on August 3rd, we (in the Ulster County Legislature) had
a caucus and packets of information were given out as to
what resolutions we would be voting on in the August 11th
session," said Peter Kraft, one of the legislators
who stopped the misdirection play. "At that time, (legislators)
Michael Stock, Brian Shapiro and Glenn Noonan submitted
the Large Parcel (option) because the New York State Office
of Real Property Services (ORPS) had designated the (Ashokan)
Reservoir a ‘large parcel’ and also established
the equalization (tax) rate."
The formality of that designation is required before the
county can apply the law which, in this rather singular
case (since Ulster has been the only county in the state
to use the option), divides the tax revenue from the Ashokan
Reservoir in Olive and Hurley amongst other towns in the
county. Residents of Olive who consider the law a swindle
have formed a group to oppose it called Olive Matters (OM)
and attended meetings of the legislature in recent months
to voice their objections.
Kraft related that as lobbying efforts against Resolution
244, on his part and other representatives of District 3
(representing Hurley, Marbletown and Olive), continued after
August 3rd, it became evident that some legislators would
be absent for the vote. He observed that new packets were
distributed at a 6pm caucus prior to the 7pm meeting in
which the Large Parcel issue was as missing as some of the
"Apparently, Brian Shapiro had requested Resolution
244 be removed so that public information meetings could
be held," Kraft said with a edge of restrained irony
springing from the fact that Shapiro, Stock and Noonan have
been denying requests from District 3 representatives for
just such a meeting since March.
"Majority leader Mike Stock runs the overall county
agenda and he is also a prime mover of the Large Parcel
Law in the Republican caucus," said District 3 legislator
Robert Parete days before the vote. "So, if his caucus
follows his advice, the law will be adopted once again this
Parete, who said that Stock had personally promised him
an informational meeting in the Spring but never delivered,
felt that an open airing of the facts and documents would
sway a close vote into Olive’s favor.
"I went to an OM meeting last month and those folks
alone, with all they know of this law, could demonstrate
how wrong it is," Parete said. "It’s going
to come down to a political decision- which you would want
to be an educated decision."
When the Large Parcel sponsors suddenly wanted to postpone
the vote to schedule an informational meeting, Parete, Kraft
and other opponents of the law realized that their adversaries
had taken a head-count and saw their side short of votes.
"By rule, you cannot pull a resolution unless all sponsors
agree and Hector Rodriguez (a Democrat from New Paltz who
serves on the General Services Committee which sponsored
244) was not consulted and did not agree with its removal,"
said Kraft. "So, consequently, Mike Stock, who was
acting chairman because Rich Gerentine was absent, asked
the attorney for an opinion."
Although the county attorney thought it was permissible
to yank the item, the Democratic minority lawyer felt that
would violate the Supreme Court "one man-one vote"
ruling and the first vote of the evening overwhelmingly
overturned the county lawyer’s opinion. The resolution,
then renumbered 245, was voted on and split the vote 14-13
with 17 votes needed for adoption. Kraft’s own head
count calculated a probable 17-16 defeat of the law with
all members present.
The law can rise from the dead if anyone who voted ‘no’
chooses to re-introduce it, Kraft observed and urged a cautious
"But I think it’s behind us," he added.
"When I spoke to ORPS as to why no other county had
implemented the law, they specifically said ‘if there’s
no juice in the lemon, why squeeze it?’ Their point
is- if there’s no upside gain for it, why would you
want to stir all this trouble up over pennies (gained per
thousand of assessment for other county towns)?"
Why ORPS has included economically stable reservoirs in
the same package as large industrial properties subject
to erratic valuations since deregulation of the energy industry
in the 1990s is a question which officials in Olive have
been asking since they first heard that the state had passed
a large parcel law. These same officials bemoan the fact
that their state representatives never afforded the town
an informational meeting about the law before its passage
two years ago.
