As of press time, Ulster County legislators had still some
time to negotiate a budget for the coming year that will either
keep savings, and multiple cuts, suggested by first-year County
Executive Mike Hein, or go its own way as the elected body
shifts from Democratic to Republican hands on New Year’s
On Monday night, it was decided that the body would not be
cutting their salaries or increasing their contribution to
health insurance in the upcoming year, and they wouldn’t
be eliminating health insurance for the county’s assistant
district attorneys and public defenders or ending a vacation/sick
time buyout plan for management personnel.
They will, however, include funding in the 2010 budget for
the county’s contract agencies, and first-time funding
for the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals, as well as restoring two positions in the county
Board of Elections cut by County Executive Michael Hein.
The Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee on Monday,
Nov. 30 reviewed a number of proposed changes to Hein’s
proposed $349.2 million budget.
A proposal to cut legislative salaries by 10 percent, or $1,000
a year, came from Democratic Legislator Frank Dart, who was
defeated in primaries last summer. That resolution died for
lack of a second, as did another proposal by Dart to eliminate
health benefits for part-time assistant district attorneys
and public defenders, and one by Democratic Legislator Hector
Rodriguez to eliminate the practice of buying back unused
vacation and sick time from management personnel.
A recommendation to increase legislators’ contributions
to their health care met with some resistance, most notably
from District Two Legislator Donald Gregarious, who said the
proposal would impact only some legislators and would create
inequities between lawmakers and management. That proposal
was tabled because in April the county will review of all
its employee compensation plans.
Committee members passed through a number of competing resolutions
for a vote Tuesday, including separate measures to fund contract
agencies at 100 percent, 90 percent, and 75 percent of their
2009 levels. Also, legislators will consider providing the
SPCA, currently headed by District Two Legislator Brian Shapiro,
with $40,000, $20,000, or $10,000. They will also consider
reinstating all funding for the EVOLVE program, cut in the
Hein plan, as well as reinstating the two positions eliminated
at the Board of Elections.
It is the first time legislators are reviewing a budget not
created by a member of their staff and much of the debate
focused on the rationale used by Hein in creating the budget,
especially his proposal to lay off 30 county employees.
Hein did not attend Monday’s budget review. However
Art Smith, the county budget director, and Adele Reiter, Hein’s
chief of staff, were at the meeting
Committee Chairman Legislator Alan Lomita said he would forward
a list of questions to Hein, but warned legislators that the
executive was under no obligation to respond.
“He doesn’t have to tell you anything,”
said Lomita, D-Rosendale. “His job is to prepare a budget
then it’s our job to make changes to it if we want,
and adopt it.”
In the past, the budget was prepared by the county administrator
who worked for the Legislature and prepared the spending plan
under legislative direction. Hein was county administrator
when the 2009 plan was developed.
Further Ways & Means Committee meetings were set for most
of this week, with the final Legislature’s budget vote
set for next Monday, December 7.
Gov. Patersopn swung his own budget ax last Sunday, November
29, implementing $1.1 billion in cuts and savings as weekend
talks with legislators dead-ended with no deficit fix in sight.
Paterson has warned that New York is going broke, struggling
under a projected $3.2 billion deficit. The state has now
resorted to “juggling” its bills, Paterson said,
and is moving money around to cover costs in the absence of
a deal with the Legislature.
“We are out of time,” Paterson said the weekend
after Thanksgiving. “This is a fiscal emergency.”
He added that he’s begun enacting the parts of his $3.2
billion deficit reduction plan that don’t need legislative
approval. These include $500 million in cuts to state agencies
- 11% across the board - a more aggressive Medicaid fraud-recovery
effort, debt management steps and $300 million in extra administrative
Money borrowed for capital projects next week will also help
free up cash in the short term, Paterson said.
In late November, Paterson said the Legislature should give
him the power to make needed cuts on a one-time basis. Lawmakers
quickly dismissed the suggestion.
