Wevertown Community Center
The Johnsburg Town Board approved a $1.2 million spending plan for 2013 on Thursday, Nov. 8 after adding $5,000 funding for the North Creek Depot Museum and an additional $4,000 for Hudson Headwaters Health Center.
Supervisor Ron Vanselow’s proposed budget did not include funding for the museum and cut funding for Hudson Headwaters from $28,000 to $24,000. But after a nearly two-hour public hearing during which several residents offered impassioned pleas supporting funding for each cause, the board amended the proposed budget to increase Hudson Headwaters funding and add funding for the museum.
The board also added an additional $5,000 for emergency medical services in the town and added $1,700 to the highway department budget.
Hudson Headwaters Health Foundation Executive Director Howard Nelson attended the public hearing and offered an overview of the organization’s role in the community. Nelson said that Hudson Headwaters is a “federally qualified” health center that serves an underserved population. It provides health care to individuals whether they have health insurance or not and uses a sliding scale to help those who are less able to pay.
This year, Nelson said, Hudson Headwaters North Creek Center has had more than 8,000 patient visits offering comprehensive primary care. Hudson Headwaters has had a relationship with the Town of Johnsburg for 31 years, Nelson said.
Following Nelson’s presentation, resident Bob Nessle offered a different perspective. Nessle agreed that Hudson Headwaters makes a significant contribution to the community but said that the town has done its share to help the “corporation” during the last three decades and it was time for Hudson Headwaters to stand on its own. Nessle said that Hudson Headwaters would be just fine without the town’s contribution.
“Let the state and federal government provide medical services and let’s let the town take care of traditional services,” Nessle said. “The outlook for the corporation is outstanding. The outlook for Johnsburg is not so good. We’ve done our part.”
Councilman Eugene Arsenault, who is also a member of the Hudson Headwaters board, took issue with Nessle’s comments.
“I think if you surveyed the community,” Arsenault said, “good access to quality health care would be No. 1.”
Of all the issues, funding for the Depot Museum proved most contentious. Several audience members spoke on behalf of the museum. Bill Bibby, a self-proclaimed “railroader” offered a rambling, history-laden, emotion-filled justification for the funding request, saying the train depot embodies the history of North Creek and the Depot Museum is the manifestation of that history for all who visit. The town wouldn’t be the same without the museum, Bibby said.
Museum board member Helen Miner reminded the board that the museum is totally nonprofit and completely run by volunteers.
Nessle called the museum the iconic center of town and said the building was irreplaceable. He showed the board a copy of Adirondack Explorer magazine that featured a photo of Supervisor Vanselow standing on the train depot platform.
“That says it all,” Nessle said.
Even Councilman Peter Olesheski, who has been a vocal opponent of continued funding for the museum in the town budget, said he finally has realized the value the museum brings to the town. Yet he said he couldn’t support funding the museum with money from the budget, because, he said, he wasn’t certain that it was legal. And he said he was concerned about the precedent it sets for other nonprofit groups he might need town funding down the road. Still, Olesheski said, if the town attorney could provide a letter stating that it was legal, he would support it.
After a lengthy back and forth, Councilman Arnold Stevens abruptly put forth a motion to approve $5,000 in funding for the museum, $2,500 from bed tax funds and $2,500 from the General Fund. Stevens also included in his motion an increase for Hudson Headwaters from $24,000 to $28,000. After some additional discussion, Vanselow called the vote. Arsenault abstained from voting because he’s a member of the Hudson Headwaters board. Councilwoman Kate Nightingale, Stevens and Vanselow all voted in favor of the motion and Olesheski voted against the motion. By a 3-1 margin with one abstention, the motion was approved.
With the two contentious issues resolved, the board quickly approved three additional amendments and then adopted the 2013 budget by a unanimous vote.
With the budget amendments, the adopted budget includes about a 1.5 percent property tax increase, well under the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap. The budget absorbs a 12 percent increase in health insurance for town employees and continues a program started this year to better maintain town properties and buildings.
“I’m optimistic this budget will afford us a robust building maintenance program,” Vanselow said.
The Johnsburg Town Board meets again at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 20 at Tannery Pond Community Center.