Up on the News
Academic For Now
Yet at Arts Day, on February
3, large crowds protesting 20 percent cuts to the state’s funding
for arts, parks, zoos, museums, and recreational activities in a scheduled
hearing found out only at day’ end why the panel of top legislators
listening to them had been taking absences They’d concurrently
voted to slash funding of $7 million for the New York States Arts Council
already promised to over 450 organizations, closing the current year’s
budget gap… and forcing the closures of dozens of regionally-important
cultural organizations around the state.
The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency suspended for one year
its prevailing wage rule which required that a percentage of construction
workers on any given project be paid the region’s prevailing wage,
saying that their number of applicants had fallen off and their board
wanted to see why.
Meanwhile, a much-touted study of sites in the region shovel-ready for
development by high-tech firms, to be announced at new New York Senator
Kristin Gillibrand’s rollout event at the Franklin D. Roosevelt
historic site in Hyde Park, ended up disrupted by bickering between
county economic development officers. Hudson Valley Economic Development
Corp. Chairman Alexander “Sandy” Mathes, also representing
Greene County’s IDA, said there are no such sites in the Mid-Hudson
Valley’s nine counties, including Ulster, while Ulster County’s
Lance Matteson pointed out the readiness of the former IBM plant at
Tech City outside of Kingston, as well as the Woodstock ’94 site
on the Winston Farm outside Saugerties. Such sites, it was explained,
needed to be developed within a year… and be at least 75 acres
A subsequent Saugerties meeting with representatives of the marketing
group, CH2M Hill, discussing their $7 million to $8 million plans to
start preparing a site for nanotechnology, pharmaceutical and biotech
facilities, medical device manufacturing and imaging facilities, drew
nearly 200 local residents, over half of them in protest.
Hundreds waited in line, many in suits with resumes in hand, to get
into a renewable energy job fair at SUNY New Paltz sponsored by The
Solar Energy Consortium, whose funding seems to have grown and shrunk
in recent weeks.
Governor David Paterson announced the creation of a new $5 million job
training consortium to be filtered through community colleges and BOCES
programs throughout the next few years, with hopes of creating up to
50,000 new alternative energy-based jobs, and joined with other governors
around the state crying out for Congress to include states’ relief
in their giant stimulus saving plans.
Our congressman, Maurice Hinchey, told a Kingston audience how the Onteora
Central School District would be getting Onteora, $640,900 this year
and $394,200 next in the House-approved stimulus package, while even
more would come for bridge repairs and other jobs planned for the Route
209 corridor. But then released a statement a few days later lambasting
the Senate’s larger-sized version of a stimulus package, sans
state and as much education funding.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer talked about the state’s potential
hurt from dropping Medicaid funds. But also voted for a provision that
would allow the use of any stimulus funds to go to artistic endeavors…
and spoke of getting new funds for the Metro North commuter rail system.
Ulster County submitted a $116 million transportation project wish list.
Judith Enck, in charge of the environment in Paterson’s cabinet,
said any plans to expand Belleayre, or complete the purchase of 1,400
acres of Big Indian lands previously pegged as part of former governor
Eliot Spitzer’s Agreement in Principle to help out development
of the controversial Belleayre Resort, was pending completion of the
state’s environmental review process… meaning no bucks this
year, essentially. Meanwhile, the state’s Environmental Protection
Fund dropped by $55 million.
The grass roots movement against Paterson’s proposal to freeze
the amount of taxes the state pays to local governments built up steam,
gaining traction with key environmental organizations, as well as a
nearly unanimous majority of upstate legislators. Word was that, if
indeed the hard times forced its enactment, it would be only for a year.
Hinchey joined local legislators to decry a proposed merging of the
popular Greenway program, now benefiting our local communities as well
as those in the Hudson Valley, with other state programs.
Most not-for-profits on a regional, state and federal level addressed
their expertise at getting funds to the neediest fastest. MARK, in neighboring
Delaware County, helped keep the community fed during a pause between
grocery stores, filled within a couple of weeks. RUPCO, in Kingston,
held meetings with those facing foreclosure and made plans for new affordable
housing incentives. Michael Berg of Family of Woodstock seemed to be
everywhere, speaking about the hurt his organization was dealing with
while also facing its own cuts.
Shandaken and Olive’s own SHARP Committee argued with town boards
about a flower planting and maintenance program.
