Up on the News
Starts Settling In
board also appointed Charles Frasier, the board member with most seniority,
as new Chair of the seven member board. Also appointed was Joanne Kalb
as Vice Chair and planner Barbara Redfield as alternate member of the
Ulster County Planning Board.
News of Waterman's ouster was not taken lightly by some, who faulted
the town board for what was characterized as a poor procedure that saw
planners refuse town board members' entry to interviews.
Stanley pointed out that, legally speaking, the process was on the up
and up, and that the planners did what the town board had asked them
to do... decide their own membership.
"The town board pretty much stayed out of it," he said.
As for the interview process, two Town Board members, Doris Bartlett
and Tim Malloy, both Democrats, went to the January 19th interview session
to see for themselves who the candidates were. After all, they said,
the town board had to actually vote to make the planning board appointment.
But when they showed up they were informed that the interviews were
being held in an "executive session," and therefore no one
was allowed in but the planners and the candidates.
"I was surprised," Malloy said at the Town Board's February
meeting. "I wanted to see the candidates with the planners. That's
why I was there."
Furthermore, it appears it didn't actually matter what Bartlett or Malloy
thought of the candidates. The majority of the town board, led by new
Supervisor Rob Stanley, stuck to the plan that they would appoint whoever
the planners wanted, for better or worse.
The planners chose to oust longstanding Planner Waterman in favor of
Hope Luhman, an archeologist who served the town previously on a comprehensive
plan committee. Bartlett and Malloy voted against the appointment, but
Republican Stanley, Republican Jack Jordan and Conservative Vince Bernstein
Bernstein made it clear that in his eyes, Waterman was a highly qualified
candidate but he was going to stick to his promise of following the
wishes of the Planners.
"Beth is ethical, has the knowledge and has been on the Board for
many years," he said, before voting in support of Luhman.
Stanley also praised Waterman and offered a volunteer position on the
town's recreation committee, which will be preparing a comprehensive
plan for parks and recreational facilities.
Planner Joanne Kalb, reading from a prepared statement, earlier defended
the planning boards process.
"In the future don't ask the planning board for a recommendation
if you're not going to follow it," she warned, noting that she
and other planners had been displeased when Waterman, as chair, had
canceled meetings when there was no business, instead of using such
time for other planning issues... although what those might be went
In other news, the town board has decided to buy a new vehicle for Police
Officer in Charge James McGrath, who said his old one needs replacing.
However, this is not the new Police Cruiser planned to be purchased
this year. That vehicle was budgeted for last fall and will be bought
later in the year.
McGrath's new vehicle, actually a used 4 by 4 from Brookside Motors
in Margaretville, cost almost $10,000 but was not budgeted. Therefore
the town board voted to use money from the Good Neighbor Fund, a pot
of money that the City of New York filled with $600,000 in 1997 as part
of the watershed deal reached that same year.
Big Indian resident and vigilant budget watcher Chuck Perez complained
about the spending. Noting that this was an unplanned but significant
expense, Perez said it was yet another poor decision to take money from
the fund, which other towns have used for major building and other community
Reminding the board that the town hall needs serious work, Perez warned
them to think twice.
"It needs to be part of your budget process," he said. "You
can't continue to rob that fund."
As for an update on the town's still empty cell tower, Stanley reported
that it might stay that way for some time. According to the Supervisor,
Verizon is devoting funds to upgrading its landlines in town so he doesn't
think they will spend money on wireless service in the near future.
Still unresolved, officially anyway, is the matter of the salary for
the Director of the Town Museum in Pine Hill. The issue had been tabled
in January when the town board planned to reduce the director's salary
by one third, from $9000 to only $6240.
It came up again this month, and this time the town board held an executive
session to sort the matter out, inviting Director Mary Herrmann and
Museum Board president Matt Persons to join them, at least for the first
part of the session before talking it over only among the board.
When Stanley announced later that the matter was once again tabled,
Persons was shocked.
"What happened," he asked. "I thought we had a deal."
Stanley, after the meeting was adjourned, said the salary was going
to be set at $6240. Persons stomped out of the room.
