Colonie Center mall was abuzz quite early on Friday, Jan. 14, where residents, business members and members of the educational community attended the Colonie Chamber Commerce sponsored State of the Town event.
The event, which began at 7:30 a.m., featured several speakers including Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan, Chief of Police Steve Heider, Planning and Economic Development Director Joe LaCivita, South Colonie School Superintendent Jon Buhner, North Colonie School Superintendent Joe Corr, Capital District Transportation Authority CEO Carm Basile and Colonie Center General Manager Ken Huge.
All of them spoke about what was done in the past year in the Town of Colonie and what they hope to do in the coming year.
Mahan discussed the difficulties of reducing the town’s budget this year from $93 million to $92 million, but without skimping on any of the services provided.
We all know the effects of one of the worst economies since the Great Depression, she said. `But we have been able to stay on course, move forward, and certainly I hope that you all see we have been providing the excellent quality of services you’ve all become accustomed to.`
She added that a lot of the financial strategies laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State speech on Jan. 5 have been used by the town of Colonie for the past three years.
There was a reduction over the past few years in sales tax and mortgage tax, Mahan said, but she said things are starting to look up.
`We are starting to slowly see that increase again,` she said. `That’s a good sign. We’re hoping that will continue.`
She also touched on the contributions the town is mandated by the state to make to pension funds in 2011-2012, which she said could reach up to 39 percent of the total budget.
`That’s something we’ll have to meet, as well as the rising health costs, which I’m sure all of you are facing some of those same things,` she said. `But we are well positioned and will do our best to meet those challenges.`
With all of the services the town provides, Mahan said that public safety is one of the most important, and Heider said the supervisor was a great partner to the police department. Coming off being awarded the honor of being the safest city in the nation by a CQ Press study in November, Heider credited community participation as a huge component of the department’s success.
He thanked Mahan and the Town Board for helping the department be at full strength and maintain the many programs they put on, such as the Youth Court and Police Explorers program.
`We truly believe in a community policing model, where we can’t have a patrol car on every street corner and can’t have a beat cop in every neighborhood; we’re far too spread out for that type of policing,` he said. `What we hope is that our residents, our businesses and the people who travel throughout Colonie during the course of every single day, hear our message and carry that message home and make sure that they don’t become victims, which in facts keeps crime at a standstill.`
A nod was also given to LaCivita for the Planning and Economic Development’s cooperation with the Highway Traffic and Safety Committee in making sure the town stays traffic friendly and still allowing more new businesses to move in.
LaCivita said the town’s population of nearly 80,000 doubles during the day with the amount of traffic that travels through to work in the businesses located in Colonie. He said there have been many changes made to the department since 2008 when he first took over with the Town Designated Engineering process.
Having a town-designated engineer has reduced the amount of time it takes to complete a project in Colonie. When it typically took a couple of years to complete a project, it now takes from eight weeks to as long as nine months.
`We knew in order to retain businesses that we needed to move at the speed of business and not at the speed of the government that we typically enjoyed here and most other municipalities in the area enjoy around the state of New York,` he said. `We knew we had to move fast in order to retain and attract businesses to the town.`
He cited the success of Fresh Market as being one of the town’s greatest business developments. The grocery store was completed in nine months.
Global Foundries in Malta was cited as a benchmark for other areas in the Capital District looking to bring in high-tech businesses, and LaCivita said the town is looking to redevelop the Starlite Music Theater with a new high-tech office complex with a local developer.
`It goes on behind the scenes until we can make that big splash of an announcement like we did with the Fresh Market,` he said. `The Fresh Market would have never come to the Town of Colonie had we not been proactive and changed some of the development processes here in the town.`
Along with mentioning viewing the past practices of the town’s Industrial Development Agency and looking to see what types of incentives will attract new businesses, LaCivita said the department is looking at revamping the town’s website to tout its successes in the past few years.
`We’re looking at a new marketing strategy with doing a progressive web site telling us all of the successes and putting those successes on the web site,` he said. `Working with you, the developers, the real estate people and other businesses along the way to help us retool the town and to help us get that marketing campaign out to say the town is open for business.`
Following the theme of shared services and shared goals, Superintendents Joseph Corr of the North Colonie School District and Jon Bunher of South Colonie School District did a joint presentation on how both of their districts are working together now more than ever before.
Corr stressed the importance of getting a college degree in these troubling economic times and said that both districts are working hard to make sure its students are well equipped for higher education. Buhner added that both districts have a graduation rate higher than 90 percent.
`We understand what our role is, and we know how important our work is going to be, and we’re working very closely with some of our community colleges trying to track and prepare what training and job opportunities there will be for our kids,` he said. `Trying to make sure it aligns with our content and curriculum early.`
Among topics such as high levels of parental involvements, a healthy police presence in each district and also interaction with the community, Buhner said extracurricular activities such as the Safe Schools Committee, fosters team building.
The committee features North Colonie and South Colonie students working together towards better school safety protocols for each district and to make sure they are similar so the EMS, police and fire departments know how to act.
`If we ever have a situation where we’re going to need medical help or any kind of help at the districts that all the schools are sort of on the same page,` Buhner said.
`There is terrific collaboration in the town of Colonie, and as a person who came from outside the area three years ago, I’ve been very impressed with that.`
With Colonie located at the center of the Capital District, Basile spoke about his collaboration with the town of Colonie and emphasized that he never works alone as he communicates with the police department, the fire department and the school districts.
Especially in the past couple of weeks, he said the Division of Highway Department was needed to help keep the roads clear with snowplowing.
`We want to be a part of the community and we need to be a part of the community in order to be successful,` he said.
Huge closed the session saying there was good signs during the holidays as traffic was up in the mall but said those results won’t be known until a couple of weeks.
With help from members of the community and assistance from the Colonie police in ensuring a safe shopping experience, he said the holiday shopping experience was a success.
`This is a mini-community,` he said. `We couldn’t do it without the partnership of all the different stores, all of the associates and all of the managers and then the cooperation from the community.`
To watch video of the event, visit Spotlight’s YouTube Channel,