In a phone
interview Monday Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. said he expects many
of those questions to be answered at a special town board meeting
on February 22nd.
Cross said that the issue has now entered into a phase where many
of the issues must be addressed from a legal standpoint. That’s
why town attorney Kevin Young has been asked to come to town on the
22nd, Cross said.
With the project’s defeat at the polls there is no clear description
of what happens next. Some say there’s already another petition
drive to force the town board to push the project through. Young announced
prior to Saturday’s vote that if enough residents signed a petition
demanding the town board push the project through, the board would
be legally compelled to consider the plan. He said they would have
to follow a specific list of criteria to determine if the project
was best for the community.
Others say that if the details of the project proposal are altered,
even slightly, it gives a green light to another vote and that if
the deal were better for Phoenicia than before it would pass that
time around. Others still say that all of the above is just speculation
and that the town needs to accept the reality that a majority of Phoenicia
voters said no. Because of this, it has been said, the town must now
pay back the City of New York, which bought $225,000 worth of real
estate as a site for the sewer plant.
This last point has been the subject of contention around the hamlet
and the entire town, with taxpayers being concerned that they would
somehow end up on the hook for paying the city back and others claiming
this would not be the case.
The sewer system was to be built under a partnership program between
the City of New York and the Communities within the city’s watershed.
Under the program the city would have paid $17 million to build the
system. On February 3rd the project was voted down. Unofficial results
showed a 33 vote spread, with 156 voters opposing the project and
123 in favor.
Asked when the tally would become official, Frasier said it would
not be until Thursday February 22nd at 3 pm. That is when Young, the
Attorney handling the project for the town, will meet with the town
board at town hall to discuss where the project goes from here. The
session will be a workshop, Cross said, until 3:45 and then become
an official town board meeting in which action can be taken.
Again, Cross notes that right now no one knows what that action, if
any, would be. But at least the absentee ballots will be counted.
“Bob said that the town Board will open the absentee ballots,”
By the February 3rd vote, 36 absentee ballots had been received in
time to be included in the vote count that took place at the Phoenicia
Firehouse immediately following the 8 pm closing of the polls.
Frasier said only nine remain outstanding and that another three had
already been received. Frasier said that one of those was postmarked
one day after the February 2nd postmark deadline, so that ballot would
be declared invalid.
“Rules are rules,” she said.
Opponents of the project insist that the project is officially dead.
Ric Ricciardella, a vocal opponent, said that there is nothing else
“It’s over. We voted. That’s it,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent defeat of the sewer project,
Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. has invited officials with the Catskill
Watershed Corporation to come to town and explain the details of the
agencies septic system rehabilitation program.
CWC staff will be on hand at the March town board meeting, slated
for March 5th, to answer questions.
CWC’s corporate counsel, Tim Cox, said Tuesday that there are
some cases in which some Phoenicia homeowners could get CWC assistance,
but that there are rules and guidelines that could also prevent others
from getting help.
With no sewer system planned, Phoenicia would be eligible for participation
in CWC’s septic rehabilitation program, which is funded by New
However, a big guideline right now is that it pertains to residential
septic systems that sit within 150 feet of a watercourse. This rule
eliminates many hamlet properties from eligibility, as not all residences
are within that distance.
Cox said the CWC may change this policy eventually, eliminating the
150 foot maximum to allow all homeowners a chance at getting in on
There are other details to consider. A residence that is used as a
second home or is not owner occupied would only get 60 percent of
the total septic replacement cost reimbursed.
The CWC also doesn’t come back. Cox said if they install a septic
system and that system fails the CWC does not pay to repair it, at
least for a long time.
He said you could get reimbursed, but only after CWC takes care of
over 17,000 other systems watershed wide already on the list.
“You go to the back of the line,” he said.
Up For Lost Snow
Slutzky added that with snow expected as of press time this
week, just before the President’s Day long weekend that serves
as the last of the ski season’s big three three day chances
to make big money, the climate change couldn’t have hit at a
“Let’s just hope it’s not followed by rain,”
the new nonagenarian added, although he did add that his mountain’s
new slopeside hotel has been booked solid for the coming weekend for
months now… and has helped keep the company afloat all season.
Across Greene County’s Northern Catskills peaks from Hunter,
at Windham Mountain, P.R. Director Ed Koller was likewise upbeat about
the impending snow… while also similarly downbeat on how the
season’s gone so far.
“Obviously, November and December were disappointing to say
the least,” he said in as upbeat a voice as possible. “We
couldn’t even take advantage of our world-class snowmaking until
January, which in itself wasn’t the best, either.”
