Follow Up on the
such signs was part of the review of strategy for a rally
scheduled at the Ulster County legislature building on Fair
Street in Kingston on February 10th; a demonstration the
committee feels is the best opportunity citizens of Olive
have to present a visible opposition to the Large Parcel
"Destroying us," is also a term used by Olive
Town Clerk Sylvia Rozzelle when she describes the daily
phone calls she receives from community residents at wit's
end, trying to cope with a 91% increase in taxes from the
county and almost 60% from the school district due to implementation
of the Parcel Law.
"Non-stop, all month long," Rozzelle said. "One
after another sad story of ... the guy, retired from IBM,
trying to make ends meet in his seventies after a pension
cut; people who live here because they couldn't afford to
live elsewhere or were looking to retire here; people saying
'now, I have to subdivide my land and sell it' and wealthier
people looking to move in and build a mansion."
"This is the end of rural life as we know it,"
said Large Parcel Committee member, Henny Wise at the meeting,
frowning as if to wonder where the new ghettoes will be
formed. "People of modest means, living in a rural
setting, who don't have a fancy little town that's been
'gentrified,' are being overwhelmed. It's happened all over
New York City and now it's coming here."
Hearing this, Kathleen Ruiz recalled Senator Bonacic's comment
to her in the fall that people who can't afford the higher
taxes will just have to move out. There are plenty of people
with more money ready to take their place, he reportedly
Considering that Olive has the second lowest county taxable
value among 21 towns in Ulster County at $2,994,228 according
to this year's tax rate chart from Ulster County Real Property
Tax Agency (ORPS), against Woodstock's richest figure of
$1,201,120,929 (topping even the mall-laden Town of Ulster's
$960,973,734), it does at a glance seem like the "reverse
Robin Hood Law" (as someone at the meeting termed it)
is right in step with today's political fashion by lowering
Woodstock's taxes 44% while raising Olive's 91%.
In terms of ORPS' "equalized value" chart, Olive
ranks 16th of the 21 towns, rating higher only than Rosendale,
Shandaken, Hardenburgh, Denning and
Kingston (town) in total "worth." All things being
equal, Woodstock comes third most valued behind Saugerties
and Kingston (city).
Other discussion at the meeting, which included a range
from pre-reservoir families to a very recent arrival, centered
upon legal issues such as a series of misrepresentations
of the large parcel bill in the state senate and assembly
prior to the vote by those August bodies to pass it.
Among these false signals, members of the group pointed
chiefly to the bill's
memorandum of sponsorship, a vote-guiding "handle"
for legislators on its purposes and drawbacks. Items like
"Fiscal implications: none" and "Local implications:
none" in the memo were circled as "lies"
by critics in the group, designed to mislead voters as to
the bill's potential impact.
The absence of reference to reservoirs in the bill itself
was noted, as was
the sponsor's intent to eliminate "wild swings"
in yearly tax rates. In fact, Large Parcel bill sponsor
Senator William Larkin specifically spells out his objectives
in a letter to Governor Pataki's Counsel, James M. McGuire
as "This bill creates a special equalization rate for
counties to apply which apportions taxes to apply following
a calculation for high value parcels owned by companies
such as utility companies, large research facilities and
large tracts of timberland."
"Under the current system," Larkin continued,
"'average' landowners with normal parcels can see their
real property tax bills and rates swing wildly based on
events that are out of the control of the taxpayer and municipality.
Further, these 'average' real property taxpayers can not
plan nor anticipate what their annual land taxes will be
from year to year." But rather than remedy this situation
in a reservoir district where wild swings do not exist,
argues the committee, the Large Parcel Law has created the
wild swing it seeks to eliminate.
Near the close of his letter, Larkin stated that "It
is my understanding that there is no known opposition to
this bill" but committee members are chanting "Hello?
Are you there, Senator? We had no opportunity to present
opposition because we were not informed of the bill before
it was voted upon." This, some committee members claim,
represents an illegal denial of due process.
