Up on the News
Of The Sewer Deal?
The plan was floated by
the town a few years ago and the DEP rejected it. But last year DiSclafani
convinced City officials to allow a feasibility study to be done with
money from the $17.2 million DEP has earmarked to build a traditional
The study was completed last fall and submitted to DEP for review. According
to that study it would cost $3 million less to build and $200,000 less
per year to operate than the conventional system Phoenicia voters turned
down in 2007.
With a similar facility “currently functioning well” at
the nearby Hunter Mountain village landfill, according to Rennia, Vegetated
Sands Beds have arrived in the region and several other such systems
have been functioning for nearly a decade, according to the firms’
31 page report.
The system, designed to treat 150,000 gallons of sewage per day, consists
of four holding tanks, each 16 by 8 feet and 10 feet deep, where the
majority of solids would be removed from the effluent. From there the
remaining effluent would travel into 86,000 square feet of reed beds
or “wetland treatment units.” The beds provide three different
types of filtration from rough to “ultra polishing,’ producing
a final result of an effluent that Rennia claims would be “near
drinking water quality.”
Any remaining solids would require dewatering and regular disposal,
but Rennia says that remaining “sludge” can accumulate for
almost a decade before final disposal options are determined. The system
can also be designed to put off the need for removing the sludge for
a long long time, “possibly indefinitely,” according to
Since no effluent is exposed to light or air, as it is all underground,
there would be no algae or other bacterial growth.
This type of system, Rennia states, will require minimum power to operate
as compared to conventional systems like the one designed by Delaware
Engineering. As for any concern that the system might freeze in the
winter, Rennia says fear not. “Temperatures inside the wetland
units will not vary considerably from season to season so long as wastewater
flow rates remain constant, which is expected for this project,”
the report states.
As designed, the system would be located at the same location that Delaware
Engineering’s treatment plant was planned, down alongside route
28 east of the Phoenicia diner. More land would be required for the
system. There are three options offered, with two of them requiring
the acquisition of between one and three acres of land from Katsill
Development Holdings LLC, a firm of local businessman Dean Gitter.
However, with a 150,000 gallon per day capacity, the reed bed system
is significantly smaller than the 195,000 gallon per day treatment plant
originally proposed. The smaller system would limit the amount of growth
for the hamlet.
But DEP’s engineers felt this technology would not work.
“In general, previously identified, major design issues were not
accounted for in the current (reed bed) design proposal,” Costello
said in his December 10th letter. “Major design issues such as
the physical site constraints of the project parcel, microfiltration,
disinfection, unit process redundancy and consideration for peak flows
will have significant impacts to the final design and cost estimate.
Based on the Department’s review, the design proposal is not approvable
or feasible for Phoenicia.”
DiSclafani said this week that he wants to schedule a meeting with DEP
and the engineers that conducted the study to see if anything can be
altered to make the plan work.
But there’s a wrinkle. Phoenicia was put on notice two years ago
that a decision must be made or the $17.2 million would be given to
the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) for use in other communities
that do want sewer systems. The deadline for Phoenicia’s decision
has come and gone. In fact, the deadline was extended to allow time
for the feasibility study.
It remains unclear what will happen next, but there are plenty of other
communities in the watershed that want sewers.
CWC Executive Director Alan Rosa has said that if CWC is given the $17.2
million, Phoenicia could still use it if a reasonable sewer system were
In the meantime however, other communities are expected to be preparing
requests for the funding.
“I’ve always had careers that required what I call ‘industrial-strength’
organizing skills,” notes Stitham. Her former business, Charmed
Places, was based on a large portfolio of non-advertised wedding locations
in the region. She matched clients with spaces and then organized the
After cutting her home organizing teeth on the McLoughlin house, Stitham
managed the estate of a close friend who died. “She still had hippie
clothes from the sixties,” Stitham says. “The family was not
in this area and didn’t know how to handle the estate. I’ve
done many estate jobs, and I love that I can offer this service—that
a family can put that type of project in my hands and know that I am qualified.”
Home organizing, on the other hand, is not just about clearing off a desk
or cleaning out the basement. “I do an extensive assessment before
I start working,” she explains. “We spend a few hours talking
about what’s happening in the client’s life and what they
really value. Do they want a deeper relationship with family and friends,
to have room to invite people over? Do they want a home-based business
or a place to write or paint? Space has to be created for what gives you
She recalls a couple who wanted a home office but lacked space. “They
had grown children in their forties, but their son’s bedroom still
had his G.I.Joe’s. I said, ‘What about Johnny’s room?’,
and they’d never thought of it. People in that situation will say
they have to ask their grown kids first, and the kids generally say, ‘I
can’t believe you never got rid that stuff!’”
