Saturday January 26, 2013

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Of possible long-term impact, the Hoosick Falls armory’s transfer of ownership from the state into the hands of an area community nonprofit ranks as one of the top local news items for 2012 in New York.

The armory first became a topic in early 2011, shortly before the National Guard unit stationed there relocated, prompting a firestorm of discussion about whether or not the town of Hoosick (whose offices have been situated at the armory since the mid-1990s) should assume ownership. Proponents of that idea pointed to the town offices and concerns over the building going vacant, but others balked at the potential ownership costs. Curtailing the discussion, town officials met with and then threw their support behind the rebadged Hoosick Armory, Youth Center & Community Coalition (HAYC3).

One of the last bills to make it through the state Legislature before the end of the summer session, lawmakers gave the OK for the building to be sold to the nonprofit for the grand sum of $1 in late June. While other excessed armories around the state have gone to auction, state officials and lawmakers said the local nonprofit’s interest made for a "win-win" outcome.

Dissolution discussion

As weighty a topic, the village of Hoosick Falls in 2012 embarked on a study of dissolution. While the consequences of the change would be far-reaching, the difficulty of making the decision (particularly at the ballot box) have short-circuited most proposals elsewhere in the state. Despite a push by New York in general and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in particular to reduce redundancies in government, Hoosick Falls’ study seemed to receive a lukewarm response and (while still ongoing) may result in similar fashion as a failed court consolidation vote years previous. Still, many lauded the grant-funded study as putting concrete figures to the possible future merger between town and village.

New York schools

Area schools dealt with multiple topics (mostly by acronym) over the course of the year, with several important hurdles related to the state’s adoption of Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). That wholesale change in curriculum (billed as "less wide but more deep" learning) has proceeded concurrently with new, more robust staff and teacher evaluations (Annual Professional Performance Reviews or APPRs) intended to be in districts across the state for the 2012-13 school year.

This past July, New York’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) went into effect following high-profile reports of bullying and harassment across the nation. The anti-bullying legislation signed by former Gov. David Patterson requires both the state Education Department and local school districts to respond with prescriptive policies and guidelines, including the designation of specific staff to handle and respond to all incidents of bullying. As part of the act, local schools must report incidents to the state Education Department at least annually.

The school reforms carried with them unfunded, mandated costs in the form of increased workloads for administrators tasked with carrying out, compiling, and reporting said changes. Some schools, like Hoosick Falls Central School, altered their administrative structures to reflect the reality of added work related to standardized testing, curriculum changes, and APPRs.

While state school aid increased for the 2012-13 school year, the amount was negligible compared to previous years’ cuts and dramatically increasing pension and health care costs and decreased tax bases, which, combined, threaten the long-term solvency of districts across the state.

Carried over from the year prior, 2012 also saw the conclusion to two high-profile criminal cases originating from the same day in July 2011.

Steven McComsey, a former tenant of the multi-family apartment in Salem leveled by a propane explosion, pleaded to criminally negligent homicide in the case last November. Prosecutors charged McComsey intentionally discharged gas from an unused tank at the residence as part of a dispute with his landlord, but never intended for the gas to ignite. The blast killed six.

Matthew Slocum, the then 23-year-old charged in a triple-homicide in White Creek that occurred the same day as the Salem house explosion, was found guilty by jury last March. Accused in the shooting deaths of his mother, step-father, and step-brother, Slocum’s defense at trial was that it was his girlfriend and mother of his infant son who pulled the trigger.

She testified otherwise, and Slocum received an effective life sentence for murder and arson.