Follow Up on the
The Coalition Our Ally?
At a special
meeting Monday night, only Robert Cross Jr. of Shandaken
voted against the idea. The issue was whether or not the
Coalition was within the parameters of its mission statement
if it decided to consider a request from the towns of Olive
and Neversink to ask the State legislature to amend the
large parcel law. According to Olive’s Bruce LaMonda,
his town wants New York City reservoirs to be excluded from
the law. Currently those reservoirs are included, and as
a result both towns stand to be hit with major increases
should the surrounding County’s and school districts
chose to use the law.
Coalition Attorney Jeff Baker reviewed the group’s
mission statement and said that in his opinion large parcel
is something that does not fall within the statements parameters.
Taking a position one way or another on large parcel, Baker
said, “Is not within the scope of what the Coalition
was set up to do.”
But LaMonda fought back. “I totally disagree,”
he said, and launched into a tirade against large parcel.
Committee Chair Pat Meehan had to remind LaMonda that the
issue was whether the Coalition should involve itself in
matters beyond that are related to the watershed deal and/or
the New York City DEP.
The Committee didn’t decide anything Monday other
than to agree they would consider it, but it was clear that
all involved, except Cross, are ready to send that message
to Albany, despite fact based warnings from Cross and Woodstock
Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber. Both say the law as it stands
now evens out the school taxes in districts like Onteora,
where several towns are. Olive, they say, has been under
taxed for decades thanks to the City of New York paying
taxes for its Ashokan reservoir, valued at $340 million,
to the town instead of directly to the school district,
which is what the law would require.
Frank Bachler, Supervisor of the Delaware County Town of
Meredith, led the way for the rest of the committee, saying
he was appalled that some towns like Shandaken and Woodstock
in Ulster County would even consider doing something to
another town that would cause taxes to jump by over 50%.
“Delaware County would never do it…. I just
think its wrong,” he said.
Bachler said the way he reads the Coalitions mission statement
the Coalition can get involved with any watershed issues
it wants to.
This one he said is “very divisive,” and needs
the Coalition’s attention. All but Cross agreed, again
claiming that Olive has had a tax break for many years.
Middletown Supervisor Len Utter said Olive’s not to
blame for that good fortune.
“It’s the luck of the draw,” he said.
“A house in (the Delaware County town of) Colchester
pays about a third of what my house (in the Delaware County
Town of Middletown) pays in taxes. I don’t hold that
The decision, however, may bring repercussions. Committee
Chair Patrick Meehan said that the new interpretation of
the Coalition’s mission might open the floodgates
for all sorts of special interest groups or individual municipalities
to seek the Coalitions support for a variety of causes.
Until Monday the Coalition was seen exclusively as an advocate
of the watershed region, created solely to battle its arch
nemesis, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
That Department holds considerable power in the region and
has the authority to impose regulations.
In fact it was just such a circumstance in the early 1990’s,
when the Department announced plans to severely regulate
land use in the region, that the Coalition was formed. Then
the Coalition was the voice of a unified group of over 50
watershed communities that successfully spoke out against
the over regulation. Now, Meehan noted Monday, the Coalition
is using its power to help some watershed communities at
the expense of others.
“It’s a Pandora’s box,” Meehan warned.
Cross predicted that as a result of Monday’s decision
the Coalition could now expect Shandaken residents to come
before the committee and ask it to get involved in all sorts
“You can deal with it if you want, but I’m telling
you they’re gonna be here,” Cross warned.
In response Meehan said, “Well, I guess these meetings
are going to get more entertaining than have been in the
Evidence of turmoil to come was seen immediately after the
meeting when Bachler was embroiled in an argument with Wilber
over the large parcel issue.
In The Feds Now
While City officials
say they welcome the Corps input, they don’t expect
to close the Shandaken tunnel until they want to. Shandaken
officials complain the tunnel is shooting water into the
Esopus full blast and fear it will cause flooding when combined
with the natural forces that have been hitting the region
with more and more regularity
The DEC conducts mandatory inspections of these high hazard
dams every two years and in between such inspections, The
City’s Department of Environmental Protection conducts
periodic inspections of the dams.
