May 15, 2005
Edition: Schenectady Albany; Final
WEEK IN REVIEW
ALBANY COUNTY ALBANY - A YMCA fitness trainer was arrested Tuesday and charged with selling cocaine both on the job and from his home. Kevin Thompson, 32, of Albany and Colonie, was charged. His wife, Amy Thompson, 27, an accountant for JLT Insurance, was also charged with the same offenses. Inspector John Burke, who heads the Albany County Sheriff's Department Drug Interdiction Unit, said Thompson would tell customers who called him at work to meet him in front of the YMCA on Washington Avenue. A Guilderland man who has spent much of his life stealing credit cards from gym lockers and selling stolen goods will return to prison, this time in Pennsylvania. Matthew Ward Phelan, 45, was convicted earlier this month of 12 felony counts related to credit card theft in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley region. Phelan stole credit cards from a local YMCA and used them to purchase expensive merchandise such as computers at stores throughout the area, according to Lehigh County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Levan. He then sold the items. Phelan has stolen credit cards from gyms and health clubs throughout the country. In 2000 he was sentenced to five years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $700,000 in restitution to his victims, mostly credit card companies and banks. FULTON COUNTY Fulton County taxpayers would save an estimated $207,000 a year if the 12 town and city assessing departments were consolidated at the county level, officials said Monday. Those savings are based on actual personnel costs and per-parcel state aid that is received on an annual basis. The county also would stand to receive a one-time state aid consolidation incentive payment of about $223,000, Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said. "If it works out, we get paid for a lot of our upfront costs. I look at that as a bonus," Stead said. The numbers and comments came as Stead briefed members of the board of supervisors on the revival of the county assessing initiative. JOHNSTOWN - A plea bargain offer that would have required a former Lexington Center employee to serve six months in jail and five years probation for allegedly taking photos of nude clients was withdrawn this week by Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira. Mark A. Stearns, 50, of Fultonville, declined to accept the plea bargain offered and is now scheduled for trial on June 13. His attorney, Randall E. Kehoe of Albany, said he believes the prosecution's case is weak and he is looking forward to an acquittal. MONTGOMERY COUNTY AMSTERDAM - One of the city's largest manufacturing firms is cutting more than half of its work force. Ward Products, on Edson Street, sent a letter this week to its 247 employees, notifying them that 160 positions will be cut at the factory. Ward Products manufactures automotive antenna systems and related components, including cables. It is the second time in 15 years that the New Brunswick-based company has cut at least half of its staff in Amsterdam. In 1991, the slumping auto industry caused Ward Products to cut its work force from 300 to 150. FONDA - With millions of dollars at stake, county officials are anxious to complete the sale of the Montgomery Meadows Residential Healthcare Facility. But the company buying the nursing home is working on a complicated plan to change the home's operation and appearance, and its application to the state will take longer than a simple real estate transaction, a company official said Thursday. Pressure to complete the sale is mounting at the county level because the nursing home's operation could cost the county more than $3 million next year. Montgomery County is not flush with cash despite having nearly $6 million left over from 2004, a county official cautioned on Wednesday. County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman on Wednesday identified about $4 million that came in by year's end that had not been anticipated in prior budget projections. The county realized $1.6 million from an economic development grant awarded in 2003 - money that didn't come through until all the paperwork was completed in 2004, Bowerman said. AMSTERDAM - City aldermen said Thursday they will try to find a way to save the municipal bus service. Mayor Joseph Emanuele III said the proposed city budget, which does not contain money for the buses, would be re-examined before its final adoption. About 20 supporters of the transit system spoke at a special public hearing on the 2005-06 city budget Thursday. CANAJOHARIE - Town officials are developing a local pond as a recreation area where they hope people one day will be able to swim in safety. The 1 1/2-acre pond off Old Sharon Road, south of the village of Canajoharie, is about 8 feet deep. Local youth now often go to Wintergreen Park to cool off. But they are trespassing and entering dangerous territory in the vicinity