Capital improvements to Niskayuna's parks and facilities, more stringent policies for the use of contingency funds and support of town employees through policy direction are among priorities for 2019 announced this week by the four Democrat members of the Niskayuna Town Board.
The Democrats - Denise Murphy McGraw, John Della Ratta, Lisa Weber and Bill McPartlon - also listed what they described as accomplishments for 2018.
Changes made to Supervisor Yasmine Syed's proposed initial town budget, in which a key issue was the proposed use of the town's contingency fund, were high on the list. The revised budget that was approved unanimously by the board in November did not include a tax increase.
No town programs were eliminated in the budget. Some controversial ideas listed in an early version of the financial document - such as the elimination of the current town pool concession operation and replacement with privatization, an increase in pool entrance fees and the elimination of funding for public access television - later were abandoned.
"We enacted a very sound budget that held the line on taxes this past year thanks to the supervisor’s willingness to negotiate a fiscal plan vastly better than the one she initially presented," said Board Member Denise Murphy McGraw, the longest-tenured Democrat, in a statement issued by party members. "Also, we were able to negotiate fair contracts for our police and water and sewer employees. I look forward to moving ahead in the same collaborative manner in 2019.”
Board Member John Della Ratta said board members will view issues "through the lens of the best interest of the taxpayers" during the coming year.
"Last year, there were times we agreed with the supervisor and times we didn’t," Della Ratta said in the statement. "We’re not always going to agree, but that’s okay."
Della Ratta said the board "pushed back" on the hire of a bookkeeper. He said Democrats also believe a committee led by the town historian working on town history is better than a single historian. The quartet questioned a no-bid, $1 a year contract to an out-of-town manager to run a proposed farmers market and called for greater community input on the matter.
"I am hopeful town leaders will agree more often than we disagree in the New Year," Della Ratta said.
Democrats also said their accomplishments included increased use of solar energy, use of the town's new waste water treatment plant and - with permission granted for construction of a new cell phone tower on WTRY Road - a move toward the improvement of cell phone service in Niskayuna.
Democrats also said their actions saved the Niskayuna High School Youth Court program from budget elimination, added funding for a town grant writer and ensured family-friendly programs would continue.
In addition to improvements to parks and facilities and policies for contingency money, Democratic board members said they hope to look into training opportunities for town workers and a review of salaries for full-time employees, with a goal to achieve parity.
Party members also hope to attract additional internet and cable television providers to the town.
McPartlon believes 2018 was a successful year for the entire board.
“We all have different approaches and opinions, yet we proved we can govern well while disagreeing occasionally," he said in the statement. "A great deal was accomplished on behalf of the taxpayers of the town.”
Board member Lisa Weber echoed McPartlon's statements.
"From investments in infrastructure and public safety, to a commitment to quality community programs at family-friendly price points, I am looking forward to moving ahead on an agenda focused on all the residents of Niskayuna," she said in the statement.