Whither The Vote?
Board president Marino D'Orazio said on Monday, "The inclination
of the board is to propose a budget in the four-percent-plus range.
Tom Rosato has some ideas, and I have some ideas. The issue is
going to be what programs and what positions, if any, will become
part of a proposed budget. That was the feeling at the beginning˜if
this budget went down, we would suggest another." In April,
Supt.Hal Rowe and his administrative team proposed the original
budget, with a six percent increase over this year's budget, as
well as a second option, with a 4.3 percent increase, in case
of the first budget's failure.
When asked how the board would convince taxpayers to vote
for the second budget, D'Orazio said, "We'll try very hard
to explain to the public what it means to have this budget versus
a contingency budget. Voting it down doesn't really save the taxpayers
any money. A contingency budget will have almost a three percent
increase, as mandated by law. It's simple to say, if we vote down
the budget, nothing happens to taxes, but that's not the case.
The difference between the budgets is really minimal, and a contingency
budget hurts the kids. Then we have to make do with the bare minimum,
and everything is up for grabs. Most of the expenditures in the
budget are beyond the control of the school district, such as
contracted salaries and mandated programs."
Rowe remarked, "I don't think the last budget was defeated
over the budget but from anger and concern over other issues,"
such as parents' dissatisfaction with the closing of the West
Hurley Elementary School, the board's plan to apply the large-parcel
option, which may raise Town of Olive taxes by over fifty percent,
and the recent Woodstock property revaluation, raising many homeowners'
taxes in that town. Rowe quoted from charts published in local
newspapers indicating that Onteora was proposing the second lowest
budget-to-budget increase in the county. "We were second
highest in tax levy increase because we don't have any fund balance,
since it was given away by another board at another time. But
our budget increase certainly wasn't out of line, there are just
too many volatile issues right now and people who are really persistent
about keeping them going."
Outgoing trustee Meg Carey lost the school board election but
will retain her seat until July, so she will be voting at next
Monday's meeting. She stated, "My position remains that I
want to support what the administrators recommend. They are the
ones who live the budget and know in most detail how the students
and staff are affected. I truly believe when the administrators
make their recommendations, they believe it's in the best interest
of the whole district. I anticipate slight variations in their
recommendations, but I don't expect any major change."
Regarding the second budget's chance of passing, she commented,
"My understanding is that a school budget has never before
been defeated by such a huge margin. It makes me question whether
there's any budget these numbers of people will support. The issue
is much bigger than the West Hurley school closing. Taxes are
already known to be much higher in Woodstock because of the reval,
and Olive's very concerned about their taxes. I'm curious how
it's all going to be revealed to us."
D'Orazio said he had invited several politicians to "give
their opinions about whether it's appropriate for us to enact
the large-parcel law this year." Senator Larkin, one of the
authors of the bill, attached comments to the legislation indicating
that its purpose was to avoid large fluctuations in taxes each
year as large commercial properties were bought and sold. Olive
officials have pointed out that the parcel in question, the Ashokan
Reservoir, does not undergo such changes, and therefore the legislation
should not be applied in this case. District clerk Wendy Stefano
said Tuesday afternoon that Bonacic would not be able to make
the meeting, and she had not yet received word from Larkin or
Complicating the issue is the contention of Woodstock officials
that their town bears the brunt of school taxes, while Olive pays
an unfairly small proportion of taxes. "A lot of that has
to do with the fact that the Olive government has not chosen to
revaluate their properties, which we've said they should do,"
said D'Orazio. "Then if the legislation were enacted, it
wouldn't have a huge impact." Olive supervisor Berndt Leifeld
has said the town is preparing to do a reval, but because one
hasn't been done in many years, the process will take at least
a year or two.
"It's a very divisive issue," D'Orazio continued. "Every
single year, we're faced with this decision. As a school board
we may become victims of a yearly jockeying for position depending
on what town [candidates and board members] are from. It's a horrible,
probably unintended effect, another example of higher government
laying it on the lowest form of government we have, which is the
school board. Voters look on the school board budget as one chance
to make themselves heard. I hope people who really were instrumental
in voting against it may feel they have made their point, and
it's no longer about teaching someone a lesson but about not hurting
Last Tuesday, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Adjudicatory Law Judge Richard J. Wissler read into the record
a number of exhibits for his later consideration, from the 10
bound volumes of Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) materials
that were the subject of the review to petitions from four entities
seeking to gain "party status" in the subsequent process
and enter issues for consideration to a large box filled with
several hundred pages of testimony and letters from the public
and a number of concerned agencies, including the federal Environmental
Protection Agency, regarding the project.
