Shandaken, meanwhile, has kept largely quiet about the issue,
not wanting to offend either of their neighbors and quietly
researching whether the tax code change could effect other local
parcels, from city-owned waste treatment plants to the proposed
Belleayre Resort project being planned by Crossroads Ventures.
Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber implored the Onteora School
Board to adopt the controversial large parcel tax legislation,
claiming it would make taxes more equitable and save Woodstockers
$1.2 million, while Olive deputy supervisor Bruce LaMonda told
the board the $1.2 million would come out of the pockets of
Olive residents, "a big hit for 4000 people."
The board scheduled a public hearing for Monday, August 4, with
some trustees trying to push a decision by the August 22 deadline,
but most board members agreeing that it would be impossible
to make an informed decision in five summer weeks, and that
the tax bills for 2003-2004 would probably not be changed.
The new tax code gives the board the option to remove a large
parcel, such as the Ashokan Reservoir, a big chunk (53.4 percent)
of the Town of Olive, from the town's tax base and redistribute
property taxes among the other towns.
"This would have a salutary effect on the Town of Woodstock,"
Wilber declared. "We've all shared the resources of the
school district, and it's only fair that each of us pay our
fair share. My wife and I have always supported the school budget,
but were we not to adopt [this measure], it would be extremely
difficult for us to persuade Woodstockers to support the budget
[next year]. I agree that how school districts are funded is
disgraceful, but that's decided in Albany; we can't do anything
In Woodstock, where school taxes are higher than in other towns
in the district, Wilber said the savings would have a huge impact,
allowing the town to improve infrastructure, playgrounds, facilities
for seniors, and other areas.
LaMonda called the legislation "the biggest detriment to
the public," predicting "power trips of towns"
as partisan views on the annual tax decision determine who gets
elected to the school board. Olive town council member Linda
Burkhardt asked the board to "make sure you have enough
public hearings. People need to be heard by their neighbors
and neighboring towns. There will be people in Olive who will
not survive," who would be forced to move or starve. "This
will affect the lives of a great many people."
Jim Sofranko pointed out that he and other Olive residents trade
off lower taxes for restrictions on commercial development in
the town, which New York City demands in order to protect its
drinking water in the reservoir. "We don't have an opportunity
to expand our tax base. We pay a lower amount because we can
do less. There are further restrictions on private property:
septic systems, access to lands and to roads during terrorist
alerts." Three Woodstock residents spoke in favor of the
tax change, asserting the need for more equitable sharing of
the tax burden.
District treasurer Bill Thornton presented figures on the financial
impact of the projected change, showing a 56 percent increase
in Olive taxes, as opposed to the three percent increase currently
expected. Woodstock's tax increase would go from the currently
anticipated 13 percent to a mere one percent. Shandaken's taxes
would go down almost nine percent, rather than up two percent,
while Hurley, where the reservoir property makes up 20 percent
of the land, would experience a 14 percent decrease rather than
a nearly 15 percent decrease.
Dan Petigrow of the district's law firm specified the legal
parameters of the legislation, which requires that this year's
decision be made by August 22, ten days before tax bills go
out on September 1, and that the decision be revisited annually.
Trustee Meg Carey asked the reason for the renewal requirement,
and Petigrow responded, "I don't have the tea leaves to
read into the assessments change, but one of the criteria might
not be reached in a given year, you might not have a designated
property." The law stipulates that properties to be excluded
must be valued at five percent or more of a town's total assessment.
Board president Marino D'Orazio said, "I can't participate
without some history of what the legislature is trying to accomplish
and why. They are putting the burden on us to make the decision,
while any decision we make is going to be horribly divisive."
He asked Petigrow to obtain the bill jacket, a collection of
legislators' memos and lobbying groups' position papers that
would give the history of the bill's genesis. Newly installed
board member Lev Flournoy suggested finding out the situation
in 28 other state school districts that are debating the same
decision, and Carey requested feedback from the county, which
she said had decided to go with the new method for calculating
county taxes. Trustee Kathy Hochman asked for information on
how assessments are determined, and D'Orazio said he wanted
to hear from each town council on their views of the issue and
the logic behind their positions.
The board extensively debated the feasibility of making a considered
decision by August 22. Hochman felt that it would be unfair
to change taxes after the voters approved a budget increase
based on a specified estimated tax increase, although Petigrow
said from a legal standpoint the change was permissible, since
the vote was on an expenditure, not a tax rate. Trustees repeatedly
compared the situation to this spring's decision-making process
on the controversial elementary school reorganization, which
entailed numerous public hearings and information-gathering
sessions. Hochman said, "We spent two or three months on
[that process]. We can't get that done in five weeks in the
summer," when vacation schedules of board members and residents
are already set.
