Known formally as the "Length of Service Incentive Program,"
the proposal, if approved by taxpayers, would, following municipal
law, give Olive firefighters a monthly dollar incentive for
each year of qualified service. Volunteers could earn a $20
per month benefit for each year of qualified service up to
a maximum of 20 years, or $400 per month, from which they
could begin to draw at age 62. But to qualify, they would
need to meet minimum state requirements earning at least 50
points within a calendar year by attending district meetings
and drills, holding elected or appointed positions, and responding
to a minimum of 10-percent of the department‚s emergency
Often invisible until an emergency happens, the Olive Fire
Department currently consists of approximately 80 active members
(with only 54 able to respond to calls on a regular basis)
who volunteer their time and skills to train and remain prepared
to react at a moment‚s notice to various crises. Since
January, the department has responded to 130 emergency calls,
including structure fires (the most recent of which was a
day care center on Sunkist Lane), brush fires, motor vehicle
accidents, public service requests, downed power lines, medical
emergencies and smoke investigations.
"We've tried all types of gimmicks over the years to
attract and retain members, but the number of volunteers has
been declining,"Olive Fire Chief Tom Planz said last
week when asked why he was asking voters to approve spending
for the service award program. "The plan has worked for
keeping numbers up in other departments, especially in retaining
older members, and it has the added benefit of forcing firefighters
to become better-rounded because of the [eligibility] requirements,"
According to Planz, approximately 500 municipalities throughout
the state have established service award programs for their
volunteer fire departments, including 8 in Ulster County.
Volunteer firefighters in the town of Accord, Big Indian,
Highland, Napanoch, Port Ewen, Rosendale, Ulster and Woodstock
currently receive such benefits.
Planz said the projected annual cost for the program, based
on the approximate 80 volunteers who could qualify, is $101,831,
which includes the cost of crediting existing volunteers with
up to 5 years of past service. After 10 years, that number
would fall to $39,070, Planz said, because providing volunteers
with a monthly dollar incentive for past service would no
longer be an issue.
To the average homeowner in the town of Olive, Planz said,
the cost of the program would amount to an additional $1.25
per month in fire tax payments. The expense of this program
added to the existing volunteer fire department tax levy of
$318,800, he said, would still amount to only one-quarter
of what a professional paid department would cost the town.
A public meeting about the proposed service award program
will be held at the Olivebridge firehouse on Mill Road on
Oct. 26 from 1 to 4 p.m.
"I would like the public to understand the proposition
so that they can make an educated decision when it comes time
to vote," said Planz, who encourages all members of the
community to attend.
County Hears Us
"[ORPS] promised us they would come down and review the
numbers on the Ashokan Reservoir and evaluate what they did,"
Leifeld said by telephone from the town offices earlier this
week. "They are supposed to get back to us by the end
Leifeld also said town officials and attorneys met with New
York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner
Christopher O. Ward last Friday to discuss the value of the
"There are some numbers that the city thought were
not assessable and did not include in their assessment of
the reservoir,"Leifeld said. "The commissioner promised
to go back with these numbers to his legal staff. If they
include them, then the (city's assessed value of the reservoir
and that of the town of Olive‚s) are not that far apart."
Currently, the city and the town have widely divergent views
of the reservoir‚s assessed value. Olive claims it to
be worth $393 million, while the city maintains a value of
$115 million, a difference that causes the Ashokan Reservoir
to meet one of the criteria of the large parcel legislation.
Adopted by the state legislature last year, the law allows
large properties that make up more than 5-percent of a town‚s
total assessment, are valued at a minimum of $5,000,000, and
have local equalization rates that differ by at least 5-percent,
to be separated from the municipality in which they are located
for the purposes of levying both county and school district
Like the county Legislature, the Onteora Board of Education
chose not to invoke the large parcel law for the purposes
of levying school taxes this year, but in a 6-1 vote it did
agree to apply the legislation next year should the Ashokan
Reservoir continue to meet the criteria for separation from
the Olive tax base. Should this occur, Olive taxpayers would
be faced with an increase of almost 60-percent in school tax
Technically, the Legislature has until November 1 to decide
whether to invoke the large parcel law for Ulster County properties.
The Legislature‚s next meeting, however, is scheduled
after the deadline, on Nov. 13.
Rosa remembers growing up in a different Catskills: one that
saw most of his schoolmates coming off working dairy farms,
and Friday nights made special by a shopping trip to town.
