Follow Up on the
"We've had luck with the Internationals," said Fugel
of the four-wheel drive trucks that have a price tag of $128,000.
"And they are available from state bid."
Because there is currently a one year wait within the state bidding
process to get the necessary sanding and plow fixtures to outfit
the trucks, Fugel said he solicited bids for this equipment from
the private sector and settled on a dealer from Steventown in
Rensselaer County who will also do the installation. Making the
purchases in this manner, Fugel said, will ensure that the trucks
are ready to hit the road by next October.
Funding for the new trucks, Fugel said, will be come from highway
department reserve fund as approved by the Town Board earlier
this year. All highway department purchases over $1000, he said,
require approval from the town board.
Each truck in the snow plow fleet has a specific run that takes
approximately four hours to complete. When it is snowing, Fugel
explained, workers will sand intersections and steep hills while
they are plowing. And once the snow has stopped, they sand everything.
During ice storms, however, the department uses three to five
times the amount of sand and salt mixture used in a snow storm.
"The last one we had was an ice storm," Fugel offered
as an example. "Even after the roads were plowed, we had
to keep going out and sanding because you have to melt [the ice]
off the road." And although cars driving on the unplowed
roads makes it more difficult for the highway department to remove
the snow and ice, traffic after plowing and sanding helps. "You
can't have it both ways," Fugel said.
And how did the mailboxes fare against this year's plowing?
"We got our share, but call us and we'll put them back up
at the first opportunity," Fugel said.
Note: Although most folks believe mailboxes are knocked down by
the snow plow, it is usually the force of the snow coming off
the plow- rather than a collision with the plow- that is
the culprit. And the heavier and wet the snow, Fugel says, the
worse it is for the mailboxes.
Belligerence surfaced on a couple of occasions, when opposition
forces heckled union representatives while they were speaking.
Bunce drew a loud response when he called project opponents
"obstructionist," as did Teamster representative
Rodney Van Voorhis of Local 445 out of Newburgh when he taunted
several Onteora students carrying placards.
Sam Fratto, Assistant Business Manager of the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers out of Harriman, got both
sides of the audience on their feet when he told those opposing
the Gitter proposal, students and local alike combined, to
"grow up," called the region's second homes a sign
of gluttony, then suggested that if people really wanted wilderness
experiences in the Catskills, they might consider destroying
those second homes.
Each of the union speakers, which included a representative
of the AFL/CIO out of Rockland County, talked about the need
for "quality jobs" in the area and Gitter's promise
to "hire locally."
Later, as the union forces started to leave two hours into
the eight hour meeting, a survey of twenty-eight of them revealed
that the closest had come from Liberty, in neighboring Sullivan
County, or Gardiner and Lloyd in southern Ulster County. They
all said they'd been told to come via e-mails and phone calls
because their presence could "assure us jobs down the
line when he project starts," as Robert Piatt of Local
417, Ironworkers, put it.
Pruitt and his union-mate, James Hubbard of Newburgh, said
they'd been given the idea that a moratorium on all development
and construction was to be set in place in the Catskills.
It was their first time in the area. They said from what they
could see driving up Route 28 from the Thruway to Boiceville,
there was already enough wilderness around not to heed a Not-In-My-Backyard
opposition to a resort that would bring good jobs.
"This is definitely the sticks out here," Hubbard
Bunce, who also serves as President of the Catskills Casino
Coalition, which has been lobbying for gambling as a salve
for the region's economic problems, publicly referred to a
Project Labor Agreement he made recently with Gitter, based
on the developers' promise "that local labor will be
utilized throughout the various phases of the project."
Speaking by phone from his Orange County offices after the
hearing, Bunce said that he had signed the "front end"
of a deal for the initial construction phase of the Belleayre
resort project "about a year ago." He then explained
that "local" refers to a seven county area, union-wise.
He urged those who were non-union workers looking for jobs
from Shandaken and neighboring towns to apply for apprenticeship
positions with the various trades as a means of getting on
the proposed job site.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the local non-union guys up
there just don't have the manpower to proceed with a job of
this sort," Bunce said. "I know Catskill Corners
used local, non-union labor, but this is a different thing
So how, when, and why did the word go out to the various unions'
rank and file to show up en masse for the February 19 hearing?
Bunce said that he had been keeping tabs on the string of
hearings that started in mid-January and "felt there
had to be some people up there speaking for the project."
