ANCRAM—Drivers on roads in Ancram seem to have a recurring need for speed and the Town Board is trying to figure out how to control it.
Problems with pedal-to-the-metal motorists in this southeastern Columbia County town are nothing new. Talk of imposing lower speed limits to get drivers’ feet off the gas and weight limits to divert big rigs from the hamlets began two years ago.
The town backed off the idea of weight limits and purchased two new Evolis radar speed signs in 2019—at the same time seeking help from the Sheriff’s Office and State Police to get increased patrols to clamp down on the speedsters.
By all accounts, the measures worked.
In her annual report on Ancram Court activity for 2019, Court Clerk Ruth Wittlinger told the board back in February, “Business is booming.”
She said the number of court cases in 2019 were at an all-time high of 594. That’s 150 more cases or a 25% increase over 2018 when the number of cases totaled 444.
She attributed the rise in cases to the increased presence of state troopers and sheriff’s deputies in town writing tickets for violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law, such as speeding.
But at the Town Board’s August 20 meeting via Zoom video conference, Supervisor Art Bassin said speeding remains “a serious problem.”
He said he had met “with the county sign guy” regarding putting up cautionary signs on county routes 8 and 8A in Ancramdale, but was not optimistic that any signage would stop the speeding. He said he has been talking to Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett about arranging to pay for deputies to do speed control.
‘If we do hire the deputies, they’ll pay for themselves in fines and reduced speeding.’
Supv. Art Bassin
Town of Ancram
He also suggested that the board consider buying two more radar signs, which would double the town’s capacity to place them at trouble spots around town.
The signs are the size of an ordinary road sign and digitally display an oncoming driver’s speed. When people obey the speed limit, the sign says “thank you” and when they exceed the limit, it says “slow down.”
When the first two radar signs were deployed in January 2019, the board found that the signs and increased law enforcement made a dent in the number of speeders.
Town resident Gideon King wanted to know how many serious speed-related accidents there have been.
Supervisor Bassin recounted that a car crashed through the Stiehle House at Route 82 and county Route 7 in the Ancram hamlet in July. Another car slammed into parked vehicle on County Route 8 and yet another vehicle ran into the Ancramdale Post Office, also on county Route 8.
Councilman David Boice, who is also Ancram fire chief, said that as someone dispatched to 95% of accidents in the last 30 years, more accidents are caused by alcohol than speed.
Town Clerk Monica Cleveland, who lives in the Ancramdale hamlet and whose daughter’s car was hit in their driveway, said she feels like she lives “at Lebanon Valley Speedway.” She said while there have been a half dozen accidents, there have also been “so many near misses. I’m really waiting for someone to get hurt.”
Councilman Boice pointed out that since the pandemic started five months ago, local “roadways have been quite a bit busier…. There have been more accidents and congestion.”
Councilwoman Bonnie Hundt said drivers are “stressed out and distracted.”
Councilwoman Madeleine Israel asked if the deputies would patrol at night.
“If we are willing to pay them, they’ll be there,” said Mr. Bassin. The Sheriff’s Office charges by the hour, $50 to $100, said the supervisor, adding, “If we do hire the deputies, they’ll pay for themselves in fines and reduced speeding.”
“It might be worth trying, but not at regular times,” said Ms. Israel.
Councilman Hugh Clark said “why not marshal the eyes and ears of everyone who complains about speeders to—if they see something, say something?” Mr. Clark said witnesses could record the time, date and license plate number of offenders and report them.
At the end of the discussion, Supervisor Bassin said he would bring back further information on the radar signs and what kind of a stakeout deal he could make with the sheriff at the next meeting.
In other business the board heard that Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Ed Ferratto has been working three and four days a week instead of the normal two days a week to keep up with building permit activity. Year-to-date building department fees are 50% higher than last year.
The heavy workload is expected to continue into next year given a strong housing and home improvement market and the need to start inspections for short-term rentals. Mr. Bassin said building department capacity needs to be expanded this year and next by increasing Mr. Ferratto’s time and hiring a deputy. A new Building Department secretary will also be needed as current Secretary Marie McDermott is planning a future move. The tentative 2021 budget assumes a 50% increase in building department staffing costs and a fee increase to cover those costs.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for September 17. A public hearing via Zoom to solicit public comments on the 2021 Tentative Budget starts at 6:45 p.m. prior to the 7 p.m. meeting.