With the full town board and 7 or 8 committee members present,
Councilman Bruce LaMonda said he spoke for himself when he voiced
concern that the town was not represented in Albany and had
been put in a "colonial" position.
“I don't think they (state officials) respect our positions,"
LaMonda said. "I think (Senator John) Bonacic and (Assemblyman
Kevin)Cahill became alienated toward the town because they expected
us to roll over and play dead when they slammed the door in
our face and we haven't done that."
Leifeld speculated that the Large Parcel Law was enacted at
a county level because the county legislature's minority leader,
Dave Donaldson, was miffed at Olive-based legislators Peter
Kraft, Richard Parete and Robert Parete for failing to support
his choice for county highway superintendent. But who knows
what political rag piles smoulder in the backroom?
Discussions, early in the meeting, concerned political figures
involved in the issue and the lamentable mileage they have gotten
out of a few lines of "spin," even when those lines
contradict each other.
"There's a lot of misinformation and most of it is coming
out of Albany. We
feel the reservoir is still underassessed," LaMonda observed,
looking at the rationale often given for exercising the law
in Olive. "Yet, Cahill has claimed we have an artificially
low equalization rate because we OVER assessed it."
To be fair, on separate occasions, the Assemblyman has also
opinion that the properties are, in fact, grossly UNDER assessed
and it is an old lawsuit over those assessments which lies at
the heart of the current dilemma, twisting perceptions of what's
really going on behind the law. Spin emerges from both sides
of the debate and, as Bryan Keefer confesses in a recent issue
of Columbia Journalism Review, "Rather than sorting
through the facts and pointing out what is true and what is
not- something good reporters are qualified to do - we too often
treat the truth as something the reader or viewer should be
able to discern from competing bits of spin." In this case,
there are bits of fact on both sides of the issue and a longer
perspective is required to discern where the balance of truth
At the meeting, Councilman Henry Rank pointed out that Olive
has paid a lion's share of the Onteora School District tax burden
over the years. (See accompanying article "Pre-Parcel History")
It is only in recent years that the balance has shifted somewhat
as the direct result of New York City lawsuits challenging local
assessments as too high.
"The residential market is rising so fast that it effects
the equalization rate tremendously," said LaMonda. "The
value of the reservoir can't keep up with it, so, the apportionment
rate and the equalization rate keeps pulling apart. Therefore,
the further apart they get, the larger the effect of the large
parcel law. With a 40% change in the (Office of Real Property
Services) value of the reservoir, we take a bigger chunk of
the school district but the logic to that was- if we get a 40%
increase in our school taxes, New York City pays 55% of that.
However, with the large parcel law, they don't pay any of that
LaMonda said the law discriminates against smaller towns because
the larger tax bases of metropolitan areas wouldn't have one
entity representing the 5% of municipal value needed to activate
Leifeld noted that the school board vote was primed in 2003
to vote in the Large Parcel Law.
"They gave us a year to 'clean up our house' when they
knew damn well a reval is a 2-year process," Leifeld said.
Various strategies of approach to the issue were brought up,
including a close examination of the New York City-Olive agreements
prior to the reservoir's construction. Committee members, including
Mary Ann Mays, John Tisch and Rita Vanacore encouraged seeking
coverage in New York City-based media.
"A hundred years ago, this place got raped," declared
Tisch. "This is where
they (NYC) get their water and they should be made aware of
what's happening here now."
Tisch has taken the position that the establishment of a reservoir
in the center of the town's business center presented a severe
economic handicap which the reservoir taxes were meant to replace.
He speaks of the panorama visible from the reservoir's present
location and the town's prominent position as a gateway to the
Catskills at the turn of the last century which was destined
to develop into a far greater tourist Mecca than Woodstock,
which some say inherited the role when the reservoir was placed
here. With the City maintaining over half of the land area unoccupied
and restricting commercial development, some Olive residents
claim that their tax-raising abilities are indeed handicapped
but other towns are parking in their space, so to speak.
One audience member, who swore his son would not be attending
Onteora, felt that a certain level of animosity existed between
residents of Olive and Woodstock which dates back, at least,
to the controversy on the school mascot.
Other committee members and voices prominent at the meeting
included Jac Conaway, Claire Kassor, Amy Friedman, David Norton,
Henrietta Wise and Marlene Colgate.
Leifeld said the committee was free to choose its own directions
and report their findings to the town board. As an unofficial
body, they may meet privately and upon their own schedule.
the call for cuts and the specific questions posed November
30 by legislators to department heads made for a spectacle unlike
the normal ho-hum county budget process.