Trustee Tom Rosato suggested putting the decision off for the
current fiscal year to give Olive residents time to adjust to
the possibility of the large tax increase. Neil Eisenberg objected,
"Saying tonight we can't make a decision is also rushing
a decision. We need to go through the process and see if it's
possible to decide by the deadline." New board member Herb
Rosenfeld agreed, saying, "When I was campaigning, I talked
to hundreds of people, and many people said they had to move
out of Woodstock" due to high taxes. He urged a systematic
exploration of the issue and immediate scheduling of several
public meetings. Carey reminded the board that they had held
a meeting each week for several weeks when exploring the elementary
school issue, but other trustees argued that summer vacation
would make frequent meetings more difficult.
D'Orazio said he had learned from the Indian mascot fiasco that
"if you rush a decision, the voters deal with it. If you
don't rush a decision, even if it's painful, it has force behind
it so people can live with it and support it. I don't think
in thirty days we can get the information we need." The
board finally voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing
for Monday, August 4, at 7:00 p.m. at the high school, for the
sole purpose of addressing the large parcel tax issue.
Return To Summer
"Are you guys ready for our last assembly?" shouts
Camp Director Justin Ihne, who moves around the stage wearing
a clownish hat with orange, red and green pointed spikes.
"Yeahhhhhhhhh," reply the campers, clapping their
hands and stamping their feet.
"Some camps closed today because they thought it would
rain, but we didn't BECAUSE WE ARE...," Ihne prompts, while
turning and pointing to the words printed on the back of his
"The best darned camp in the history of the earth!"
scream the campers in response.
Camp Seewackamano is a day camp that is part of the YMCA of
Kingston and Ulster County. It opens each summer at the end
of June, offering four consecutive two-week sessions and a special
teen week. The majority of campers, who range from ages 6 to
14, come from Ulster County, but there are a few from New York
City and, in the past, Ihne said, as far away as California
Campers are divided by age into four villages: Catskill (ages
6-7), Esopus (ages 8-9), Mohican (ages 10-11) and Tonchi (ages
12-14). During three of the five activity periods of the day,
they meet with counselors and participate in group activities
that include cooperative games,
hiking, archery, photography, performing skits, canoeing, and
making videos-- to name a few. The other two sections of the
day are what Ihne describes as "choice times," free
activity periods that allow the
campers to focus on something that they especially like to do.
While some will use this time to hone their photography or arts
and crafts skills, others will practice hitting the bull's-eye
on the archery range or being belayed 25 ft in the air along
the ropes course.
But whatever the activity, Ihne says, he and his 30 counselors
make a point of incorporating the camp's four values - caring,
respect, honesty and responsibility - into the fun.
"We thank them for being honest and teach them to be responsible
for nature, by doing a simple thing like picking up garbage,"
Ihne said as an example of how his team teaches the values.
"Our hope is that they take a little piece of what they
learned home and continue using it."
Kerry McGrath, 12, of Kingston said the camp's values have encouraged
her to reach out to others. "If someone hurts themselves...
for example, if my friends and I were playing and a little boy
fell down nearby, we would stop and help him."
McGrath, whose favorite activity is the old stand-by four-square,
has attended the camp since she was 7, and is signed up for
3 of the 4 sessions this summer. "It's just fun,"
she said when asked why she returns each year, adding that she
has made a lot of good friends whom
she keeps in touch with through email and instant messaging
when not at camp.
"I just have fun here," echoes another repeat camper,
Jordan Perr-Sauer, 11 of New York City. "They try to teach
us those values, but I don't know... I already know them."
Perr-Sauer, whose attention is fixed on a counselor on stage
who is about to receive a pie in the face, says he may come
back for the fourth session. "My mom's boyfriend is up
here, so I come here. But we also go to East Hampton."
Perr-Sauer says he he maintains contact with a camper he met
last year named Jeremy. "We keep touch by phone or email
or play-dates," he explained. "We like to go skiing
Ihne, who is now back onstage asking the campers "to give
it up for the counselors," said in an interview prior to
the camp's opening that the success of the program ultimately
comes down to the counselors and how they interact with and
teach the kids. "We train them to get the groups to work
together and encourage teamwork," he said, "but it
all comes from the counselors themselves."
"I am thoroughly impressed with the counseling staff out
there," Ihne tells the kids, who clap and cheer even more
loudly when he reveals that a beloved counselor named "Lenny,
the Musical Meatball" has decided to leave his current
job and return to Camp Seewackamano for the remainder of the
For more information about enrolling children at Camp Seewackamano,
contact the YMCA at 338-3810.