All of Dutchess County’s weekly Taconic newspapers, a half dozen
in total, closed up. As did Columbia County’s The Independent,
edited by former Woodstock Times editor and Phoenicia resident Parry
No big stimulus talk, yet, about any budget matters other than wished-for
new funding to expand Belleayre and lead to the Resort’s building
(from a few) in the corridor. Excepting new worries about ensuring money’s
in hand before starting bridge and road repairs in Olive. And talk of
major shortfalls in the Shandaken highway budget.
A compromised stimulus bill, bringing together the House and Senate
versions passed in recent weeks, is expected to be signed by President
Obama by February 16. A full budget plan is expected from all parties
in Albany (sans the GOP) by March 1, addressing this year’s dramatic
Finally, over in the village of Catskill, a new effort is being discussed
that would identify local contractors and develop promotional materials
to help them find jobs. It was suggested that property owners who begin
projects this year and purchase at least 90 percent of materials and
labor locally would not have property reassessments for five years.
The idea is to help owners have a better equity position in the future
by increasing property values now.
The problem is who would pay for the brochures.
Lewis started her business in 1996 because, being what she terms “a
romantic soul,” she had always wanted to “do something with
weddings. Why, I’d even once thought of being a wedding planner.”
Heavens forbid, she now admits, having set up a service industry-style
website to which betrothed couples, or brides- and mother-in-laws-to-be,
can go and find all they need to plan nuptials in a region spanning from
New York City to just south of Albany.
The results is something Lewis feels uses all her skills as a writer and
designer, a marketer and a go-getter. As well, of course, as that romantic
impulse she drew on from the start.
She sees her clientele as more than just those seeking info to do their
country weddings just right, knowing what to expect, financially (such
as going under or over $20,000?). She’s particularly happy to provide
a service to the various smaller services that make local weddings so
special, from photographers to invitation designers, from caterers to
specialized wedding cake makers.
Asked about special weddings she’s been involved with, Lewis mentions
her three daughters, with one married in Kingston, one in Orange County,
and one in West Park overlooking the Hudson. Her contacts made them all
special… and allowed her to take her mind off the details to enjoy
“People often tend to micromanage these events,” she says.
“They forget why you hire the experts in the first place.”
As for the ins and outs of what she does, Lewis noted that her clients
split about 50/50 between Upstate and down. She mentioned how most engagements
are made between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, “bringing
more brides to my site at this time of year than ever.” She added
that while June was once THE month to be wed, October’s on the rise
up here where the leaves change.
Did she have any particular romantic spots she turns to in our readership
Lewis mentioned Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville, The Emerson, and
the Full Moon Resort in Oliverea. As well as how once up here, newlyweds
seem to get the bug to come back… and maybe even buy a place to
call their own.
So why didn’t she want to be an actual wedding planner?
She listed the hormonal craziness of young brides, the interference of
frazzled moms and dads. Listed some movies for reference. Said what she
did was safer.
She also noted how the website she’s built has become an indispensable
way to consider all aspects of this auspiciously romantic event that starts
(and hopefully centers) so many lives.
And, again, this coming Valentine’s Day?
“My husband, what can I say,” she sighs. “He’s
the wind beneath my wings. The rest is private…”
For more on Hudson Valley Weddings, call Judy Lewis at 336-4705 or viist
has received at least two extensions to a deadline made by the City of
New York after that vote. The most recent, which ended in December, was
granted to allow Phoenicia to do a feasibility study for an alternative
treatment system. The City, which is offering $17.2 million to build the
hamlet a conventional system, initially reviewed the alternative plan
and refused to approve it.
On the 31st, however, Richard Rennia of Rennia Engineering explained to
the crowd that the City supplied specific objections to that first proposal,
developed last fall by Rennia’s firm.
Now, he said, his staff has amended that proposal to include all the elements
the City thought missing. The size of the system has doubled, he said,
and now it includes the micro-filtration phase of treatment the City requires.
As a result it will now cost as much to build the wetlands/reed bed system
as the old conventional one, but would cost much less to operate.
The conventional system would have cost $375,000 a year to run. Rennia’s
system would cost $177,000 a year.
Explaining the difficulty in getting the City to cooperate, Rennia said
it is taking cues from outdated state guidelines contained in the most
current design manual - last updated in 1988 - and has understandably
stayed within the manual’s parameters. But he also said that wetlands/
reed bed systems have become the norm all throughout Europe, where they
began to install them in the late 1960’s because communities could
not afford conventional ones.