He also noted the purposes of the current proceedings: To determine
which parties, and issues raised by those parties, could be considered
"substantive" and "significant" enough, based
on environmental concerns, to warrant inclusion in first Wissler's
,and later DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty's decision regarding the
Crossroad's DEIS completion, and whether it might need any mitigation-
or downright refusal.
Wissler added that the current Issues Conference process would
likely not end until the end of June, with a decision likely by
late summer, at the earliest. Appeals of whatever decision was
reached would likely last into the Fall, with the entire adjudiocatory
process not ending until "late Fall or Winter." And
only then would actual permit processes begin.
The official time at which all this started, according to Judge
Wissler, was 10:14 AM.
But by then, the battle stances of the various partners involved
in what promises to be months of review of Crossroads Ventures'
massive double-golf course, double-hotel resort surrounding the
state DEC's own Belleayre Mountain Ski Center had already been
laid out in an informal press conference in the parking lot outside
the fire hall.
Tom Alworth, Executive Director of the Catskill Center for Conservation
and Development and organizer of an ad hoc consortium of eleven
national, state and local environmental organizations calling
itself the Catskill Preservation Coalition, had called the press
conference to discuss some of the issues it was hoping to have
heard, and included in the coming month's process.
"The Coalition will be looking at a Forest Preserve issues,"
Alworth noted, referring to the fact that in addition to being
in the New York City watershed, it was also firmly situated in
the Catskill Park, one of two large forest preserve tracts, with
the Adirondacks, under the direct stewardship of the DEC. "The
DEC, as lead agency, is in for some tricky business."
Alworth noted that as far as the organizations he's working with
can tell, the proposed Belleayre Resort could increase traffic
to the Catskill Park, which is currently in its centennial year,
by ten times.
Did his Coalition see any possible conflicts of interest on the
"We'll see if it becomes an issue," he replied. "The
jury is still out."
Gitter's attorney for the process, Dan Ruzow, noted that a supplemental
report had been submitted to the DEC in recent weeks answering
charges made in some of the submitted comments from the City DEP
and other agencies.
"This is an iterative process," he said, repeating a
term used by Gitter in recent interviews. He added that, as far
as he could see, the most contentious sessions of the current
process were likely to come on June 8 and June 22, when visual
impacts and stormwater impacts, respectively, are to be discussed.
He and Alworth traded statements about the recent decision by
the Coalition of Watershed Towns to protest the city's comments,
with Ruzow expressing his pleasure at CWT's new involvement, feeling
they raised important Home Rule issues around the project review
(see accompanying story); and Alworth speaking about the important
issue being sustainable development as a key to the Catskills'
future, and the fact that he did not see the proposed resort as
"This is not an Upstate versus Downstate fight," Alworth
said. "And unlike some reports I've read, I do not believe
this indicates, in any way, the death of the MOA (Memorandum of
Agreement) between the City and the Catskills. That idea is ludicrous."
When asked whether the growing brouhaha around the project was
helping or hindering the financial commitment of the project's
lead backers, Emily Fisher and Richard Fisher, both of whom live
at least part-time in New York and pride themselves for their
board involvement with a number of key City-based cultural organizations
and national environmental organizations, Ruzow said "It's
strengthened it. We're in this for the long haul. Our loyal investors
believe this vision will work."
Alworth, too, said the Resort issue has galvanized support for
the Catskill Center and other environmental groups involved in
National Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Eric Goldstein
added that the current project was thankfully the exception to
the rule of Upstate development patterns, and hence needing greater
scrutiny than other projects.
Later, Alworth said that he was hoping the issue of DEC's own
expansion and possible privatization plans for its Belleayre Mt.
Ski Center would be allowed into Wissler's decision-making. He
added that the agency recently refused to release its plans, after
being petitioned under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL),
saying that they were still in "a draft, interagency form."
Among lawyers in attendance for the May 25 hearing were counsel
for New York City, the state DEC, a number of key environmental
groups, and Jeff Baker, representing the Coalition of Watershed
Towns and Delaware County, in a last-minute plea for inclusion
in the talks that was okayed, for the current process, by Judge
Wissler. Filling out the crowd were several representatives of
Crossroads, including a PR agent handing out copies of the Coalition
of Watershed Towns' recent resolution slamming New York City's
comments, representatives of environmental groups, and a plethora
Of all the four entities seeking party status in the proceedings,
as well as of all the entities seeking involvement in the process,
only the Town of Shandaken was absent. Wissler noted that he had
received an e-mail from Shandaken planning board attorney Drayton
Grant saying they would rely on their submitted comments and would
be providing no witnesses or testimony.
