Joshua Thomas/For The Recorder
At Monday’s public hearing are the Canajoharie Village Board, from left, Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery, Trustee William Jones, Trustee John Snyder, Trustee Stanley Smith and Trustee Jeff Baker.
By JOSHUA THOMAS
For the Recorder
CANAJOHARIE — During a well-attended public hearing Monday, Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort detailed portions of the county’s Shared Services Initiative, including the potential dissolution of the village of Canajoharie and future plans for the former Beech-Nut plant.
Ossenfort discussed the dissolution of the village, which if adopted would mean the village would be absorbed into the town. He pointed out that it would not happen overnight.
“It is for the long term,” Ossenfort said. “No one is asking the Village Board to vote to dissolve the village right now, because they don’t have all of the information required by state law to even make that decision.”
Once a detailed dissolution plan has been created — wherein the village would be designated a special district — the Village Board would vote to either adopt or reject it, the plan’s adoption requiring a public referendum.
A public vote would not take place, Ossenfort said, “at the earliest, until next November.”
Though many details must be acquired via a detailed dissolution study, Ossenfort answered one of the most-frequently-asked questions Monday, noting that if the village is absorbed by the town, costs for services would not be subsidized. The creation of a special district would ensure that services were paid for only by those utilizing them.
Canajoharie resident Earl Spencer spoke out against the Shared Services Initiative, which the village’s potential dissolution is part of.
“The mandated consolidation of this proposal is probably the worst idea since the county changed to a legislative form of government,” Spencer said, referring to the plan as an effort to move the decision-making to Fonda and eventually to Albany.
“This takes away the local ability of voters and taxpayers to determine their present and their future,” he said. “Small local governments can be more responsive to their constituents than larger, more impersonal units that depend on IT and experts to function.”
“If this plan is indeed enacted, much more of our local governing ability, also, would be gone forever,” concluded Spencer to substantial applause.
Ossenfort replied, “The local control over this decision is local control. It’s state law. It’d have to be voted on by the village and it would go to a public referendum. Nobody from Fonda, nobody from Albany, can pick the future of this village.”
John McGlone, who noted that he’s not a resident of Canajoharie, but is “heavily invested” in the village, disagreed with Spencer.
“What we have here is, perhaps, a question we’re trying to answer too early. We do not have information yet to state a position,” he said. “I look at this over a period of the next 10, 50 and 100 years. What I don’t see is enough younger people. People who are buying homes here, people who can find jobs here.”
“As we go down this road … what I would ask is that rather than forming a position based upon the present state, or perhaps our ties to the past … that we think about what we’re leaving for the grandchildren that we want to stay here, and how does this decision really impact the future generations.”
Canajoharie, St. Johnsville and Fort Plain police department chiefs and officers were present Monday, with Canajoharie Police Chief Bryan MacFadden and St. Johnsville Police Chief Diana Callen speaking out against the portion of the Shared Services Initiative that would potentially facilitate local police department consolidation — essentially, a takeover of local police forces by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
“I will put my department up against the sheriff’s department bringing in a car,” McFadden said, adding that while cost-savings have been discussed as a reason for potential police department consolidation, “there’s no way the sheriff’s department can save money,” serving western Montgomery County communities in the same capacity that local departments currently do.
He also noted that should the dissolution be adopted, DWP services might decrease.
“Having your local government focus on your local things is worth a lot,” he said. “You are going to lose the things you are used to having, and lose quality of life.”
Callen agreed, explaining that, currently, local law enforcement agencies can attend to emergency calls more expediently than the sheriff’s office. She asked that residents continue to ask questions about the police consolidation plan, which assures a local presence from the sheriff’s office.
“Do you want a presence, or do you want to be able to go knock on your police door and know that somebody’s going to come?” she asked. “Do you want to know that when you pick up the phone that you’re going to get a timely response?”
Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery said that he’s been adamant about receiving continuous, full-time coverage if a police department consolidation takes place.
“I want 24-7 coverage, period. It’s non-negotiable,” he said.
Ossenfort said those details would have to be worked out as part of the dissolution study.
At the outset of Monday’s public hearing, Ossenfort outlined plans for the former Beech-Nut facility, explaining that the site will be bifurcated into eastern and western portions, with the county, “trying to understand the synergy between the two sites.”
The eastern, or warehousing site, would be less expensive to remediate, as it contains fewer contaminants than the Church Street-facing facility, along with a more-marketable expanse of land, with easy access to power and water.
With $800,000 in grant funding, debris piles will be removed from the eastern site this fall or early winter at the latest according to Ossenfort, who added that he expects money to be left over for warehousing demolition, which would also begin in the fall or winter, continuing into the spring.
A market analysis would also take place for the site’s eastern portion, determining how to most-impactfully market the property.
Ossenfort noted that at the beginning of next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will make $80 million in Restore New York funds available. Montgomery County will request about $4 million for demolition and remediation of the eastern site.
“Potentially, we could be marketing the site by the mid-to-end of next year,” Ossenfort said.
The western site’s remediation, said Ossenfort, would be more complicated, as it’s more costly, with “more question marks.”
He said the historical value incredibly important, with the Church Street facade being integral to the downtown landscape. A major goal, Ossenfort explained, would likely be to try to preserve some of the buildings on the Church Street site.
A priority action for the western portion of the site includes the submission of a $200,000 grant application to the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank. If that funding is awarded, it’ll be used to stabilize that building, which is currently, rapidly deteriorating.
An asbestos survey and property condition assessment must also be completed for the western site, which, as part of the Shared Services Initiative, would potentially at-some-point house a consolidated court system and serve as a hub for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.