Part of Stitham’s job is teaching her clients to be more organized.
“We try to set up spaces to make things easy. To sort mail, you
need a trash can, a recycling box, and a place to put bills close by.
It could be as simple as putting really good labels on boxes or using
a planner. Often people have a warped sense of how long things take. Someone
might say, ‘I never have time to hang up my clothes.’ But
it might take 30 seconds. Or someone who’s chronically late may
claim it only takes ten minutes to get to Kingston—I ask them to
Stitham works all over the Hudson Valley as well as in Manhattan. The
only difference between the two locations is that city dwellers have less
space to work with. “Up here, people have garages and attics filled
with stuff they don’t want. It’s valuable real estate, and
it’s not being used. I help them see what’s possible.”
Often she takes truckloads of items for her clients to give away. She
encourages donation, which is satisfying for the giver and is often more
profitable than selling because the client can get a tax deduction. At
the same time, she observes, “We all have memorabilia that are truly
valuable to us. I make sure they are used or on display or stored safely,
not getting moldy in a garage.” Distinguishing between cherished
possessions and junk is essential. She encourages clients to come up with
plans like one man’s decision to throw away last month’s New
Yorker magazine as soon as the new one arrives in the mail.
“A client will ask if their house is the worst I’ve ever seen.
I say no, and it’s usually true. Life changes, things happen, people
get busy. It takes time and focus to put a house in good shape, to make
it beautiful, serene, and safe. People have to be ready to make changes.”
Rarely, she will turn down business if she determines from her initial
assessment that a client is not ready to let go of possessions. “It’s
only happened a handful of times,” she says. She does work with
people who are compulsive hoarders, but she requires that they be in therapy
at the same time. A recent client had her children taken from her because
her home was so messy. “She is motivated, but she has ADD. She walks
into a room and can’t prioritize. Last week, her children were returned
to her. I love seeing people’s lives change like that.”
Stitham attributes her talent for organizing to her left-brain tendencies,
unlike her right-brain partner and so many of the creative people she
works with. “Artists see the big picture, but it’s difficult
for them to file papers. They want things out and visual so they can see
them. We get them shelving units or the furniture they need to store things
they’re working on.”
With seven years of professional organizing under her belt, Stitham takes
her job seriously, staying on top of new developments in the field and
attending national conferences. She also comes with a wealth of resources,
such as contacts with local appraisers for collectibles and artwork, especially
helpful in dealing with estates. January is National Get Organized Month,
so anyone interested in whipping their place into shape can call her at
845-657-2791 or check out her website, revamp.tv.
Cuts At Onteora...
All this came
up when the Onteora district board of education held a special workshop
meeting in the central office conference room on Friday, January 9 to
discuss the 2009/2010 budget.
Although figures are still prlimianry across the board, the board is anticipating
a combination drop in state aid, interest rates and a possible freeze
on state owned land tax revenue somewhere between $2.5 and $3 million
In order to keep a tax levy at no more than a 3.5 percent increase, reflective
of a contingent budget, the board will need to cut around $1.5 million
Superintendent Leslie Ford provided the board with sheets of budget breakdowns,
suggestions on where to cut, while the school board presented a few ideas
of their own. This included eliminating the high school assistant principal,
field trips, cutting back on the district calendar, newsletters, and consultant
fees, and asking the principals to reduce supplies.
Until the board gets feedback from building administrators and has a better
idea of what the state plans to do, they stressed that nothing is written
in stone and all could change.
At an earlier January 6 school board meeting in Woodstock, Assistant Superintendent
of Business Victoria McLaren read a Pyramid Brokerage company brokers
report on salable or rental market value prospects on the district’s
two closed buildings at West Hurley.
The Town of Hurley has the property assessed for $3,799,400, but after
the equalization rate, the full tax value listed it at $4,221,556.
However, at the recent meeting these figures were explained as being for
reference use only, with Pyramid pointing out that the market value was
“significantly less.” The broker put the buildings condition
as very good, and based a square foot value of $17.17, listed the West
Hurley School’s overall value at $747,650 as the high end of their
They compared their assessment on value to similar schools in the area
that have sold in the past couple years. Schools listed at a higher market
value have been on the market for over a year indicating. “an asking
price higher than the market will bear.”