of the falls that claim lives every few years. AMSTERDAM - People convicted of littering and other illegal dumping could be assigned to perform community service as well as pay fines, if an agreement is reached between the city and the Montgomery County Community Service Program. City and county officials are discussing setting up a community service program for people convicted of littering and other offenses. RENSSELAER COUNTY TROY - A Wednesday morning fire termed suspicious by authorities destroyed a converted South Troy iron mill being used as a trash transfer station and sent smoke and burning ash into a nearby neighborhood. No one at the trash transfer business or in the surrounding neighborhood was injured, but the fire ravaged the historic mill building, which in 1861 produced plates used to build one of the world's first iron battleships. The trash storage facility for Dan's Hauling and Demolition is on a side street near the Hudson River and the Menands Bridge, which was closed when the fire was reported at 5:10 a.m. and reopened six hours later. The fire was ruled suspicious. SARATOGA COUNTY CLIFTON PARK - A 19-month development moratorium in the town's western half ended Monday when officials adopted stricter zoning and design mandates for the mostly rural property. After extending the development ban on three separate occasions, the Town Board passed the new legislation on the same day the moratorium was set to expire. The code changes are the result of months of public meetings and surveys, workshops and formal hearings, which began shortly after the moratorium took effect in October 2003. HALFMOON - Town planning officials said last week that owners of the new Sportsplex of Halfmoon have not provided enough information to support their request to host trade shows and conventions at their indoor sports facility. The indoor sports complex off Sitterly Road is part of a planned development district, and the special zoning assigned to the building allows only sports-related uses. In order to expand the use of the facility, the town board would have to expand the legislation that created the special zone. BALLSTON - A state Supreme Court judge ruled Thursday that the town's moratorium on large-scale development is legal. Supreme Court Judge Thomas Nolan ruled Ballston was justified in instituting a moratorium while it reviews zoning laws and a master plan for future development. The Frank Rossi family filed the suit in an effort to have the moratorium thrown out. The Rossis have plans to sell land on routes 50 and 67 to Wal-Mart for construction of a 200,000-square-foot supercenter. GREENFIELD - The town's new comprehensive land use plan - which has been in the creation and discussion stages for nearly two years - was approved Thursday by the Town Board. The new land use master plan replaces a document that was created 15 years ago. Supervisor Robert A. Stokes said the board will appoint a committee within the next two months to start translating the general recommendations in the comprehensive plan into zoning law and subdivision law changes. SCHENECTADY COUNTY ROTTERDAM - Wal-Mart will have to wait, along with any other businesses that want to build big structures along Burdeck Street and Route 7, the Rotterdam Town Board decided Wednesday. No commercial buildings more than 90,000 square feet in area will be allowed during the next six months, while town officials and a committee of residents put together a plan for future development in the corridor. Board members meeting in Rotterdam Junction voted unanimously in favor of the moratorium after hearing from residents about the need for traffic studies and infrastructure improvements if the corridor is to become a commercial area. SCHENECTADY - A local entrepreneur is hoping to put the former Ruby's Silver Diner on Erie Boulevard back on track as a new business. Bob Golden, a model train enthusiast, wants to convert the long-defunct Schenectady diner into a store selling scale-model trains and accessories. He is working on the project with Jeff Corcoran of the Schenectady County Community Business Center. The city took over the diner for unpaid taxes in 2000. The former Pullman rail car has remained vacant and is in disrepair. Proposals have floated over the years for the diner to be moved and put to use in other ways, including as an attraction at the Schenectady Museum and Planetarium. The Schenectady County Legislature plans to spend $29,000 this year and $81,000 next year for staff and equipment to monitor 12 to 14 sex offenders on probation. The county's top Democrats in the Legislature, the district attorney's office and sheriff's department announced their 10-point "plan of action to protect Schenectady County families from sex offenders" at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Democrats have been under pressure to address the topic after Legislator Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, introduced his own initiative