Senator Hugh Farley echoes Larkin in an August 22, 2002
letter to McGuire written three weeks after the missive
quoted above: "Differences in the valuation of the
hydroelectric plant over the years, particularly as a result
of the change to a deregulated market and court action brought
by the power plant, have led to many problems for the Town
(of Corinth, in Saratoga County). As the equalization rate
swings, so, too, does the tax burden and the value of exemptions
such as the STAR school property tax exemption. In some
cases, this has been particularly hard on senior citizens
in what is already an economically struggling area of the
Committee members stress that these are circumstances which
never arise in cases of reservoirs without deregulated power
plants or large commercial developments and, if this was
Farley's criteria for urging the Governor to approve the
bill, how in the world, they wonder, did non-industrial
water supply systems- well outside of this target range-
get struck with the law?
While such provisions were clearly spelled out in the sponsor's
mysteriously disappeared from the Senate's website during
the crucial period, they were not clearly stated in the
bill itself, thus, argue members of the committee, misleading
those about to cast their ballot on the bill.
Charles Blumstein, who is filing a lawsuit to rescind the
law, pointed out at the meeting that a pattern of misrepresentation
and deception emerges at each stage of the law's history.
The Ulster County legislature, for example, was informed
by ORPS that their adoption of the law would cause a 28%
tax increase in Olive.
Town Clerk Rozzelle insists that ORPS had the figures to
prove that this percentage was grossly understated and Olive
officials have protested that if the proper dimensions of
the increase was made available instead of the "bogus"
number, the county would not have adopted it - no matter
how hard Woodstock legislators Michael Stock and Brian Shapiro
lobbied the county and the school board to embrace it. Ulster
County legislator Peter Kraft admitted at a recent town
board meeting that, without the proper numbers, the legislature
was voting in the dark, she recalled.
Even the school board meeting at which the law was locally
enacted, committee members note, violated state scheduling
Numerous other large parcel topics were discussed but organization
protest took a front seat through much of the evening. Details
such as the free pizza planned for demonstrators and legislators
were ironed out, among other preparations, such as the need
for a peaceful demeanor and questions of whether to carry
olive branches or tea bags.
Make A Break
as Leifeld gave voice to the assemblyman’s words:
“I appreciate the benefit of the Town of Olive’s
involvement in this (large parcel) issue. It is important
that we work together to deal with the controversy surrounding
the Ashokan Reservoir and the implementation of this law.”
The impression that the assemblyman was working against
the town rather than with them on the issue hung heavily
in the air, waiting for a spark to ignite response.
Saying that he was not aware of “any formal proposals
in the legislature to amend Chapter 556 of the Laws of 2002,”
Cahill worked in an “I told you so” nudge by
bringing up the town’s failed attempt to exclude reservoirs
from the law which he “consistently advised”
against. In the same paragraph, the purpose of the law,
as given in the sponsor’s memo of intent, is entirely
”Although there has been some confusion over the origins
and purpose of the law,” Leifeld read from the letter,
“it is now clear that it was intended to provide local
taxing authorities a means to ameliorate distortions in
equalization rates if they choose.”
The spark that would solicit a fiery response came in the
next paragraph as Councilman Bruce LaMonda shifted position
and expression as he listened but held his tongue until
Leifeld had finished the entire letter.
”As we discussed nearly two years ago, the valuation
of the reservoir itself is a separate but related matter,”
Leifeld continued reading. “You indicated that the
Town’s efforts to revalue all properties were being
thwarted by your concern that you would have been required
to accept a lower value for the Ashokan Reservoir property.
That is why I introduced legislation that would mandate
a more realistic valuation. Shortly after the introduction
this bill, the City of New York agreed to a significant
revaluation of the reservoir. As you know, this resulted
in the assessment of the reservoir increasing from $113
million to $340 million. This valuation is more in line
with the amounts the Town of Olive has proposed.”
Although the “net income” legislation Cahill
proposed didn’t reach first base, he speculated last
summer that the fact he had even proposed a method of assessment
which would boost the value of the reservoir far beyond
the $340 million it now rests at, may have scared New York
City into accepting a compromise with Olive’s figures.
Councilman Bruce LaMonda boiled over at this suggestion.