County department heads complied with the directive in a variety
Perhaps the most dramatic and painful proposal came from County
Social Services Commissioner Glenn Decker said the county would
save $863,276 next year by eliminating the unit called Coordinated
Children’s Services and laying off the 19 case workers
staffing it. But he said such a cut would ultimately cost taxpayers
far more than is saved, because the children served by the program
would likely be institutionalized or incarcerated without it,
at a cost of several million dollars. Decker called the prospect
of such cuts, “my worst nightmare.”
The county Sheriff’s office, which has been scrutinized
because of the huge cost overruns and delays at the new jail
and sheriff’s headquarters building now under construction
in Kingston, proposed, in a terse one paragraph memo from Sheriff
Richard Bockelmann, cutting some $460,000 from the line for
boarding out, which had exceeded $1.5 million under the original
tentative budget. He also wrote, without explanation, that he
would cut DSS-Security 1813-8040 benefits by $103,000. While
the construction costs and the department annual operating costs
are separate, legislators have questioned several aspects of
the sheriff’s spending plan, especially those projected
costs to board out prisoners that greatly exceed the amounts
in of previous years.
The complexities of mental health funding lead to difficult
choices, said Marshall Beckman, director of the county mental
health department who provided a detailed 18-page memo regarding
his agency. “We cannot achieve a 3.5 percent funding reduction
without taking severe steps,” he wrote in a refrain repeated
in various forms throughout the written and verbal presentations.
No decisions were made at the special meeting, and legislators
have until mid-December to finalize their spending plan. While
the leadership had originally hoped to wrap up the budget December
8, it has postponed that meeting until December 13.
Legislators, especially Democrats, continue compiling figures
they say could be used to hide fat in department budgets. At
the November 30 meeting, City of Kingston Democrat Jeanette
Provenzano handed out two separate lists of costs totaling over
$8 million she said needed further clarification.
The first list was a compilation of line items in each department
budget numbered 433-4553 Miscellaneous Contractual expenses.
The line item is contained on nearly every page of the budget
in amounts ranging from $1.95 million in a line item called
“Contingent Account” on page 76 of the 2005 tentative
budget to figures as small as $75. The 103 lines in the budget
listed as miscellaneous contractual expenses totaled $6.63 million
on Provenzano’s list.
In their call for the cuts, Democrats included guidelines calling
for department heads to begin their quest for cost containment
by freezing management salaries at 2004 levels. But among the
roughly 40 departments and agencies who made written presentations
on their budget, only one could immediately be found which contained
a salary freeze or reduction, and that involved a newly hired
employee replacing a long serving employee who retired.
Another pool of money is the so-called flex benefits package
provided management personnel over and above their normal salary
and benefit package. While the flex benefits can cover medical
costs, they can also cover costs ranging from a divorce lawyer
to personal bankruptcy. And in a wrinkle that rankles many Democrats
and county labor leaders, county management who don’t
use the flex benefit receive a check from the county every December
for amounts that can reach $2,000.
The 2005 tentative budget plan, released in late October, called
for a 24 percent county property tax hike a figure that county
administrator Art Smith said was winnowed from valid appropriation
requests that would have created a 40 percent tax hike.
But Democrats on the county legislature, which has a 17-16 Republican
majority, called for across the board cuts of 3.5 percent. They
said their figures showed that would save almost $10 million,
or roughly the amount to be raised by the property tax increase.
Of Tax History
of course, they're not counting the reservoir tax funds as part
of the Town of Olive," said Rozzelle. "They take it
off the top, so it looks like we're paying 22% and Woodstock's
paying 41%. That's bogus. We're paying 38% and they're paying
33%. Just because the Real Property Law was written to take
our tax base doesn't mean that money wasn't generated because
of real property in the Town of Olive."
The actual facts are that Olive has traditionally paid more
than their share of the school tax burden and the recent low
evaluation rates arose from a situation outside of the town's
control. Anyone who cares to look into it, she points out, can
plainly see the obvious limitation of Olive's choices in the
The birth of the Onteora School District, during the reign of
district superintendent R.R. Bennett, is so faintly remembered
these days that even the usually reliable historian Alf Evers
misplaces the event into the 1960s in his book on Woodstock.
Actually, though, the centralization of the Olive-Shandaken-Woodstock
schools began taking shape here and in Albany during 1944 and
culminated in April of 1947 when a study group called the "Rapp
Committee" and a Commissioner of Education named Spaulding
formally proposed what would then be "one of the largest
and richest (centralizations) in the State." Why? "Because
there are enough pupils and enough true valuation to make it
among the very best."
