.

While Metzger was in favor of auditing all town facilities to identify energy savings, Supervisor Jeanne Walsh was more reticent.

“We want to stop this cycle of evaluation and just do the work,” she said, citing a similar audit that was done on the sewer treatment plant in 2000, and ultimately resulted in no improvements being made to the facility.

High Falls Water District considers new customer

Board members voted to send a letter to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, asking for permission for the High Falls Water District to start selling water to SUNY Ulster. The DEP’s blessing is needed for the plan to move forward, and this step was welcomed by President Donald Katt, because the college is unable to engage in much improvement of existing buildings without a more expansive water supply than its wells can provide.

School board trained on spotting violent tendencies

ACCORD –Trustees of the Rondout Valley Central School District Board of Education were given a training in the use of a “dangerous risk assessment” at their meeting on May 13. Dr. Kevin Smith, a forensic psychiatrist who works with school districts and police departments, provided the training at the request of Superintendent Rosario Agostaro. Smith explained that assessing the potential for dangerous behavior is more effective than attempting to predict specific episodes of violence.

Dr. Kevin Smith uses an acronym, SAD PERSONS, to remember violence risk factors.

Dr. Kevin Smith uses an acronym, SAD PERSONS, to remember violence risk factors.

“Dr. Smith helped us with two very, very severe situations, including one just one day ago,” Agostaro said of the speaker. “That situation ended positively.” He provided more detail to the board later in the meeting, during executive session.

The major factors that increase that potential, Smith told the board, were present in every school shooter since 1992, when data were first collected on the phenomenon. They include categories so broad as to be nearly meaningless in a school setting, such as age range (13-29) and gender (males are ten times as likely to commit violence as females, and are guilty of all mass murders, Smith said). Other risk factors include mental distress, lack of social supports, use (including abuse) of alcohol and other drugs, and a loss of rational thinking from factors ranging from sleep deprivation to adolescent hormones. Previous violent behavior and availability of weapons are also important factors, but some social factors can be even more troubling: a student who has no significant other, including a recent rejection or break-up, and particularly a child with no attachment to any adult, may be headed for trouble.

“A lack of solid attachment to an adult is a very bad prognostic indicator,” Smith told the board.

While some teachers and administrators were concerned that staff might be encouraged to view students as potential problems, the training provides for most with student contact simply to be aware of the risk factors and report them to the school counselor. The rational is that not every risk factor will present itself to any one observer, and a more highly-trained individual would be better prepared to evaluate the entire picture.

A number of reasons were given for the higher propensity for violence among 13-29-year-olds. Smith explained that their wisdom does not develop as quickly as their bodies, and that hormones peak during these years as the person matures. He referred to the factors collectively as a “trifecta of violent behavior.” He also reminded the board that violent tendencies may also be turned inward, through self-harm and suicide attempts, but that the factors remain largely the same.

Exit poll on tax exemptions discussed

In February, the board considered whether or not to offer new tax exemptions to veterans and the disabled. A number of veterans and a handful of disabled people spoke in favor of the state plan, which would be shouldered by the remaining taxpayers. A smaller number of senior citizens were concerned about the impact on their own tax bills. Ultimately, the board decided not to implement either exemption for the coming tax year, and instead discussed using an exit poll to find out what a wider swath of residents thought about the plans.

One of the challenges is that it’s impossible to predict how these exemptions might play out for other taxpayers. There are records of veterans in the district who have taken a similar exemption from county and town taxes, but with the school bill being so much higher, more veterans may choose to take the exemption. With no similar program for people with disabilities, there’s no way to know how many might take that exemption, should it be offered.

Board members disagreed about how to present the information to voters. For one, as James Ayers pointed out, an effort should have been made to educate the public via local newspapers or the district’s budget newsletter. “I’m disappointed that we failed to educate the public as we agreed,” Ayers said. “We should feel shame on that.”

James Blair pushed for more detail in information available at the polls, but in a “plain language” format that includes estimates of how much the exemptions might cost those not taking them. Business manager Debra Kosinski said that, given the unknowns, such a range would be “difficult to pin down.”

For his part, Michael Redmond argued for less detail, but suggested that the entire text of the proposals also be made available. Rebecca Versace wondered if there might be a way to find out if the poll respondents were at all familiar with the proposed exemptions, which might give board members a means to weigh the data.

The suggestion of a simpler, plainer series of questions was agreed upon, with the district’s web site and Facebook page being suggested as places to post the additional information. As of this writing, no such additional information has been posted.

Solar’s future darkens

Speaking in advance of a meeting of the facilities committee, Redmond said, “It looks like solar will not be profitable” for the district, and that in his opinion, “it’s a dead issue.” He was referring to a proposal to spend a portion of money received from NYSERDA on solar panels on top of the high school. The money was a rebate for energy-efficient design elements included in the renovation project undertaken last decade, and using some of it for solar panels would have resulted in additional rebates on top of whatever energy savings the array would provide.

Board nearly ready to vote on road names

That renovation project was part of a larger capital plan for the central campus, and there still remains one nagging item of business from that time: naming the campus roads. A number of names were proposed during and shortly after the bond was approved by the voters, but none of them received enough support to be approved. Official road names could be incorporated into GPS data, allowing emergency personnel and school visitors alike to find their way around more easily.

The current proposal is to name the roads First, Second, and Third streets. Board president Breanna Costello declined to call a vote, citing the lack of a formal resolution to approve.

Shawn Farrell Remembered in Rondout Valley

ACCORD –Sergeant Shawn Farrell was buried in Krumville Cemetery on May 8, after a funeral with full military honors was attended by hundreds at SkateTime 209. The reactions by some at Farrell’s alma mater, Rondout Valley, where the 24-year-old graduated in 2008, show how he impacted this community.

Nick Bodnar knew Farrell largely through his work on stage crew and the AV squad. “As a teacher you always remember certain ones,” Bodnaro said. “Sometimes I have trouble putting names to their faces, but not with Shawn.” He described him as a very helpful person, willing to drop whatever he was doing to assist someone in need. “He and another student trained me on stage crew my first year here [after moving from the middle school], and helped me get my footing in the high school.”

The technology teacher said Farrell “was well-liked by the teachers,” and considered a good student. He was expressing an interest in joining the military when he was as young at sixteen, Bodnar added. “Maybe 9/11 was one of his triggers, but I don’t know personally.” Farrell would have been around 11 at the time of the September 11 attacks.

Superintendent Rosario Agostaro joined the district after Farrell had graduated, but was nevertheless visibly affected when speaking about the funeral. At the Rondout Valley school board meeting on May 13, Agostaro described how some 1400 students lined the streets of the campus to pay their respects as the funeral motorcade drove by. “For 40 minutes, you could hear a pin drop,” the superintendent recalled, an audible catch in his voice. “I was so proud of them.”

In an interview the day after the funeral, Agostaro said, “Yesteday I went to pay my respects, and I’ve never been in a long this long in my life. People just wanted to give as much as they could, although there’s not much to do other than being there. Our hearts were pretty heavy, not only for his passing, but his young bride, his parents, siblings, any of his friends . . . nothing can be said other than thank you for his service.”

The superintendent said he was “struck by how tight a community we really have. . . . I’m not an emotional person, but I was pretty teary-eyed.” He also acknowledged the enduring significance of Farrell’s death, saying, “For our young men and women . . . this was a harsh reminder that there is an incredible price we pay for freedom in our country.”

Congressman Chris Gibson advised last night that he believes Farrell will receive the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously. Himself a veteran, Gibson has met with Farrell’s widow and family, and said, “Our office is doing all we can to help the family.”