”I want to make something really, really clear here,”
LaMonda began. “I have seen this in the paper several
times. That is Kevin Cahill. I don’t know where he
gets the gall to write this letter to the town board, saying
he was instrumental in having the City of New York agree
to increase the value of the Ashokan Reservoir. I went to
every meeting that was held with the City along with Brendt,
who dragged me along out of the kindness of his heart, with
a paperclip on my lips. I went to every meeting with ORPS
in Albany. Kevin Cahill did nothing to help the Town of
LaMonda hotly disputed Cahill’s version of events,
describing the pains the town took to introduce a mass of
data, garnered from a long series of lawsuits with New York
City, to the ORPS board through the town’s Albany
law firm, Murphy & Hacker. He credited ORPS staff with
recognizing absurdity of the $119 million assessment when
confronted with the mass of materials with which they were
”At the appeals hearing, the City of New York, whom
Kevin Cahill says AGREED to increase the value, sent their
attorney, Lisa Schwartz, to vigorously oppose the increase,”
LaMonda steamed. “So, when Kevin Cahill tells me that
he got the City of New York to agree to a larger value on
the reservoir, I’m telling you I don’t know
how he got on the ethics committee in Albany because it’s
bullsh*t...if you’ll pardon my expression. And this
he’ll ‘continue to help the Town of Olive in
this issue’? He’s done nothing to help us.”
LaMonda noted that he was a Democrat and Cahill a Democratic
Assemblyman but that party politics stops dead when it comes
”What’s going on isn’t right and it’s
bad enough to be slapped with this stuff but for some guy
to stand up and take credit when he did nothing...”
LaMonda fumed, saying this tangle was more frustrating than
20 years of ugly frustration in dealing with New York City.
Leifeld said that the City’s attorney put up a strong
battle but must have known going in how ludicrous the $119
million assessment was to defend. He said it was a landmark
decision which is already starting to effect ORPS reservoir
assessments across the state. Both LaMonda and Leifeld acknowledged
that their suit was launched against a thick tide of legal
”There was only one attorney that said we should appeal
it, a local attorney, while everyone else said ‘it’s
not going to do you any good. ORPS won’t listen to
you. They never listen to anybody’,” LaMonda
pointed out. ”Well, Jack Darwak was the only guy that
was right because they DID listen...If you go in with substantial
documentation, they’re a reasonable group of people
to work with.”
”In the meantime,” said Leifeld, turning circumspect,
“it’s upsetting to campaign with people all
the years that we’ve done it and this kind of stuff
goes on, where he blatantly favors the other towns under
his jurisdiction and not the Town of Olive...We should all
be treated equally and I’ve got to tell you that we’re
not. I hate to say this but that’s the way it is.
You had to go through this to know that there’s no
help coming from the Assembly...or the Senate for that matter...”
beyond the suspense involved in awaiting final word of who
will replace Shandaken board trustee Tom Rosato, who recently
resigned. Interviewing, and choosing between seven candidates
for the temporary position, up for election in May, was
postponed from January 25 to February 3 due to prior commitments
from two of the remaining six board trustees.
In budget matters, the general tip-toeing around Onteora’s
need for new vehicles, building maintenance supplies and
other put-off stuff was discussed in terms of a possible
shift to leasing and a greater reliance on outside-contracted
bus routes. Several new purchases, such as for computers
necessary to keeping the district competitive with today’s
educational standards, were raised in near-embarassed tones
at both meetings.
At one point, student representative Dean McGee went so
far as to note how the Onteora High School’s student
council was fundraising to purchase a vending machine to
provide for students who find themselves hungry during after
school activities, and don’t want to cross Route 28
to shop at the Boiceville Plaza.
“A 3.16 percent increase for transportation?”
Board president Marino D’Orazio asked with rhetorical
flourish at the end of one presentation by district Business
Administrator Victoria Garone. “Anything more would
be scary in terms of us trying to get a budget passed in
Onteora’s been operating under a strict austerity
budget since losing its bid for a new budget twice at district
polls last spring and summer. The losses were blamed by
area taxpayers on district-wide changes that saw the closing
of the West Hurley Elementary School, as well as the continuing
rage expressed by Olive residents over the whopping tax
increases handed them by the district’s adoption of
the new “Large Parcel” tax apportionment rates.
Both issues continue to weigh on the current race between
seven candidates, which will hopefully be decided in the
next news cycle.
Half of those seeking to fill Rosato’s seat, which
will come up for full election in May, say they’ve
been pulled to their candidacy by the Large Parcel and other
“taxpayer” issues. Half say they’re seeking
to join and support a board they applaud for not succumbing
to “single issue” focus, coming to the position
open-minded and without any agendas.
