twenty-five page filing claims the law was illegally advanced
the state assembly and senate with misleading and erroneous
guidelines prior to its passage.
“The question is ‘Do we live under rule of law?’”
Blumstein said Tuesday.
“There are twenty three causes of action (in the suit).
Most of them have to do with prior notice, equal protection
under the law, lack of due diligence, and so on. Basically,
it appears to us that there was a concerted effort to deny
us all of those constitutional rights.”
Blumstein is seeking a full refund of taxes under the law
plus interest and a damage award of $25,000 per tax payer
in the town. His suit names as defendants Governor Pataki,
the New York State Senate and Assembly, the New York State
and Ulster County Office of Real Property Services, the
Ulster County legislature and assembly and the towns of
Woodstock and Shandaken.
The total amount for damages adds up to roughly $114 million
“We have to prove that our constitutional rights were
violated,” Blumstein said. “We have witnesses
and documentation and lots of it.”
“The alleged fraudulent and unlawful actions of the
defendants has resulted in substantial and potentially catastrophic
economic, social, cultural, and psychological damages to
our citizens in the town of Olive,” said Blumstein,
known as much for his community oven and garden as his activism
on the part of the town, in the suit.
The suit also asks that the large parcel law be repealed.
The law, adopted in 2003, allows school districts and counties
to tax “large parcels” - in Olive’s case,
the New York City-owned Ashokan Reservoir property - separately
from the towns where they are located, and to apply a special
equalization rate which supporters of the law have said
is intended to ensure all towns in the school district or
county are being taxed equitably.
“It’s the antithesis of democracy, the way they
did this, and that’s the real damage in this case,”
Blumstein told the press in his first interviews about the
suit after filing it just before the independence day weekend..
“All I can say is some have described litigation as
a machine where one goes in like a pig, and comes out like
a sausage, and that is my comment on Mr. Blumstein,”
Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber told the press after
being served the suit.
Onteora District Business Administrator Victoria Garone
said the lawsuit has been referred to district counsel for
review. “We have no further comment than that, at
this point,” Garone told the press when asked about
it. “Once counsel has reviewed it, the board may have
comments, but I can’t speak for them.”
The Large Parcel legislation has resulted in 60 percent
school tax hikes, and higher, plus 90 percent and greater
county tax hikes for Olive residents over the past year.
The town came out en masse this past May to elect three
candidates to the Onteora School Board who had pledged to
repeal the controversial law. With fourth board trustee
Dave Patterson of West Hurley having said that he, too,
will not vote for its renewal, the law is likely to not
be reinstated on a school district basis in the coming year.
Voting on Large Parcel legislation, and whether or not to
enact it, only arises if and when the county Office of Real
Property Services declares a district has such a parcel,
usually in late July. Should it do so this year, county
lawmakers will have until the November Legislature election
to cast their vote, whose outcome has been pegged to stay
the same, given its membership has not changed in the past
Deputy County Attorney Mark Frering told local reporters
last week that although he hasn’t drafted any response
to Blumstein’s suit yet, he will likely move to have
it dismissed because “It’s within [the county
legislature’s] prerogative to pass resolutions, and
not be in fear of passing a resolution that somebody happens
to disagree with.”
Legislature Chairman Richard Gerentine said he felt the
county went through an “appropriate process”
in enacting the law last year.
A Nov. 8 conference on the lawsuit has been set before U.S.
Magistrate David R. Homer in Albany.
We’ll be giving you more on this as things progress
on the ground in April,” Beccio said of the reval
work, whose data collection, including the creation of sales
records for all town properties, is being handled by a team
of four. “We’re getting the data needed to create
a basis for valuation.”
Beccio spoke at length about the basics of valuation, including
the setting of models, or comparables, by which property
characteristics can be judged on an objective, “quantitative”
More importantly, he said that he’s run into no major
objections to site visits to date, ensuring that everyone
gets plenty of advance notice of the reval, and his process,
via mass mailings over the last month.