Talks, Round 2
Three years ago this month, local residents in the hamlet narrowly voted
a similar proposition down, based on worries that their costs of hook-up
wouldn't always be covered, and speared on by further worries that local
taxpayers MIGHT be burdened with operations and maintenance costs in
The new resolution, "Requesting CWC to assume administration of
Proposed WWTF for Phoenicia," calls for the whole project, from
research and design to information dissemination, bidding, and oversight,
be handed over to the Catskill Watershed Corporation, whose director,
Alan Rosa, and lead counsel, Timothy Cox, were on hand to answer questions
Rosa said, carefully, that if his organization were given reins to help
shepherd forth a wastewater treatment facility, the town and Phoenicia
residents would be given ample opportunities to pull out of any deal...
until bids were actually accepted and set in stone. He added that, having
worked with numerous other towns and villages on a number of different
styles of such systems throughout the Catskills, the CWC would bring
full information to the town and Phoenicia residents throughout the
Rosa also added that the city's payments for local sewer systems were
not something being forced on Catskills communities, but something he
and other town officials fought hard for in the 1990s, when New York
tried pushing new watershed laws and faced fierce local opposition,
resulting in the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement under which the CWC was
set up and financed.
"We would run the project the same way we run the rest of our projects,
It was added that part of the deal, if okayed next month, would be an
opportunity for Phoenicia residents to vote on whether they wanted an
offered system again, via another referendum.
"It's completely up to the town of Shandaken...we just present
the facts. All decisions remain with the town board" he said. "My
feeling is it's got to be up to the people that live in that district."
CWC would make a significant contribution, Rosa said, in that the agency
would pay for the planning phase of the project itself. This way all
funds remaining in the $17.2 million block grant allocated for the project
by New York City would go toward the construction of the project.
excited to start," Priest said late one evening after working to
leave her old posting in the best shape possible. "I wanted to come
back into Ulster County for some time now and I couldn't have asked for
a better community."
Priest, who has a Masters in Library Science from Pratt Institute and
a B.A. from Bard College, lives in Kingston and explains how impressed
she was to have not only been interviewed for her new job in Phoenicia
by board members, but also by the entire staff of the library. The strong
relationship between board, staff and community that marks our local institution,
she added, is rare.
No mention was made of the circumstances under which her predecessor,
Regina Johnson, left the position last autumn.
In addition to her librarian work, Priest has experience as a visual resource
curator and slide librarian at Bard, Kingston's R&F Paints, and the
Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz. She has taken courses and
worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library,
the Explorer's Club, and with several artists over her career.
Asked about any dreams she might have for our local library, Priest said
the first she wanted to do "was simply observe."
"They have a truly patron-first attitude there," she added.
She noted how the Main Street institution has less space than she's been
used to, but she'd nevertheless looking to start a number of new community
outreach projects, from a writer's series to book groups and more. She's
looking into the possibility of doing outdoor events, as well as working
with other spaces in the community.
"I'm thrilled," she concluded.
But then she added that she was also tiered... with more to do to leave
the Catskill system she's coming from in better shape than when she went
In The Cheap Seats
Changes were also made to
the service schedule. They increased the number of buses running on
popular routes, while routes with fewer riders were given fewer runs.
Inaccurate bus times were corrected with the interest of keeping the
shuttles running on time.
Some bus runs were changed to better fit the schedules of the riders.
For example, the buses on routes to SUNY Ulster were altered to fit
the needs of students, aiming to get them to class with time to spare,
which has been a problem in the past. The schedules themselves were
redesigned to be easier to read, with maps to show the routes, and bus
stop locations were specified - though UCAT buses can be flagged down
from anywhere along the route.
UCAT has also been working towards environmental sustainability by replacing
its buses with hybrid electric vehicles, and by using smaller vehicles
Since I am a student at SUNY Ulster, I feel that the changes in the
schedule have been for the better, since I am no longer late for my
early classes and I no longer have to spend hours waiting in Kingston
for transfer buses. However, the overhaul inevitably caused some riders
When talking to other riders about the change, the main complaint was
the way the transition was handled. Many passengers were uninformed
of the new schedules, and were left stranded at the bus stop on the
day of February 1, shivering, confused, and waiting for a bus that no
longer existed. A meeting was held at the DMV to inform the public,
and flyers announcing the meeting were posted in the buses. Flyers announcing
the fare increase were also posted. I was lucky to notice the flyers,
but many others were less lucky. I would not have been able to anticipate
the change if I had not attended the public meeting, which was inconveniently
held outside the hours of service for many UCAT routes. No new schedules
were available until the day the changes came into effect, leaving many
riders in the dark. The UCAT website had the new schedules posted in
advance, but they were somewhat difficult to find. The page with the
old schedule was not replaced by the new schedule until February 2,
the day after the changes were implemented. Although many of the changes
should have benefited riders right from the start, many were left in
the dark. If the transition had been managed better, and ample notice
had been given to the passengers, it could have gone much more smoothly.
