BETHLEHEM — Sending 2020 on its way through a State of the Town address promising hope would be a hard sell as the nation continues to linger in a pandemic, but that’s what David VanLuven did.
The town supervisor shaped expectations of the coming year with a recap of events from the previous one as those steps made in 2020 continue forward into 2021.
VanLuven, whose expected to run for his third term as town supervisor this year, expressed familiar themes of services and the people who help provide them. On the first night of Black History Month, he added a third theme — resiliency.
“In 2020, we saw a nationwide awakening and rising up against oppression, mistreatment, and inequality,” VanLuven said. “This is an important moment, for Bethlehem and our country, and we have a responsibility to recognize the vital role that people of color have in our town and ensure that everyone feels welcomed in our community.”
Last year, town board members stepped out with an official proclamation that Black lives matter. It was preceded by a historic demonstration last June when more than 1,500 people gathered at Delmar’s Four Corners to protest the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Bethlehem organized a police reform committee last September, following the appointment of its newest police chief, Gina Cocchiara. Her promotion was heralded as yet another progressive step toward reform. She is the Town’s first woman police chief, and only the woman police chief in New York state history. Meanwhile, the results from the committee’s deliberations and consultations are expected to structure changes in law enforcement policy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated municipalities complete their respective plan by April.
“I am so grateful to the many community members who have participated in this process over the months,” VanLuven said. The supervisor said the Town is on track to meet the governor’s deadline.
The push for racial equity across the country defined a year also marred by a raging pandemic.
VanLuven held his annual State of the Town address through video conferencing broadcasted over the internet. It’s the same manner in which public meetings have been conducted since last March. COVID-19 has been ever present as the country continues with its mitigation efforts. While a vaccine is currently pushed out, businesses continue to either be closed or operate at reduced capacity, crushing the local economy. From sales tax alone, the Town received nearly $1 million less revenue than the previous year.
““Our business owners have fought hard to keep their shops and restaurants open despite fewer customers. … I know that these resilient trends will continue through 2021…,” said VanLuven
Infrastructure and capital plan upgrades expected for 2021 include an $18 million upgrade to the Clapper Road Water Treatment Plant and the completed renovations to the dive pool at Elm Avenue Town Park.
Not mentioned in VanLuven’s address was the planned construction of the Glenmont traffic circle for the intersection of Feura Bush Road and Route 9W.
Construction on the $4.9 million project was to begin last spring. Virus mitigation protocols, however, had slowed plans. The project is funded through the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation with 80 percent of project costs covered by FHWA. According to the Town’s website, construction is planned to begin in 2021.
The traffic circle is expected to mitigate traffic congestion within Bethlehem’s busiest corridor. The corner of Glenmont was identified in the town’s initial comprehensive plan nearly two decades ago. Last year, as the town aims towards amending that plan, the town board voted to place a 12-month moratorium on proposed development.
As mitigation measures continue throughout each facet of the local economy, VanLuven warned of projected shortcomings similar to those witnessed last year. The Town used nearly $1 million from its reserve fund to cover revenue lost to unrealized sales tax. As the country is slow to recover, the supervisor reflected more on the spirit of his town’s residents.
“Bethlehem is a strong, resilient community,” said VanLuven. “We have weathered these crises well, and an end is in sight. The hardworking men and women who provide the services, leadership, and support that our Bethlehem residents rely on have stepped up so, so well, and I am grateful to them.”