Hinchey has been getting lots of calls from watershed dwellers
lately. They wonder, he said, if their property is safe
after hearing recent news that at least one New York City
owned dam in the Catskills is in bad shape, and others may
not have been inspected properly.
Hinchey wonders too, and while he said his confidence in
New York City’s ability to take care of these problems
and prevent others isn’t completely shaken, he thinks
they could use the expertise of the Army Corps of Engineers
as they take on the task.
While lauding recent steps taken on the State level to hold
inspections annually instead of every other year, Hinchey
said he was alarmed by recent reports that City officials
allegedly fudged routine dam inspection reports. Regardless,
Hinchey says the Army Corps would be invaluable asset.
"With the support and expertise of the Corps, it is
my hope that the NYSDEC can increase the frequency and scope
of dam inspections within the watershed, provide greater
scrutiny of (New York City’s) inspection process and
allay the fears of watershed residents," Hinchey wrote
in a letter to Lt. General Carl A. Strock, Commander of
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Washington, DC. "Initial
discussions with NYSDEC indicate a willingness to partner
with the Corps on this matter.”
Apparently, the Corps New York District office is not permitted
to get involved without permission from its Washington headquarters.
They have been involved however in related matters as recently
as last fall, when they were invited to work with the City’s
Department of Environmental Protection on repair plans for
the damaged Gilboa dam in Schoharie County.
“Yes, the Army Corps was involved with the Gilboa
Dam situation. They took part in a workshop on the subject
and reviewed the City's plans for stabilizing the dam,”
said Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental
Protection. “The Corps will also be involved in another
Gilboa workshop in February about the anchoring cables that
are going to be installed.”
Hinchey has also gotten Congressional approval for a complete
study of the watershed. He is working to get the funding
for such a study, which he says is the first step toward
ensuring the long-term integrity of the dams and prevent
He said that so far New York City has only been concerned
with supplying drinking water to downstaters. Now is the
time, he added, for the City to prioritize flood prevention
as well. Hinchey believes that within the next decade the
entire water supply system should re-engineered with flood
prevention issues in mind.
In a January 9th letter to Hinchey, the Commissioner of
the Department of Environmental Protection said her agency
is ready to work with any Federal level agencies on the
Commissioner Emily Lloyd wrote that she appreciates the
offer to help to minimize the impact of work at the Schoharie
reservoir on communities along the Esopus.
“DEP looks forward to working cooperatively with any
federal agencies that you identify which might have expertise
or assistance to provide,” said Lloyd.
However, Lloyd also says they won’t shut the tunnel
anytime soon. She said the need to reduce water levels in
the Schoharie is critical so it would be imprudent to limit
flows through the tunnel while there is a heightened risk
of failure at the Gilboa dam.
The dam is supposed to be stabilized this spring, and Micheals
has said that once that’s accomplished the tunnel
issue can be reconsidered. In an attempt to reduce concerns
about possible flooding related to the tunnel, Lloyd disagreed
with the many residents along the Esopus that blame her
agency for flooding and claims that the wide open tunnel
only adds three and one half inches to the Esopus just as
it’s about spill its banks. That, however, is in Boiceville
where the nearest flood gauge is. Lloyd admits the levels
upstream from the gauge are “clearly more pronounced,”
a remark that made Shandaken Supervisor Robert Cross Jr.
Cross said Monday that any claim that the tunnel doesn’t
significantly contribute to flooding is preposterous. Cross,
whose office is a quarter mile upstream from the tunnels
outlet, said the Esopus is at the highest level he’s
ever seen at this time of year. His own estimate is that
the tunnels discharge is adding up to two feet to the elevation
of the Creek in town.
“We are more vulnerable to flooding than we’ve
ever been before,” he said.
As far as the Army Corp. is concerned, one major trouble
spot on the Esopus is above the tunnel where the Creek threatens
to take out Town Hall and Route 28. Its such a concern that
it might be one flood prevention project thing will happen
sooner than later.
Hinchey said a plan of the Army Corp. is underway to stabilize
the Esopus Creek just upstream from Shandaken Town Hall.
The trouble spot is on a sharp bend in the powerful creek.