several weeks ago. SCHENECTADY -Schenectady County will spend about $2.4 million to purchase the former Trustco Bank headquarters on Erie Boulevard and another $430,000 to clean the site of hazardous materials. The county Legislature unanimously approved the sale agreement Tuesday night. The county will obtain $3 million in bonds to cover the cost of the purchase and cleanup work. The county also is obtaining three small surface parking lots that can hold 150 cars. The county is purchasing the former bank building at 192 Erie Blvd. to address state Office of Court Administration concerns about deficiencies in the county courthouse. SCHENECTADY - The rezoning of a 7-acre parcel off Van Vranken Avenue for new townhouses sailed through the Schenectady City Council Monday night despite continued opposition from some residents. Two real estate agents spoke in favor of the project, saying the 46 townhouse units would be in high demand because of the relatively low prices - about $150,000 - for new construction in the Capital Region. The council voted unanimously to change the zoning from single-family residential to planned residential development to accommodate 23 duplexes to be built by Concord Development LLC. The development is seen as a way to bolster the city's tax base. SCHOHARIE COUNTY Local dairy farmers have asked a consulting firm looking into creating a dairy processing facility in the county to focus on alternative products. Representatives from several local dairy farmers were on hand Tuesday to discuss options with representatives of the First Pioneer Farm Credit consulting firm. After hearing the report, farmers asked that the consulting firm investigate the cost and benefits associated with facilities to produce both specialty cheese and yogurt products. Farmers will then decide which option to pursue. REGIONWIDE HALFMOON - The Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway, a 26-mile stretch of road that follows the old Erie Canal along the Mohawk River, has been nominated to become one of America's Byways. Designation of the historic roadway is under consideration by the National Scenic Byways Program, which is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. An official decision will be announced at the end of September, byway officials said. The Mohawk Towpath byway was identified as an excellent candidate for the distinction, said Mark Woods, coordinator of New York State Scenic Byways. SARATOGA SPRINGS - The transitional board of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Wednesday announced its slate of candidates for the embattled arts center's board. At a press conference Wednesday, William P. Dake, chairman of the transitional team, named 17 people whom the SPAC membership will vote on at the annual meeting Wednesday. The list of candidates, who would serve one- to three-year terms, includes the transitional board of seven; four members from SPAC's old board, which resigned en masse on May 3; as well as six new names. General Electric Co. confirmed Thursday the company recommended an independent study on the effectiveness of dredging to remove PCBs from the Hudson River be part of a proposed new federal appropriations bill. The bill - with the attached dredging study request - is currently moving its way through the House. Environmental watchdog organizations maintain the GE tactic is just another attempt to delay the environmental dredging of the upper Hudson to remove 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated river sediment between Fort Edward and Troy. Capital Region housing prices were some of the fastest growing among metropolitan regions nationwide during the first quarter, according to a report released Thursday by the National Association of Realtors. The biggest gains came in Florida, where prices surged as much as 45 percent in the past year. Locally, the median price for an existing single-family house in the Capital Region climbed 17.5 percent, to $170,400 from $145,000 in the first quarter of 2004. SCHENECTADY - Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. said Monday that this year's local Kentucky Derby day betting handle of $3 million was the highest one-day handle in the corporation's history. OTB is headquartered in Schenectady. The handle, or amount bet on Saturday's Kentucky Derby through the regional OTBs, was $186,000 more than bet locally during last year's Derby day, according to OTB President Michael J. Connery. Connery said the money bet on the Kentucky Derby race only on Saturday was $1.7 million, up 3.6 percent from last year's $1.6 million. PETER R. BARBER / GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Cutting edge Surgeons at Albany Medical Center last week announced the region's first-of-its-kind back surgery. Dr. Robert Cheney described his disc-replacement surgery on 38-year-old Mark Irvine of Ballston Spa using the new CHARITE artificial disc.
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