A recent story on the underlying reasons for Shandaken's reluctance
to be present in the process ran into flack from Shandaken Town
Supervisor Bob Cross Jr. and Grant about statements made off-the-record
by various sources as to why Shandaken was not backing up its
report at the current hearings. The story noted that there had
been discrepancies regarding the draft of a commissioned report
submitted to the state by hired environmental consultants,
which had been objected to by Crossroads representatives as being
Ruzow, on behalf of Crossroads, said on May 25 that he had no
objection to Shandaken not being present in the proceedings, and
suggested that instead of being considered a full party to the
proceedings, they be relegated to "Amicus" or friend
of the court status, since they would have a chance to review
the project later via their planning board.
He then questioned the involvement of two of the Catskill Preservation
Coalition's members - the Zen Environmental Studies Institute
in Mt. Tremper and the New York Public Interest Resource Group
(NYPIRG), as well as the legality of such an ad hoc organization.
After much testimony from the various members of CPC, by both
their attorney, Marc Gerstman, and their attendant representatives,
Ruzow dropped his objections.
After New York City's phalanx of lawyers and scientists gave a
long presentation outlining their interest in, and basic concerns
with the proposed project, Ruzow again objected- to both
the extent of their comments, which Ruzow said he feels the courts
need to test, implying Wissler's adjudication as an arena; as
well as to the nature of the material they brought up, a series
of giant photos showing erosion in other projects in Westchester
and Margaretville in particular.
Ruzow said he and his clients had "serious questions"
about the city using the adjudicatory process for watershed planning
versus individual project review processes.
At several points Baker, representing the Coaliton of Watershed
Towns, spoke in support of Ruzow, his former law partner.
During the afternoon session, discussion centered on matters involving
wastewater treatment, with DEP Engineer Brenda Drake characterizing
hydraulic loading estimates in the Crossroads DEIS as massively
incorrect and Ruzow raising the issue of the DEP's denial of use
of its Pine Hill treatment facility for the project. There was
also discussion of mining issues, involved in the excavation process.
Addressing the planned visit to the proposed Belleayre Resort
site on May 26, Judge Wissler said that he had been asked by Gitter,
as owner of the property, to exclude former Shandaken Supervisor
Peter Di Modica, a representative of the Pine Hill Water District
Coalition, and Judith Wyman, director of the Friends of Catskill
Park, from the field trip. Wissler said he'd originally allowed
the exclusion, along with exclusion of the press and any and all
photographs, because the purpose of the site visit was for him
to be acquainted with what was being discussed, and nothing more.
But then he added that Gitter had dropped his request to exclude
Di Modica and Wyman.
"I'm pleased with the directness and the forthrightness of
all these folks," Wissler said at meeting's close on May
25th. "I'm pleased with the progress we're making."
The subject of press access was first raised two days earlier at
the conference's opening session, with application to attend any
site visits being made on behalf of WAMC Northeast Public Radio
and The Phoenicia Times. Judge Wissler responded that the press
was "welcome" to attend, but that he lacked the authority
to make it possible: permission to enter the project site was "at
the sole discretion of the landowner." Crossroads counsel
Theresa Bakner argued, "We don't believe this is an opportunity
for public information." Marc Gerstman, counsel for the Catskill
Preservation Coalition, countered that such visits were part of
a public review process, and denying access "would essentially
be denying the public's right to know what's going on, in contravention
of the constitution."
Preliminary opinions from prominent first amendment attorneys appear
to back Gerstman's position. But according to Bob Freeman of the
Department of State's Committee on open government, the specific
question of press access would not be assured, as a general matter,
under state open meetings law, and any legal determination on the
issue would likely rest on whether or not any such provision of
law guaranteeing public access exists under SEQRA. Stay tuned.
In a preliminary presentation
to Administrative Law Judge Wissler, Ketchum said that baseline
traffic data prepared for the developer by Creighton Manning and
Associates under-reports existing volume by 40 percent, that it
fails to take into account the growth of the Belleayre Ski area
or traffic from the proposed 372 time-share units containing 832
bedrooms, and that, among other things, shuttle bus trips between
the resort and ski area may be overestimated and parking spaces
Based on data already submitted by Ketchum, his firm projects
that the resort's additional traffic volume of approximately 500,000
cars per year will result in one additional death and 37 additional
injuries from traffic accidents annually on Route 28. He also
posits that the increased volume will reduce the average speed
of traffic and increase travel times throughout the 28 corridor
but especially as one get closer to Kingston, where annual traffic
volume on the road is approximately four times the level at the
resort site itself.