For the last month, though, Koller said his resort’s been doing
well on weekends. He said that as far as he could tell, it was as
though the skiing and snowboarding community could only take so much
time away from the slopes, snow or no snow. So they’ve been
fitting in their dozen or more weekends each season into a shorter
span than usual.
So are he and his fellow ski industry employees doing special dances
and a variety of talismanic acts to bring on the snowfall now?
“We kind of make our own luck,” he said. “We don’t
rely on natural snow at all anymore. Take this week… it won’t
help us for snow advertising because it’s not supposed to fall
much down in the metro area, but it will end up making the slopes
Koller said most ski areas now work their client base via direct e-mail
updates. Their list currently boasts 25,000 regular names.
“Which doesn’t mean we’re not really excited about
getting snow this last big weekend of the season,” he added.
“After all, we tanked the first two…”
Up at Belleayre Mountain in Shandaken, even Superintendent Tony Lanza
– normally the most optimistic of the usually optimistic ski
industry lot – was speaking about the season so far as being
“We’re 32 percent down from last year,” Lanza said,
although he added, in his way, that even that was better than the
56 percent down Belleayre was just after the rainy Martin Luther King
weekend in January.
“Now, I’m hoping to get it within an 8 percent difference
by year’s end,” he added. “Although that every weekend
has to be a hit… who’d have expected January to be so
Asked whether the climate change suggested possible further difficulties
ahead for his industry, whether global warming was a culprit, Lanza
said that as a state government employee he felt uncomfortable talking
about “something that could be considered a political issue.”
He then talked about how much snowfall the Catskills got in the 1990s,
how well the ski industry’s been doing in the United States
in recent years, and how there have been similar warm periods recorded
in the last 50 years.
“We’re skiing a longer season, a full 26 weeks for many
areas,” he said. “If it is a fact, this global warming
idea, I’m not the guy to say it.”
We noted that, talking to Slutzky earlier, the birthday boy had spoken
with deep appreciation of the fact that Lanza had all his state-owned
ski center’s lift tickets noting Orville’s birthday that
“Orville’s my idol.” The Belleayre super replied,
after acknowledging Slutzky’s longstanding public antipathy
to the state being in the ski business at all. “He’s the
“I don’t like years like this,” Slutzky himself
So did that mean he did dances, used talismans.
“None of that for me,” he added. “I’m too
old. And believe it or not, I’m a realist.”
Cell Tower SOS
the company's problems is the fact that after forcing through okays
to put a tower on South Mountain in Olive, it now seems that project
has also hit nearly fatal snags. Verizon, set to be a major tenant
on the South Mountain tower, is now reportedly seeking permission
from Olive to build its own tower near the towns transfer station
on Beaverkill Road, claiming that the South Mountain tower won’t
really suit Verizon’s needs.
Masterpage is refusing all calls from the press these days, but it
should be noted they have never really cooperated much with local
media during the long-running legal problems with the South mountain
Project approval several years ago, then with more recent legal wrangles
with property owners near the South Mountain site.
Olivians are scratching their heads as much as Shandakenites lately,
looking for answers as to when they can get any cellular signal.
The tower on South Mountain in Olive is up but not yet operational.
Last summer Chris Buckey, the attorney representing Masterpage, said
the company had found itself in litigation with one landowner that
claimed there are right of way issues that need ironing out but that
litigation, according to Buckey, has no bearing on Masterpage’s
progress on the project. The status of the lawsuit was unclear this
week, though sources say it remains unresolved.
In August Buckey was not able to speak as freely about the plans for
a tower in Shandaken because, he said, Masterpage owner Kevin Kellerhouse
chose not to use an attorney when putting the deal together with the
town. However, Buckey said he was familiar with the plans for the
project and insisted that nothing has changed, that Masterpage intends
to build on the Glenbrook Park site as soon as possible.
But many in Shandaken, six months after Buckey’s remarks, still
wonder when that will be. After highly publicized talks during the
2005 election season, Masterpage struck a deal with Supervisor Robert
Cross Jr. to build a tower on town-owned land near Glenbrook Park.
Though Cross had made it clear that time was of the essence, it got
to be April 2006 before Masterpage appeared before the planning board
with a complete application for review, and only after Cross expressed
personal displeasure with the company’s snail-like pace.
