Niskayuna recreation facility dispute leads to accusations

Thursday, April 19, 2012
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— A controversial proposal to build an indoor recreation facility at Blatnick Park and pay for it in part through borrowing has now led to allegations that the town supervisor has put pressure on at least one opponent to stop publicly disputing the measure.

Also this week, board member Jonathan McKinney, an opponent of the project, said that if the Town Board approves issuing a bond, he will help organize a petition effort to put the issue to town voters directly through a permissive referendum.

Town Supervisor Joe Landry responded Wednesday, denying the allegations that he put pressure on Jacqueline Skolnik, saying he never said such a thing and that any suggestions he did were inaccurate.

Regarding a push for a permissive referendum, Landry noted that any such bond vote can be petitioned to a referendum. If that happened here, he would advocate for passing it.

Skolnik is a town resident and property committee chair for ECOS The Environmental Clearinghouse. ECOS has been working for several years to move into the town’s Grange Hall.

Speaking as a town resident and not as a member of ECOS, Skolnik spoke out against the recreation facility at the Town Board’s March 27 meeting, arguing, to applause from the audience, that the town couldn’t afford to maintain such a facility that would benefit a small percentage of residents.

In an email to McKinney later, Skolnik told McKinney of a meeting Landry later called with her and ECOS President Jon Tobeissen. Skolnik alleges that Landry told them that if she continued to speak out against the athletic facility, there would be people speaking out against the Grange project at future meetings.

“I can assure you that I will not be frightened into silence by Joe Landry’s veiled threats,” she wrote to McKinney.

McKinney released the email recently. Skolnik confirmed the account Wednesday.

“What I wrote to Mr. McKinney did happen,” Skolnik said.

Landry, though, said it didn’t. He said they met, but it was to discuss the Grange project on its own.

“I never said that to Jackie,” he said.

The recreation facility is part of a larger bond proposal that could be voted on by the board as early as May 1. Landry said it won’t be voted on at tonight’s meeting, though a formal agenda was not available.

Still, a crowd is expected tonight, with speakers both for and against the proposal.

The recreation facility is set to cost $650,000 and be put on the site of the old skate park. Of the cost, $200,000 would be provided by the soccer and lacrosse clubs. The town would contribute $100,000 from parkland funds, and $350,000 would be raised through borrowing. The clubs are also expected to kick in $56,000 in in-kind services.

Landry and board member Julie McDonnell have argued the facility is needed in the town, where indoor practice space is scarce. The town’s contributions would be covered by fees charged for using the facility. Usage fees would also cover both operating costs and debt service, with parkland funds available as a backup.

Critics have argued the town can’t afford a facility that they say will only benefit a few. They also note the facility is being talked about after the town imposed a brush pickup fee because it could not afford to pay for the service out of general revenue.

McKinney is opposing the town-led project. He has proposed a different approach using a private vendor. He has also questioned numbers that show fees will be enough to support the project.

Regarding Skolnik’s allegation, McKinney called Landry’s purported comments an “abuse of power.”

McKinney said he has heard from many in the town opposing the plan. He has also put out information on how a permissive referendum can be forced, including how many signatures are needed and who can collect them.

“From every indication, the majority of the people that have spoken out are against it,” he said. “This is a project that will only benefit a few. Even the ones that it will benefit, I question how much they’ll be able to use it.”

Landry noted the permissive referendum may not bring out only those who oppose the project.

“I think that you would see people come out that would support this project,” he said.

 

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