Many unionized town employees were among the more-than 50 people to brave the bitter cold Wednesday night for Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle’s fourth annual State of the Town address at the Municipal Center.
And for good reason: The town’s contracts with the Police Benevolent Association, CSEA and the highway union expired at the end of 2012 and haven’t been renewed.
Koetzle addressed the contract issue, as well as the town employees in attendance, during his 30-minute presentation.
“I would be remiss, especially with so many of them in the room, if I didn’t mention the need to settle our contracts with three unions, which is long overdue,” he said. “Our employees deserve a fair contract; our residents deserve an affordable one. We need to come together and find agreement soon.”
Following the meeting, several town employees declined to speak with reporters, citing the ongoing nature of the contract negotiations.
“At this point in time, I feel like it would be premature to make some comments,” said Bob Kirkham, the highway union representative. “Hopefully, collectively, we can get together on the same focus that the supervisor has and come to some resolutions.”
Donna Ringwall of West Glenville said she hoped for the same thing.
“I think it was a good address,” she said. “I hope they can come to an agreement with the contracts and help us with our taxes.”
Her husband, Dave Ringwall, said: “Something has to happen, one way or another.
“It’s not just our town, it’s everywhere, where the towns are going to go bankrupt,” he added. “We can’t have these contracts going the way they are.”
In his address, Koetzle said the town’s finances are healthy, but the current financial model is “unsustainable” and the town needs a new one.
After the presentation, he said employee costs, including health insurance and retirement, are the town’s “biggest concerns” financially.
“Those costs keep going up exponentially over the years,” he said. “At the same time, our revenues are staying stagnant, or even falling. So how do you close that gap? I think that’s what the conversations will be.”
Overall, Koetzle said the state of the town is strong. He talked about economic development opportunities on Freemans Bridge Road with a casino planned across the Mohawk River in Schenectady, and the town’s plans to finish its Town Center project this year by adding new sidewalks and lighting.
He also said 2015 will be the year “we finally make the important investment in our parks.” Maalwyck Park will be developed “to its potential,” he said, and a long-discussed dog park will finally be built on a 32-acre parcel at the corner of Van Buren and Swaggertown roads. The property was willed to the town in 2007 by the late Mark Andersen, who wanted it to be used as a dog park.
He also floated the idea of a walkable trail that would connect the Town Center business district to the town’s parks.
“Ideally, we have a great opportunity to connect our parks from [the Andersen property] on Van Buren Road all the way to and through Indian Meadows on Droms Road,” he said.
Speaking again to town employees, Koetzle asked them to join him in reimagining how services can be delivered. He said the town’s facilities are old and outdated, and need cost-saving, efficient upgrades. He also said the town’s partners may not always be other municipalities, and that “we need to focus on our comparable advantages while finding ways to share more services.”
“We do stand here together at a transformational time in our history and that can be scary for some,” he said in his closing remarks. “But if we join together in service, in a commitment to purpose and we work together for the betterment of our residents — and never stop believing that we are a town worthy of great things — then it can be the most exciting chapter yet.”