Density hurdle strikes sour note for Chatham broadband

CHATHAM–Town Board member Bob Balcom told the board at the meeting Thursday, January 17, that he’d taken a “deep dive” recently into the issue of broadband and the fact that high speed internet service is not available to all town residents.

He said that for areas in the town with a high density of homes, the speed of internet connections has improved. “They have laid down so much fiber [optic cable] in the density areas,” he said. But he said that in more rural areas of the town internet speeds remain slow.

Mr. Balcom mentioned the town’s franchise agreement with Charter, which is now called Spectrum, but is just for cable television. He did say he talked to Consolidated, the company that purchased Fairpoint, about reaching the rural areas but Consolidated told him they don’t have the infrastructure to do that.

“We have to start putting pressure on these companies,” he said of making broadband internet available to the rural parts of the town.

Mr. Balcom also said state representatives needed to put pressure on the companies to get high speed internet to rural residents.

For areas where high speed internet is available, like in the Village of Chatham, he said, “It was a great idea, it’s had a lot of success but it’s left some people in a third world country.”

Spectrum was allowed by the state Public Service Commission to purchase Time-Warner Cable based on a promise by Spectrum to provide broadband service to rural areas. But last year the PSC ruled that Spectrum had misled the state and had not fulfilled its promise.

Spectrum was told it could no longer operate in the state, but that matter is currently being negotiated.

Last week the Town Board also discussed paying for an audit of the Town Clerk/Tax Collector. The board voted to pay the town’s accounting firm, Pattison, Koskey, Howe & Bucci, a total of $4,200 to conduct the audit but Councilman John Wapner questioned the amount for the audit.

He asked the board, “Can we do it in-house?”

“People are jumpy and edgy with budgets these days,” said Councilman Michael Richardson, referring to issues in the Village of Chatham, which has a municipal government separate from the town. The village did not pay federal and state withholding taxes for several years and on January 8 the Office of the State Comptroller seized village files and computers and is conducting an investigation.

Mr. Richardson pointed out to board members that the town has a line-item budget and board members see a monthly updated report on how much has been spent in what budget line, something he said the Village Board was not seeing.

“There is a natural connection between the village and the town,” Mr. Richardson said, adding that he lives in the village and he felt the connection between the two municipalities has not been everything it could be. The Village of Chatham straddles the Towns of Chatham and Ghent, with 40% in the Town of Chatham and 60% in the Town of Ghent.

The Town Board agreed to help sponsor an event being staged by the Friends of the Tracy, a not-for-profit group that supports repairs and upgrades to the Tracy Memorial Village Hall on Main Street in the Village of Chatham. The February 15 event, to which the town will contribute $400, will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of the village. The town pays rent to the village to hold Town Court in the Tracy Memorial.

Also at the meeting:

• The board approved the Columbia County Environmental Management Council’s resolutions on carbon fees and dividends. The resolution reads in part, “this council supports Carbon Fee and Dividend as an environmentally effective and economically responsible way to combat climate change.” It goes on to say that the council recommends that “individual municipalities in Columbia County as well as the County Board of Supervisors consider passing similar resolutions to inform our elected officials at the federal level of local support for this policy.” All four councilmen voted for the resolution; Supervisor Maria Lull abstained

• The board discussed the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail (AHET), a state 35-mile walking and biking trail that will go through the county mostly along National Grid right-of-ways, with a portion of the trail going through North Chatham. The Town Board, along with the boards of Stockport and Stuyvesant have said they will not sign maintenance agreements with the state to mow and clear the sections of the trail in their own municipality. Construction on the trail is expected to be completed in 2020 and will include road work in North Chatham to make the state Route 203, county Route 32 and Bunker Hill Road intersections safer for people using the trail.

Supervisor Lull said she was meeting with the supervisors of Kinderhook and Stuyvesant about the trail but that town’s highway superintendent “is not interested” in maintaining the trail. She said, “I’m all in favor of it,” but that she felt the state put it “on our backs to pay for” the maintenance

• The board approved paying $220 extra on the town’s insurance policy to cover ice skaters. The board is hoping to have ice skating events on a little pond, called Turtle Pond, at Crellin Park. Councilman Wapner said the skating was not open now but would be for special events

• The board has changed the date again for the public hearing on the proposed new zoning law, setting it for March 7 at 6 p.m. Ms. Lull said that town’s attorney for land use and the town’s planner will have the most recent changes on the village website soon and the board wanted to give people more time to review the law. The public hearing, which was scheduled for February, will be held at the Town Hall. The proposed laws will be posted at http://chathamnewyork.us/

The next Town Board meeting will be Thursday, February 21 at 6 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email moc.r1566191108epapa1566191108ibmul1566191108oc@el1566191108adsae1566191108te1566191108

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