Notes from the June 11, 2020, town board meeting
As they have since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, members of the Hamilton Town Council convened June 11 via Zoom for their regular monthly meeting.
Christine Rossi, who heads the town’s Zoning Update Committee, presented the council with three models for residential density. She asked that members of the council review the proposals prior to a joint meeting of the ZUC and town council June 16. Work on the zoning document is progressing, she said, and there is a possibility that the draft will be ready for the council’s review by the end of July.
As a member of the Hamilton Climate Preparedness Working Group, Rossi has also been coordinating the town’s application to be certified as a Climate Smart Community. She reported the town and village of Hamilton were certified at the bronze level in May. She credited Town Clerk Sue Reymers and members of the town’s office staff for their work providing documentation for the award.
In addition to providing recognition of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build local climate resilience, certification qualifies municipalities to apply for grant funding in support of future initiatives. Rossi said the group will next focus on a municipal climate action plan, mapping ways in which the town and village can “become more climate resilient and reduce our carbon footprint.”
A recent $5,000 grant from the Second Nature Climate Acceleration Fund will help finance the development of the climate action plan. As it has in past years, the town council committed $500 in support of HCPWG.
Highway Superintendent Luke Dowsland detailed his crew’s activities maintaining town roads, including preparations to chip seal Bonney Hill and Morse roads later in the month. The council discussed at length how best to finance the scheduled replacement of town highway equipment, given the anticipated loss of revenues due to the pandemic.
Bookkeeper Brynley Wilcox accounted for income to the town, including sales tax revenue, interest and penalties received from Madison County; a $25,000 gift from Colgate University that will be applied to the town office project; and a payment in lieu of taxes from Good Nature Brewery. Wilcox is supplying documentation for the town’s 2019 audit.
In addition to her many ongoing responsibilities coordinating the town’s business, Reymers is leading work on the town’s new website. She reported that the design phase is complete, and anticipated that the balance of work will take about three months.
In the course of his work during May, Code Enforcement Officer Mark Miller issued five orders relating to property maintenance violations, an uptick that Supervisor Eve Ann Shwartz speculated might reflect on the economy during a pandemic.
Councilman Peter Darby reviewed monthly statistics for the Southern Madison County Ambulance Corps. Notably, with Colgate closed due to the coronavirus, calls for assistance continue to be down, and Darby said there were almost no calls in May related to COVID. $75,000 from the federal ayroll Protection Program and a $7,500 grant from the Central New York Community Foundation are helping to meet SOMAC’s operating costs.
Mary Dinski, the council’s liaison to the Partnership for Community Development, said PCD and Earlville have been selected to be part of Cornell’s Design Connect program, through which students and their professor will engage residents in a redesign of the village park, including the skate park, playground, and walking trail.
After conducting a required environmental quality review, the board unanimously introduced a new proposed local law “To Provide for the Securing, Repair, Removal or Demolition of Unsafe Buildings and Structures.” The main purpose of the law is public health and safety, Shwartz said, and will be the subject of a public hearing via Zoom July 9.
Shwartz reported that a state of emergency is still in effect for Madison County, and the committees of the Board of Supervisors are meeting via Zoom. The county office building is open by appointment, with 150 employees still working from home.
The next regular monthly meeting is July 9 at 6:30 p.m.
Submitted by Jim Leach
Town and village of Hamilton certified as Climate Smart
New York state has designated the town and village of Hamilton Climate Smart Communities, recognizing their documented efforts to address the effects of climate change on Hamilton.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos announced in late May that the village and town are the latest of 51 municipalities statewide to meet the standards for climate-smart certification by detailing measures they have put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build local climate resilience.
The Climate Smart Communities program was launched in 2009, sponsored by seven state agencies and administered by the DEC.
To earn certification, a municipality begins by pledging to incorporate 10 elements in its climate action plan, elements such as developing an inventory of energy emissions; decreasing energy use and shifting to renewable energy; committing to climate-smart land use and materials management; informing and inspiring the public to build climate resilience; and supporting green innovation. How the municipality addresses those goals is described in its application for CSC status. Full details of the village and town applications are available at climatesmart.ny.gov/. Applications are rigorously reviewed by a state committee.
The village and town began working actively toward certification in 2016 under the auspices of the Hamilton Climate Preparedness Working Group, a group originally organized by John Pumilio, Colgate’s director of sustainability; and Chris Henke, then-faculty director of the University’s Upstate Institute. A representative group of community residents and elected officials, along with Colgate students and faculty, works to pursue their common goal of building community climate resiliency and sustainability.
Town of Hamilton Supervisor Eve Ann Shwartz and Hamilton Mayor RuthAnn Loveless meet regularly with HCPWG. The group has also sponsored public information meetings and a climate resilience workshop.