“There’s always a certain number of people who
feel put upon, who feel the whole idea is inherently intrusive”
Beccio said, “But generally, we’ve had no more
grumbling than anywhere else.”
As for the quality of the data being uncovered, Beccio was
circumspect, choosing to speak about the process by which
his team is seeking information, and the methods he will
eventually use to determine what characteristics mean most
in local valuations. He said anything else would be “premature.”
Under the town’s contract of “approximately
$200,000” with his firm, Beccio said, all data must
be submitted for the creation of tax valuations before January
1, 206. Actual tax bills will then go out by the beginning
of February, giving people time to prepare any grievances
by the time a series of hearings are set up for such matters
Cole Layer and Trumble was hired last summer after Olive
approached eight assessment reval companies, of which only
three responded, in response to outside pressures to update
their assessments as a means of getting out of “Large
Parcel” legislation which the state Office of Real
Property Services has said was designed by the state legislature
to even out tax benefits from large tax parcels shared between
overlapping tax jurisdictions. In the case of Olive, the
legislation was used by the county and Onteora School District
to make up for tax benefits from the New York City-owned
Both taxing jurisdictions gave the town an extra year, starting
in the summer of 2003, to render moot the need for such
legislation by starting a tax reval. The town of Olive,
however, waited until last summer to start such a process
because they said such efforts would be counterproductive
and “useless” according to longstanding supervisor
Berndt Leifeld, based on ongoing litigation with New York
City over the reservoir’s value.
The town thought it had solved much of the need for the
Large Parcel legislation when they managed to raise the
city’s valuation from $119 million to $340 million,
an amount the state Office of Real Property services accepted,
even though Olive claimed the reservoir was worth at least
another $60 million. That effort was managed with the help
of the town’s Albany-based lawyers, Hacker and Murphy,
who also helped with the town’s lobbying efforts to
change the original legislation they were facing from the
school district and county.
The so –called “trigger mechanism” for
the large parcel bill, set by statute, is based on “a
rule of fives” according to Hacker & Murphy’s
Patrick Seely: the property has to be worth more than $5
million; has to account for 5% of the town’s assessed
value; must be five per cent of the school district’s
value; and also has to create more than a 5% difference
in value of the town’s equalization rate and the apportionment
Despite Leifeld’s pleas that the changed city valuation
would raise local taxes anyway, both the school district
and county enacted the legislation last year, resulting
in hefty tax hikes throughout Olive that eventually forced
the town’s citizenry to organize, with the “us
versus them” help of Leifeld and the town board, to
vote in a new school board which has stated its intentions
to no longer vote in the legislation should it come up for
a revote, announced by ORPS, later this summer.
Original calls to Beccio and Olive assessor Mike Sommers
were answered by Leifeld, who characterized the reval work
as “moving right along” and said of anyone questioning
such action by noting that the town had no plans to “be
sending up balloons” announcing their every step.
Beccio said that according to the International Association
of Assessing Officers, as well as the same New York State
Assessors Association that originally initiated the Large
Parcel Legislation, a move is on to make annual revals mandatory
in New York, just as they are in many of our neighboring
New England states.
“It makes it much easier for people to understand
their assessments,” said Beccio, who added a loud
“really” when told that the neighboring town
of Shandaken hadn’t had a reval in at least 30 years.
“As one might expect, the State Office of Real Property
Services is advocating annual reassessments,’”
said NYSAA President J. Todd Wiley in a recent address posted
on the association website. NYSAA became known locally for
its role in helping to push through the Large Parcel legislation
that has done so much to shape local school and municipal
politics in recent years.
“It is not realistic to expect that the school property
tax can be eliminated. It should be decreased significantly.
I believe that people would prefer increased sales taxes
and income taxes in return for a large reduction in their
school property taxes,” Wiley added. “This association
does not have the power to alter school tax funding.”
