Rob, At Last
Although officials won't be opening the final ballot from
November's election 'till after Christmas, Rob Stanley
has apparently won the town board race and will be sworn
in January 1. Depending on that lone ballot's votes for
the two town board positions, Stanley's final margin of
victory over Doris Bartlet will be either 1,2, or 3 votes.
The outcome was mathematically assured December 13 when
another contested ballot which arrived without a normal
postmark was disallowed in a decision by State Supreme
Court Judge Mary Work. According to reports, both candidates
showed consistent patience, comraderie, and good humor
throughout the lengthy resolution process. Stanley's win
assures the town's Republicans of a 4-1 majority on the
town board through 2007.
Fire Co. Results...
Phoenicia resident and volunteer firefighter Linda Michela
has been elected to the Board of Fire Commissioners for
the Phoenicia Fire District.
Michela on Tuesday won a rare four-way race for a single
seat on the five member board.
Michela received 56 votes, followed by Ted Byron Sr. of
Mount Tremper with 49, Phoenicia firefighter George Blank
with 39 and Val Schmidt, a Shandaken-based firefighter,
Michela will serve a five-year term, joining current commissioners
Howard Sebald, Chad Story, Ken Umhey Jr. and Richard Loveless.
The Phoenicia Fire District comprises the hamlets of Shandaken,
Bushnellville, Allaben, Phoenicia, Chichester, Mount Pleasant
and Mount Tremper.
The district has three separate volunteer fire companies
operating on a total budget of $175,000 per year, funded
Michela, who is married and has two children, has been
a Phoenicia-area resident for about eight years and visited
the area for almost 10 years before moving here. She is
employed by Uniprise in the town of Ulster and is a member
of the M.F. Whitney Hose Company.
"I am an active volunteer firefighter with over a
year of service to this community," she said.
Michela said she rain for a seat on the Board of Fire
Commissioners because she felt the body needed an active
firefighter among its members.
" For quite some time, politicians and firefighters
who have not been active have run the board," she
said. "I feel they are out of touch with the needs
of the active firefighter."
Michela said there are several important issues facing
the fire district, including the ability to attract and
keep qualified firefighters. Another key issue is keeping
up with rapid changes in technology, she said.
"We, as a fire district, need to keep up with those
changes," she said. "Changing times require
us ... to change the way we do things in order to keep
us and the public safe from harm."
Among Michela's goals as a commissioner is finding "the
balance between meeting the needs of the fire district
and the need to keep our taxes as low as possible,"
Shandaken Police arrested Chris M. Klutsch age 41 of Kingston,.for
Burglary in the 3rd degree (felony) and Petit Larceny
(misdemeanor). A patrolman from the Shandaken Police Dept.
was on patrol when he observed a suspicious vehicle parked
near an abandon building known as the White House Lodge
on Bonnieview Ave in the hamlet of Pine Hill. Further
investigation found the defendant was inside the building
stealing the copper radiators and the copper water lines
from the building. Klutsch was arraigned in the Town of
Shandaken Court and sent to the Ulster County Jail in
lieu of $5000 bail to return at a later date.
The Ulster County legislature recently approved a 2006
budget that will raise the property tax levy by 38.95
percent. They reached the final figure, approved 18-14
along a largely party-line vote (and about ten percent
less than what was originally anticipated) by making two
last-minute additions to anticipated revenues and eliminating
All 17 Republicans, who will be losing their long-held
majority status next month, and retiring Democrat Joan
Feldmann of Saugerties voted for the budget.
The last-minute amendments adopted by the legislature
included an increase in the estimated sales tax revenue
for next year of $800,000, an increase in appropriations
from the county’s Medicaid reserve fund by $700,000,
and the elimination of a vacant job in the Department
of Highways and Bridges for a savings of about $100,000.
The Legislature’s Republican leadership withdrew
a last-minute proposal to increase the county’s
hotel/motel tax from 2 percent to 8 percent, a move that
would have generated an additional $2.6 million in revenue
and reduced the increase in the property tax levy by as
much as 8 percentage points.
Democrats said that overestimating revenue in past budgets
is part of what brought the county to its current financial
troubles. Republicans countered that at least they were
bringing proposals to the table - more, they said, than
the Democrats have done to bring the tax levy down.
