Follow Up on the
Onteora Budget’s In
(In an austerity situation, in which voters reject
a budget and the district chooses not to hold a second
election, an increase of 3.84 percent is allowed by law,
but would eliminate all equipment purchases or upgrades.)
A substantial portion of the budget proposal’s increase
is due to health care, retirement and salary increases
for teachers that would amount to $985,533.
The budget proposal was put forward after trustees and
administrators heard protests from parents, teachers and
supporters of Special Education, asking them not to allow
$335,258 in cuts for the department, including the elimination
of five Special Education teachers, one Speech/Language
therapist, one Deaf/Hard of Hearing teacher, four teaching
assistants and one part time social worker. Also proposed
is the elimination of two elementary teachers.
Onteora teachers and parents came in to protest the proposed
cuts on March 28 en masse. Onteora students stressed that
if it were not for the Onteora Special Education services,
they would not have been as academically successful.
District Superintendent Justine Winters, who will be resigning
in June, explained that she and other administrators were
following directives from the board’s 4-3 majority.
She noted that even though the district cut $600,000 from
Special Ed last year, the new plans call for greater handling
of Special Eds needs by BOCES.
Simultaneously, March 28, the board passed a resolution
to establish a Capital Reserve fund and will ask voters
to approve it in the May elections. This reserve fund
would not be authorized to collect more than $3 million
over the course of five years and the funds would be contributed
to it only when extra money is available, in order to
accumulate a savings with interest. The purpose of the
Capital Fund would be for renovations, repairs or other
facility problems in the district.
At the board’s April 4 meeting, assistant superintendent
Deborah Fox and business administrator Victoria McLaren
presented their reasoning behind the special education
cuts. “Discussions have continued… regarding
the historic perception that Onteora has offered a high
quality Cadillac model for special education services
and we are now moving toward a high quality Chevrolet
model,” Fox read from what seemed to be a board
Again, many parents, teachers and students were present
and disagreed, with the shifting to a “Chevrolet”
model. Audience members questioned money increases to
other departments such as transportation, administration,
newsletters and calendars that matched the decreases in
special education. Parent Kathy Cioffi said, “Write
the budget you need and give the kids the best you have…let’s
serve kids and not the money.” Throughout the long
meeting lasting to midnight, board members had questions
for the administration, while the public accused administrators
of working with numbers.
Later in the meeting, Patterson suggested adding another
school board meeting to review and possibly make more
“line item” cuts. Middle school teacher and
Onteora Teachers Association president Corey Cavallaro
urged the board not to make any more cuts. “Take
it out of your hands and let the voters decide.”
Finally, trustee Cindy O’Connor requested that the
school board begin a newspaper column and submit it to
the local papers, which she accused of spreading misinformation.
She said she had arranged a meeting with Brian Hollander
of the Woodstock Times and Paul Smart of the Phoenicia
Times/Olive Press to discuss such articles. This publication
had first raised the subject with O’Connor last
year but then decided that a regular column, which O’Connor
suggested would be all “facts,” would face
controversy trying to establish a singular voice for a
usually-divided board. Instead letters to the editor and
a sharing of boardmember information with the local media
was suggested, with the option for occasional stories
to be edited and submitted by the administration, with
final editorial say on the part of the participating publications.
To Negotiate Now?
also started using a local attorney once more who had
been distanced from Gitter’s activities because
of Conflict of Interest fears involving the state Department
of Environmental Conservation’s ongoing review of
the Belleayre Resort proposal.
Could there be cracks in the seemingly infallible funding
behind Gitter’s multi-million project? Could he
be finally finding reason in U.S. Congressman Maurice
Hinchey’s suggestion last year that the proposal
be halved, with much of its acreage to be sold to the
state? Or does the developer have new cards up his sleeve?
“Crossroads Ventures, LLC, the company behind the
proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, today announced
their support of a recent Town of Shandaken resolution
that calls for a ‘reasonable consensus’ between
concerned parties regarding the scale and scope of the
Resort,” noted the press release put out by Paul
Rakov, the company’s Vice President of Public Affairs
and Director of Public Relations at Emerson Place.