He arranged attendance with "Gitter's people" over
Fratto said that he had organized his union's attendance after
Bunce told him that Crossroads was seeking union help at the
hearing. "We're for this project until told otherwise,"
Fratto said, explaining how he'd put the word out to 150 of
his unemployed rank and file the day before. "They came
because they want the work and know this is how they're going
to get it."
Asked whether anyone had been reimbursed for travel expenses,
Bunce replied, "Absolutely not! Did you ask that question
of the people who spoke against the project?"
As for any possible tie-ins to his other job as a casino advocate,
the labor organizer spoke of how all deals were currently
for casinos down in the Route 209 corridor. He said he didn't
think that Route 28 could handle such traffic. But then Bunce
raised the subject of Senator John Bonacic's recently proposed
legislation to open up gambling into Greene County and other
areas, and remove the need for any tie-ins to Native American
Throughout the entire hearing process for the Belleayre Resort
DEIS, advocates of the massive development -- which would
place two golf resorts, two hotels, and multiple time share
homes and condominiums along the ridgeline surrounding the
state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center - have lauded the
project's promise of local jobs cutting back on local residents'
need to go elsewhere, from Olive to Kingston, for employment.
Other speakers focused on issues of community character and
Marino D'Orazio, president of the Onteora School Board, read
a statement from the district outlining its concerns regarding
increased traffic on Route 28. Monla Davenport, President
of the Catskill 3500 Club and a member of the Woodstock Civic
Design Committee, spoke of the Catskill Park's concept of
wilderness and how the project would harm the Catskill Park's
inherently special qualities. Dr. Mac Lipkin of Chichester
spoke on behalf of the many second homers who make the area
home and are against the project, later challenging Fratto
on his call to take down second homes if people wanted wilderness.
Drawing on his experience as former President of the Bowery
Savings Bank and Executive Director of the Federal Savings
and Loan Insurance Corporation following the S&L debacle
of the 1980s, which he helped pull the nation out of, attorney
Stuart D. Root of Roscoe outlined potential problems with
the funding behind Belleayre Resorts.
"The Crossroads venture simply does not pass the smell
test," Root said. "Gitter's ability to start ripping
up the mountainside is not in question. Rather it is
his ability to complete the project, involving some of the
most difficult of all improvements to finance, namely time-shares.
Many institutional lenders will not touch such fragile real
estate structures. So where is Mr. Gitter getting his
funds? And if he cannot say, for whatever reason, should
he be allowed willy-nilly to 'start' construction?"
To date, Gitter has explained his financing plans in terms
of investors, the only visible team currently being that of
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Chairman Richard Fisher and Fisher's
Explaining how large development financing on the scale Gitter
is proposing usually works, Root spoke of two basic steps.
First, a lending institution is approached, usually a large
bank or investment house at such a large level. The developer
lays out his plans, including how he plans to pay back whatever
loans are granted. Second, the lending institution seeks protection
against its own shareholders, whose money they will be doling
out, so they don't end up with a hole in the ground if the
project fails- usually in the form of some sort of bonding.
"In this situation, what Gitter's basically doing is
blowing smoke by saying he's got deep pockets so no one should
be asking such questions," Root said. "He's making
it all look very cozy- and yet we haven't seen a single commitment
from any of the people behind all of this."
His views were repeated, and augmented, by apartment house
developer Larry Ravitz of Takoma Park, MD in a separate interview.
The entire real estate financing world is in flux, Ravitz
said. Fears in the development industry are that the low interest
rates that have fueled construction in recent months cannot
hold indefinitely, that they're an aberration that will eventually
face correction, likely after the election. When that happens,
he said, the costs for those seeking to buy, rent, or in Gitter's
case, visit a resort like the proposed Belleayre Resort will
go up far beyond what's now being touted. And that could spell
"It all comes down to how quickly one can build right
now," Ravitz said. "You don't want to end up with
an albatross. The big risk any developer takes is that the
interest rates will go up before you've finished what you're
"Of course, our investors are going for a non-recourse
basis for whatever they have in the project," an officer
at Crossroads Ventures'said after being told of Root's comments,
and Ravitz's questions. "I can't speak about how much
equity our investors have at this point! Whatever it is, it
is. And it will all be at risk."