Early on, Chris Rossi (at the time an elected member of the town council) was named to coordinate the town’s CSC application, while Administrative Assistant Nancy Mitchell was appointed to coordinate the village application. Students and faculty from Colgate’s environmental studies program have been especially helpful in researching and documenting the applications.
Madison County was one of the earliest municipalities to earn Climate Smart certification. County Planner Scott Ingmire and members of his staff have been regular participants with HCPWG. Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board staff Chris Carrick and Amanda Mazzoni provided important assistance along the way. Dazzle Ekblad, who oversees the certification process for the state, also met with HCPWG and advised on the town and village applications.
“The village has long been committed to climate action that supports our livelihoods and our environment,” said Loveless. “Positive action is even more important now in light of recent rollbacks of environmental regulations. I’m proud of the effort put forth by the entire village staff to warrant this recognition.”
“Town efforts to achieve this important certification are based on our long-term commitment to improving our community’s ability to react to an ever-changing climate – protecting our environment while simultaneously saving tax dollars,” Shwartz said. “We are grateful to the many community and university members of HCPWG and to the town employees who work tirelessly to prepare and protect our community.”
In addition to recognizing communities for exemplary climate action, the CSC offers grants to support future initiatives
“Certification is an important milestone, but this is a journey of many steps and our work will continue,” Pumilio said.
Notes from the May 14, 2020, regular meeting
Following guidelines established to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, the Hamilton Town Council convened remotely, via Zoom, the evening of May 14, 2020, for its regular monthly meeting.
During public comments to open the meeting, Chris Rossi reported on activity of the committee charged with recommending updates to the town’s zoning regulations. Rossi said the committee is “making progress,” with a recent focus on models for housing density. The zoning committee is tentatively scheduled to meet with the Town Council following the Council’s next monthly meeting, June 11.
Highway Superintendent Luke Dowsland reported on activity of the highway crew since it returned to work April 20 following a coronavirus furlough. Notably, the crew has completed all the preparatory work to pave Morse Road, including grading, laying fabric and installing limestone crusher run. Sherburne loaned equipment to support the project. Paving will be scheduled when the ground becomes warmer. The project qualifies for reimbursement under the state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program.
The highway crew was called on twice to sand roads, due to unseasonal snows in late April and early May. Still, an overall mild winter resulted in significantly fewer plowing runs this year than in the two previous winters – 100 runs in 2019-20 compared with 151 runs in 2018-19 and 148 runs in 2017-18.
Bookkeeper Brynley Wilcox detailed receipts from Madison County for snow and ice removal ($3,400, with another $4,000 anticipated), sales tax revenues ($104,500 in the first quarter of 2020, pre-coronavirus, “…good news, for now”), and payments for interest and penalties ($1,600). Wilcox said the town has booked a grant of $37,500 from the state Energy Research and Development Authority to support the town’s geothermal project.
Town Clerk Sue Reymers and her assistant Elisa Robertson have been working remotely during the coronavirus lockdown, and Reymers explained the trials and successes of adapting operations to serve the public. She is working with a contractor on improving and updating the town’s website and hopes to unveil the revisions in about three months.
Peter Darby is the council’s liaison with Southern Madison County Ambulance Corps. He shared SOMAC’s call data for the first four months of 2020, which reflect a decline in the number of calls in March and April with students away and most residents staying home due to coronavirus. Support through the CARES Act ($7,500) and the Payroll Protection Program ($75,000) should help SOMAC through the resultant decline in revenue. Darby said that 30 new volunteers (drivers, paramedics and EMTs) had responded to SOMAC’s outreach, enabling full staffing for all timeslots.
Mary Dinski, the council’s representative on the board of the Partnership for Community Development, said PCD has raised $103,000 to date in support of its program of grants to help local small businesses weather the impacts of the coronavirus shutdown. Supplemented with additional funds from Community Development Block Grants, PCD in May announced grants averaging $5,000 each to 30 small businesses in the town of Hamilton. PCD is also providing counseling and assistance to small businesses as they navigate government assistance programs. And PCD hosted a well-attended Zoom meeting between local business owners and Congressman Anthony Brindisi.
Work is progressing on the town office building, with the town council placing a high priority on having it open as soon as possible. How the coronavirus shutdown will affect the town’s budget is a matter of ongoing concern, with revenues from sales tax and casino operations certain to decline.
Reporting on the Madison County Bboard of Supervisors, Supervisor Eve Ann Shwartz said that, proportionately, Madison County has suffered by far the greatest loss of sales tax revenues of any county in the state due to the virus. She said that the county is pushing to reopen as soon as possible, but predicted the process will be slow, noting a need to increase testing.
The next monthly meeting of the town council is scheduled June 11, location to be determined.
Submitted by Jim Leach