Rakov was referring to a unanimously-passed resolution
passed by the Shandaken Town Board at its monthly meeting
on Monday, April 3 which resolved that urged just such
When told that Councilman Rob Stanley had noted Gitter’s
involvement in the writing of the legislation, Rakov would
only admit that the resolution was written with the help
of Gitter friend and business aide Gary Gailes, who is
also spearheading the move to build a $21 million Catskill
Water Discovery Center in Delaware County. Its opening
statements suggested the Gitter project’s “potential
for making a significant contribution to the economic
revival of the towns provided that environmental concerns
can be reasonably mitigated,” and noted that six
years of “delay in the review process has contributed
to prolonging the endless controversies surrounding the
Project and has created unnecessary and protracted division
within our community and may have stalled expansion plans
for the Belleayre Ski Center.”
“Our partners have consistently communicated that
the Belleayre Resort’s overall goal is to provide
the region with a world-class resort destination that
is both economically viable while protecting the natural
assets of the area,” Rakov quoted himself saying
in his press release. “We are willing to discuss
plans that reduce the Resort’s size while still
achieving that goal. After six years, we believe it is
time the acrimonious atmosphere that has besieged this
project, and the town, be put behind us.”
The town’s resolution was copied to all the mentioned
parties, key officials with Ulster and Delaware County
government and, significantly, state Attorney General
Eliot Spitzer, expected on many fronts to be the shoo-in
as New York’s next governor.
Tom Alworth, Executive Director for the Coalition of Watershed
Towns and spokesperson for the 11-member Catskill Preservation
Coalition reacted to Gitter’s announcement by reiterating
support for the Hiinchey proposal. Marc Gerstman, CPC
attorney, noted that were Gitter really serious about
the downsizing he was proposing, his lawyers would have
contacted he and the various other attorneys who had been
sorting through the proposal for the past two years. Because
any downsizing, he added, would need new review processes
on all counts.
“If he wants to negotiate he has to have his lawyer
give me a call,” Gerstman said. “It’s
The same resolution passed by Shandaken was expected to
be brought forth in Middletown later this month.
The other major Gitter action of occurred Wednesday morning,
March 29, when he appeared before the Ulster County IDA,
which runs under the aegis of the semi-independent Ulster
County Development Corporation, to ask for a ten year
abatement on County and Town taxes. Gitter and attorney
Anthony Bucca, who had recently worked for a number of
years in the same DEC office that runs the ALJ program
that was reviewing the Belleayre Resort project, told
the IDA board that circumstances had changed since November
when they had turned down the opportunity for the property
tax break, which necessitates Emerson Place coming under
the nominal ownership of the county for the length of
the abatement program, which now needs the town and other
taxing entities to negotiate required Payment In Lieu
of Taxes (PILOT) arrangements.
The tax package was passed with a waiver for an accompanying
public hearing, based on both Gitter’s argument
that time was of the essence, given that he was already
in the midst of rebuilding the 24 rooms and restaurant
he lost to fire last April, as well as the fact that no
one showed up when the request was first raised in early
January. A public hearing will be held, however, when
the second part of the IDA package Gitter is requesting,
for $2 million in county bonding, comes up in May.
New IDA Chairman March Gallagher said that Gitter told
her board that he had been asked by his investors to seek
the IDA tax abatement package. Pine Hill resident Richard
Schaedle, who was present at the meeting, said Gitter
countered talk of a usually-necessary public hearing by
explaining any delays might cause his investment deal
to be broken.
“The IDA felt that in view of the tragic nature
of our circumstances, making us wait another 60-days for
a hearing process on the amendment would have been an
unnecessary burden,” Rakov said, adding that several
factors, including their getting $0.75 on the dollar in
insurance reimbursement and the “economic effects
of Hurricane Katrina and the ever-increasing cost of fuel”
had made construction materials more expensive than originally
Gallagher said that the way the application was handled
highlights basic problems in the Ulster County IDA process,
which essentially has no means of denying applications.
She added that the Gitter proposal had been started into
action before she was named to the board in January.