To lease the building would be more difficult than selling it, according
to the report. It listed rates based on the two buildings as a whole or
parceled out. Annual rent of the entire campus would have a market value
of $217,720. The smaller Ryan building could lease for $56,410 and the
larger Levins building for $161,310. The Beacon school district has been
leasing classrooms to artists and crafts people, but the rental space
becomes complicated since bathroom and other common areas are not considered
rentable space. Pyramid suggested a lease rate between $5 and $10 per
square foot, depending on if the entire building is used or not.
School board president Ralph Legnini looked at the viability of leasing
“That may be something to explore; it might benefit the community,”
he said. “There are a lot of artists, musicians could give something
like guitar lessons, and if managed correctly it might be something financially
He said if the value to sell it ranges from a low end of $650,000 to a
maximum of $750,000, than “it doesn’t seem like that much
Trustee Laurie Osmond suggested combining ideas that trustee Michelle
Friedel had at a previous meeting on moving administration to the West
Hurley site and providing a board room.
“Couldn’t we have a combination of all of that plus leasing
space to individual artists, studio space or rooms to non-profits,”
said Osmond, “as a sort of a creative patchwork and still get district
use out of it?”
Trustee Maxanne Resnick speculated on the previous board’s capital
project proposal that would consolidate the district and close an additional
“I think I would be reluctant to sell the property without answering
the larger question on how does it fit in with all of our building uses
and if we have to think about Woodstock versus West Hurley,” said
Resnick. “I recognize that people are very devoted to the school,
but I have always been under the impression that this school (Woodstock)
does not have any possibility of expansion whatsoever.”
The capital plan project listed Woodstock elementary as not having any
room to grow if the population were to increase after the district was
Resnick added that it cost the district $36,000 yearly to maintain the
West Hurley buildings. She also asked if they would need major improvements
to turn a profit.
McLaren said if the building were rented to anyone else, “That would
change the use as far as SED (State Education Department) were concerned
if in the future we ever wanted to go back to saying this is a school
“Down the road we’re going to have to look at the capital
project and what to do,” said Trustee Rick Wolff, who was also on
the previous board. “It’s inevitable.”
Friedel said she liked Osmond’s idea, but “I don’t think
we can do anything as far as upgrades or capital projects at this current
point in time, but I also hold hope that the federal government will have
aids or grants coming down for building repairs.”
The district has approached BOCES about the West Hurley buildings but
they are not interested due to their non-central location.
District voters would need to approve the sale of West Hurley elementary.
It is zoned residential and therefore could not be sold or leased to commercial
West Hurley School closed in 2004. In 2005 it was rented for a short period
of time to the West Hurley library. Since that time it has remained empty.
On January 6, beginning the budget talks they continued on Friday, and
will be filling numerous meetings with over the coming months, the board
noted how last year’s budget had a low tax increase due to money
returned from the litigation between the town of Olive and New York City
over a tax dispute with the Ashokan Reservior.
The district is slowing it’s spending for this year so it will have
district money left over to add to next year’s budget pool.
Friedel noted, at that time, that the state may ask districts to contribute
to pre-kindergarten programs.
“Looking at Universal pre-K, that money is going to be frozen,”
she said. “So these programs that we always relied on the aid of
the state may not be there.”
In a separate conversation, Friedel asked about the $300,000 earmarked
to purchase lockers. Superintendent Leslie Ford said it is on hold until
the budget unfolds. Trustee Donna Flayhan requested a cost analysis on
science equipment for the high school as a possible earmark, noting that
the equipment is outdated. The board decided to seek teacher input, but
stipulated that no decision on purchasing equipment will be made until
the budget is ironed out.
After tempers flared at the previous board meeting over an audit committee
report, Flayhan requested discussion be again focused on transportation.
She made a motion on the floor to give the report, but board members would
not approve a second.
Flayhan believes that if the district’s transportation contracts
were re-bid and divided out, the district could save up to one-million
dollars. She stressed that discussions must begin soon if changes need
to be made.
A heated discussion continued not over transportation, but over Flayhan’s
use of the district’s audit committee as a platform.