The project got approved by the planning board, but nothing has happened
The only cellular coverage supplied by the tower approved in Shandaken
would be exclusively for Nextel customers, and then it would only
be for a distance of about two and half miles around the tower, according
to Nextel representatives.
It was also announced that the structure, which in April 2006 Kellerhouse
claimed “would be built in a couple of months”, would
actually be 198 feet tall. While the tower is only 180 feet there
will be another 18 feet of whip antennas atop it.
After being told of rumors that Masterpage was on the verge of bankruptcy,
Buckey dismissed such notions outright.
“ They are financially solvent,” he said.
Kellerhouse has been summoned to a special Shandaken town board meeting
set for February 22 at 3pm to answer questions about his companies
no show for almost a year and half after striking a deal to build
on town land.
“A lot of people want answers,” Cross said Monday
Talks About His
At this past Monday’s
Ulster County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Kingston Holiday
Inn, Bonacic gave an address heavy on praise for Spitzer, a Democrat
who, rumors had it, was thinking about offering the Orange County
Republican a post in his administration.
Yet asked whether he would leave his Senate post, which he faced the
toughest challenge of his 17 year legislative career to hold on to
last autumn, Bonacic replied matter-of-factly that he liked the newfound
power he had, protecting (and ultimately riding) his party’s
two-vote majority… which he talked about repeatedly as a key
to the sorts of governmental “checks and balances” that
protect Upstate interests from New York City’s huge control
The assembled media – more than at last month’s breakfast
featuring U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey – muttered disbelief
at Bonacic’s answers to their questions. Why hadn’t he
addressed their concerns in his speech to those he had just spoken
to, assuring them he was their senator and set to stay so.
Partly, that may have been because his audience had a heavier sprinkling
of not-for-profit organizational employees in it than politicians.
More small business owners than usual.
Then again, his Democratic challenger from November, County Legislator
Susan Zimet, was busy working the room as Bonacic eyed her movements
before his speech. And she had taken Ulster from him, while losing
the larger race.
“It’s Gunga Din,” said the Senator’s aide
and counsel, Langdon Chapman, to the side before Bonacic’s talk.
He was referring to the Kipling poem and classic 30s film about a
water carrier who helps save the day for the British in their fight
Chapman added how his boss had always been independent, but was “never
more pivotal, with more power, than now.”
“We have a new sheriff in town, he’s called Governor Spitzer,”
Bonacic started off his speech, repeating a line he’d been using
for a couple of months already. He talked about how in business, a
new CEO likes to change the way things are done. “If you can’t
meet the expectations, watch out.”
He spoke about how impressed he was with the Governor, with whom he’d
just had a widely publicized hour long closed door session that Chapman
characterized as something “the Senator is keeping to himself.”
“He’s very intelligent, a man of substance,” the
Republican said of Spitzer. “He’s got vision and he’s
very courageous… He’s taken on the leadership in the Assembly,
in the Senate, and he’s taken on Mayor Bloomberg of New York.
I applaud his boldness…”
Yet Bonacic also noted that the key to governance, especially from
the Governor’s seat, is compromise.
“In government you need partners,” he repeated at several
points. “It’s the governor’s style not to negotiate,
a ‘take no prisoners’ approach. All that will happen with
that is gridlock.”
Obviously relishing the inside process of politics at work as his
key subject, Bonacic was quick with the prognoses and observations,
outlining his own current position obliquely at the same time.
“The (Democrat) minority in the Senate is at his hip, meaning
there will be no override of his vetoes,” Bonacic explained.
“The legislature is afraid of his vetoes. These are very interesting
times and from what I’ve seen so far, I like what I see.”
The Senator noted how he was for all the elements of reform Spitzer
had won his large electoral margins fighting for. He then addressed
the concerns he says he’d heard about repeatedly from his own
constituents, such as education, affordable health care, jobs, property
taxes, and affordable housing. He said his favorite “R”
word was “Results.”
Bonacic’s speech lost its original drive as he jumped from topic
to topic, repeatedly noting about various issues, “this is a
good thing,” as if checking down a list.
He spoke about the need for structural changes in the way education
was funded through property taxes while noting the political obstacles
change would have to overcome based on New York City’s inability
to see the issue as important, it being largely a city of renters.
He made a stab at the second home, tax exempt and larger business
communities as being basically okay to tax.
“How do we get traction,” he asked. “We have a governor
who recognizes that we need property tax reform.”
In terms of jobs, he noted how state-owned Belleayre Ski Resort, for
which he’s helped procure expansion monies, was “doing
well” and spoke of all the talk about handing Stewart Airport
over to Port Authority as something that “could be a real sleeper
for all of us.” Meaning “that’s a good thing.”