Asked about Bucca’s presence with Gitter at the
IDA meeting, Rakov wrote in an e-mail, “Tony Bucca
has retired from the DEC and is in private practice. Since
his retirement, he has represented Emerson Place in all
its dealings with the IDA and has had no involvement with
Crossroads Ventures or the Belleayre Resort project.”
“We are willing to significantly downsize the project
if others concerned are willing to accept a reasonable
compromise,” was Rakov’s answer. “It
is not a new position. We have been willing to compromise
for some time; no one has accepted our invitation to privately
discuss such compromises. The ball is in their court.”
Truly Painful Transition
plan released March 28, St. Francis de Sales church in
Phoenicia would remain open, offering Sunday Mass but
no other services. Slated for closure are Our Lady of
LaSalette Church in Boiceville, St. Augustine’s
Chapel in West Shokan, and Our Lady of Lourdes in Allaben,
where the last mass was served in January. The future
disposition of these three church properties, along with
the Rectory building and Parish Hall in Phoenicia, remains
undecided at this time.
St. Francis de Sales Parish, the northern & westernmost
outpost of the New York metropolitan area’s 10-county,
2.5 million member Catholic community, currently serves
more than 260 local families with between 500 and 600
registered parishioners. Final decisions by the Archdiocese
on the proposed changes are yet to be made, and do remain
open to review and reconsideration by an advisory panel
established for the purpose. Representatives of St Francis
de Sales Parish are scheduled to meet with that body May
25. Parish members have established a committee to coordinate
efforts to save St.Francis de Sales parish, and are expected
to be reaching out both to parishioners and the community
as a whole in the coming days for ideas and expressions
of support. The committee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of primary concern to the parish community is the loss
of a resident parish priest for the region, geographically
one of the Archdiocese’s largest, encompassing roughly
500 square miles. This loss would mean the end of daily
masses and holy day obligation masses, along with only
a single Sunday mass to serve parishioners from all three
other churches. St. Francis de Sales Chapel in Phoenicia
has a seating capacity of 140.
Concerns have also been voiced about the travel time and
distance required of anyone preparing to receive the sacraments
of baptism, communion, confirmation, or marriage. Under
the new consolidation plan, all religious instruction
would take place at St. John’s between Woodstock
and Saugerties, a round trip of up to 60 miles from some
of the parish’s communities. Also voiced by parishioners
have been concerns regarding the lack of a future Catholic
presence for the area’s youth, and others regarding
the church’s continued ability to serve the region’s
senior population under the proposed restructuring.
The preliminary decision by the Archdiocese appears to
reflect a slow but continuing decline in local parish
membership, weighed against the regional and national
shortage of available priests, and the need to apportion
their residencies to serve other areas of the diocese
with larger and growing Roman Catholic populations. In
an effort to measure those needs, in 2001 and 2002 the
Archdiocese began statistical analysis by parish of four
benchmarks; daily and weekly mass attendance and the number
of baptisms and religious education students served. That
data indicated almost one of every three parishes fell
short on all four benchmarks. Also slated now for restructuring
as a result of the realignment plan are 15 other parishes
like St Francis de Sales which will be integrated into
neighboring parishes, and 15 more which will close altogether.
The proposed changes represent the largest restructuring
in the Archdiocese’s 156-year history.
Although long a part of that history, St. Francis de Sales
has only been operated directly by the Archdiocese of
New York for three years. First established in 1902 by
the LaSalette Fathers, a modern missionary order now based
in Hartford, CT, ownership of the parish was transferred
to the Archdiocese of New York in 2003. That transfer
took place against the backdrop of a private settlement
of a federally filed lawsuit against the order and one
of its previous resident priests for alleged improprieties.
While recent years have seen the coalescence of a strong
and stable church community, other factors including modest
declines in mass attendance and the need for resident
priests elsewhere appear to weigh against the parish in
the deliberative process now underway.