One resident said that with the recent change in leadership in the White
House there would also be a change at the Federal Environmental Protection
Agency. That agency, he expects, would be more inclined to support wetland/reed
bed systems not only because of their greener approach to waste treatment
and energy use, but also because they neutralize elements like hormones
and pharmaceuticals, which conventional systems do not.
Mike Ricciardella, who owns three restaurants in the hamlet, said that
the tax base is so small in Phoenicia that businesses stand a chance of
being crippled by costs, especially if repairs need to be made. While
homeowners would only pay $100 a year no matter which system is installed,
he said, businesses must pay based on usage. And yet by meeting’s
end, even he seemed ready to see what would happen next.
Now all wait for the City of New York’s reaction to the amended
plan. Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said he expects word soon.
In other wastewater plant-related news of the past week, the details of
a settlement between the town and the City of New York over the tax value
of the DEP’s multi-million dollar Pine Hill Waste Water Treatment
Plant started to emerge via a settlement that could shift local tax burdens
significantly and finally force Shandaken to undergo a long-awaited tax
The settlement, okayed by the Onteora School District on February 3 but
as yet unofficial pending the town’s signing it, covers the years
2006, 2007 and 2008. It appears to reduce the City’s tax responsibility
for the Pine Hill plant by roughly one third for the future but also ban
attempts at reimbursal for past taxes beyond the current year.
Previously, the treatment plant property was valued at $15.4 million for
tax purposes. Under the settlement the parties would agree to lower that
amount to $10.3 million and freezesthe value at that level through 2011.
Most importantly, it also includes a template that would be used in the
future to determine the property’s value, likely setting precedent
for other city-owned wastewater treatment plants throughout the region,
According to information supplied by Shandaken Town Clerk Laurilyn Frasier
and Onteora School District Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria
McLaren, the amount the City paid for those years is as follows:
McLaren said this week that the settlement does not include any school
tax refunds to the city.
“This will thankfully free up about $500,000 of our reserve to offset
the levy this year,” she noted.
At press time Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said he awaits word
from the town’s attorney on the specifics of the settlement.
“We didn’t get what we hoped for, but it’s not as bad
as it could have been,” he said.
According to Tim Cox, attorney for the Catskill Watershed Corporation,
the template for gauging the value of City owned treatment plants in the
watershed region was developed last fall using the plant at Hunter/Tannersville
as a model.
Cox believes that template is now being used in disputes the City has
in other communities, including Margaretville.
board then held a special meeting on Friday, February 6, where Trustee
Maxanne Resnick was elected the new board president. She will be sworn
in at a later date. Trustee Donna Flayhan nominated Resnick with a seconding
motion by Trustee Anne McGillicuddy. In a four-to-two vote, trustees Michelle
Friedel and Richard Wolff were the no votes. Before Resnick was chosen,
Friedel nominated Wolff as president and Resnick as Vice President. Trustee
Laurie Osmond said she did not plan to vacate her seat as Vice President.
Wolff was denied in a four-to-two vote.
Also on February 6, the board announced that it would release a statement
for people interested in filling the vacated seat. The board seeks anyone
interested to submit a paragraph stating why they would like to serve.
To be eligible a person must be a United States Citizen, 18 years of age
or older, able to read and write, a legal resident for at least one year
prior to the election, not an employee of the school district, not holding
another public office or having been removed from another office for up
to a year before the appointment.
The person chosen will serve only to the next election on May 19, when
three seats will now be up for grabs, with whoever wins the least amount
of votes from the top three winners filling Legnini’s remaining
two-year term immediately. Osmond and Resnick’s seats are also up
this May, with Osmond completing Trustee Herb Rosenfeld’s term after
his resignation in April 2008.
The board plans to fill the vacated seat by the next school board meeting
on February 17.
Asked if she would be running for the seat she lost last year, former
OCS board member Rita Vanacore of Shokan said this week, “After
all the lies and half truths that made our district believe that these
four people were good for this district... No, I would not run again.”
In other district news of late, High School Principal Lance Edelman and
Middle School Principal Andrew Davenport mapped out a plan to eliminate
four Middle school teaching teams to three at the February 3 meeting.
This, they say, will help address budget shortfalls projected for next
year and low enrollment. Davenport said grade seven could see classroom
sizes of around 20 or so pupils per class. Grade eight could see the highest
number, averaging around 25 pupils per class. Superintendent Leslie Ford
said so far six teachers have been given word that their job could be
eliminated. Cuts include support staff, but they have not been notified.