Gitter, when reached for comment, hung up the phone when asked
"I think the investors would rather not talk on the record
about financing other than that there have been any number
of meetings with people in the (resorts) industry who have
given them encouragement. They say this year, compared to
last year, is really looking up, especially since the hit
the entire industry took back with the 9/11 tragedy,"
the Crossroads' official continued. "There are people
the investors are in regular touch with who do all sorts of
analyzing of the industry."
Finally, asked again about financing assurances, the official
said that "some major banking or pension funds"
would be used.
"Why does this Mr. Root think he's such an expert,"
the official concluded.
Back at the Onteora High School hearing, a letter was read
by Jon Griesser, a 1994 Onteora graduate. Co-signed by 17
Onteora and Margaretville High School graduates of recent
years, Griesser's comments focused on the jobs issues Gitter's
advocates have repeatedly alluded to, saying that as far as
most of the young locals he knew thought, they'd rather have
wilderness than resort jobs. He further posited that any pollution
harming the New York City watershed the project's in the middle
of, or even an angering of the city, could lead to the need
for the city to build a long-averted filtration system that
would effectively end New York's current funding of development
loans and grants to the region.
Our New Super...
Winters said, "One of my strengths is bringing groups
together," as she described her methods for healing splits
within a community. "It takes a lot of sitting around
a table and talking in a productive way. At some point you
cut through to what the anger's about and come up with a strategy.
Administrators need to hear and understand both sides and
always put the children first. Later on it helps to have a
whole new positive initiative rather than focusing on the
negative." In the case of Webatuck, the construction
of a middle school, their first capital project in fifty years,
brought people together.
A reorganization occurred when their two kindergarten through
third-grade schools were experiencing an imbalance in class
sizes. Busing was used to solve the problem but resulted in
resentment from parents when children living across the street
from one school had to ride to the other school. Finally it
was acknowledged that declining enrollments and the space
offered by the new middle school would make the smaller elementary
"It took two or three painful meetings," said Winters,
"but even the teachers realized that there would be advantages
to having more classes in one school, allowing team teaching.
The children felt it least. They're all right as long as they're
with their teachers and peers." Now the district is negotiating
to rent out the vacant school as a Veterans Administration
Winters suggested that having more stable leadership at the
school will be helpful. One of the new superintendent's first
tasks will be to hire a replacement for Woodstock's interim
principal, Bob Keagle, successor to a number of principals
who lasted only a year or two.
When asked how Winters would deal with teachers who were resistant
to change. Winters described a conflict between teachers and
parents at the middle and high school in her district after
the institution of block scheduling, which divided the day
into 90-minute blocks, with students taking only three courses
per semester. Parents felt their children were missing important
subjects in alternate years and had overloaded responsibilities
in some grades. Teachers, who liked the depth of instruction
this schedule afforded, felt attacked. The solution was to
conduct a survey and solicit reactions to the issue, as well
as research what was happening in other districts. The final
recommendations were to switch back to 45-minute classes at
the middle school and to provide training for teachers to
help them utilize the high school's 90-minute blocks better.
Winters said staff development was a priority in her district.
And what about possible tax increases?
"We had the same budget challenges as every other district
last year," Winters said. "We met with our curriculum
leaders and parent groups, and we ended up cutting 8.5 teaching
positions, or ten percent of our teachers. We had to demonstrate
why, for example, a second art teacher was not needed at the
high school. We have extremely conservative factions in the
community and on the board who always agitate for lower taxes."
In her seven years at Webatuck, all her budgets have passed,
with tax levy changes varying from a 1.1 percent decrease
to a 4.4 percent increase. Onteora's last two increases have
hovered around nine percent.
In response to a question about the need to improve technology
resources and instruction, she said an upgrade was accomplished
at Webatuck by obtaining grants from politicians. Many teachers
offered resistance, but training was made mandatory, and the
teachers went from 20 percent to 90 percent participation
in the use of computers in the classroom. Winters emphasized
the need for integration of computers into the curriculum,
as well as a technology plan to drive changes.
Regarding the Federal government's No Child Left Behind Act,
she commented, "I'm not confident it will really help.
It's not being well thought out. Some of the tests are not
designed by educators but are contracted out to companies.
I'm disappointed portfolio assessment is not part of the process.