Also Wednesday, lawmakers unanimously adopted the county’s
$260 million capital program for the next five years after
eliminating about $31 million in new construction projects
that had not been authorized by the Legislature.
On Friday, December 16, the third graduation under the
collaboration of Ulster County Community College and the
Ulster County Law Enforcement Training Group was held
at Hillside Manor, Kingston.
Graduates included Trevor Bailey from Olive, Trevor Bailey
and Travis Nissen for the Town of Shandaken. Congratulations,
The Ulster County Charter Commission has finalized its
suggestion, minus any budgeting guesses, to shift county
governance to an elected executive position from its current
appointed administrator format. The premise, the commission
has said, is that a county executive who is a sole, fully
accountable leader, coupled with an elected comptroller,
would find and enforce efficiencies in operations that
would offset the additional cost of a larger government.
In more immediate matters, Kingston Mayor James Sottile
declared that he was not interested in serving as the
county administrator and would finish out the remaining
two years in his second term as mayor.
The county administrator’s job comes with an $89,500
salary. Sottile currently grosses $60,000. Under next
year’s Kingston City budget approved by the Common
Council this week, the mayor will get a 25 percent raise
in 2006, to $75,000. Political watchers are saying the
administrator’s post could serve as a showcase for
its next appointed incumbent to prove his or her worth
as a viable county executive candidate when election to
that office comes up, perhaps as soon as 2007.
Sottile’s decision leaves the field open for Democrats
to appoint an administrator from inside or outside of
Ulster County. The choices include current jobholder Art
Smith, a Republican who is serving his first two-year
stint in the post, but who served as deputy county administrator
for some 20 years before that. His term does not expire
until June of 2006.
But Sottile’s decision also concerns the current
administrator’s post alone; it doesn’t rule
out a run at county executive, if and when that elective
post is created. The timing could serve the mayor well,
for voters are expected to be asked if they want to approve
a new executive form of government in November 2006, and
then to be asked to actually choose an executive in either
2007 or 2008.
“Who knows what could happen two or three years
from now?” said Sottile.
As incoming Legislature chairman, Democrat David Donaldson
has vowed to uphold party promises made during the election
and move diligently toward creating a county executive
form of government. He has said he believes the office
would be captured by a Democrat.
Topping the list of local officials cited as potential
candidates for the county executive post is Democratic
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of the 101st Assembly District,
which covers most of the county, including Kingston. Cahill
is a native of Kingston and still lives here, and was
a county legislator and minority leader before winning
election to the Assembly.
Cahill laughed when asked if he was interested in running
for the county’s future top job. “We don’t
have a county executive form of government, last time
I checked,” he said. But he acknowledged that rumors
are rampant, including the fact he was introduced by Democratic
County Treasurer Lew Kirschner at a recent party gathering
as “the first county executive of Ulster County.”
If Cahill were to run for and be elected county executive,
one rumor circulating already has it that Sottile might
be appointed to Cahill’s Assembly seat.
Also in recent weeks, Glenn Noonan, Republican Minority
Leader for the 2006 Legislative Session, announced
the following Minority Committee assignments: Administrative
Services – Robert Aiello and Joan Every; Arts, Education
and Community Relations – Frank Felicello and Wayne
Harris; Criminal Justice and Safety - Robert Aiello and
Joan Every; Economic Development – Elizabeth Alfonso
and Joseph P. Roberti, Jr.; Efficiency, Reform and Intergovernmental
Affairs - Charles Busick and Susan Cummings; Environmental
- Dean Fabiano and William McAfee; Health – Charles
Busick and Joseph P. Roberti, Jr.; Human Services - Dean
Fabiano and Wayne Harris; Labor Relations and Negotiation
– Richard A. Gerentine and Glenn
Noonan; Personnel – Elizabeth Alfonso and Wayne
Harris; Public Works - Frank Felicello and William McAfee;
and Ways and Means - Susan Cummings and Richard A. Gerentine.
Kingston will seek an injunction against white supremacist
radio host Hal Turner if he tries to hold another rally
in Kingston, two city attorneys and the police chief said
last week, noting that any court action would be based
on Turner’s threat during a Nov. 19 rally to bring
Kingston “to its economic knees” by holding
future demonstrations if a black student accused of attacking
a white classmate at Kingston High School wasn’t
charged with a hate crime.