Senator William Larkin, the Large Parcel law’s original
sponsor, sent letters to representatives of Olive and Governor
Pataki affirming his view that the law should not include
municipal reservoirs. When these were read to District 4
(Saugerties, Ulster and Kingston) legislator Robert Aiello
days before the vote, he expressed astonishment that he
had never heard this perspective before; a reaction which
underlines the lack of information available to voters before
last year’s vote. This time around Aiello joined Bernardi,
Cummings, Donaldson, Feldman, Kraft, Loughran, Parete, Parete,
Provenzano, Roberti, Stoeckeler and Zimet in a non-partisan
rejection of the law.
Robert Tischler, an attorney and a member of OM, received
his own letter from Senator Larkin, dated July 20, 2005.
He points out that, in the letter, Larkin reiterates that
the law was "enacted
with a provision that its terms could only be enacted if
the local municipality elected to utilize its provisions."
However, although a statement that all municipalities involved
had to agree on the option was in the package of the bill
voted on by the state legislature, no such phrase appears
in the wording of the law itself.
Some OM members perceive in his letters a desire on Larkin’s
part to re-insert Home Rule into the law, alongside a quiet
reluctance to initiate the motion himself.
"It was really a mistake," Tischler said. "Certainly
Larkin made it clear in the letter to (Pataki aide) Smith
that the law was never intended to apply to a reservoir
and the Ashokan Reservoir is certainly not something that
swings in value from year to year. So, I think it was really
a mistake that people took advantage of- all of our Woodstock
friends, our school board, the county, all took advantage
of that mistake."
While Tischler tends to blame the Office of Real Properties
Services for their "mistake" in choosing what
kind of property constitutes a large parcel, other OM members
see a deeper design in the choices. The ORPS decision to
include municipal water supplies in a system which approaches
tax assessment of industrial parcels based upon their "marketability"
rather than classifying them with a "speciality"
resource status (as reservoirs were traditionally assessed
before the Large Parcel Law), they point out, opens the
door wide to privatization of the New York City water supply.
They feel that, while an attempt to sell off the water supply
during the Giuliani administration failed in 1995, the time
for a new attempt would be ripe during a second Bloomberg
term and that there are powerful corporate forces who see
the Catskill system as an alluring target.
was light because we hadn’t known the county would
be deciding on large parcel that night when we scheduled
the caucus,” said former town councilwoman Cindy Johansen,
the head of the currently-dormant town Republican Club who
will be running for town supervisor on the GOP ticket this
Nominated alongside Johansen was Peter Friedel for town
justice, Chet Scofield for highway superintendent, Paula
Minew for town council, and John Tisch for council.
Tisch, speaking before this past Tuesday’s August
16 school board meeting, said he had no idea he was going
to be nominated for the GOP slot before the August 11 meeting,
which he was unable to attend. He added that even though
he was gathering signatures for an independent run for the
same seat, he was as yet unsure whether he would indeed
accept the Republican nomination.
“I have to sit down and do some strategizing,”
Minew, who runs the Sunoco station in Boiceville, ran for
town board unsuccessfully, two years ago, when Scofield,
who owns Snyder’s Tavern in West Shokan, ran for the
town highway top spot. Johansen also failed to win a council
seat at the same time.
Although Johnson said that the current candidates have yet
to discuss a platform for the November elections, when they
will be facing a full slate of longterm Democratic incumbents,
including Supervisor Berndt Leifeld, Councilpersons Helen
Chase and Bruce LaMnda, Highway Superintendent Jimmy Fugel
and Town Justice Vince Barringer, others in town said that
there has been a growing groundswell of dissatisfaction
with the way the current administration let the Large Parcel
issue sneak up on the town despite warnings to accomplish
a townwide reval, and use other means, to avoid it two,
six and more years ago.
The GOP held a picnic barbecue in Davis Park with entertainment
last weekend and are currently planning a strong showing
on Olive Day in September.
We at the Olive Press have already started discussions with
the League of Women Voters to present a full Meet The Candidates
event, with debate, at some point in October.
Should Large Parcel again be implemented, contrary to campaign
pledges and public statements by four of the board’s
seven members, Olive’s taxes would rise 9.66 percent
for the coming school year, Hurley’s would go up 9.82
percent, Shandaken’s up 1.21 percent, and Woodstock’s
would drop 1.70 percent.