But as he continues to negotiate, the governor may have lost
leverage with lawmakers who had pressed him to make the administrative
cuts as a way to buy time until January, when they hope revenues
Paterson said Senate Democrats and Republicans have failed
to offer viable solutions, yet they remain opposed to school
aid cuts and back only tiny cuts to health care - the two
biggest parts of the budget.
A purchasing cooperative involving county and local governments
in the Hudson Valley will save a projected $130,000 in 2009.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is currently touting the
benefits of shared services and urged more participation in
the region and around the state.
A new purchasing co-op in the Mid-Hudson Valley region includes
the counties of Dutchess, Ulster and Rockland, the City of
New Rochelle and the Town of Cortlandt.
A police study is underway also to consider the consolidation
of the Village and Town of Chester departments. The cost savings
“Tax dollars are tight and families are struggling,”
said DiNapoli. “Now more than ever we need to find ways
to cut costs and lower property taxes.”
DiNapoli said with over 3,100 local governments, school districts
and fire districts in the state, they should look to consolidate
as a means of saving taxpayer dollars.
It’s a Go!
Route 28 will be repaved all the way to the Delaware County
line. On Tuesday, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein announced
that Governor Paterson had approved and certified the county
Transportation Council’s request for an additional $8.26
million in federal stimulus funds, available for infrastructure
improvements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act (ARRA). The funding will be used to resurface Route 28’s
roadway and shoulders from Route 375 in West Hurley to Route
28A in Boiceville, and from Route 214 in Phoenicia to the
county line in Highmount. Construction is expected to begin
in the spring of 2010.
Members of the group Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership are
working to have information about the Esopus Creek used in
planning and land-use regulations, while the state is contemplating
a fund for buyouts of perennially-flooded properties.
It’s time to begin think of high water, once again.
Video aerial photography has been completed for the whole
stream from the Hudson River up to the Ashokan Reservoir and
efforts are being made to determine the impact that releasing
water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Esopus Creek has
on downstream properties.
Many creekside residents in the town of Ulster whose homes
were flooded in April 2005 blamed the New York City Department
of Environmental Protection because it released water from
the Ashokan into the Esopus at a time when the creek already
was swollen from heavy rains. But the LEWP and other entities
have said flooding along the Esopus also is caused by terrain
changes - from steep slopes near the reservoir to valley areas
in the city of Kingston and town of Ulster to channels between
hillsides in the village of Saugerties before the creek ends
at the Hudson River. Man-made levies in some areas have also
worsened the potential throughout the watershed area.
Meanwhile, State Senator John Bonacic has introduced legislation
to authorize the use of funds from the Greater Catskills Flood
Relief Program to buy out, on a voluntary basis, the homes
of people in the town who live near New York City’s
leaking aqueducts, with dozens of families having already
qualified to be bought out under the $15 million program Bonacic
Area families and Bonacic believe the city’s leaking
aqueducts are causing water to seep and flood into their basements.
Studies have shown a correlation between water in people’s
basements and water running through the aqueduct.
New York City officials maintain seepage and flooding in Wawarsing,
and other areas, are caused by poor drainage or rainfall.
The city has advised area residents to file claims against
the city, which Bonacic said can be time-consuming and costly
without any guarantees of success.
The American Red Cross of Ulster County has given emergency
aid to three adult individuals after a fire damaged their
home in Olivebridge last week. Disaster Action Team volunteers
met with families at the scene of the fire. The Red Cross
has provided temporary shelter and financial assistance for
food, clothing and medical supplies.
In the coming days and weeks, Red Cross volunteers will continue
to work with those affected by the fire and to provide more
aid if needed. Volunteers will also assist victims develop
a post-disaster plan to get each started on the road to recovery.
The Red Cross urgently needs volunteers to assist with disaster
relief efforts throughout the county. For more information
on volunteering, contact 338-7020 or www.ulsterredcross.org.