But after riders and passengers become accustomed to the change, UCAT
will soon fall back into its usual rhythm.
Speaking at the February
2 meeting at Bennett Elementary School, OCS Board President Laurie Osmond
said, "It's time to do something, rather than not do anything and
have it just sit there."
Board members have until April to make a decision on whether to go forward
with closure and eventual lease/sale plans.
Trustee Tom Hickey had asked for West Hurley to be placed on the agenda
"In this economic time, we have to look at all of the ways we can
save and we've got a piece of property that has been unused," he
said. "If we lease this property it is a source of income or if
we sell it, that offsets a lot of the costs that we're looking at."
Osmond read a state law regarding a central school district's right
to sell or lease a district school without voter approval, including
its provision that anyone can challenge such a decision by gathering
ten percent of voters' signatures and forcing it to a ballot. But the
board decided in good faith that such a move should be up to voters
Trustee Ann McGillicuddy added that it was a bad time to sell a building
and suggested leasing it. She also referred to hints that the Town of
Hurley is currently looking into possible uses for the building.
Director of buildings and grounds Jared Mance said it would cost approximately
$15,000 to "mothball" the school, but overall would add up
to around $40,000 in the long run. Mance said that the building is currently
open but not in use, with heating systems on in the entire building.
Trustee Rob Kurnit cautioned the board about future costs reusing the
building if it were to be mothballed first.
In further budget talk, board members asked for cuts across all departments
while trying to affect the classroom as little as possible. It was noted
that in order to maintain a tax levy of 4 percent for the coming year,
the board would still need to cut approximately $1.5 million. And if
voters rejected the budget, the board could see a cost shortfall that
Business Administrator Victoria McLaren said she has already found $200,000
in BOCES services no longer needed because students will be graduating
or leaving the district next year. Board members tossed around ideas
on cutting all field trips, conferences, office consolidation, and administrative
level employees, and exploring the possibility of "pay to play,"
Trustee Tony Fletcher noted that extra-curricular activities that run
after-school, on weekends and into the evening total up to approximately
$447,000, under 1 percent of the total budget.
In another cost cutting option, the board explored ideas of reassigning
District Assessment Team (DAT) services. Osmond said she researched
other school districts and found not all use DAT to evaluate students
but instead rely on teachers and special educators. Onteora DAT consist
of two full time and two part time special education professionals who
conduct evaluations on special education students.
Three DAT members spoke in length during the public comment section,
warning that if their positions were eliminated the district would see
lawsuits stemming from parents due to services for their children going
out of compliance.
"I just want to acknowledge to everyone that this is a stressful
time. We are all aware that we are cutting more than a million dollars
from the budget and probably a good deal more and it's our responsibility
to talk about everything and look everywhere," said Osmond. "Just
because we talk about something doesn't mean it will happen, but we
will be remiss if we don't bring it up. These numbers are so great that
we have to be comprehensive."
Beginning with the February 16 school board meeting, public-be-heard
times will be extended, if necessary, for the community to weigh in
on the looming school budget crisis. All budget reports can be found
by going to board docs on the district website at Onteora.k12.ny.us.
In other business, the school board approved the contract extension
of Birnie Bus Service for the 2010-2011 school year with only Trustee
Donna Flayhan voting against it, stating that the district needs to
re-bid in order to keep costs down.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Katie O'Brien presented the
district's graduation rate for a three-year window, pointing out that
every year requirements change, subsequently offering poor comparisons
year to year. In 2007 the cohort graduation rate for regular education
was 88 percent and special education 68 percent. In 2008 it was 79 percent
for regular education and special education was not calculated through
the state school report card. In 2009, the graduation rate was 78 percent
for regular ed students and 50 percent for special education students,
a drop from 2007. The State average graduation rate is 71 percent.
O'Brien listed ways they are trying to bring the graduation rate up
via a toughening of standards and new programs for helping students
including more academic intervention services, early intervention programs,
and after-school homework help.