Teachers with the least amount of seniority betweens grades seven-through-nine
are subject to lay-offs.
Joyce Long, the director of Pupil Personnel for the district, said cuts
in special education may include eliminating $66,000 for two therapists
through the FACETS program. Instead, district social workers and psychologists
will offer counseling to students and families. A reduction in one Occupational
Therapist and one self-contained special education classroom was also
Transportation also continued to be a point of contention, with Flayhan
requesting that the district seek to re-bid its contracts and possibly
return to the old way of using multiple bus contractors instead of one,
believing this would be more cost effective. Transportation Director Dave
Moraca has countered this by stating that, in his findings, any savings
would be minimal.
Friedel asked that a resolution be placed on the February 17 agenda so
the board can vote on which path to take.
Also, legal and ethical questions about the school board’s recent
habit of holding self-evaluation discussions during executive sessions
has come under scrutiny. Since December, the board has met four times
for such sessions, but cancelled the recent Feb 3 gathering after published
reports about its questionability arose.
At that time, Wolff referred to a letter in his board packet from Robert
Freeman, Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government.
“He said if there is no intent to make any decisions they could
meet anytime they wanted,” said Wolff.
The letter was dated June 3, 1997 from Freeman to district counsel David
Resnick recommended obtaining legal advice from the school lawyer. Flayhan
said she’d rather not pay, choosing to invite Freeman to speak directly
to the board at one of its meetings.
“Donna, he’s not gonna come here,” Wolff said.
“I talked to him on the phone the other day and he said, ‘I
would be happy to come to your district and speak about this,’”
Wolff then suggested calling the meeting a different name instead of,
Student Representative William Melvin confirmed that this question was
brought to his attention by a previous board member.
“When you go into executive session you have to state why and there
are specific reasons you can cite and I am pretty sure this isn’t
one,” he said. “I recommend against asking legal council because
you can look it up in the text.”
In a five-to-one vote, the board voted in favor of hiring a lawyer, with
Flayhan voting against. Osmond left the meeting early due to a family
The text Melvin suggested is section 105 of State Open Meetings Laws.
It states that the executive session’s primary function is for confidential
personnel issues, such as negotiations, litigations, and employment history.
In a separate phone conversation with Freeman, he confirmed that he did
indeed speak with Flayhan and said he would be happy to educate the board
on Open Meetings Laws as a free service.
Finally, in a January 21 meeting, OCSD board members discussed the fact
that teachers at Onteora have been working without a contract since July
2008 and negotiations have appeared to stall.
Union rep Corey Cavallaro said that the Onteora Teacher Association approached
the district with a rollover to their current contract agreements that
would require staff to contribute more towards health insurance, but nothing
else beyond the current OTA five year contract.
“Our offer from over a year ago would have saved an immediate $50,000
in health insurance payments for the district and saved an additional
$50,000 since July first,” he said, explaining how the district’s
previous board instead chose to hire a second legal firm at a cost of
$30,000. “To date, this single decision resulted in the district
squandering at least $130,000 by rebuffing the union’s offer for
a fair and equitable contract.”
Cavallaro added that the school board has turned away from their “negotiation’s
responsibility,” instead opting to hire a “third party, at
To date, board members have not participated in any direct negotiations.
In lighter news of late, Fred Perry, an Onteora modified track coach and
West Hurley Little League coach, addressed the school board about the
creation of a modified baseball team for the Junior High beginning this
spring. Perry said he spoke with Athletic Director Joe DiGiovanni and
discovered that Onteora does not have a certified coach or field for the
program. After meetings with parents, Perry explained that they were able
to draft a proposal with the Onteora Babe Ruth organization on use of
their field at Davis Park in West Shokan. He said this would be at no
cost to the district, since he also has found a certified coach and funds
for uniforms and equipment.
“I presented this proposal to the athletic director and he assured
me there is adequate funding in his department budget for any other costs
involved in running this modified program.”
Trustee Michelle Friedel replied that, having said no to similar requests
from the Spanish club and the snowboard club she was uncomfortable with
any potential stipend requests at present.
The board tabled the resolution until they hear from DiGiovanni directly
but assured Perry there is already money in the budget for his needs.
Also, Bennett Elementary Principal Gabriel Buono said he’s embarked
on a fundraising project to purchase a wind turbine to be named in honor
of the late science teacher, Webb Leonard. And Edelman said public access
channel 20 is up and running, showcasing student work.