The former head of the Ulster County Health Department ran
an operation based on nepotism, intimidation, political favoritism
and manipulation, according to a report released recently
by county Comptroller Elliott Auerbach. So rife with mismanagement
and questionable leadership was the department under Dean
Palen’s administration that the “only saving grace
was the dedication and commitment of the staffs of the Environmental
Sanitation and Public Nursing divisions,” Auerbach wrote
in his report.
The 46-page report from the comptroller comes as the result
of a five-month investigation into the Health Department under
Palen and paints a picture of a department operated more as
a personal fiefdom than a part of county government. It also
revealed the flaws of Ulster County being run, until recently,
by a part-time Legislature in which existed a decentralized
system of departmental oversight.
Palen was appointed Ulster County public health director by
the county Board of Health in 1994. Members of the Board of
Health were appointed by the Legislature and charged with
overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Health Department.
But, Auerbach said, many board members were “hand-picked
by Palen and, at one time, included his personal physician.”
For much of his tenure with the county, Palen also served
as the director of environmental sanitation, where he controlled
operations of that department. His wife Debra was his administrative
assistant in the Environmental Sanitation Division, and, according
to Auerbach’s report, she was given responsibilities
and authorities that far exceeded her job description.
Palen was let go by county Executive Michael Hein in June
2009; Mrs. Palen was sent home the same day and was slated
to be transferred to a different position, but she chose to
A day after Palen was fired, county officials discovered more
than $32,000 in uncashed checks and dozens of unissued health
permits in a locked safe behind his wife’s desk. As
a result of those findings, Hein asked Auerbach and Ulster
County District Attorney Holley Carnright to investigate operations
at the Health Department.
Carnright, in a statement issued Friday, said he will review
Auerbach’s report before deciding whether a criminal
investigation is warranted.
Local journalists have noted that reports on Palen, including
his mismanagement of oversight responsibilities for the Pine
Hill Water Company, were coming out throughout the years of
the man’s problematic tenure.
A study of the region’s housing needs, in the works
for months and talked about last summer, has found the area
lacking affordable housing and is projecting that the problem
will get worse over the next 10 years. More specifically,
it found that Ulster County had an “affordability gap”
of 10,696 houses and 5,257 apartments and Dutchess County
had a gap of 17,913 houses and 6,900 apartments in 2006, according
to the study of the housing climate in Ulster, Dutchess, and
“Three-County Regional Housing Needs Assessment - 2006-2020”
projects that by 2020 the gap in affordable housing will grow
by 6,079 units in Ulster County and 7,648 units in Dutchess
The study was prepared by the planning departments of the
three counties with Economic and Policy Resources Inc.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines
affordable housing as costing a household no more than 30
percent of its gross annual income on mortgage payments or
rent, taxes, utilities, and insurance.
Despite the fact that a “correction” in the housing
market after the bubble burst led prices to decline in some
places more than 25 percent from the 2006 peak, “house
price declines are expected to alleviate some affordability
pressures in the three-county region, but not to the same
extent that the price run-up added to those pressures,”
the study says.
Additionally, in the next few years, housing prices are expected
to recover and exceed 2006 levels, Economic and Policy Resources
President Jeffrey Carr said recently at a Rural Ulster Preservation
Co. lunch during which he outlined the report’s key
Looking forward, the study noted a number of hurdles remain,
including the fact that the economic recession is likely to
make credit more difficult to obtain in the near future, residents
will continue to struggle with high energy prices, property
taxes have been steadily rising, and the difference between
supply and demand of affordable housing could continue to
push prices up.
Solutions on the demand side, according to the study, include
assistance with financing and down payments while on the supply
side include development through planning and zoning regulatory
changes and incentives for developers.
In order not to fall further behind, the study noted by 2020
Ulster County would need to build 714 affordable owner units
and 1,113 renter units and Dutchess County would need to build
898 affordable owner units and 1,310 renter units.