Spokesperson Joe Hesch of ORPS in Albany said that his agency
has long pushed for annual revals as a means of forcing
local assessors, who are required to assure all valuation
in their towns is current each year, to keep abreast of
an increasingly volatile real estate market. The emphasis
on annual re-assessments has include a growing number of
state incentives, including a $5 per property grant to municipalities
who reval annually, as well as a new $7 per property grant
for those who share assessment duties between towns, or
hand over such matters to county assessment offices. But
he added that any move to mandatory revals would require
a state legislative change to New York’s Teal Property
Tax Law, for which there is currently no move, as far as
he can see.
“Ideally, everyone would be at 100 percent assessments
so homeowners would know where things stand more easily,”
Before it started its recent reval, Olive was at an equalization
rate of under 1 percent while Shandaken is currently at
28 percent of real value. Hurley is currently at 90 percent
and Woodstock at 93 percent of real value, due to recent
revals on each town’s part.
can confirm that we are auditing the Ulster County law enforcement
center capital project," said Jennifer Freeman, a spokeswoman
for comptroller Alan Hevesi's office. "The audit started
in late June. As you may recall, last August we made a determination
not to audit at that time. However, we have been monitoring
the situation, and determined an audit was appropriate at
The project, originally scheduled for completion in April
2004 at a cost of about $70 million, not including interest
payments, is supposed to be turned over to the county for
final preparations and movement of inmates on or about September
21 at a cost of about $90 million. Critics have expressed
doubt that latest target date will be met. Principal and
interest amounts on long-term bonds will drive the total
cost to taxpayers up to around $140 million by the time
the project is paid for somewhere after the year 2030.
Legal entanglements among the prime contractors, construction
manager Bovis Lend Lease, and the county are swirling around
the project. The county has hired special counsel as well
as expanding the contract of Hill International, which did
the project labor agreement and is now helping the county
parcel out responsibility for the cost overruns and delays.
Freeman said the comptroller's work would be "an in-depth
process that typically takes a number of months or longer."
She said the on-site auditors working on the sixth floor
of the county office building are reviewing records and
conducting interviews. They will make a preliminary written
report of their findings to the comptroller. At some point,
the county will be given 30 days to respond to points raised
by the comptroller's auditors.
By policy, the comptroller's office does not discuss ongoing
audits in any detail. "We certainly encourage if people
want to provide us with information," Freeman added.
"We always welcome information from the public if we're
doing an audit."
"We welcome them with open arms," county legislature
chairman Richard Gerentine said. "They are not doing
an investigation. They are just doing an assessment, quote
unquote assessment, according to one of their people who
met with us."
Gerentine said he was not certain why Hevesi's office arrived
at this time. "Basically, we had meetings in the past
and they said they would review it in a year," he said,
"and they are back now doing their review. I welcome
them to see if they can do anything to help Ulster County
taxpayers, if they find anything."
Two representatives of the comptroller's office met with
a bevy of county officials last Thursday. Attending were
Gerentine, county attorney Frank Murray, the county special
counsel on the jail project Mark Sweeney, county building
and grounds superintendent Harvey Sleight, county jail construction
supervisor Brian Cunningham, county treasurer Lew Kirschner
and deputy treasurer Mike Hein. Also present was county
legislator Peter Kraft, a Democrat who has been critical
of the project and is a member of the special jail oversight
"Right now, they are calling it a risk assessment,"
said Kraft. He said that at the June 23 meeting the comptroller's
officials "just laid out why they were there, what
they were going to do." Said Kraft, "They were
just asking questions, getting a feel for how the whole
process went. We do know they are going to be here eight
hours a day for the next three weeks, stationed in the sixth
floor of the county office building, going through all the
Kraft said critics of the project plan to hold meetings
with the auditing team as soon as possible "and lay
out our case why they should be here."