The figures are based on a last-minute budget figure that
includes last-minute revenue options that have yet to be
okayed, and include either a 36.01% or 30.36% drop in the
tax levy for those Marbletown taxpayers in the Onteora district,
depending on whether Large Parcel is implemented or not,
respectively; and either a 0.84 % or 9.74% hike in that
portion of Lexington in the district, by the same equation.
The board has set aside next Monday, August 22 for a final
public hearing and meeting on the subject, at which point
they will vote to either implement, not implement, or make
no decision on the Large Parcel law. The meeting will start
at 7 p.m. at the High School cafeteria in Boiceville.
Public comments on the issue included statements from three
Olive and three Woodstock board members, plus the Ulster
County Legislature’s Majority Leader, Mike Stock,
who said there is a strong likelihood the issue will be
brought back to life on a county level before November,
given that at least one legislature who voted against LP’s
legislation last week is likely to request a re-vote.
Before the actual public hearing portion of the evening,
which was kept to a shorter timetable than two weeks ago
by Board President Dave Patterson, new trustee Maryjane
Bernholz of Olive noted that the way in which Thornton had
presented the budget figures and tax levy percentages seemed
to place all responsibility for rises and drops on the Large
Parcel issue, skewing the public’s perception away
from the other variables involved in such matters.
Olive councilman Bruce LaMonda noting that the Large Parcel
bill was “totally discriminatory to small communities.
Olive supervisor Berndt Leifeld pointing out all that his
town had done to avert tax inequities since he last he came
before the school board two years before and asking that
the board “please put this issue to rest for this
year to let Olive do what it has to do.”
Woodstock Taxpayers’ Association organizer and former
school board member Sam Mercer asking for equity, and the
Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber reminding the board of
the dangers of flip-flopping on previous board decisions
(“Will we be teaching Intelligent Design one year
and not the next?), while asking for more board meetings
in Woodstock (“After all, we do pay 35 percent of
your school taxes.”
Before dropping his bombshell about re-introducing the Large
Parcel issue in the county legislature, Stock suggested
that if people really took issue with thelaw, “We
should all take it to Albany.”
John Tisch asked what Woodstock would do if 8,042 of its
acreage was submerged in a reservoir, then warned about
the upcoming issue of a proposed Boiceville community septic
system which “We would be paying for while all the
rest of the district would be benefiting.”
Woodstock Councilman Gordon Wemp countered a Tisch assertion
that the May board election served as a mandate, noting
that it was the crowded field of candidates that was key
to the new majority’s win.
Former board member John Hurld suggested the district should
become its own taxing entity, with one tax equation for
all in the district.
Woodstock Councilwoman Liz Simonson asked the board to look
at a full history of tax payments and then figure out its
long-term goal for such matters.
Olive Councilwoman Linda Burkhardt said that how Olive pays
its tax bills is Olive’s business, and countered previous
claims that the entire Large Parcel issue had been triggered
by the town’s over-assessment of New York City’s
Ashokan Reservoir property.
In other school business Tuesday night, the district’s
new Transportation Supervisor, Maureen Stancage (formerly
a dispatcher in the New Paltz school district) asked that
she be given ample time to meet the demands of a new transportation
safety audit requested by new trustee Cindy O’Connor
and approved unanimously. She’d only been on the board
six days, she noted, and needed time to get her systems
up and running before tackling such an endeavor.
Similarly, an O’Connor request for a monthly Internal
Claims Audit by new district auditor Monica Kim was countered
by Superintendent Justine Winters, who pointed out that
Kim had worked only two half days on the job so far and
also needed time to adjust. O’Connor changed her request
so that the board would get its first audit report in October.
Jar Of Olives...
Last week we
said good-bye to Peter Wittl, Olive’s one full-time
police officer, who died much too young. More than a dozen
people commented, “I just saw him yesterday, the day
before he died.” Chances are hundreds more did. Peter
was “out and about” stopping around town for
coffee, riding the roads and waving to the citizens he knew,
directing traffic and responding at a moment’s notice
to any accident or incident. Everyone sensed that presence,
that demeanor, that Pete was there if we needed him. He
was our neighbor.