Tourists Of Boiceville
The pups arrived
in the area thanks to a rescue operation launched last week
by Sarah Muir of the Canine Country Club Boarding Kennels
in Saugerties where “Lab Rescue” is based. Rougeux,
who was looking for a place to board her own Golden Retrievers
during a trip she had planned, heard about the ongoing mission
to save dogs from over 200 that were being hoarded by an
Ohio woman from Muir and immediately volunteered to provide
a temporary foster home for a couple of the puppies.
“I thought it was certainly a worthy cause to help
this marvelous woman, Sarah, save these dogs’ lives,”
Rougeux smiled. “She arranged all of the details of
getting them out of there and I know they picked up some
more of the dogs over the weekend.”
The Ohio dogs belonged to a breeder in Oakland Village,
near Cleveland, who apparently got a bit carried away when
she started collecting them.
“ She wound up with over 200 living in her small house,”
explains Sarah Muir with an Irish lilt, adding that the
dogs were seized after a court hearing on March 6th. Fortunately
for the dogs, Muir is plugged into an underground community
of animal lovers connected by the Internet which took note
of the dogs’ plight and spread the word. The Ohio
woman “had released some herself because she realized
she was in trouble and my husband went to Ohio and picked
up 18. Then we were waiting to see what would happen. When
she wouldn’t release any more, we were so afraid that
the judge was going to order them euthanized.”
Acting quickly, volunteers mobilized and soon a van dispatched
to the rescue returned with another 46 dogs, including a
mother and six 10-day-old pups.
“Then we had a ‘chain gang’ working, trying
to get them all in,” Muir said of the rescuers busy
processing and cleaning the new arrivals. “Of course,
we didn’t have enough room for them all but people
kept coming all day long, foster homers and other rescue
people. We had to get them all unloaded, feed them and get
them into separate places. What a day! When I came in at
lunch time, I had 30 phone calls and 69 e-mails- all about
the Ohio-Arkansas dogs.”
The “Arkansas dogs” were from another rescue
in progress at the same time. The Ohio dogs needed a good
cleaning up but were otherwise in excellent health, Muir
noted. “They are won-der-ful! Very afraid but coming
around nicely. All of the ones we’ve had tested so
far have had no heartworm, no Lyme (disease), no ehrlichiosis,
no fleas, no worms, so, (the Ohio woman) must have been
doing SOMETHING right. So sweet and pretty. Once they get
to know somebody, they want to curl up in their pocket.
They’re so deserving of families. All told, in the
last week we’ve rescued 74 dogs. Nine from Arkansas,
64 from Ohio and one local one. We always leave room for
local dogs but they usually come in one-by-one.”
The Arkansas dogs were sadly mistreated and “starved
almost to the point of death.” One of them is pictured
among the happy Ohio dogs on Lab Rescue’s website
at www.caninecountryclubny.com where she hopes to add the
story of the rescues within a few days. Sarah explained
that they would take in a couple of rescued dogs but would
have to turn some away when the kennel was full until her
husband, Campbell Muir, turned their garage into a rescue
base. Their kennel permit allows them to do all this, she
says, because the rescued dogs are covered under the license
as personal dogs.
Seven dogs have already found their “forever homes”
and two of the 6 youngest pups are spoken for when they’re
old enough to leave their mother. There are 8 dogs remaining
at the kennel and 13 in temporary foster care. The others
have been dispersed to other rescue centers in Connecticut,
New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
“I’ve been getting e-mails from all over the
U.S. and Canada,” Muir said. It’s just a great
network and community. People have to realize how much we
need to rescue these dogs. They’re beaten. They’re
starved, neglected. We’ve saved so many from death
row- a lot of local dogs, of course, but we also took dogs
from a puppy mill in Georgia a few years ago and the case
in Sullivan County where they all had been terribly abused.
There’s never been this many before but they were
only on my property for one day and people started coming;
a lot of foster homes and friends. It’s amazing how
everyone rallies around from afar and from right in this
community. The schools are doing bake sales. Pet Smart wants
to do an ‘Adopt-a-thon’ for us. It’s just
Donations to Lab Rescue are helpful in covering operating
costs and the show of support from the animal-loving community
almost as gratifying as the happiness of the dogs snatched
from dire straits. When one little girl from the school
gave 67 cents, Sarah found herself with tears in her eyes.