Then, shifting gears guilelessly, Bonacic slammed the local business
community, albeit with the gloves on.
"I've watched Ulster County for six years. There's a malaise
here, the Senator said. "Greene and Orange counties are taking
off. Sullivan has a heartbeat. Dutchess has IBM. Albany has nanotechnology
but we’re are not keeping up.”
Bonacic suggested the county leadership start pushing for a $300 million
neon plant the state’s looking to site somewhere in the Hudson
Valley. He suggested setting up shovel-ready business draws like other
counties. He suggested that Ulster was sending out messages that they
weren’t business friendly.
“I’m not here to chastise everyone but I’m looking
at counties around Ulster and they’re doing better,” he
said. “You saved the ridge; I think that was a good thing. Open
Space: a good thing. But we need a balance, we need ratables.”
Without explanation, the senator slipped into talk of what draws big
business and suggested that all of Ulster County’s environmentalist
actions might be pushing its middle class away. He talked about people,
and counties, getting naught but one bit at the apple of, everyone
supposed, big time success, long-term prosperity.
“I think I’m almost done… in more ways than one,”
Bonacic joked as he rushed through statements about education, healthcare
and other topics. “I have a tight schedule today. I’m
really tight today.”
He spoke about casinos and how “They’re not going to happen
in Ulster County,” subsequently noting Sp\iutzer’s support
for at least one in neighboring Sullivan County, which would still
have local ramifications for the Route 209 corridor. To battle that,
the senator said, he was hoping to help push through legislation ensuring
gambling proceeds for local aid.
He said he was all for a new commission on the state prison system,
but against closing any such institutions in Ulster County.
He suggested that the Governor was for helping small businesses, but
needed direct support to counter anti-business moves in the Democrat-controlled
“You preach to the choir when you come to me. Go to the governor,”
Bonacic said, repeating the morning’s sense of political process
over all, of an exegesis on the use of power.
“I think the governor at some point will have to change his
temperament,” he concluded, before taking questions. “Right
now he’s pushing the envelope.”
When someone later asked about so-called Member Items, the allocations
given to individual legislators for use in their districts commonly
called “pork” by many in the media – and under attack
by new Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in recent weeks -- Bonacic became
defensive. He spoke about the $2 million he passes out annually in
his sprawling district, and noted how quite a few in attendance had
helped their organizations with such funds, or were looking for new
monies from the same.
“I look around this room I see ARC, I see fire companies, I
see libraries, I see police, I see EMTs,” the senator said.
“I don’t hide anything. How many not for profits do we
have in this room this morning that need help? Member items are generally
good. But they have to be line itemed, One bite at the apple…
that’s a good thing.”
Asked if the county had its collective head ion the sand, Bonacic
said he’d like to get together with Chamber of Commerce president
Ward Todd and others to discuss smart growth planning. He said ratables
needed to be improved, once more, and repeated his “one bit
at the apple” line.
“You have to proceed, you have to move forward,” Bonacic
So what about the power politics in Albany and his battles with Bruno,
his courtship by the Governor, who seems to have been weakening the
Republican majority in the state Senate through bipartisan appointments?
Bonacic seemed to perk up again, grow wily and sharp-tongued in his
“My life has changed this year because my counsel tastes my
food before I can eat it,” he quipped. “But really, it’s
not about relationships, it’s all about doing what’s right.”
The veteran politician seemed to measure his words as they landed
around the room.
“In our business if you attack the king he’s going to
try and kill you. It’s not really Republicans versus Democrats.
The fights are regional,” he said, speaking from an inner knowledge
of his battlefield of the last two decades now. “We need checks
and balances. If we lose the senate, New York City will rule the state.”
And himself in all this?
“I haven’t been punished and I don’t expect to be
punished,” he said of his move to oust Bruno, and his more recent
siding with Spitzer against the legislative majority’s vote
for one of their own as the new state comptroller. “If we can’t
speak freely we’re in the wrong country, in the wrong state…
This is the people’s agenda.”
In other words, John Bonacic had the power – for now at least.
And he relished knowing he had that power.
It was added that the
Onteora district, which welcomed new superintendent Leslie Ford from
California this past week, will lose the state aid if it is not approved.