Rosalie's been at the Olive Free Library since 1959, when the
book count was down around 15 hundred. "Now it's up to
more like 32 thousand." What's the biggest change in all
those years? "Automation," says Rosalie, who remembers
when there were so few cars people used to walk to the library.
"We're on-line now, with the Mid-Hudson Valley Libraries."
There's a history in the Burgher family to getting to know all
your neighbors. Bob Burgher's dad was in the insurance business,
and his mother was a schoolteacher. "It's one way you get
to know everyone," explains Bob. His farmer ancestors settled
the area in 1846 and as was the tradition then, as the first
family on the road it was named Burgher Road. His great grandfather's
30-room boarding house was on the site where the Burghers now
live, and from where he sits in his living room, Bob points
out an old fireplace in the yard, a remnant from his father's
house. Bob grew up in the boarding house, full of New Yorkers
up for the summer, and although it was fun, Bob was "glad
when September come around." Or, as Rosalie puts it; "Truth
is he was an only child and had to share his toys," she
laughs. "That's what his mother told me."
What did Bob like to do as a child growing up in the area? "Get
together and raise Cain," he grins proudly. "There
was Colanges' store, it had an ice cream counter, they had square
dances, Christmas plays, the whole shootin' match." The
Colanges were an Italian family that originally came up as workers
when the dam was being built, perhaps as stone workers. Colanges
was at the corner of 28A and Watson Hollow. In the summer, they'd
put up a tent in the field and show black & white silent
films. Bob tells a tale that might rank as a forerunning example
of early special effects in the history of cinema. "When
there was a Western playing, we'd sit in front of the projector
and throw clouds of grass up in the air. So in the movie, there'd
be horses running, and you'd see these clumps of grass flyin'
behind the horse feet. That was us," says Bob proudly.
Born in 1926, Rosalie grew up in Boise, Idaho. When Bob traveled
out there to study engineering at Boise State, they met at a
baseball game through mutual friends and started dating. "My
mother felt Bob was a long way from home, so she liked to cook
for him," says Rosalie. "We married and moved East
in 1953. I always loved libraries, so I started using the Olive
library. Bob had gone to school in what was the library building
back then. In 1959 they asked me to be on the board, and I've
been there ever since." One of Rosalie's jobs was to buy
books. The budget was a mere ninety dollars a year. Rosalie
would, in an informal fashion, find experts and get recommendations.
She bought music books based on the advice of musicians, travel
books from the reading lists of travel writers. Jack Bierhorst,
local Indian scholar, was a big help. "I picked his brain,"
says Rosalie. "And you start to just learn what your patrons
want." Rosalie remembers when the check-out cards switched
from hand-written names to punched numbers. "It was a matter
of privacy. But there were those that asked me, 'How will I
know what to read now?' Because they liked to read what I read.
So I gave them my number so they'd know what I was reading."
Over the years, what has she found are the most popular books?
"New ones, and local history."
While Rosalie was in the library, Bob was out surveying the
surrounding counties for the state, including the land around
the Ashokan Reservoir. "What's under the water is untouched.
So you could see which way a road went, since everything is
like it always was. We'd use the old towns, the old walls and
property lines, we'd go down to the reservoir and see which
way things went. Start at the water and see what we could chase
down, or locate." The biggest surveying dilemmas Bob found
over the years were "trouble over right-of-ways" and
confusion from when "farmers did their own surveys and
didn't know what's what." Surveyors' tools were simple
then, just a compass, and "chains and links" as measurements.
"A link is 7.92 inches. One hundred links in a chain. A
chain is 66 feet. There're 80 chains to a mile or so. It was
easy- ten square chain is an acre, see? Now they use feet and
yards and electronic measurements." Being outside so much
of his life, Bob often wonders about what's changed out there.
For instance, he recalls the charcoal kilns up past the Shultis
property, and wonders if there isn't one majestic stone kiln
Lineage is important in the Burgher family. Bob's grandfather
bought land for the reservoir, and one of Bob and Rosalie's
five children, Andy, is a surveyor like his father. The couple
built their current home in 1989, an airy log house with rafters
that double as catwalks for their two cats, (they both get a
little nervous when one cat pauses over our heads as we talk,
as if about to pounce). The house is built right on the site
of their old one and the site of Bob's father's and grandfather's
homes. As a surveyor, Bob has the healthy tanned skin of someone
who spent years outdoors, and Rosalie, with her delicate porcelain
skin and features, compliments him beautifully. They make a
handsome couple. Still adventurous, for Bob's 75th birthday
and their 50th wedding anniversary, the couple up and took a
cruise from Vancouver to Alaska. Next to their front door is
a sign that says: "Angel Collector." When asked about
the sign, Rosalie replies with a coy glance at her husband,
"Yes, I collect angels."