A recent indictment against the suspect included no hate
crimes, but there has been no word from Turner, a New
Jersey-based Internet radio host, on whether he plans
to return to Kingston.
Police Chief Gerald Keller has said that Turner gave up
his First Amendment right to demonstrate in Kingston the
moment he turned the prospect of future rallies into a
threat. He conceded, however, that courts usually protect
First Amendment rights and could side with Turner.
The Nov. 19 rally - which attracted about 40 Turner supporters,
200 counterdemonstrators and 200 police officers - cost
the city about $60,000. The event was verbally confrontational,
but there were no violent incidents and no arrests.
The Laws and Rules Committee of the city is currently
considering a proposal that would require demonstrators
to obtain permits, but no action has been taken yet.
A Hunter family blowout degraded into what State Police
called a “Dodge City” shotgun battle between
two Haines Falls brothers recently inside the home they
shared. Wesley N. Hall, 19, and Watson A. Hall, 21, were
both in the Greene County Jail in lieu of $10,000 cash
bail December 11 after, authorities say, the two became
incensed at each other sometime before 9 a.m., grabbed
a shotgun each and opened fire. Despite exchanging blasts
from 12- and 20-gauge shotguns, neither brother was seriously
injured, authorities said. Both were cut by glass blown
from a window and skylight destroyed in the gunplay.
“They got injured more from the glass that was in
the house after their little escapades,” said one
law enforcement official, who asked that his name not
Troopers received a call for shots fired and responded
to the home to find one brother, Watson, already outside.
He was taken into custody while authorities made phone
contact with Wesley, who was still inside. He also surrendered.
Both were charged with felony first-degree reckless endangerment
and misdemeanor menacing and criminal possession of a
Watson Hall also was charged with misdemeanor criminal
possession of a controlled substance, though authorities
declined to identify the substance pending test results.
At one point, Wesley appears to have had both shotguns,
police said. But exactly what happened inside, and what
they were fighting over, was not clear. It also wasn’t
clear how many shots were fired inside what police called
“a decent-size” house.
Asked if they were sharing the same cell, a jail official
said: “They’re not even in the same tier.”
First Big Snow
The first major snow of the season December 9 ended up
with Kingston hosting 11.5 inches of snow on the ground,
Poughkeepsie had 11, Catskill 9.2, Shandaken 8 and Hudson
had 6 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Meteorologists described the storm as a classic Nor’Easter
with two storm systems - one from the Ohio Valley and
another coming up from the mid-Atlantic. The two storms
merged near Long Island before moving northeast.
There were five accidents on the Thruway and more than
a dozen vehicles had to be winched out of the shoulders
and medians along the highway. There were also numerous
traffic mishaps on more local roads.
New For Septics
A program that pays half of the cost of inspecting and
pumping out residential septic systems in the Catskill-Delaware
Watershed has been expanded. The program, administered
by the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), now applies
to all new or replacement residential systems installed
since Jan. 21, 1997 that are at least three years old.
Property owners who are eligible will soon receive a letter
from the CWC explaining the program. Original program
rules offered inspections and pumpouts only to homeowners
whose systems had been replaced under the CWC’s
Septic Rehabilitation and Replacement Program. The rule
change extending this routine maintenance of
on-site septic systems to all homeowners who were issued
septic construction approval from the New York City Department
of Environmental Protection since Jan. 21, 1997 was adopted
by the CWC Board of Directors November 29. To participate
in the program, property owners may contract with any
licensed septage hauler and arrange to have their tank
pumped out. An inspection check list must be filled out
and signed by the hauler. The homeowner pays the hauler,
and returns the checklist to the CWC, along with
a reimbursement form, contractor’s invoice and proof
of payment (contractor’s receipt or cancelled check).
The CWC does not pay for enzyme treatments, system additives
or sales tax. For more information and the required forms,
contact Larry Kelly at the CWC,
845-586-1400, Ext. 15.