The project would combine enrollments of 196 students from Olive,
286 students from Woodstock, 290 students from Shandaken and
16 students from Lexington into a central district with an assessed
valuation of $10,217,880 and a true valuation of $20,271,548.
In the tale of the tape, however, the financial requirements
were met from True Valuations of $131,556 from
Lexington; $3,583,075 from Woodstock; $4,832,876 from Shandaken
and $11,724,041 from Olive.
In 1947-8, the tax rate per $1000 of assessed valuation broke
down to $14.58 for Shandaken; $14 for Olive and Lexington and
$12.72 for Woodstock. By
1953, it had risen to $26.87 for Shandaken; $25.80 for Olive
and Lexington and $23.45 for Woodstock. Seems a distant dream
to those of us without a time machine.
As the total annual school budget grew during the 1950s and
60s, and from
$5,117,931 in 1971 to $14,279,101 in 1984, Olive continued to
pay a larger share of the split. For example, in 1980, when
the amount to be raised by taxes was $7,629,622, Olive paid
35%; Woodstock 28%; Shandaken 19% and latecomer Hurley 16%,
with about 2% designated under "other."
As taxes to be raised doubled over the next decade, in 1984,
Olive lost a fateful lawsuit out of the many legal challenges
New York City hurled at Olive's assessment of its properties.
As the result of a negotiated settlement involving State Supreme
Court justices, the town was obliged to reduce the reservoir
assessment over a period of 4 years and refund $35,000 a year
to the City over the course of 15 years. Olive signed an agreement
with the court not to alter the properties' assessment and to
undertake "no comprehensive re-evaluation of all properties
within the Town..." through 1989.
"They didn't sue us for 16 years because we weren't going
to touch their
figures," Rozzelle said. "Well, there's no sense doing
a re-evaluation for the rest of town when you can't touch a
figure which controls 55% of your tax base. You're going to
tell me to put a higher value on my little cabin when I can't
touch the value of my neighbor's mansion?"
Although Olive could not pursue the proportional absurdity of
a reval during the contentious period, it was on the boards
when another 'consent not to sue' agreement expired in 1997
and New York City responded with fresh litigation which further
stalled the process.
As soon as a new court decision in 2002 threw out the City's
accepted Olive's, the town pressed for a raise in ORPS' assessment
and, before it could lauch a reval, the Large Parcel storm blew
into town without a hint of warning from state representatives
and the deck was shuffled yet again.
Now, when she hears snide suggestions of some sort of scheme
on Olive's part to maintain lower taxes by manipulating the
equalization rate from political spin masters, the town clerk
just shakes her head and sets her jaw in an angry line.
Neal’s one of the great givers of the area, known for
her baking and other cooking skills, a staple for any who have
ever attended an Onteora school board meeting in Phoenicia,
or any number of M.F. Whitney Fire Company events over the years.
Yet Neal’s giving – which gains in quantity to match
its unmatchable quality this time of year – goes much
farther, involving years of work with the local PTA and fire
department, running holiday events for each.
And this all between regular work at the Phoenicia Pharmacy
and local post offices, where she’s been cleaning up for
Kathy says she picked up her baking and other cooking skills
when she found herself forced to take on many of her family’s
homemaking responsibilities at the age of eleven. The memory
remains bittersweet for the sweet woman who is not ashamed when
emotions ripple through her, lending her compassionate actions
a sincerity to counter their sentimentality.
Suffice it to say, Neal knows what it is to have little in this
rural area. And to be thankful, and giving, with all one gets,
or has gotten.
“I was taken in by a family,,,” she starts to explain
about the roots of her empathetic nature.
We choose to speak about getting Christ back into the Spirit
of Christmas, and the joys of parenting. And furthermore, Neal’s
continuing belief that in its more elemental character, the
area hasn’t changed.
“If somebody needs help, people here will help,”
Neal says. “There’s a community of support here.”
As for problems… she worries a bit that today’s
schools force children to take on too much too early, and lose
some of the simpler joys of just being kids.
And yet it’s not enough to gripe about. Just comment on.
Her favorite holiday song, Neal says, is :Away in a Manger.”
Her favorite song, bar none, is the Methodist hymn, “I
Love To Tell The Story.”
And her holiday wish? Simple:
“That every body has a happy holiday season and that if
they don’t have what they need, they get it for the holidays.”
Which should, for those in the know, include some of Kathy Neal’s
great baking… not to forget her wide and open soul, her
soaring pure-as-snow Catskillian spirit.