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Hopke questions Potsdam’s comprehensive plan

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POTSDAM — The village Board of Trustees on Monday night adopted a 10-year comprehensive plan calling for further development of business, housing and arts, after months of preparing the document and weeks of debating it.

Trustee Eleanor F. Hopke was the only board member to vote against the plan. She initially moved to table its adoption until further review.

“There are major issues in the comprehensive plan which I think the board should look at,” she said.

One such problem, according to Ms. Hopke, is the plan’s mention of specific businesses deserving of village support, notably the University Bookstore and the proposed North County Children’s Museum.

“It’s not the village’s job to tell anyone how to run their business,” she said.

Ms. Hopke also said the plan supports the creation of more rental properties, despite acknowledging the need for more home ownership.

When the vote to table the plan failed, Ms. Hopke moved to amend it, but her fellow board members did not allow the proposed amendments to go to a vote.

“The period to make changes has expired,” said Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis, who said any proposed alterations should have been brought to the committee that drafted the plan while it was still being created.

The plan will be reviewed regularly, and changed if the village board sees fit.

In other business, the board unanimously approved a resolution in support of Potsdam Central School District. The school lost more than $4 million in state funding over two years and, like other St. Lawrence County school districts, could face insolvency if funding is not restored.

The resolution calls for the state Legislature and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to increase funding.

Parents spoke out in support of the resolution during the meeting.

Julie A. Helenbrooke is a parent of two children in the Potsdam school system. She said that children of downstate relatives of hers have access to education far above and beyond what is available in the north country. The state’s funding model, she said, is unfair.

“It’s a civil right issue at this point,” she said.

Devon A. Shipp also has two children in the school system. In May he created the Potsdam Educational Opportunities Fund with other local parents. The fund will be used to help the school district pay for activities not covered under the normal budget. It has raised more than $30,000, with a donor offering to match all donations up to $100,000.

These efforts help, but they are not enough, according to Mr. Shipp.

“The locals are taking matters into our hands, but we really do need that state support,” he said.

The resolution will be sent to the governor, who will give his State of the State address on Wednesday.

The board also discussed adopting a local law that would change the way the village makes purchases and hires contractors.

Under the current law, the village must allow contractors to bid on a project and must hire whomever can do the job for the lowest cost. However, this does not take into account long-term costs or savings that may be incurred.

Last year, the state passed a law allowing municipalities to make purchases based on the best long-term value rather than the lowest bid. This will allow village leaders to take into account such factors as durability, maintenance costs, and the availability of replacement parts when selecting a bid.

“The comptroller is urging people to do it,” Village Administrator David H. Fenton said. “It’s a very good idea, really.”

The board will hold a public hearing at 6:45 p.m. Jan. 21 to discuss the proposed law.

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