On December 6, the Onteora School community heard New
York State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill speak about his bill
titled A8069, that would change school funding from the
real property tax method, to a State flat tax,
“We have an education funding crisis in New York
State,” said Cahill, “this is about our constitutional
obligation and our moral obligation to provide funding
for quality of education for every single child in New
Cahill explained that the Hudson valley is unique because
the “property wealth exceeds income wealth.”
As property values raise the middle class and the diversity
of people can no longer afford to live in the area and
as houses are sold at a higher rate, “we can be
pretty sure we can count on more school tax tomorrow,
but what we cannot be sure is that these folks here will
be able to afford to pay and we will have people consider
this their vacation home or an opportunity as an investment
to run up the prices and sell it to someone else, we loose
young working families and the fabric of our communities.”
Bill A8069 would eliminate real property tax as funding
to education and instead shift the tax burden to a state
tax. The school budget would be created by the local school
board and must comply with standards under the New York
State education department.
The bill needs sponsorship from a Senator in order to
reach the Senate floor for a vote, but Cahill is optimistic
about it’s future. Local senator John Bonacic is
currently pushing a similar, but not same bill…
The school administration has asked the district to keep
all heating temperatures set at 68 degrees in every school
and classroom. Winters recommended that teachers and students
come equipped with an extra sweater and explained that
because of the old heating system, some rooms may be colder
than others. The heat was reduced beginning Monday December
5, hoping it will help offset the cost of rising fuel
prices. They have also asked bus drivers not to keep busses
standing idle while running using unnecessary fuel.
According to Olive Supervisor Bert Leifeld, everything
went well for him at the Coalition of Watershed Towns
meeting in Margaretville Monday night, December 19. The
general consensus of the meeting, he said, was in his
favor regarding a resolution he’s asking for that
will ask the state legislature to remove reservoirs from
consideration under its controversial “Large Parcel”
tax formulas for sharing large properties between towns
that make up school or county taxing districts.
Sure, Leifeld said, Shandaken supervisor Bob Cross Jr.
read a letter against the resolution. But then he had
to leave the meeting early, before a two hour discussion
of the matter, including a Power Point presentation by
Leifeld’s fellow reservoir impoundment town supervisor,
Georgiana Lepke, on how her town’s facing Large
Parcel next. And yes, he’s heard that Woodstock
supervisor Jeremy Wilber will be fighting tooth and nail
against any resolutions Leifeld suggests.
So what if the immediate decision to send a CWT resolution
up to Albany was tabled for now?
“They said they WILL come up with a resolution of
support,” Leifeld said. “They’re just
going to invite all the membership towns to the next meeting
The Coalition of Watershed Towns came together under the
guidance of the late state senator Charles Cook in the
early 1990s to fight proposed regulatory changes from
New York City regarding its massive upstate reservoir
system holdings. It eventually forced the state’s
brokering of a 1997 Memorandum of Agreement between the
City and Upstate that created the Catskill Watershed Corporation,
and brought significant funding to the region for development
and conservation purposes.
In recent years the CWT, headed for over a decade by Windham
supervisor Pat Meehan, has sufficed to bicker over city
infringements regarding property purchases and minor regulations.
In the past year, though, it became involved in the fight
over permits for Dean Gitter’s proposed Belleayre
Resort in Shandaken, and has started using its clout in
Two months ago Olive town Supervisor Bert Leifeld asked
CWT to pass a resolution asking the State Legislature
to remove the term reservoir from New York large parcel
legislation. With that word in the law, the Ashokan Reservoir
met criteria to allow the Onteora school district to remove
the Ashokan from Leifeld's town of Olive for school tax
purposes and treat it as a separate entity. The result
was that Olive taxes went through the roof.
Earlier this year, angry Olivians took control of the
school board and gained enough votes on the board to sink
the large parcel plans for the Ashokan this year, but
Leifeld is aiming at putting the matter to sleep forever
by getting the state to change the law so the Ashokan
could never be considered a large parcel, even if the
school board wanted it to.
Cross and Wilber say large parcel creates a fair tax structure
between the towns in their school district.
Meehan said he was tabling the issue, at Cross’
request, and notifying all 50 member communities of CWT
of the issue because of the flack he ran into over a recent
decision to appeal a judge’s ruling for adjudication
in the Belleayre Resort process.