He says that he long emulated his father‚s job as a
state forest ranger, a yearning that cemented a still-existent
love of nature deep within. But he also says that his years
working with the Margaretville A&P, as well as the larger
A&P Corporation, as well as years running his own electronics
business, gave him a real sense of what fears and hopes rule
local lives. Plus a decent background in bookkeeping and accounting,
skills he‚s found necessary in running the CWC.
According to its website, the CWC "is a not-for-profit
corporation with a dual goal: to protect the water resources
of the New York City Watershed west of the Hudson River, while
preserving and strengthening communities located in the region."
Under the 1997 New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement,
for which Rosa served as a key negotiator, it is in charge
of running 14 city-funded environmental protection and economic
development programs in the watershed west of the Hudson River,
all implemented during Rosa‚s years with the organization
and including the Catskill Fund for the Future (CFF), which
gives out loans and grants to businesses and organizations;
a half million dollar Economic Development Study completed
several years ago; $32 million in Stormwater Controls for
New Construction; and $8 million Stormwater Retrofit Program;
over $14 million in local Septic System Rehabilitation and
Replacement for residences; a $3 million Alternate Design
Septic Program; over $10 million for construction of storage
facilities for road de-icing materials for municipalities;
$1 million for grants to schools and organizations; and another
$1 million for a Regional Watershed Museum originally skedded
for building in Shandaken and later shifted to Middletown;
and $3 million in Tax Consulting. Assistance to municipalities
to review and administer New York City property assessments
and taxes. These programs have been augmented with nearly
$30 million in new funds for further septic replacements and
municipal sewer systems, among other projects.
Rosa says he‚s proud of what the CWC has accomplished,
but looks forward to further work ensuring greater cooperation
between local towns, agencies and people in general.
"I like public service," he says. "I like trying
to help people."
He says a lot of what he does involves close listening, and
the empathetic act of trying to understand issues from various
sides. This means he‚s had to understand slow movement
with regional issues because of the needs of consensus building.
He says one of the things that‚s surprised him as much
as anything in his public life of the last 13 years has been
the way it‚s allowed him to "grow himself"
in regards to issues.
When talking about future challenges, Rosa addresses questions
about bringing more business to the Catskills. He says that‚s
what he hears most about, although he has found substantial
growth despite complaints, largely a growth built on the region‚s
second home boom, as well as the number of second homers now
moving to the region full time. Yes, he says, tourism can
augment that. But things have to be inched forward carefully,
given the delicate nature of the issues, and concerns, that
face both the Catskills and the CWC‚s protection of
the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement between New York City and
regional towns and counties regarding the maintenance of a
careful balance between environmental safeguards and developmental
Locally, Rosa sides with "the process" regarding
the Crossroads Ventures development being planned for the
Highmount and Big Indian areasof neighboring Shandaken. At
least at this early stage in the game.
"Ultimately," Rosa says, "the decisions will
lay with the Town of Shandaken, which will be handled through
the electoral process. People just have to remember not to
throw too many stones."
He continued with a comment, and a subtle chuckle, about the
old adage of there being "two stones for every dirt"
throughout the Catskills.
In the end, though, he says from his perspective, the region
seems to be in good shape, and doing better than it ever has.
"I've always loved Olive, where I knew a lot of folks
growing up," Rosa says.
Cassel proudly showed off the new gym floor and a hallway
of spanking new classrooms that replace the modulars and provide,
for the first time, separate rooms for such activities as
music and art. She said the new rooms are equipped with light
sensors to turn lights on automatically when someone enters
a room, prompting a small boy to report on the first day of
school, "The bathroom is haunted." Another wing
features a spacious library and rooms for support staff and
consultants in special education, formerly crammed onto the
stage. The tour concluded with the new and brightly lit cafeteria
at the east end of the building, where smiling board members,
parents, and a sprinkling of children assembled for the board
meeting and the cutting of a "Welcome to Bennett"
Also at the celebration, the board recognized forty years
of service by sixth-grade teacher Rudy Hellenschmidt, who
retired this spring, having worked his entire career in the
same classroom at Bennett. After receiving a plaque, Hellenschmidt
addressed the room, reporting that he had graduated from Onteora
in 1959 as president of his graduating class and had been
the first Onteora graduate hired to teach in the district.
Expecting to work at the high school, he accepted a temporary
position teaching sixth grade when no secondary-level positions
were open, and ended up loving his job. His son, daugher,
and wife all went to Bennett, and he expected his granddaughter
would go there as well. His wife of 18 years, he said, was
in his first class, adding, "My heart and soul are in
this school." Four of his students now teach in the district,
and four work at Onteora as aides.