Researchers pointed out, however, that increasing the supply
of housing is “not a ‘magic bullet’”
and broader solutions include economic development efforts
to create jobs and increase the incomes of residents in the
Feds Get Enck
New York State’s Deputy Secretary for the Environment
Judith Enck, who has served since November 2006 as top environmental
advisor to Governors Paterson and Spitzer, has left state
government for a new job at the US Environmental Protection
Agency. A November 5 announcement by the agency named Enck
as its new Regional Administrator for EPA Region 2, overseeing
New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands,
and 7 tribal nations. Whether the state post she vacates will
be immediately filled is unclear as of press time, although
according to Enck, her deputy Peter Iwanowicz will remain
on the job.
Locally, Enck is best known as the architect of the controversial
2007 Agreement in Principal for the proposed Belleayre Resort,
which suspended that project’s SEQRA process under then
Governor Spitzer’s executive authority. Although the
AIP framed a non-binding conceptual agreement between the
state, the project’s developer, and other parties, the
project’s status remains uncertain at this time.
Enck was also the leading champion of “Smart Growth”
policies within state government.
In related news, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named
his longtime Special Advisor Caswell Holloway as the new head
of the cuity’s powerful Department of Environmental
Protection More on that in our next issue.
Ag To The Aid!
A presentation entitled, “The Role of Agriculture in
Curbing Climate Change: Win-Win Scenarios,” will be
presented at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County’s
Annual Meeting to be held on Monday, December 14 at 6:30pm
in the Student Lounge located in Vanderlyn Hall at the SUNY
Ulster campus in Stone Ridge. The meeting and presentation
is free and open to the general public.
The keynote speaker, Jennifer G. Phillips, Assistant Professor
at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy, will look at
agriculture as both a source and a sink for greenhouse gases
that are likely to be regulated in the future. Fortunately,
many of the practices that will curb greenhouse gas production
or lead to increased carbon storage are also ones that can
increase farm productivity, lower costs, and lead to resilient,
sustainable agro-ecosystems. Although in the early stages
of research, many of these practices are both familiar and
proven. Phillips will include a brief review of the role of
greenhouse gases in climate regulation and the expected changes
in store for the Northeast that focus on recent science and
For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension of
Ulster County’s community programs and events call 845-340-3990
or visit us www.cceulster.org.
Ulster County is initiating a new “Credit for Success”
Program, which will provide loans from $25,000 to $150,000
to Ulster County businesses that meet the program’s
requirements. All of the funding for this initiative is from
private sector sources not County taxpayer dollars.
At a recent press event launching the new loans, County Executive
Mike Hein introduced the newly formed Ulster County Bank Consortium,
whose members are Catskill Hudson Savings Bank, Provident
Bank, Rondout Savings Bank, Sawyer Savings Bank, TD Bank,
Ulster Savings Bank and Walden Savings Bank, who are working
with the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC)
and the Ulster County Development Corporation (UCDC) to provide
this option to Ulster County businesses.
The program requirements include presentation of a lending
institution declination letter and among other things a business
must work with the Small Business Development Center to create
a business plan. The program is available now and is only
offered by participating banks, who are sharing the risk of
each loan spread across the seven participating entities.
NYBDC is managing the program as the primary lender.
Ulster County businesses wishing to participate in this program
should contact the Ulster Business Development Corporation
A Marbletown Elementary School kindergartner died in recent
weeks, apparently from a bacterial - and non-contagious -
form of meningitis, according to Ulster County’s new
public health director, Dr. La Mar Hasbrouck, who said the
Health Department is monitoring the situation but believes
no preventive treatments are required for people who came
in contact with the child, identified by a funeral home as
5-year-old Grace L. Imperato of Stone Ridge.
In a letter to Marbletown Elementary School parents, Principal
William Cafiero wrote the Rondout Valley School District was
advised that, “given the minimal risk involved, schools
should not be closed and children do not need to be kept home.”