Betty Rougeux, at 657-8707, still has a 5 1⁄2 to 6
month old female, pure black Lab that’s had all of
her shots as well as Frontline and Heartguard testing, for
those interested in adoption. Others can be inquired about
through Sarah at 246-0751 or Kiscolabs@aol.com.
“She’s $200 and you get $100 back when you have
a dog spayed or neutered- which is required,” Rougeux
said. “That just covers our medical costs for their
distemper shots and the tests. It’s totally no profit
whatsoever. If anything, we pay out of pocket for their
food. There’s a bunch of puppies that will be coming
along- including a litter of chocolate Labs we’ll
have to keep and care for for 8 weeks.”
You have to be careful, though, because if you have a big
heart- like Betty and the Muirs- a Labrador is apt to walk
Meanwhile, Town of Olive Dog Lovers and Volunteers, this
week, also launched a campaign to help dogs in need.
The plan is to replace an inadequate 2-dog kennel behind
town offices at Davis Park with a 6-dog kennel and the first
fund-raiser started on Tuesday when raffle tickets went
on sale. One of Hoppy Quick’s famous and coveted chain-saw
bears (a three-footer)has been graciously donated by the
artist for the drawing at the Olive Day celebration in September.
At their April meeting, the Olive Town Board agreed to match
the money raised by the volunteers toward the new kennels.
Contact Bev Stein, who is heading up the project, or watch
for raffle tables outside of the Boiceville Market or in
other local businesses.
Jar Of Olives...
fishermen appear at the Fifteen Arch Bridge. On the way
to Olive’s transfer station this weekend, I saw one
man sporting quite a braggable rainbow trout as he was walking
from the upper basin. Deer are nibbling at new growth in
the gardens, and turkeys skitter across roads dodging cars
on their way to the next field.
Kids resurrect bikes and skateboards, and walkers, joggers
and strollers line up for the unofficial parade to usher
in spring at the fry-pan as they walk toward the beautiful
mountains of High Point and South Mountain, which have a
tinge of red as the soft maples beat the other trees to
budding. There can’t be a more beautiful theater to
see Mother Nature stage her rites of spring.
Spring also reminds me that Christians, Jews, and Orthodox
religions all celebrate renewal at this time of year. Even
the egg, the pagan symbol of rebirth in mythology, shows
up as we dye and hide eggs for children to find with joy
and surprise. That’s what spring is. Joy and surprise!
Joy that the cycle goes on. Surprise that all that looked
dark and dormant lives again. I sometimes think that the
calendar is wrong—that we should celebrate the New
Year in spring when life starts all over again.
The passing of two loved Olive women remind me that life
does just that. Life continues and grows. Frances Cook and
Delores Rank left us this winter, but this spring they are
remembered by their families who live on enriched by their
memory. Like plants, their roots and seeds transcend the
The Rank family had a memorial service to celebrate Delores’s
life. There were seven little ones under the age of five
scooting around with balloons and toys among family members
and neighbors who shared “Delores” stories and
suppressed grief with the joy of getting together.
Spring also brings the 59th annual Olive Fire Department
Dinner that was held at the Holiday Inn. The room was packed
reminding me of how many volunteers keep us safe by responding
to fire calls and accidents. Firefighters of the Year Awards
were given to Terry Elmendorf (Co. 1), Angelo Russo (Co.
2), Stephen Fuller (Co. 3), Ronnie Quick (Co. 4), Tommy
Kraus (Co.5), Steven Sulko (Fire Police), and Larry Miller
(Chief’s Award). Many service pins were given, but
the most notable went to Carl “Ed” Swenson Sr.
for fifty years and to Frank Carle for fifty-five years.
Both men praised the fire company’s junior volunteers
for carrying on the volunteer spirit. That cycle of renewal
once again. The young follow the old.
Robert Frost’s poem captures this cycle of life and
renewal. He said: “Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold, So dawn goes down to day, Nothing
gold can stay.” Enjoy the gold that precedes the green.