A severe storm in early April 2005, coupled with the effects
of the spring thaw and heavy rains days earlier resulted
in a hundred year flood event throughout the Watershed and
most of Ulster County. Damage to property caused by the
storm, said to be worst in decades, was in the tens of millions
of dollars. Since that event, the bank of the Esopus has
been rebuilt behind town hall with earthen fill and rock,
but whether it can withstand another major flood remains
Shortly after the April flood Hinchey toured the flood-damaged
areas and then called for a federal, emergency declaration,
which subsequently was given. At Hinchey's request, the
Army Corps of Engineers at the time inspected several sites
throughout Ulster County to determine an appropriate course
of action that they could follow and reported back with
a proposal that would involve a restoration project in Shandaken
where the Esopus Creek is threatening the town hall and
This project may dovetail with other Army Corp efforts.
In 2004 the New York City Department of Environmental Protection
performed the first phase of an assessment of the Esopus
Creek. That information is now in use as a foundation for
further investigation to evaluate the conditions of the
streams overall health, identify areas of concern and propose
recommendations to address those concerns.
According to Jeremy Megliaro of Cornell Cooperative Extension,
which is working with the City on the Esopus Creek assessment,
it is actually Dr. Craig Fischenich of the Army Corps. Research
and Development Centers Environmental Laboratory that’s
overseeing the assessment. That assessment will be completed
in the fall, Megliaro said Friday.
“It’s a priority site for the town,” Megliaro
said. “The town has been in contact with the Congressman’s
office about it.”
While the City works primarily from a position of providing
pure drinking water for downstate consumption, Hinchey said
last week that City officials should begin weighing flood
prevention measure with equal importance.
Hinchey will be pursuing funds this year for the project.
An estimate was not immediately available.
New Tax Exemptions
In Local Law No.1, Chapter 142-5 of the Olive tax code relating
to seniors was amended to set a 50% exemption against assessed
property values on households with annual incomes up to
$24,000. Each additional $1,000 of income up to $27,000
is permitted 5% less in exemptions or, for example, $24,000.01
to $24,999.99 is allowed 45%, $25,000 to $25,999.99 receives
a 40% exemption and $26,000.00 to $26,999.99 gets 35%. Further
exemption rates are as follows:
$27,000.00 to $27,899.99 = 30%; $27,900.00 to $28,799.99
= 25%; $28,800.00 to $29,699.99 = 20%; $29,700.00 to $30,599.99
= 15%; $30,600.00 to $31,499.00 = 10% and $31,500.00 to
$32,399.99 can take a 5% exemption. Incomes of $33,000 or
above are ineligible for local real property tax exemptions.
In Local Law No.2, it is noted that the highest dollar amount
exemption for veterans of military service allowable under
New York State Real Property Tax Law is $180,000. The Olive
law recognizes changes in the Real Property Tax Law Section
458-a to set maximum exemptions against assessed value at
50% ($90,000), 15% ($27,000) and 10% ($18,000) depending
upon the individual veteran’s standard of eligibility.
At a public meeting earlier that day, Terry Breitenstein,
Director of Ulster County Veterans Svc. Agency, explained
the changes to a packed meeting hall on Bostock Road. He
advised veterans to file their applications for exemptions
prior to March 1st, although impact statements regarding
to the town reval in progress will not be available until
later in that week. He also noted that some local veterans
whose exemptions surpassed their local tax bill in recent
years will now find themselves owing taxes they have been
unaccustomed to paying.
“Many of the vets in low assessment areas have not
been paying property taxes,” Breitenstein said. “When
the reval is finished (in Olive), the type of exemption
that’s available now doesn’t carry the weight
that the old one did. Primarily, everything is based on
assessments- which is now as it should be. It’s called
a tax exemption’ and I’ve fought for years to
make it exactly that. What is should be is that it should
have a dollar amount. If you served in the military, regardless
of what time period it was, you should get an X-amount tax
exemption. If you served in combat, it should be double
that. If you have a service-connected disability, you should
get an additional percentage off. This should be addressed
by the state legislature.”
The exemption amounts currently available to veterans against
real property taxes on their primary residences (where they
live for six or more months a year) vary according to individual’s
military experience. A qualified property can generally
receive an exemption equal to 15% of its assessed value.
