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Porter Board reviews budget, debates wind energy

by jmaloni
Fri, Nov 11th 2011 07:25 pm

by Terry Duffy

Town of Porter Board members ended up having a lively session Monday night at Town Hall, one that stretched well beyond an hour - lengthy by Porter standards.

Intended to be a public hearing focused on the budget, that item was soon addressed and board discussions then veered off to another lingering matter - wind energy projects being considered by the town at two locations. And that's where it got interesting.

Focusing on the budget first, Supervisor Mert Wiepert presented residents a clearer picture on the town's spending plan for 2012. Briefly put, the town is faring favorably on its financials, and does not have to contend with considering a 2 percent state property tax cap override, as does Lewiston.

"A lot of work has gone into this budget this year," said Wiepert as he went on to detail the $4.471 million plan.

Highlights of the budget include: General Fund A, $1.086 million; General Fund B, $1.165 million; Highway DA Townwide, $1,430; Highway DB Outside Village, $938,761; Water Department, $378,622; Sewer Department, $373,178; Capital Projects, $0; and Porter on the Lake, $20,064.

Under special districts: Town of Porter lighting (Ransomville light), $9,500; Porter lateral (west sewer district), $6,925; Ransomville Fire, $257,495; Youngstown Fire, $161,200; Lakeshore Improvement Areas I, II and III, $52,300; Water Line Upgrade, $16,071; and Mallory/Groveland Road Project (funded by residents), $3,965.

Still more highlights are the following salaries contained in the plan: town supervisor, $29,979; town justices (two) $16,657; town councilmen (four) $7,165; town clerk, $37,480; town superintendent of highways, $35,042; and town tax collector, $5,763.

As the hearing got under way, Wiepert said that, like other towns, Porter has had to contend with increased costs, including employee health and employee retirement, which increased 37 percent for this year. He also said the town is adding a full-time highway employee to help offset a number of duties that had been carried out by others, including maintenance at Porter on the Lake town park and at Town Hall. But he added that unlike other communities, "We've kept the budget within 2 percent."

A far as its cost to property owners, the town is proposing a tax increase from $1.75 per thousand of assessed valuation to $1.837 per thousand, an increase of roughly nine cents.

Limited comments were heard from the public during the actual hearing itself, other than an explanation by Greg Robertson of the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Co. regarding an increase in YVFC in-office costs. He told the board the company has been doing increased monitoring of its operations in order to prevent cost control problems experienced by other fire companies. Soon after, the board, on a motion by Council members Tom Baia and Jeff Baker, went on to unanimously approve the $161,200 appropriation, which is funded 100 by taxation. The town's share for funding would be 62 percent; the Village of Youngstown share is 38 percent.

Following an offer by Town Historian Sue Dietz to return her salary to the town - one which Wiepert flatly rejected - the hearing closed. But the board opted to leave the comment period on the budget open and delay adoption of the plan until its Nov. 14 regular meeting.

Soon after, discussion turned to a lingering and more contentious issue - wind energy projects Porter has been considering for the past several months at the town Highway Department garage site on Braley Road, and on U.S. Army property used by the town on Balmer Road, across from CWM Chemical Services LLC. The projects, funding of which would come via New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant money of $320,000, would see two 10 kwh units installed at each location.

The town Planning Board participated in a public hearing last week on consideration of the wind energy projects at the two sites, where heated opposition was heard from residents surrounding the Braley Road site and no opposition heard for Balmer. The hearing was held as the town would need to consider a variance as well as conduct environmental assessments for the projects to proceed.

Planning Board members told of Braley Road residents' complete displeasure with the wind energy plan, mainly over aesthetics and sight and fall line issues and the potential for damage to properties should the structures fall. Town Attorney Mike Dowd, who was at the session, said the town would have to contend with conducting costly engineering analysis and improvements at the Braley site to enable that project to happen.

And Dowd cast doubt that that measure would be enough. "Aesthetic impacts could linger," said Dowd.

Dowd added that should the town opt to proceed with engineering at either site, and then elect to not build the units, it could be held liable for costs. "The town would be faced with engineering costs to adapt and improve on the Braley Road site," said Dowd, adding that NYSERDA funds wouldn't cover it.

Planning Board members cast further doubt on the viability of the town proceeding with the Braley site. They spoke of concerns raised from residents at the session that included fall zone issues, impacts on neighboring properties, including to fuel tanks and a creek, and the aforementioned aesthetics. "It's cut and dry ... the residents don't want it," attending Planning Board members told the board. "We're uncomfortable with this ... we have questions," they continued, telling the board that as is, the Planning Board would be unlikely to endorse the Braley Road wind energy option.

Planning reps did respond more favorably to the Balmer Road site, saying that no concerns were voiced and that the government-owned location the town has been utilizing would be more appropriate. Dowd informed the board that his office is awaiting further input from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has oversight of the Balmer Road location.

Board members did discuss other alternatives to the Braley site, including using Porter on the Lake park as a possible option. That one was flat-out rejected, as they felt that they would face stiff opposition from the lake park neighbors.

The matter was left with the Town Board voting to approve formally withdrawing the Braley Road site from consideration and leaving the Balmer Road option open. On a vote, Wiepert and members Larry White, Baker and Baia all voted in favor to remove the Braley Road site and have the Balmer option remain open. Board member Joe Fleckenstein abstained.

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