Hasbrouck, who has been the county’s public health director
for less than two weeks, said lab tests indicated the student
who died did not suffer from the H1N1 influenza virus, commonly
called swine flu.
The type of meningitis that health officials believe afflicted
the child is rare and occurs when bacteria from common infections
like strep throat, pneumonia and bronchitis “get out
of the normal places” and move into the bloodstream
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover
the brain and spinal cord and often is referred to as “spinal
Nereida Veytia, a registered nurse and director of patient
services for the county Health Department, said parents still
should watch their children for the symptoms of meningitis.
Common symptoms in patients over the age of 2 include a high
fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms include nausea,
vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion,
sleepiness and difficulty eating and sleeping.
School and health officials said the symptoms can develop
in as little as a few hours or as long as one or two days.
In newborns and infants, some of the symptoms can be difficult
to detect, but babies with meningitis may appear slow or inactive,
be irritable, feed poorly and vomit.
While there may be some signs of an economic upswing, there
will be no significant progress unless we see more jobs created,
according to Jonathan Drapkin, president of Pattern for Progress,
who said this week that the addition of jobs is what will
stimulate the economy back into an upswing.
“Until you see that unemployment number start to come
down, then I don’t believe that we’ve seen the
end of this period of the recession,” he said. “I
know there are all kinds of economic models and measurements
that exist and clearly it is a good thing for the confidence
of the country that the stock market has gone up, but unfortunately
there are still way to many people out of work.”
Drapkin said, though, that a means by which to turn the corner
on job losses has not yet been figured out.
If Empire Resorts wants to continue its efforts to develop
a Native American casino at Monticello Gaming and Raceway,
it will have to find a new partner. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe
conducted a vote of its community members in recent weeks
and the majority turned thumbs down on continuing with the
off-reservation gaming project.
The vote among its members was 178 “no” and 140
Meanwhile, the president of the Seneca Indian Nation has reaffirmed
its intent to seek a state compact to develop a full-service
Class III gaming casino and hotel in the Catskills.
“The Seneca Nation is firmly committed to Sullivan County,
the town of Thompson, its officials and residents,”
said a statement from the tribe. “This project will
bring economic growth opportunities to generate a rebirth
of this region, put it back on solid financial footing to
develop its tourism base and provide much-needed job opportunities.
We understand the hardships this area has faced because as
an independent nation, we are challenged every day to create
economic sovereignty opportunities for our people,”
This past August, a government contingent led by Snyder and
tribal counselors met with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.,
Bureau of Indian Affairs head Larry Echohawk and Sullivan
County representatives to urge the federal government to lift
the Kempthorne restriction, which prohibits Indian tribes
from taking off-reservation land into trust for gaming purposes.
That’s a necessary step for New York state’s Indian
nations to establish gaming operations in Sullivan County.
The same day they rejected a gay marriage ballot measure,
residents of Maine voted overwhelmingly to allow the sale
of medical marijuana over the counter at state-licensed dispensaries.
Later in the month, the American Medical Association reversed
a longtime position and urged the federal government to remove
marijuana from Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act,
which equates it with heroin. And advocates for easing marijuana
laws left their biannual strategy conference with plans to
press ahead on all fronts — state law, ballot measures,
and court — in a movement that for the first time in
decades appeared to be gaining ground.
“This issue is breaking out in a remarkably rapid way
now,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the
Drug Policy Alliance. “Public opinion is changing very,
The shift is widely described as generational. A Gallup poll
in October found 44 percent of Americans favor full legalization
of marijuana — a rise of 13 points since 2000. Gallup
said that if public support continues growing at a rate of
1 to 2 percent per year, “the majority of Americans
could favor legalization of the drug in as little as four
A 53 percent majority already does so in the West, according
to the survey. The finding heartens advocates collecting signatures
to put the question of legalization before California voters
in a 2010 initiative.