The next CWT meeting, where Leifeld’s resolution
will be discussed and voted on, is scheduled for January
16 at 6:30 p.m. at CWC offices in Margaretville.
Lepke, a longstanding CWC board member, recently called
for a special meeting of her Town Board on Wednesday to
discuss Sullivan County legislators' enactment of the
state's Large Parcel Bill that will increase county taxes
for Neversink residents by 74 percent. County lawmakers
voted 5-4 last month to change the taxing formula the
town had received from the Neversink Reservoir, similar
to that enacted regarding the Ahokan by Ulster County
in 2004. They committed to the change for only one year.
Government research project that assigns risk scores for
industrial air pollution throughout the United States
has rated Ulster, Dutchess, Greene and Columbia counties
as above the median health risk among 3,141 counties nationwide.
According to data obtained by the Associated Press and
based on the 2000 Census, Ulster and Dutchess counties
each have a health risk from industrial air pollution
that is 3.6 times greater than the national median. In
Greene County, the health risk is twice the national median,
while Columbia is 1.6 times the national median. In Ulster
County, the hamlet of Wallkill in the town of Shawangunk
was ranked among the top 5 percent of national Census
tracts with the highest health risk scores from industrial
Ulster County Legislator Brian Shapiro, D-Woodstock, said
it is hard to accept the data because the area is overwhelmingly
“Along with most people, I think of Ulster County
as having fresh mountain air and country air,” Shapiro
said. “I wouldn’t think that we have a problem.”
Shapiro, designated chairman of the county Legislature’s
newly formed Environmental Committee starting in January,
said he would like to review the data further.
Peter Iwanowicz, the director of environmental health
with the American Lung Association of New York, said he
is not surprised by the findings. He said the American
Lung Association has given Ulster and Dutchess counties
failing grades on ozone tests in the past few years.
“Its been a trend over the past six or seven years,”
Iwanowicz said, adding that poor air quality has been
seen from New York City to the Adirondacks. Emissions
from motor vehicles, factories and power plants are up,
and contributing to the ozone problem, he said.
Ozone is a form of oxygen that results when byproducts
of fuel combustion are “cooked” by sunlight.
Exposure to high ozone levels can trigger asthma attacks
and lead to difficulty breathing. Long-term exposure can
permanently damage lung tissue.
“The Hudson Valley is becoming more and more developed,
and that’s why you’re seeing the problems
become more and more acute,” Iwanowicz said.
While emissions limits have been put in place for motor
vehicles and smokestacks, they are not protective enough,
Iwanowicz said. He said more needs to be done to reduce
the number of cars on the road.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously recently that the
government can seize a person’s Social Security
benefits to pay old student loans. Retiring Justice Sandra
Day O’Connor wrote the decision that went against
a disabled man, James Lockhart, who had sued claiming
he needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food
and medication after his government benefits had been
cut by 15 percent to cover debts he incurred for college
in the 1980s.
Congress recently eliminated a 10-year time limit on the
government’s right to seek repayment on defaulted
student loans by seizing payments, including Social Security,
to individuals. The Bush administration has maintained
that the case was important because outstanding student
loans total about $33 billion, which includes about $7
billion in delinquent debt. Of the delinquent loans, about
half are over 10 years old.
Justices were called on to clarify federal laws that sent
conflicting messages about the collection of loans that
are more than a decade old.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said that
Congress “unambiguously authorized, without exception,
the collection of 10-year-old student loan debt ... in
doing so, it flatly contracted and thereby effectively
repealed part of the Social Security Act.”
Groups like the AARP and the National Consumer Law Center
had urged the court to safeguard Social Security benefits
in the Lockhart case, arguing they “are critical
in preserving a measure of financial independence for
older and disabled workers.”
Under the normal rules of politics, Congressional Republicans
ought to be doing victory laps these days because of the
new Medicare drug benefit, accepting the gratitude of
the nation’s retirees. Instead, at meetings around
the country, they are trying to ease widespread confusion
and apprehension about a program that strikes many retirees
as dauntingly complex. Beyond altruistic concerns, Congressional
Republicans have a keen political interest in ensuring
an orderly, successful rollout of the program, which happens
to begin in a highly competitive midterm election year.