A one- or two-day test shouldn't be the only measure of a
Finally, Winters has noted that after state
commissioner of education Richard Mills ordered districts
with Indian mascots to reassess their policies-after Onteora's
mascot debacle-Webatuck organized a study group to discuss
their team name, the Webatuck Warriors, and their symbol,
an Indian head with headdress. While some people felt the
team name implied violence, the final decision was that it
had a positive connotation that could be applied in many areas
of life and was not specific to Native Americans. The symbol's
headdress, however, was deemed to be out of place, since it
represented the dress of a Plains Indian, not of the Mohicans
who had lived in the local area. The board commissioned a
local children's book illustrator to research the region's
past and provide them with an inspirational artwork. He painted
a landscape of the Webatuck Creek with a canoe and a cluster
of small structures among a grove of trees. Students will
work with his images to come up with a school symbol that
is more historically appropriate, said Winters, "possibly
a man and woman in a canoe." She mentioned that she had
taught for some time on the Onondaga Reservation in central
New York State.
Winters formerly worked as a teacher and an administrator
at the Wappingers school district, where her two daughters
went to school. One of them received, upon graduation, a portfolio
representing her work from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Asked if she were tough enough to stay the course at Onteora,
Winters replied, "I'm challenged when the going gets
tough. Being nice doesn't mean you can't make tough calls
and draw a line in the sand."
Trustee Neil Eisenberg added, "I'm proud to have been
part of the process" of hiring Winters, a task which
he said was done carefully, thoroughly, and with the input
of all constituencies.
Board member Herb Rosenfeld was not present but sent a statement
praising Winters' vision as an educator and expressing confidence
in her abilities.
Winters was absent because of a board meeting at Webatuck
scheduled for the same night. She will attend a special meeting
at the Onteora High School at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, March 1,
for the purpose of formally introducing her to the community.
Superintendent Hal Rowe continued to paint a gloomy picture
of the budget situation for next year, reporting that requests
from administrators and department heads amount to about $4,140,000
in increases, while hikes in employee retirement fund contributions
come to over $1 million, a 225 percent increase for teachers
and 122 percent for non-certified staff. Employee health insurance
increases are actually lower than expected at 13 percent.
Rowe summarized the three categories of budget increases,
with 46.5 percent coming from employee benefits, 26.5 percent
from negotiated salary hikes, and 27 percent from programs,
equipment, and services.
In contrast, state aid, which comprised 13 percent of last
year's budget, will go up only $12,000, or one-eighteenth
of one percent, if Governor Pataki's proposed state budget
is accepted by the legislature.
"The challenge is how to fashion a budget that will get
the most mileage in educational opportunities and be acceptable
to the community," said Rowe. "We do not have enough
information to make decisions about the tax levy. As always,
the school district is forced to build a budget before knowing
what the revenue will be. We're not crying or complaining,
but we're talking about it a lot because we're going to be
living with this situation for several years."
At the March 8 regular meeting, the board will hear presentations
of budgets for instruction, technology, and Pupil Personnel
Services, which comprises special education. The superintendent's
preliminary budget recommendation is due on March 22. Trustee
Meg Carey asked Rowe, "Before that, will you be giving
us strategies for reducing the budget?" He replied that
Rowe also reported on enrollment figures, which are expected
to decline through 2013, according to a study prepared in
January 2004 by FACTS, an educational research and consulting
firm that provides statistical reports to school districts
in New York State. Projections are based on historical enrollment
figures, local live births reported by the Health Department,
census data, and new building permits granted by town building
inspectors. While the district had, at one time 200 students
in kindergarten, the present kindergarten enrollment is 113
and is projected to be 119 for next year. There will be 138
seniors leaving this June, reducing the current total enrollment
from 2147 to around 2130. The projected total for the year
2013 is 1646 students. "These numbers are based on time-tested
procedures for making projections," said Rowe. "They
could change for many reasons."
Architects say it will cost $165,000 to stabilize the waterlogged
basement and prevent further mold infestation of the now vacant
Ryan Building at the West Hurley Elementary School, according
to Facilities Committee chair Tom Rosato. A capital project
would have to be offered for voter approval in order to preserve
the historic school building, although this figure does not
cover what would be required to bring the building up to code
for occupancy, an additional $750,000 to $850,000. The Facilities
Committee is compiling a list of other infrastructure upgrades
to be covered in capital projects over the next five years,
including athletic facilities, high school auditorium seats,
paving, lighting, heating, piping, wiring, windows, playgrounds,
furniture, lockers, and floor tiles.