Later, Osmond addressed Flayhan, saying, “I would like to request
that the information you have, pass it out to the board and we will place
the discussion on the agenda. I need to read it and digest it.”
Flayhan grudgingly agreed and passed out the transportation information
to board members for future discussion..
In other news…
Legnini updated the board on the new water filtration system to the Boiceville
site. He said the engineer’s drawings would get to the State Education
Department for approval by late January, taking three to six months to
review and approve, followed by a six to eight week bid process and two
to four weeks given to initial set up. The final instillation will take
two to three weeks.
The board also authorized the “sale or disposal” of the high
school’s auditorium chairs and reminded parents that school closing
and delays can be emailed directly to their home computer by signing up
But in his
December 15 decision, Acting State Supreme Court Justice Henry Zwack wrote,
“The Court has considered the context and content of this letter
and finds that it is an assertion of opinion only and therefore the complaint
must be dismissed. The Court finds that the average reader of this letter,
while they may be initially drawn in by the provocative opening sentence
(“Dean Gitter Paid Off the DEP”), will soon come to realize
upon reading the first paragraph in full, that the writer appears to be
stating her belief …” Zwack said that it was clear that the
writer was equating lobbying fees paid by Gitter to a payoff of governmental
officials. “It is clear from the context and tone of the entire
letter taken as a whole that any allegation that plaintiff had bribed
government officials is purely the opinion of the writer, based upon the
fact that plaintiff paid lobbying fees…”
But the judge did not see fit to make Gitter pay the court costs nor lawyer’s
fees for the paper, Powers and Smart, saying that these provisions are
Gitter was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Space will
be available for him to comment on his return. His attorney, Paul Gruner,
did not return a phone call but later said that he was preparing an appeal
against the decision.
Powers intimated that he might seek remuneration for court costs and attorney’s
fees through an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,
in which a corporation or developer sues an organization in an attempt
to scare it into dropping protests against a corporate initiative) suit.
In a written statement, Powers said “The court found that Mr. Gitter
had no legitimate basis for his complaint, and that people do have a right
to voice their opinions in their local newspapers.
“Mr. Gitter was quite clear about why he filed a lawsuit against
us. His lawyer in fact explained it twice to make sure people would understand
his motivation, and what he said was ‘This is about money.’
In our view that’s another way of saying I’m doing this to
try and financially hurt these two people and their families and put these
community newspapers out of business.
So Gitter’s counsel has already clearly explained that they’ve
used the courts both to try and silence and to inflict financial pain
against those he sees as critics of his proposed resort. So far he’s
been successful in that he’s forced us to spend a lot of money to
defend ourselves against nothing. We think that by itself, his counsel’s
own admission proves the suit was an amazingly clear violation of New
York’s anti-SLAPP law.
At this point we’re discussing our next steps with our families
and our lawyers. For us the central issue is our obligation to help protect
everyone’s right to voice their opinion without fear of intimidation.
So if we’re ultimately awarded damages by the courts beyond our
legal costs, we’ll give that money, all of it, to local organizations
helping people here in our communities.”
Zwack also chose not to deal with, nor comment in his decision about the
point Gitter brought up in the suit that the defendants “failed
to confirm the existence of the author of said letter to the editor or
the truth or falsity of the facts contained therein.”
Gitter’s attorney, Paul Gruner, in an earlier interview, said he
believed that it was an important point. “It contributes substantially
to the validity,” he said, “the fact that they took no steps
whatsoever to determine if this person in fact exists.”
He has since said that he and Gitter know for a fact that the letter was
not written by any Bonnie Grant, who they have insisted does not exist.
And while the attorney for the defense Rod Futerfas acknowledged, also
in an earlier interview, that the defendants didn’t know the actual
writer. “…the law does not require that this person be verified,”
he said, and apparently the judge agreed.
The change which is intended
to save the state $9 million in increases over last year’s $183
million property tax bill for its 3 million acres and other public facilities
statewide, is amongst broad reductions to help reduce a record budget
deficit for the coming year of about $15 billion.
If adopted the change would directly and primarily impact communities
such as ours and those in the Adirondacks, where the local tax base
is heavily reliant on levies paid by the State on its Forest Preserve
landholdings. In Shandaken these holdings comprise about 64 percent
of the town’s land, and taxes paid on them represent almost 23
percent of the town’s tax revenue according to Assessor Heidi
Clarke. In Hardenburgh with 58 percent state land, the state’s
contribution is almost 26 percent says Supervisor Jerry Fairbairn. With
about a quarter of each town’s tax base exempted under the proposed
law from paying future increases, the remaining taxpayers would have
to absorb them.