The money is allocated for replacing the boiler at Woodstock elementary
school and renovating the high school auditorium. A portion of the
total cost, $662,711 will come out of EXCEL aid (Expanding our Children’s
Education and Learning) and capital reserve funds will cover the other
Over the past several years, the school board has been trying to find
a way to renovate the high school auditorium with broken seats and
antiquated stage rigging. School board president Marino D’Orazio
explained that safety dictates the boiler replacement.
“At the Woodstock school we have been informed by both the facilities
committee and Buildings and Grounds Manager Jimmy O’Neil that
they are in danger of failing and we need to deal with them one way
or another,” he noted.
Trustee Maxanne Resnick explained why the vote had to take place earlier
than the May 15 budget vote.
“The timing of it is important to everyone that in order to
replace the Woodstock boilers in a timely manner,” she said.
“For next year’s heating season we really had to do this
as a March vote and could not wait much later.”
Also, the EXCEL aid would expire soon and cannot carry over into the
next school year. It must have an expense in place to qualify for
Trustee Mary Jane Bernholz added, “This is actually a loss in
revenue to the district if the voters don’t approve it.”
“Absolutely, we are going to throw $662,711 out the window if
we don’t approve it,” interim superintendent Jack Jordan
agreed, explaining that EXCEL aid has never been turned down by other
district voters and hoped Onteora would not be the first to refuse
“This has nothing to do with the large capital improvement project
which we are in the process of trying to define and discuss and the
next effort in that is March third,” further explained D’Orazio.
In other recent business, Jordan was given a farewell party with much
praise and appreciation from the school board. February 6 was his
last school board meeting, although he intends to stay and help out
incoming superintendent Dr. Leslie Ford for a while after her arrival
on February 12.
D’Orazio thanked Jordan on behalf of the school board, noting
that an interim position can be difficult.
“He didn’t just come in here and warm up the seat, he
did not do that. He came in and took on all the chores and all the
responsibilities of a superintendent and he did it with a lot of energy
and honesty,” said D’Orazio.
Trustee Herb Rosenfeld sang high praise of Jordan.
“You were able to operate as if you had been here for years,”
he said. “I think it is just amazing, and it says a tremendous
amount about your professionalism and we have been very fortunate.”
Jordan gave credit to his wife, a long time employee of the district
now retired, and also to district superintendent’s secretary
“I would like to thank everyone for having the opportunity to
work with, you are a very conscientious school board,” Jordan
said. “I have come to learn that you care, you do an excellent
job and I hope the community appreciates how much time and effort
that you put into what you do.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren gave a budget
presentation on the Athletic and Food service departments. The proposed
athletic budget for 2007-2008 is $408,538, or a 4.02 percent increase
from the prior year. McLaren said that the increase was due in large
part to contractual salary agreements and needed equipment. Weight
room equipment, baseball pitching machine, a scoreboard for the old
gym and a pole vault mat cover are a part of needed supplies.
Trustee Cindy O’Connor also asked for an additional expense
of approximately $5000 to purchase a video camera and “mix matched
jerseys” for the football team.
“They are trying to build up their varsity team and that would
be very helpful for them,” said O’Connor.
There are currently 43 athletic teams at Onteora, with approximately
1/3 of middle school through high school students who participate
in fall and spring sports and about 1/2 participate in winter sports.
The food service department proposed a $1,029,545 for the 2007-2008
school year, a 2.70 percent increase. The increase once again primarily
comes from employee benefits. Also some kitchen equipment must be
replaced and a computerized payment system was proposed for Woodstock
elementary school. This will be the same system that the high school
converted to, eventually expanding to all the schools in the district.
The district serves approximately 169,263 meals annually, 186 breakfasts
and 770 lunches are served daily.
Trustee Dave Patterson requested that he would like to see an addition
line item to the budget process. He said he would like to see “a
two-to-three year comparative on what the budget was and what the
actual audited amount was, by line item.”
Patterson said he wants the board to budget with what they are actually
spending and not a certain percentage “thrown on each year.”
Jordan warned Patterson that the budget process must have flexibility.
“You need to keep it planted firmly in your mind, the expenditures
you do not see because you don’t know what to expect in the
course of the year,” Jordan explained, noting how unexpected
costs can creep in. “You certainly don’t want to get a
zero based budget. Just look at where we went with special ed last
He added that money that does not get spent returns to the taxpayers
the following year and if the district comes up short in funds, loans
have a very high interest rate.
On Saturday, March 3 the school board will be holding an all day presentation
on the capital improvement proposals and consolidation ideas. Located
at the high school, the public and town representatives are encouraged
to attend. This will also be an opportunity to meet the new superintendent.