The comptroller's people toured the construction site for
the jail on Monday and were "very impressed,"
said Gerentine. "They said they think Ulster County
is doing a lot of positive things" with the project.
Over dessert, creamy slices of sweet mango, Rose explained
that she grew up in Tokyo with her Japanese mother, an antiques
dealer, and her American father, who came from Long Island.
At age 14, Rose went to boarding school in California, a
former farm set on 2700 acres of land, where the staff and
students had constructed most of the buildings. “We
chopped our own wood for the wood-burning stoves, our only
source of heat. We had to heat water for showers. Any time
we wanted to, we could ask for permission to go camping—no
tent, we’d just go out with sleeping bags, a frying
pan, matches, and food. I was a city girl, but I loved it.
I was there for four years.”
Next she studied economics and international relations at
the University of California at Davis, followed by a job
as road manager for musical groups. Her later career a health
professional began to manifest on the road. “I’ve
always taken care of people. I love to feed, nurture, and
heal. I carried around a pouch with a phone, notebook, pen,
and a whole bunch of remedies—homeopathic and herbal—that
I’d hand out to people when they weren’t feeling
well. Sometimes I’d take people to an acupuncturist.”
She knew she couldn’t travel forever and kept hoping
to make a lateral step into TV or film, but it wasn’t
happening. After ten years of this life, when a job ended,
she suddenly decided to study acupuncture. “My parents
and half of my friends thought I had lost my mind, but the
other half understood. I asked my acupuncturist to write
me a recommendation for school, and he said, ‘Of course!
It’s about time.’”
Rose selected the four-year program at Pacific College of
Oriental Medicine in New York City, partly because it has
a strong herbal component. In addition to the Chinese system
of medicine taught there, she learned the Japanese approach
from a mentor and teacher in Japan. She uses the finer needles
and gentler intervention techniques of the Japanese system,
combined with the diagnostic and treatment protocols of
the Chinese system.
“I see a lot of people with psychological and emotional
problems: anxiety, depression, stress,” she said.
“The Japanese techniques work well on an energetic,
emotional level. But I treat basically everything. In Chinese
medicine, we don’t separate the mind and body. An
ailment in one can lead to an ailment in the other. Nowadays,
we’re all under so much stress and strain, it’s
always important to treat both.” Her brochure lists
a range of examples, including addictions, cardiovascular
problems, skin disorders, digestive issues, musculoskeletal
conditions, gynecological and urogenital ailments, pain,
and such needs as chemotherapy support, post-operative recovery,
weight loss, insomnia, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
While acupuncture treatment can be extremely effective in
addressing these problems, she said, “I expect people
to do their homework too. They may need to make changes
in their lives, such as diet, exercise, and specific habits.
If you have a shoulder problem, and you sleep with your
arm like this—,” pausing to raise her arm and
lay her head on her shoulder before continuing, “you
may need to change that. Acupuncture is great for addictions,
but it’s not a substitute for will power. Sometimes
people just need permission to slow down and take time for
Rose came to the Catskills to visit a friend in 1999 and
fell in love with the area, eventually buying a house in
Woodland Valley. She continues to maintain a practice in
Manhattan half the week, while offering services in acupuncture,
Chinese herbal treatment, and Chinese orthopedic massage
on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at the Phoenicia Healing
Arts Center on Main Street.
Chinese medicine works well in conjunction with Western
medicine, she said, often speeding recovery rates by strengthening
the body’s core and energy. She has visited the doctors
at the Maverick West clinic and is excited to be involved
in “providing quality health services to this area.
We have great health practitioners here.” She cited
the physicians at Maverick, the beloved general practitioner
Marguerite Collins, and physical therapist Heather Roberts,
who recently set up her practice on Main Street.
“Chinese medicine is really medicine,” she said,
“not some New Age voodoo practice. It’s safe
and effective. I like it because it’s about helping
someone to heal instead of forcing the body to heal.”
Julia Rose may be reached for an appointment at 688-7198.