Although the percentages of state land & tax payments in Olive and
Woodstock are somewhat lower, all taxpayers in towns with significant
state landholdings would be similarly affected. According to Olive Assessor
Bill Cook, state lands in the town represent about 18 percent of its
Elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans throughout the region,
have been thus far uniformly critical of the measure. “We’ve
done some basic analysis and we have a huge problem with it,”
said Ulster County Executive Michael Hein. What this has done is create
a tax cap for the state, while spreading the burden over fewer and fewer
people. I believe this particular provision within the Governor’s
budget is misguided, and I’ll be a strong voice against it as
discussions on the subject go forward.”
State Senator John Bonacic said that given the State’s deficit
he was not surprised by the move, “however this proposal means
that the State will not be keeping its commitment to Catskill towns,
counties, and school districts… It is blatantly unfair to already
overburdened property owners.. if implemented, it translates into a
shift of the tax burden from the state to private property owners as
well as school districts and local governments.” Bonacic said
he “will fight vigorously to oppose” the measure.
Assembly member Kevin Cahill also said he’d be fighting the proposal
in the Ways and Means hearings on the budget. “For all intents
and purposes,” he said, “this amounts to a tax increase
on those communities hosting state land. That’s just unfair.”
Cahill cited a “triple negative effect” on local taxpayers,
saying that in addition to picking up the state’s portion of tax
increases, residents would see unfair and disadvantageous changes to
their equalization rates, and to school aid apportionment for their
districts, all of which would impact both municipal and people’s
personal bottom lines.
Response to the proposal from regional advocacy groups both locally
and from further upstate has also been highly negative. “We view
the payment of taxes on state land as a permanent, essential, and inviolate
commitment from the people of the state, who benefit so greatly from
it, to the municipalities in which those lands are located,” said
David Gibson, speaking for the Association for the Protection of the
Adirondacks. “We are confident Governor Paterson clearly does
not want to break that commitment, yet by proposing this tax cap as
a further cut in local aid, his Budget Office clearly does not understand
either the history or the significance of State tax payments on public
land. If the Governor wants to pick a fight with upstate, he could not
have picked a better one.”
Lisa Rainwater, Executive Director of the Catskill Center for Conservation
and Development, said that “Governor Paterson’s proposal
would further harm the already economically tenuous position of many
Catskill communities… At a time when every municipality is struggling
to provide much needed services to their residents, the additional burden
of funding basic services on the Forest Preserve that are enjoyed by
all New Yorkers would be a hard and unfair bill to pay.”
At the town government level, every supervisor contacted expressed deep
concern. “Frankly I’m appalled the Governor would propose
such a thing,” said Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani. “It
clearly targets small communities that have depended on a low baseline
level of state tax revenue since the 19th century. Our towns provide
critical services for these lands - road maintenance, fire, police and
ambulance protection among other things - and the courts have affirmed
it’s the state’s responsibility to pay its taxes like everyone
In Olive, Clerk Slyvia Rozelle sent out a letter to legislators January
7 at the Town Board’s request, expressing their “unanimous
and emphatic” opposition to the Governor’s proposal, which
was the subject of extended discussion at the town’s January 6
Over the mountain in Denning, the view was similar. “If they do
this it’s going to kill Denning,” said Supervisor Bill Bruning,
whose town, like Shandaken, is about 65 percent state-owned. Its total
taxable value however, is kept extremely low by assessment of state
lands at half the dollar value of those in Shandaken. And even at those
low valuations, state revenues account for 47% of the town’s budget.
Compounding the valuation problem is the nontaxable status of its largest
private landowner and employer, Frost Valley YMCA. As a result, the
town appears uniquely slated as the municipality most likely to be severely
impacted by the Governor’s proposed plan.
In defense of the plan however, Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for the
State Department of the Budget, said that the proposal is consistent
with plans to freeze all local government aid. “Given the State’s
fiscal circumstances, this budget proposes to maintain or reduce aid
to local government, and this is consistent with that.”
A nearly identical plan proposed in 1989 by then Governor Mario Cuomo
failed to be adopted in the final State budget that year based on widespread
public outcry. Discussions on proposed changes in the State budget are
expected to continue through the winter.