BALLSTON – The Town Board passed two resolutions Thursday authorizing Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak to send a preliminary notice of intent to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets regarding the construction necessary to extend the water district to two proposed subdivisions.
The resolutions were each passed by a vote of three -one, with Board Member Chuck Curtiss voting against each resolution. Board Member John Antoski was not present for the vote. Antoski appeared at the beginning of the meeting to log his vote for the budget, but had to leave immediately afterwards for a family commitment.
The Town Board passed resolutions to extend the water district from a main located on Goode Street to the proposed Katz Planned Unit Development District on Route 50 and a proposed 12 lot subdivision on Goode Street in May.
The Katz PUDD would consist of a three-story building with 23,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, 20 apartments on the second floor and 20 apartments on the third floor. The project also calls for 121 multifamily units in 11 buildings and 57 single family lots.
No construction has taken place to extend the water district due to continued scrutiny from residents and the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, as well as questions from the Ballston Planning Board.
At the Town Board meeting on Sept. 15, Curtiss read aloud a letter that was sent to Supervisor Szczepaniak by the director of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets questioning the legality of the water district extensions given the location of the proposed subdivisions in the agricultural district and a resolution passed by the Town Board in 2004 restricting lateral water connections.
The 2004 resolution limited connections to the water line to agricultural uses and existing non-agricultural uses within both the water and agricultural district.
Attorneys for the developers of the projects were present for Thursday’s meeting to request that the Board pass the resolutions.
Mary Elizabeth Slevin, attorney for the Katz Excavating and Construction, explained that the resolutions were intended to authorize a review of the petition for the extension of the water district and to refer the matter to the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“It was previously reviewed by the Board,” she said. “But we think that there may have been some procedural irregularities. To be overly cautious, we want to go back and really just do it again.”
Following the meeting Slevin said that the developers were acting out of prudence by seeking review from the Department of Agriculture and Markets even though it wasn’t clear if they would have jurisdiction over the projects.
Although the properties are in the agricultural district, since they would not be used for agriculture and the cost for the water extension would be covered by the developers, Slevin explained that seeking review from the Department may not be necessary.
After reviewing the petition, the Department will make a recommendation to the board regarding whether the extension should be approved.
If the Department recommends that the extension not be approved, Slevin said that this would not prevent the board from allowing the water district extension, although the Board would have to address any negative findings from the Department.
When asked why he voted against the resolutions, Curtiss said, “Number one, they are illegal in the Town, they are directly in conflict with our Town’s comprehensive plan and they are directly in conflict with the wording in the water districts that no new water can go to new construction, except for the commercial zone. In the ag district, it is illegal as defined by the county and the state.”
He expressed his disappointment in the continued efforts by developers challenging the Town Board and Planning Board to allow development in the agricultural district.
“Petitioning the board is the only way around it,” he said. “The board, and previous boards, continue to vote exceptions to the rule to let new development effectively sprawl into the ag district, thus taking up farmland.”
In other news, the Board passed the $7 million Town budget proposed for 2017 by a vote of four-one. Board Member William Goslin voted against the budget.
The majority of the budget is covered by sales and mortgage tax revenues, there is no Town or highway tax. The budget will be funded by $4.84 million from non-property tax revenues, $192,500 appropriated from the fund balance and $1.97 million levied in taxes.
The $1.97 million tax levy is for the library, special districts and water in certain districts. The 2017 tax levy is a 4.86 percent increase over the current year’s $1.88 million levy.
Goslin commended Town Budget Officer Jeanette Borthwick for her detailed work on the budget, but raised concerns over the increased expenditures.
Goslin pointed to a 20 percent increase in water costs, the use of fund balance to stay below the state tax cap, increased personnel expenses and a lack of anticipated bonds to fund projects to explain why voted against the budget.
“I’m a conservative. I feel I was brought to this board to keep costs under control for residents,” he explained. “There are residents that I know of in Town that struggle every month to pay their bills. You saw the increases up there, all the special districts, everybody here is in a special district, everybody pays these kinds of moneys.”
Town Board Member Kelly Stewart noted the thought that Goslin had put into his opinion, but expressed her disagreement, citing the methods that Borthwick employed to develop the final budget. To arrive at the 2017 budget proposal, Borthwick organized financial data for the Town from the past five years analyzing past spending and identifying areas of need.
Stewart addressed Goslin’s concerns over the increased water tax levy saying, “There are a lot of people in the Town who don’t get water. About half of our Town still doesn’t get water as a service and they would like to, many of them.”
“From my point of view it is unfair that when we’re spending money to deliver this service to our residents we dip into the funds that should be available to all residents, that are intended to be available to all residents, to pay for any portion at all of a service that is only available to some of our residents,” she said.
After approving the budget, the Board passed a resolution to hold a public hearing on Dec. 13 at 6 p.m. to increase the water rates. The regular Board meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. following the hearing.