Applications submitted to the district office before its
January 10 deadline included Pia Davis of Shady, Mark Goldfarb
of West Hurley, Anne-Marie Johansson, of West Shokan, Sara
Morales of Woodstock, Michael Shultis of Hurley, Rita Vanacore
of Shokan, and. former board member Greg Walters of Shandaken.
Vanacore, niece of former board member Joe Vanacore, said
she’s long been planning a run, and sees the current
vacancy as a leg up on the coming race for the open three
year term in May. She says her interest in the school district,
which she attended and sent her three children through,
is as a taxpayer.
Goldfarb, a local businessman with a daughter in the Woodstock
School, said he feels, “our legislators let us all
down by dropping the Large Parcel issue on our school board
the way they did<“ and adds that he has a lot of
questions about the amounts being spent on Special Education
in the district.
Shultis, a friend of Goldfarb, says his candidacy is all
about “openness.” The son of a teacher, and
an Onteora graduate, he characterizes himself as an unequivocal
Ann-Marie Johansson, a member of the Olive Planning Board
and also an Onteora graduate who has sent her kids through
the district, talked about her previous ties to the current
board, having helped with the recent elections of current
board members Kathy Hochman, Neil Eisenberg and Marino D’Orazio.
“I’ve been encouraged by the way our current
trustees have handled things,” she said. “I’m
just interested in helping this board be more than a one-issue
board, and impressed in how they moved us away from the
mascot issue. I’d like to work with these people.”
Morales, who has had three children graduate from Onteora
and currently has a fourth at Bennett, also feels encouraged
by the current board and administration, and wants to be
able to bring her years of experience to some fruition.
“I believe this district has to be focused on more
than one issue at a time,” she said. “I feel
I have a good understanding of how it all works and feel
I could come to the position with a clean slate.”
“I’m running because I care about educational
matters in this school district and I don’t want to
see more one-issue candidates get in, working against our
kids’ best interests,” said Woodstocker Pia
Davis, a writer and former member of that town’s Library
Walters, the only incumbent seeking the open position, is
a long-term IBM employee who lost his seat on the board
two years ago in a three-way race with current boardmembers
Lev Flournoy and Herb Rosenfeld. During his term, Walters
stressed his role as an advocate for fiscal responsibility.
He says he decided to offer his services this time around
because, knowing the job, he feels his experience could
help with the need for whoever steps in to immediately enter
the district’s annual budgeting process.
Sitting at a
table in the midst of his work-in-progress, Russ's Country
Kitchen, Roefs talked about what he sees as Woodstock's
loss of character since the days when he was one of the
town’s leading innkeepers, as well as why the Route
28 corridor is now the region’s land of promise.
It's Monday morning, and Roefs is discussing tablecloths
with Virginia Miller, who has stopped in to deliver a fluorescent
light for the deli case. She says she'll pick up the tablecloths
later in the week. "We still have to pass two inspections,"
he reminds her as she’s leaving. Other helpers wander
in and out. A young man enters to announce, "I'm in
the specialty beverage business," plunking down two
bottles of iced tea with trendy labels.
"That's the kind of stuff we're looking for,"
nods Roefs. The beverage coolers and ice cream freezer are
already full, the sandwich list is hung above the counter,
and the three booths and ten tables are looking spiffy.
The deli is scheduled to open in a week or so, but there's
still a lot to do. The beverage guy leaves, and Roefs leans
"I had ten businesses in Woodstock over a 35-year period,"
he explains. "In the late sixties, Richie Mellert and
I opened the Village Jug, a tavern on Rock City Road, where
the framing shop is now." Around that time he married
Linda Tiano, but the late hours of a bar owner were not
conducive to marital accord, so he sold the Jug and bought
the Corner Cupboard on Tinker Street in 1969. That was the
year he began riding to (or descending upon) the village
green as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. He continued to play
that role for 23 years.
Roefs and Tiano also created Gourmet Catering, which operated
through the Cupboard kitchen. Tiano, employed then by IBM,
would come home from a full day's work and help out wherever
she was needed. He sent her to school to learn how to make
pastry. "She was a very positive driving force,"
he recalls. He also ran Gourmet Wholesale Ice out of their
home next door to Sunfrost.