Ketchum also raised a new issue of "externality costs,"
representing the indirect fiscal impact to the region from the
additional traffic loading. Such costs according to Ketchum include
things like vibrational damage to structures, traffic accidents
and deductibles not covered by insurance, and other normally hidden
costs primarily borne by the region's residents. Ketchum's calculations
peg such costs of the resort traffic at $27 million per year,
although he said DOT's formulas place the cost at about $7 million.
Asked to comment on the disparity between the two figures at the
conclusion of Ketchum's presentation, Chuck Manning, principal
of Creighton Manning Associates, Crossroads' traffic consulting
firm, would say only "It's a type of analysis I'm not familiar
with, so I'd have to look at it.
not so oddly, Irene Miller of New York Citizens for Clean Elections
(NYCCE) used the same 'pie in the sky' metaphor in referring to
the bill when she later spoke of weaning office-seekers from the
corrupting influence of tit-for-tat campaign donations. The phrase,
which originated in the lines of a song by early 20th Century
folksinger and labor organizer Joe Hill ("Work and pray,
live on hay/You'll get pie in the sky when you die"), may
have become a cliche for "unattainable dream" but Miller,
who had a hand in getting a copy of the bill to Leifeld and other
political leaders in New York, firmly believes otherwise.
"It really is happening," Miller observed of the relatively
simple idea of providing campaign funds to those who'd care to
run for office on the basis of their ideas and abilities rather
than the amounts of money they can raise. It's a voluntary system
wherein the acceptance of public means you cannot use any private
money at all- even your own. "Five states have already passed
these kinds of bills and the plan is to have it happen on the
state level in various states. Once there's enough momentum going
in the states, we can get them to pass the one that's already
been introduced in the U.S. Congress."
Support in the House and the Senate was growing rapidly after
it was introduced in the latter by the late Paul Wellstone but
eroded after his sudden death. The hope is that a grassroots groundswell
at the state level will revive interest in leveling the financial
playing field for aspirants to leadership. Miller's organization
is part of a national movement of local organizations affiliated
through an umbrella group called Public Campaign that was founded
in 1996 in Washington, D.C.
Before NYCCE was formed two years ago, Miller was active in New
York City where, in 1997, Citizens' Action of New York collected
more than double the
required amount of signatures to get a Clean Money referendum
on the ballot. Mayor Giuliani countered by exercising his prerogative
to introduce Charter Amendment on the separate issue of campaign
financing reform - which knocked the Clean Money proposal off
the ballot. Such "campaign reform" bills, which change
scarcely anything on the Big Money-Big Power front, have thus
far been a successful strategy against grassroots efforts.
"Otherwise, New York City, today, would have full public
funding for candidates who refuse private funding," Miller
noted. "The idea, at the time, was to have it happen in New
York City before going after Albany but the Mayor defused us."
Strong bills, covering all state offices, have been passed in
Maine and Arizona, Miller notes, while North Carolina, New Mexico
and Vermont have partial Clean Money options for their legislatures.
Massachusetts dropped their bill, she adds, because too weak a
funding mechanism was written into it to prevent the legislature
from refusing to publicly fund candidates.
In a video NYCCE is circulating to elected officials, Bill Moyers
speaks with officials who have used the Clean Money system for
two election cycles and finds it is working even better than expected.
Quite a few CM candidates ran in 2000 and a majority of them won,
Miller observes. The numbers doubled in 2002 and ex-incumbents
who had opposed it while in office tried the new system and swore
they would never go back to the old one. Embracing the logic of
"he who spends the most, owes the most," they relished
the freedom from begging contributions and the release to serve
the will of the voters rather than the lobbyists.
"It's going along faster than I thought it would," Miller
enthused. "We have chapters in Woodstock, Rensselaerville
and New Paltz who work with other organizations statewide. All
three of those towns have passed resolutions of support, as have
Schenectady, Tompkins County, Ithaca and Saugerties.
Workshops are pending in Esopus, Berne, Marbletown, Rosendale
and other towns."
"We are totally grassroots because we get very little help
from the mainstream media," (who fatten their coffers with
hundreds of millions in campaign advertizing funds each election
cycle), she said. "The Freeman and some other papers have
covered some of our activities but the big media pattern all over
the country is to ignore us."
