The Town of Bethlehem’s 2015 agenda will be familiar to most residents, as Supervisor John Clarkson pledges to focus his efforts on projects carried over from last year.
Clarkson’s fourth State of the Town address was delivered the morning of Thursday, Jan. 8. In the speech, he focused on many of the positive outcomes from last year’s programs and initiatives, while continuing to remark on the town’s good financial standing.
“This is a theme, as you know, throughout life,” said Clarkson. “There’s nothing new in the world. What has been, will be again.”
The supervisor said repetition should not be seen as a bad thing, since the town “has a good record of goal-setting and planning.” The town was the recipient of several grants last year, including a $200,000 microenterprise grant, along with being recognized for its website.
Clarkson said his goal is to continue to make progress on initiatives the town has been working on for years. One of the biggest achievements from last year was the announcement Monolith Solar would be the first technology company to establish themselves within the Vista Technology Campus.
“They will bring jobs and hopefully start a trend at Vista,” said Clarkson. However, he said the full potential of the campus cannot be realized until more tech companies and office space is occupied. That will be a continued effort in the coming year, along with other economic development initiatives.
The town will be going forward with the Delaware Avenue Enhancement project, after a grant was received last year. A public-private committee has been working over the past few months to work on beautification efforts and give input on how the money should be spent. The project will revitalize Delaware Avenue and hopefully bring more customers from Albany to Delmar businesses.
Clarkson also spoke highly of the town’s Industrial Development Agency and thanked them for their efforts to promote transparency by now webcasting meetings. He referenced some of the criticisms the IDA has recently received, but referenced recent reports of the Colonie IDA being scrutinized by the state for budget report discrepancies.
“When I hear criticisms of the IDA, I say, ‘what is the real record?’” said Clarkson. “This is a group that does its homework, that puts out an economic analysis of every thing they endorse, that holds their public hearings on the web and broadcasts their regular meetings. This is a model agency.”
Revitalizing the town’s infrastructure will also be a major effort in the coming year, as sewer work continues and the town looks for additional sidewalk improvements. Last year, efficiency grant money was used to install the first phase of a new sidewalk on Feura Bush Road.
But the year was not without its controversies.
Clarkson noted how a group of residents and some business owners were unhappy with last year’s reassessments, but said it was needed to make sure the town was assessed at full-market value. Something, he said, that was overdue by several years. He reported that about 60 percent of homeowners had lower tax bills for 2014.
“Sometimes doing the right and responsible thing is easy, and sometimes it’s not easy,” said Clarkson. “Sometimes it’s very difficult.”
The town will continue to consolidate some positions and offices in order to find savings. Clarkson said town officials will also be looking to cutback on overtime usage in the police, highway and sewer departments.
Councilwoman Joann Dawson admired the supervisor’s speech, feeling he did a good job giving an overview of the past year, while looking towards the future.
“We’re very fortunate in this town, and we all realize that,” said Dawson. “But we also know that if we become complacent and start sitting back and saying everything’s fine, we’re going to become lazy and find ourselves one morning with problems on our hands.”
Dawson said she felt infrastructure maintenance will be the biggest issue for the coming year as the town looks to implement the master plan, along with making water and sewer updates. “Those are quality of life issues, unfortunately they’re also the most expensive.”
Councilman and Democratic Chairman Jeffrey Kuhn called the speech comprehensive, and said Clarkson did a good job with addressing the issues cared about by residents.
“On a year-to-year basis, we are constantly doing everything we can to make the town government function as efficiently as possible from a fiscal perspective,” said Kuhn. “That’s an ongoing effort that often has a variety of different facets, whether it’s dealing with overtime issues, or economic development to help the town raise more money.”