In Olive, “keeping up with the Joneses” means
something different from its competitive upgrading of property.
It means “keeping track of, keeping aware of”
our neighbors. We are “our neighbor’s keeper”
I, in fact, have two neighbors named David Jones to keep
up with. One, the famous one in Olive, has a short stack
of pancakes with real maple syrup with his eggs at the Pineview
Bakery every Sunday. The other one, known elsewhere as singer
David Bowie, is just as much a neighbor. Olive’s volunteer
fire department and ambulance squad would respond just as
quickly for both.
This column will be about neighbors. It will remind people
of events coming up on the horizon such as the Republican
Picnic at Davis Park on Saturday, August 13 and Olive Day
at Davis Park on September 10. It will give information
about people past and present. Did you know that Babe Ruth
used to fish the Ashokan Reservoir with Barney Bachor and
Ray Smith? Did you know that Lena Bachor had to create waders
to fit the bambino’s girth by sewing a tire’s
inner tube to the two legs of the rubber waders?
By now, my neighbors in Olive are breathing a sigh of tax
relief knowing that the Alternate Large Parcel Option was
defeated at the County level on August 11. What they may
not know is the process. Since this was my first time as
a spectator to this spectacle, I was amazed at how things
get done there. Prior to the seven o’clock public
meeting, the two political parties caucus separately. Items
on the agenda get hashed over there before they get to a
public forum. I believe that both sides, Republicans and
Democrats, and opponents of and supporters of any issue,
know prior to the public meeting how the votes will fly.
In this case, The Large Parcel Option was pulled from the
agenda. Coincidentally, the resolution from Olive’s
Town Board opposing this method was missing from the written
list of correspondence. After an objection to “pulling”
the resolution by some of the committee members, a motion
to over-rule placed the decision back on the agenda. Many
supporters of Large Parcel spoke to delay a vote saying
that it would give more time to explore information. Opponents
of Large Parcel wanted to vote since many Olivites and Olivians
were present and had signed up to speak to the issue. Speakers
focused on the intention of the bill according to letters
written by Senator Larkin and stressed the Home Rule/Host
Community right that has come up so often with casinos and
developments. Supporters of Large Parcel claimed “fair
and equal” taxation based on a two hundred thousand
house being equal no matter where it is. The one moment
of levity was the question posed by a down county legislator
who asked, “Where do you find this two hundred thousand
dollar house?” She went on to ask if you could buy
comparable property in Olive and in New York City for four
hundred thousand dollars. It allowed a few laughs on a very
The vote went ahead with a “long vote call.”
This means that each legislator gets to speak to the issue
and vote audibly. It was interesting to me that the yes
voters simply said “Yes” without eye contact
to the audience which was seated to the right or left of
the legislators. Those who voted no prefaced their vote.
It was heartening to hear someone from New Paltz say that
she would support Olive and that voting no was “ the
right thing to do.” Legislator Donaldson, who first
supported the Large Parcel, voted against it because Olive
had taken steps to undertake a town wide reval.
When the final tally was taken, the vote was 14 for using
the Large Parcel method and 13 against it. The audience
was silent. There was an audible sigh. Then it was pronounced
that the resolution had failed. Stunned, we looked from
side to side wondering what had happened. Legislator Jeannette
Provenzano noticed the confusion and angst and asked the
acting chairman, Mike Stock, to please explain to the audience
what just happened. Since the resolution needs to be passed
by a majority vote, seventeen votes to support the resolution
are needed. With six legislators absent, the Large Parcel
Bill lacked three votes to pass. Would it have played out
differently if all were present? All I know is that on this
day, Olive earned some more breathing room to resolve this
issue that will haunt us each and every year until it is
found illegal or amended.
Since this is the first column, I invite my neighbors to
share their stories with me, and I will share them with
others in our community of Olivites and/or Olivians. Which
You can email me at email@example.com