The drug benefits are available for the first time beginning
Jan. 1, and the initial sign-up period, which began Nov.
15, lasts until May 15. Nobody knows how popular the drug
benefit will ultimately be with the nation’s retirees,
who are a critical voting bloc. But Congressional Republicans,
who pushed through the Medicare drug law in 2003, have
clear political ownership of it, and whatever credit or
blame it brings, strategists say.
Republicans counter that, properly explained, the drug
benefit is a huge advantage to the 42 million Americans
on Medicare - the biggest expansion of the program since
its creation 40 years ago.
Meanwhile, a growing number of Congressional members are
already pushing legislation to extend the May deadline
for signing up for the drug benefit without penalty. They
argue that retirees need more time to decide what to do
and more flexibility to change their minds. The penalty
for a late sign-up is significant - an increase in premiums
of 1 percent for every month past the deadline.
“Seniors are confused, bewildered and frightened,”
said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, who is
leading the push for a delay.
The administration is opposed to such delays, arguing
they are unnecessary and would only compound the uncertainty
about the program.
The Medicare drug plan was devised to reflect central
Republican tenets: that private companies, and private
market forces, are the best way to deliver drug benefits
to the nation’s elderly; that the government’s
role should be sharply limited, particularly when it comes
to exerting price pressure on the drug companies; and
that the nation’s retirees ought to have a full
array of options for their drug coverage.
From Maine to Florida, from Virginia to Missouri, as much
as half the United States confronts the possibility that
harshly cold weather will lead to restrictions of natural-gas
supplies. In some places - areas heavily dependent on
natural gas to produce electricity (such as the Catskills
and Hudson Valley) - the prospect of “rolling blackouts,”
or controlled power outages, is much higher than in previous
Any natural-gas cutoffs would primarily affect electric-power
plants and factories fueled by gas, not homes, and be
most likely in the Northeast. If cold deepens for prolonged
periods, the likelihood of interrupted natural-gas supplies
rises to 30 percent in the Northeast and to 10 percent
as far south as Florida and as far west as Missouri, according
to a recent report by the Interstate Natural Gas Association
of America (INGAA), a trade association representing gas
pipeline companies. In a “worst-case” scenario,
chances of interrupted gas rise to 40 percent for the
Northeast and 25 percent across the eastern seaboard.
Even so, gas cutoffs would not automatically mean power
outages to residential and commercial consumers. Residential
customers who heat homes with natural gas are unlikely
to have their supply interrupted, because gas utilities
typically have “firm contracts” with distributors.
Still, hurricane damage continues to block about 6 percent
of the nation’s gas supply flowing through pipelines
north from the Gulf of Mexico. The government reported
last week that 32 percent of the Gulf supply remains “shut
in” - a loss of 3.2 billion cubic feet per day.
That’s at the high end of the range the INGAA predicts
will be “missing” this winter.
This missing flow of gas could be critical in mid- to
late winter, when reserves are drawn down. Potential problems
exist in New York, where half of the electricity-generating
capacity is fueled by natural gas.
More than 8,000 people have been mistakenly tagged for
immigration violations as a result of the Bush administration’s
strategy of entering the names of thousands of immigrants
in a national crime database meant to help apprehend terrorism
suspects, according to a new study conducted by the Migration
Policy Institute, a research group in Washington, which
relied on statistics released by the Department of Homeland
Security that covered 2002 to 2004. The study found that
the national crime database was wrong in 42 percent of
the cases in which it identified immigrants stopped by
the local police as being wanted by domestic security
Many immigration violations, like overstaying a visa,
are civil infractions, not criminal offenses typically
handled by the police. But since the terrorist attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001, domestic security officials have worked
to encourage states and localities to help enforce immigration
laws by adding the names of thousands of violators - like
immigrants evading deportation orders - to the F.B.I.
Locally, a large number of Pakistani and other Islamic
immigrants to the area were deported following the 9/11
attacks, and sparked a local investigation into the Ulster
County Department of Motor Vehicles.
Conservatives are meanwhile pegging illegal immigration
as the next powerful political issue to shape coming elections.
GOP strategists have said they are looking to opposition
to illegal immigration as a way to edge out Democrats
in 2006, and not just in border states.