BETHLEHEM — The State of the town is great, said Supervisor David VanLuven during his speech at Town Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 22, and that despite frequent negative news at the national level, he gets his perspective back whenever interacting with neighbors, local businesses and the overall town community.
“Democrats, Republicans, undeclareds … When we’re talking about clean water, good roads, safe neighborhoods, fun parks and all the other things that make Bethlehem Bethlehem, we don’t care about the national polarization,” VanLuven said. “We just want to work together and get good things done. Bethlehem is filled with great people and businesses and we’re lucky to live and work here.”
VanLuven said that although he has long heard numerous Bethlehem residents’ complaints about paying high property taxes and not seeing high value in return, he said that most property tax dollars do not even reach the town.
In 2020, he said 68 percent of property tax dollars go to the school district, 4 percent to the library, 4 percent to the fire district and 13 percent to the county, leaving just 11 percent to the town.
“That leaves 11 cents on every dollar in property taxes you pay for the town of Bethlehem to provide all of the services you expect from us,” he said. “The remaining 89 cents go somewhere else. So let’s take a look at what you get for 11 cents on your property tax dollar.”
VanLuven said in 2019, the town’s Department of Public Works delivered 1.5 billion gallons of clean water to over 11,000 homes and businesses, through 229 miles of pipes that included 1,670 fire hydrants.
It also processed 1.6 billion gallons of sewage.
The Highway Department built and repaired almost one mile of sidewalks, and plowed through numerous storms.
“Plowing through Bethlehem is a big deal. We have 180 miles of town roads that we maintain and we plow in both directions obviously,” VanLuven said. “So one plow run through the town of Bethlehem is the equivalent of plowing from Delmar to Washington D.C. In every storm, we tend to have to do it again and again and again.”
He added that plowing needed to be done through 59 miles of sidewalks too and the town collected 1.8 million square feet of yard waste and leaves.
The Parks and Recreation department hosted over 36,500 pool visitors and offered 105 programs
The police department patrolled 360,000 miles and answered 44,500 calls — an increase of 350,000 miles and 22,000 calls in 2018.
Delmar-Bethlehem EMS responded to over 3,600 calls and transported 2,400 people to the hospital — a decrease from around 3,800 calls and transporting 2,700 in 2018.
VanLuven said, “They did all this with 79 volunteers that gave more than 15,000 hours of volunteer service.”
Delmar-Bethlehem EMS received several accolades in 2019 too, including the 2018 Hudson-Mohawk Region EMS Agency of the Year and the 2019 New York State EMS Agency Innovation Award.
Senior Services volunteers drove 94,500 miles in 2019 — more than 2018’s reported 84,000-mile figure — to transport the elderly around town for errands, medical appointments and more.
Besides offering 22 social programs, the department also ran the town’s food pantry, giving away almost 79,000 pounds of food — a rise from 75,000 pounds delivered in 2018 — to local hungry families.
The Assessor’s Office helped residents get local tax exemptions on over 9,100 properties and processed 847 property sales.
The town’s court handled over 10,000 traffic and criminal cases.
The Town Clerk’s Office issued 88 marriage licenses, notarized over 1,000 documents and processed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests.
“The key thing most people tend to forget about is our human infrastructure. The town does not deliver services, people do,” VanLuven said.
However, he noted that although the town grew in the last decade, its human infrastructure has dropped from 241 to 220 by 2019.
“That’s 21 fewer people on hand to do the work and deliver services we expect and need,” he said.
Business and infrastructure
VanLuven said Bethlehem has been working with Scenic Hudson to add around 20 acres to Henry Hudson Park in Selkirk.
The town has also been working with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy to purchase 75 acres in Elsmere to connect with a town-owned 83-acre Delmar property.
Regarding the latter, VanLuven said, “The goal is to open a 150-acre nature preserve less than a mile from Delmar’s Four Corners with extensive walking and mountain biking trails through a gorgeous landscape of ridges, ravines, forests and half a mile of Normans Kill shoreline.”
He continued, “This new park will be as large as Elm Avenue Park and I believe it will quickly become one of our recreation gems.”
He also said Bethlehem has hired the Albany-based Baker Public Relations firm to help work on a strategic communications plan in the next three months.
This will keep to-be-affected residents and businesses informed of the Glenmont roundabout project’s timeline and planned roadwork.
Construction will commence this spring.
This communications plan would be used as a template by the town for future roadway projects including the Delaware Avenue Complete Streets and Road Diet project.
“Major road projects are incredibly challenging for businesses and we want to do everything that we can to help ensure our residents not only have access to businesses during construction but are committed to patronizing them so that businesses we love today are still there when the road improvement work is done,” VanLuven said.
As the town grows, he highlighted how its Microenterprise Grant program has assisted 22 small businesses since 2014 with grants to help them purchase machinery, furniture and more.
Such grants, ranging between $5,000 and $35,000 each, originate from funding from the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal.
Ten out of those 22 businesses, VanLuven added, have filled vacant spaces in town.
If approved, the potential Albany Port expansion — a 1.1 million-square-foot, two-story industrial facility on 80 acres east of River Road that will complement the state’s offshore wind initiative — would provide 1,670 new jobs and boost the town and Capital District’s economies.
The theme of sustainability continues, VanLuven said, with how the town has joined 13 other municipalities to explore a regional Community Choice Aggregation program in hopes of purchasing electricity in bulk from renewable energy resources.
Also, Bethlehem Town Hall began using LED lighting on Thursday, Jan. 23 and new electric vehicle charging stations are proposed to open this year at Town Hall, Elm Avenue Town Park and near the Albany County Rail Trail in Delmar.
This year, the town will also decide on what pool type — a new dive pool or a double-slide pool — would replace the original dive pool at the town park. First built in 1973, it was discovered to be beyond repair last year.
VanLuven expressed optimism for the town’s future, including how the ongoing comprehensive plan update process will finish by next winter which will outline goals and visions for Bethlehem through 2035 or 2040.
The original 2005 one had envisioned Bethlehem’s journey through 2020.
“This is important as Bethlehem is growing and will continue to grow,” he said. “Ongoing future development in Bethlehem is one of the greatest challenges we face today. If guided well, I believe we can retain the key characteristics that residents highlighted last year in seven community forums. If not, we risk losing our small-town feel, our historical heritage and the very things that draw new residents and new businesses here in the first place.”
He concluded, “Bethlehem is a wonderful place to live in and do business. Thank you and let’s work together to get good things done.”