In 1970, Roefs and attorney Jim Myers bought the Woodstocker
Restaurant, which was located in Bradley Meadows, where
Sunflower is today. Myers later dropped out, and Roefs and
Tiano ran the restaurant until 1973, when they sold it,
along with the Corner Cupboard. They bought the Wittenberg
Country Store, brought Roefs's parents up from Rockland
County to run it, and, says Roefs, "I took a sabbatical,"
to focus on their newborn son, Bryan.
A year later, he was back in business with the Watering
Troff, a bar in the Bearsville flats, where the Gypsy Wolf
Cantina is now. He also bought the News Shop, which he eventually
turned over to Sean Mulligan, "one of the kids I had
taken under my wing over the years." Roefs ran the
Troff for ten years, until the late nights broke up his
marriage. In 1984, ready for another sabbatical, he closed
the bar and leased the property. "When I came back,
the Troff was fuschia!" he exclaims. Later he sold
the place to two women, both named Susan, who reopened it
as Whistler's. He went to work for Consolidated Septic on
Route 212, bought the business, and eventually sold it to
Bill Van Kleeck, the present owner. In 1991 and 1992 he
served as a county legislator from Woodstock and Shandaken.
"Then I moved to California and went into the international
trade business with my brother. We traded commodities: Russian
steel, South American sugar. I met my second wife Janice
there." In 1994, he opened a deli in a business complex
with 3,400 employees as potential customers. "We also
had a contract with the city of Cerritos to supply backstage
meals for their big performing arts center."
In 2003, Roefs sold the deli and moved back to the area.
"I had a yearning to spend time with my son, and I
have a friendship base here, which I didn't have in California."
While out West, he had remained in contact with Al Higley,
a friend of 40 years who’s the former owner of the
Boiceville Market, also a former legislator, and backer
of the new farmstand on Route 28 just east of Mt. Tremper.
The two men talked about re-opening the Bearsville Market,
as well as a deli business in Woodstock’s Bradley
Meadows Shoping Plaza. Meanwhile, he had been helping out
Higley's son at his outdoor vegetable stand in Mt. Tremper,
where he kept marveling at the amount of traffic on Route
28. His business sense told him there was opportunity under
On September 3, 2004, he and Higley negotiated a 15-year
lease of the store in the Phoenicia Plaza. Just over a year
ago, Shandaken chief of police James McGrath bought the
run-down plaza, unoccupied for several years, and spruced
it up with repairs and spiffy new facades. Miss Kitty's
hair salon and the Catskill Mountain Pizzeria (no relation
to the similarly named establishment run by his son and
Tiano in Woodstock) moved in last year, and Roefs hopes
the vegetable stand, closed for the winter, will move there
too when the weather warms up. He is considering opening
a dollar store in the plaza in the spring. Since September,
he and his friends have been renovating non-stop, while
he lives in his motor home parked outside.
Roefs describes Russ's Country Kitchen as "a German-Jewish-Italian
style deli. We'll have New York corned beef and pastrami,
German salami, spaghetti and meatballs, Italian sausage-and-pepper
sandwiches. We'll have quality cold cuts, Boar's Head and
Thurman's, and we'll feature Cohen's Bread from Ellenville
- Jewish ryes and pumpernickels. Everything will be homemade,
lots of homemade comfort foods: stews, soups, meatloaf,
pot roast. It'll be geared toward health, everything we
can get natural and organic, and there'll be a line for
the vegetarian people. There'll be a skier's special, a
breakfast, as well as a box lunch for $5.50 or a picnic
basket for $10.00. We'll be open from 6 a.m. to about 10
p.m., serving breakfast, lunch, and light dinner. We want
to give the community and the people coming up 28 the finest
food we can give them for a reasonable price."
Of his move back to the area, Roefs says, "I love being
here. But I feel Woodstock seriously needs to take a look
at itself. The town hasn't been able to hold its unique
character but at the same time come across as clean and
neat, with a continuity among the stores, like Rhinebeck
has done, for instance. So many people come to visit, but
there's nothing going on for them. We used to have local
craftspeople, pottery shops, and artists on the street.
We had a comfortable feeling about the eateries in the sixties
and seventies. There's no place for locals to hang out,
and the town is losing its quaintness. You don't have a
landmark in Woodstock any more."
Which may explain why he’s now among us.