At the International Drug Reform Conference, activists gamed
specific proposals for taxing and regulating pot along the
lines of cigarettes and alcohol, as a bill pending in the
California Legislature would do. The measure is not expected
to pass, but in urging its serious debate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
gave credence to a potential revenue source that the state’s
tax chief said could raise $1.3 billion in the recession,
which advocates describe as a boon.
There were also tips on lobbying state legislatures, where
measures decriminalizing possession of small amounts have
passed in 14 states. Activists predict half of states will
have laws allowing possession for medical purposes in the
Interest in medical marijuana and easing other marijuana laws
picked up markedly about 18 months ago, but advocates say
the biggest surge came with the election of Barack Obama,
the third straight president to acknowledge having smoked
marijuana, and the first to regard it with anything like nonchalance.
“As a kid, I inhaled,” Barack Obama famously said
on the campaign. “That was the whole point.”
In office, Obama made good on a promise to halt federal prosecutions
of medical marijuana use where permitted by state law. That
has recalibrated the federal attitude, which had been consistently
hostile to marijuana since the early 1970s, when President
Richard Nixon cast aside the recommendations of a presidential
commission arguing against lumping pot with hard drugs.
Anti-drug advocates counter with surveys showing high school
students nationwide already are more likely to smoke marijuana
than tobacco — and that the five states with the highest
rate of adolescent pot use permit medical marijuana.
“We are in the prevention business,” said Arthur
Dean, chairman of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
“Kids are getting the message tobacco’s harmful,
and they’re not getting the message marijuana is.”
In Los Angeles, city officials are dealing with elements of
public backlash after more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries
opened, some employing in-house physicians to dispense legal
permission to virtually all comers. The boom town atmosphere
brought complaints from some neighbors, but little of the
crime associated with underground drug-dealing.
Advocates cite the latter as evidence that, as with alcohol,
violence associated with the marijuana trade flows from its
New Audio Book
Silver Hollow Audio of Chichester has just released a new
audio version of Petty de Llosa’s The Practice of Presence:
Five Paths for Daily Life, read by the author. The work, first
published in 2006, explores T’ai Chi, Jungian analysis,
Gurdjieff work, the Alexander technique, as well as prayer
and meditation, on a journey toward a more authentic life
of daily awareness. Silver Hollow’s 12-hour audiobook
will be available exclusively as downloadable content. It
will be available through the company’s website, as
well as other digital content providers, such as Playaway
For more on this innovative and younglocal company, call 688-7333
or visit www.silverhollowaudio.com.
The New York State Legislature has passed enabling legislation
that will eliminate the upfront costs of renewable energy
and energy efficiency projects to homeowners and businesses
by allowing PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing.
“This important legislation to the solar industry is
all about creating more green jobs in New York,” said
New York Solar Energy Industries Association Vice President
Kevin MacLeod of KPS Contracting, Inc, who represented the
interests of the association to lawmakers. “It will
help create more jobs for contractors who will hire more employees
and generate more taxes, and have a tremendous multiplier
impact to the state.”
NYSEIA, the association representing the solar energy industry,
wrote the initial legislation that was previously known as
the Green Loans Bill, based on a financing model in the city
of Berkeley, Calif., and has been lobbying for its passage
since May, according to MacLeod.
Unanimously passed by both houses at a special session late
Nov. 16, the bill authorizes municipalities to administer
PACE loan programs to finance the installation of renewable
energy systems and energy efficiency improvements across the
PACE programs eliminate the upfront cost for energy improvements
by allowing property owners to pay for the improvements with
low-interest bonds over 15 to 20 years that are repaid through
property taxes. The payment plan is easily transferable to
the next property owner if the current resident decides to
The state bill enables New York to tap into $454 million in
federal funding that will be made available to support PACE
programming. PACE programs are a recent innovation in finance
and have emerged nationwide over the past year. New York becomes
the 16th state to pass the enabling legislation.
The finance model can be used to finance a host of technologies,
including solar PV systems, solar heat and hot water systems,
energy efficiency installations and water conservation upgrades.