BALLSTON SPA – Ballston Spa National Bank is organizing its annual holiday food drive to help local families this season. [Read more…]
BALLSTON SPA — Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, Inc. (EOC) helps families celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and has started taking applications for Thanksgiving Baskets as of Wednesday, Oct. 1. [Read more…]
BALLSTON SPA — Despite past differences with village government, the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (EOC) seems to be settling nicely into the Ballston Spa community.
The EOC’s new location is in the former Hayner House at 30 Bath Street in Ballston Spa.
In the past, there was an on-going court battle between EOC and the village over the right of the EOC to move their headquarters to Ballston Spa.
In January of this year the state Supreme Court ruled the EOC had a right to move to Ballston Spa because it provides a “vital human service”.
EOC Executive Director Julie Hoxsie is optimistic for a good relationship between EOC and the village, especially local businesses that they are visiting, as well as others they plan to visit in the future. [Read more…]
Village Zoning Board of Appeals Denies EOC
BY BARBARA COOK
As the Ballston Spa Zoning Board of Appeals met before a packed house Wednesday, July 25 about 50 people crowded into the village offices, hoping to add their voices to those in favor or against the relocation of a human services agency to the village.
The board was interpreting a portion of the village code to determine whether the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council would meet zoning requirements if it purchased the Hayner House at 31-39 Bath St. The building, formerly used as offices for Ballston Spa National Bank, has been vacant for more than a year.
In 2010 the EOC had attempted to purchase another property in the village, the former Manna’s Restaurant. At that time, the village code enforcement officer, Randy Lloyd, determined that based on his knowledge, the agency provided “vital human services.” The determination was crucial because both the Manna’s and Hayner House properties are within the Central Business District of the village, which generally requires retail operations on the first floor.
One allowed non-retail use in the Ballston Spa Zoning Code is for organizations that provide “vital human services,” defined as “(a)ny health-related services such as doctors, dentists, physical therapists, hair and skin care and other necessary human services.”
In 2012, when the EOC entered negotiations to purchase Hayner House, Lloyd changed his determination and said the EOC does not meet the definition of “vital human services” according to the zoning code.
Although not required and not its usual practice, the Zoning Board of Appeals scheduled a public hearing before deciding on the interpretation. Those in favor of the EOC’s relocation asserted that its services are vital and necessary to the community.
Among its services are the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program (WIC), weatherization for homeowners and renters, Head Start preschool, and an emergency food and shelter program. The EOC receives 94 percent of its funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, as well as other federal agencies.
“In a total population,” asked Zoning Board of Appeals member Gregg Thomas, “it’s only a select group of individuals that qualify for these programs?”
EOC attorney Mark Schachner said that although there are income thresholds for the programs, even he was surprised at how many people could qualify. He turned the floor over to EOC Executive Director Julie Hoxsie for a more detailed answer.
According to the most recent census figures, Hoxsie explained, the median household income in Ballston Spa is $42,000. She said as a median, that figure indicates that more than half the families in the village would qualify for some type of EOC services, like WIC and weatherization, which have higher income requirements.
“And no money is exchanged for the services?” Thomas inquired.
Hoxsie said the weatherization program requires financial contributions from landlords whose tenants are income-eligible for the service, but that is the only one that requires any form of payment.
Mayor John Romano explained the financial impact non-profits have on village businesses and residents. Excluding properties owned by the village, there are about 33 tax-exempt properties within the village limits, with a full value assessment of more than $31 million. He said the village taxes under a fractional assessment system, and under that system the value of real property in the village is $19 million, $3 million of which is tax-exempt.
“This equates to village taxpayers, at this point in time, paying an additional 22 percent more in taxes annually or $13.08 per thousand,” Romano said. Under this year’s assessed value, if Hayner House were taken off the tax rolls the taxpayers would bear another $3,823.33. Romano said in the current economic times that would be an unfair burden on the taxpayers.
Romano also said there seemed to be a fundamental difference in interpretation of the definition of “vital human services” between the zoning code and the EOC. In the code, he explained, services are available to every resident in the village and there is an exchange of revenue for them. Since the EOC services are income-based and free of charge, they do not meet that definition.
Some of the public said they would be willing to shoulder the tax burden so the EOC could move to the village, that “it’s the right thing to do” and that many in the village who don’t currently qualify for EOC services could easily slip into eligibility through a job loss. They also said that the 40 employees of EOC would be eating and shopping in the village, thus investing money in the community.
However, others pointed out that the EOC services would still be available somewhere, even if it didn’t move into Hayner House. They also said that there aren’t a lot of properties in the Central Business District, so the ones there are should be preserved for business.
As the board deliberated, Chairman Kevin McDonough reminded them that they were not there to weigh the merits of the EOC, but to interpret the zoning regulations. He stressed that the interpretation would apply to every single building in the Central Business District, not just the one under consideration.
“Why can’t they ask for a special permit?” asked board member Edward Fernau.
“You know that we don’t coach applicants,” McDonough answered. He said he had consulted with every member of the board that passed the legislation, and their intent had not been to allow not-for-profits in the Central Business District.
The board voted 4-1 against the motion to apply the interpretation of vital human services to the EOC, with Fernau the only vote in favor. McDonough declared the matter closed before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“We do not believe that the ZBA lawfully denied our appeal,” Schachner said Tuesday. He could not comment on the EOC’s next move.