Service in a combat zone qualifies a vet for an additional
10%. A service-connected disability qualifies a veteran
for “an additional exemption which is equal to one-half
of the disability rating multiplied by the assessed value
of the property.”
These exemptions are subject to the maximum limits set by
the municipality which, in Olive and in Ulster County, are
in accord to the maximum allowable by state law or $180,000
but veterans should check with the local assessor, the Ulster
County Real Property Tax Service Agency at 340-3490 or the
Veterans Svc. Agency at 340-3190. Additional information
and applications for Alternative Veterans Exemptions are
available from the above sources and contain Time of Service
charts to help determine which combat exemptions are available
to veterans. [For example, holders of an Expeditionary Medal
from actions in Lebanon (1983-1987), Grenada (Oct. 23, 1983-Nov.21,
1983) or Panama (Dec.20, 1989-Jan.31, 1990) would be qualified
only for exemptions up to 25%.]
Jar Of Olives...
Who could forget Stork at this time of year? He would give
us a double-toot as he came by on the County plow or truck.
He’s the man, who when he was Olive’s Dog Warden,
found a home for a deserted Beagle that we adopted and named
Bagel. He was the man I won at an American Legion picnic.
He had volunteered himself as a raffle prize to give an
eight-hour day’s work of the winner’s choice.
I won Stork; however, the prize smacked of slavery, so I
let him off his promise. He showed up the following Saturday
anyway, and he, Bruce and I stacked firewood for a few hours
that fall morning.
Speaking of firewood, this year’s pile is dwindling
reminding me that it only has to last another month and
a half. The weather has been so erratic. Our January thaw
has been sliced into balmy days that appear every three
days or so after Arctic Clippers announce that, yes, we
are still in winter. It’s a messy time of year. Ashes
from the woodstove settle on every surface; windows are
closed and the air feels overused and stagnant. Puddles
of melted snow or tracked-in mud mark doorways, and boots
and gloves litter chairs and benches.
To chase away the winter cabin fever, we need to hit the
slopes and get together with friends for any reason we can
think of to socialize. For example, there are some Lost
(Wednesday night’s prime time adventure of survivors
of a plane crash) groupies who have pot-luck dinners before
the television show or have follow-up discussion groups
to figure out what’s going to happen next. Jeanne
Davis and Judy Iapoce are two of these Lost devotees. So
Another place to go would be the Shandaken Theater’s
production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Our own Linda Burkhardt
plays the irascible Petronella Van Daan, and my student,
Sylvia Gorelick, stars as Anne Frank. The STS has planned
a special performance for the eighth grade on February 16.
Since the play and Holocaust study are a part of the eighth
grade curriculum, the cooperation of school and community
provides students with live drama and a boost to learning.
Last Sunday I attended the Convention that was held at Hillside
Manor for the purpose of honoring Harry Castiglione, who
is retiring as Democratic Election Commissioner, and nominating
John Parete as the successor to fill out Harry’s remaining
term. John received a unanimous nomination and was commended
for his leadership as Democratic County Chairman. Ulster
County is an extensive geographic area, so it’s comforting
to have a strong voice come from this “neck of the
Have you met Veronica, John and Cassidy Lohrer? They moved
here from New Jersey to Boiceville to bring their daughter
up in the best place possible.
Cassidy’s grandpa, Billy Lohrer, asked me to mention
that Olive’s fire department responded to 283 calls
in 2005. When they are answering a fire call, most volunteer
fireman activate blue lights on top of or inside the vehicle.
First aid responders and emergency vehicles have green lights.
Although it is not a law, it is common sense and courtesy
to pull over and let them through. Amber lights are used
by vehicles who are snow plowing to let traffic know they
are working and to be cautious.
It is surprising how many people do not know how to report
a fire or emergency. Even children should be taught to dial
911 and have the fire number memorized. I know it’s
on a red and white sign right outside your house on a tree
or pole, but if it’s dark or the power is gone, it
wastes time to go run outside with a flashlight to write
down a four- digit number. In times when minutes count,
locating a number and giving an address slows down the response.
Power outages are too commonplace these days in Olive. As
I type this on a battery- operated laptop, I recall that
today’s outage is adding insult to injury when we,
in Shokan, were out thirty hours one weekend and twenty-eight
the next. Here we go again. I’m off to find candles