Miller said Leifeld was attentive and receptive and that the resolutions
help because they come from representatives of the people. It's
not a 'pie in the sky' thing but definitely do-able, she insists.
It is a foundation for taking back the representation lost to
the interests of massive corporations and volunteers to help it
along are welcome.
"It is, to me, the fundamental reason we are in such terrible
straits with our health care system, the environment, the educational
system and everything else that we, as citizens, want but are
deprived of by money lobbies," she said. "It's a matter
of educating the public and galvanizing
opinion for a massive campaign to make sure legislators in Albany
are aware of how much this is wanted by the voters.
In the N.Y. Assembly, the Clean Money bill is numbered A3453A
and the same bill is designated 3440A in the NYS Senate. NYCCE's
new website is under development at NYCCE.org and contains links
to other organizations throughout the state and the country.
Fraser's currently working on his follow-up film, "Dead Kid,"
which again plays with themes involving the anticipated and actual
realties of rural life in today's Catskills. It's 8 minutes long.
By the time Chance Fraser gets out of high school and heads towards
film school in a couple of years, he should be making television-length
dramas, maybe even feature films.
"I want to take this further," he says in a matter-of-fact
tone, cool as his age, while sitting in the living room of his
parents' bed and breakfast in the center of Phoenicia. ""I'm
actually thinking now of buying a camera. All you need to make
movies these days is a camera and a computer."
Fraser's not quite ready to talk specifics in regards to film
schools. He's still got to finish tenth grade. But he does know
how he's gotten to where he is, and the role his Catskill surroundings
have played in his development.
Chance Fraser moved to the area from Brooklyn when he was 4. Even
though, like many his age, he tends to see the local area as being
a bit "rednecky" at times, he's loved the closeness
of nature, the pockets of sophistication here and there in the
area, the number of film types who regularly make their way through
the region, and the safe, supportive pace of small town life.
"I guess my biggest dream right now is about getting a place
of my own," he says, nodding his head, looking dead serious.
"I'll probably be staying in New York State."
He's been excited about all he's been learning as part of the
Indie Works program he's been part of since its inception. Says
that just learning about what's involved in filmmaking has changed
the way he looks at all movies.
"They taught us about lighting and cinematography and now
when I'm watching movies I find myself just thinking all about
how it's done," Fraser says.
Were there any specific films that he caught his directing bug
He talks about early memories of Thomas, The Tank Engine, all
the Disney films and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Edward Scissorhands
made a big impression.
Now, Fraser adds, he's a big fan of action movies, with a particular
passion for Quentin Tarantino, himself a former wunderkind who
learned his craft watching action movies while working in a Los
Angeles-area video store.
As for wanting to make movies himself, to dream them up, write
them out and actually direct them into a finished state, Chance
recalls fooling around with his dad, Tom, when he was in 6th Grade
and Tom bought a camera. It all seemed like fun- and relatively
He adds that he's always been into drawing, something he probably
picked up from his mother, Dana, an accomplished painter.
"It's just cool making something," Fraser says. "Making
movies is like drawing in motion- and it's actually easier than
He's looking forward to the Reel Teens Festival this weekend,
which he's attended since its inception three years ago. He gets
a thrill out of the range of topics the work in the festival covers,
as well as the amount of talent displayed. He gets ideas about
how to try things himself, from all that his peers around the
country have accomplished on their own limited budgets.
In specific, Fraser recalls a long list of great films he's seen
at Reel Teens, which runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings
in Hunter- and should be a must-see for anyone with an active
interest in movies around the area.
He wonders how "The Letter Guy" is going to look up
against all the competition. He's worried about his sound mix
in the film. Finds himself grimacing every time he watches the
movie he made, now. Is worrying about some microphone problems
that arose during his recent shoot for "Dead Kid." Wonders
when his prowess will become such where he can move beyond such
But is he excited about going with a film this year? What was
it like at the Woodstock Film Festival?
Fraser speaks about how nervous he felt having to answer questions
about his film, but also how relieved he was when another kid
proved so comfortable talking that he took up most of the allotted
time. He pauses, considering.
"It just feels good to be recognized for what I'm doing,"
he finally says. "This has all gotten a lot farther than
I ever thought it would go."
Chance Fraser, if you ask us, is well on his way.
For further information on Reel Teens, call the Catskill Mountain
Foundation Theater at 518-263-4908 or visit www.reelteensusa.org.