Gives City Its OK
page report, issued on August 21, is a major milestone in EPA’s
yearlong process of deciding whether to renew the filtration waiver
for another five years. Should the City need to build the filtration
system it would cost an estimated $8 billion plus hundreds of millions
each year to operate.
EPA’s Philip Sweeny, the leader of the team that compiled the
report, said it’s basically the first of two decisions necessary
for approval of another 5 year waiver.
“The report is a look back at how the city did over the last
five years,” he said Friday.
EPA says the City did well. With that determined, the City can go
to the next step and prepare a plan that states what it will do to
protect water over the next five years. The EPA's second decision,
set for early next year, will be whether they feel the plan will work
A report card of sorts that gauges how well the City did at implementing
plans to handle water quality protection in the watershed region,
the report gives good marks in general. Where it does not it states
that poor performance was beyond the City’s control.
“Overall, the City has successfully satisfied the obligations
specified in the 2002 Filtration Avoidance Determination,” the
report states. “For most programs, the City has met deadlines
and expectations. Examples include land acquisition, in which the
City has exceeded solicitation targets and has successfully protected
71,000 acres, and the small farm program, through which 42 whole farm
plans have been developed. In programs where there have been delays
or shortfalls, the City’s explanations and justifications have
generally been accepted as adequate by EPA.”
For example, wastewater projects, funded by the City to the tune of
millions, have taken longer to complete than expected. But the reports
claims the delays are due in large part to the extensive coordination
needed between the City and the communities. In Stream Management
Programs, designed to reduce water-fouling turbidity, some stream
restoration projects were delayed due to wet weather conditions which
precluded stream access.
The report, now under review by involved agencies, gave favorable
reviews for the City’s efforts in surface water treatment, septic
and sewer programs, waste treatment plant upgrades, stormwater control,
land acquisition, agriculture, forestry, wetlands protection, watershed
monitoring, enforcement of watershed regulations and for education
An updated Watershed Protection Plan to define the next round of watershed
protection activities will be prepared by the City by end of the year.
The 2007 renewal is expected to be put in place next April, although
EPA warns that it could at any time during the process reverse its
The City of New York first received a five year waiver in 1997, which
was renewed in 2002 for another five years.
Meanwhile, Regional EPA Spokesperson Mary Mears said that Regional
Administrator Alan Steinberg, who agreed to look at a new proposal
by Belleayre Resort developer Dean Gitter to downsize a portion of
his resort alongside a site visit to the area last month, said that
no decision regarding the proposal has been made at present, and won;t
be expected for several weeks yet.
Despite having been promised as a public forum when first
brought up by councilman Rob Stanley at the town’s August meeting,
the meeting was unpublicized, with no press releases or advertising.
According to Town Clerk Laurilyn Frasier, a press release had been
posted for several weeks on her bulletin board by the town hall water
cooler, constituting lawful public notice.
The meeting began with an informational video from the State Office
of Real Property Services (ORPS), explaining that towns such as Shandaken
— with a elected Assessor — are “few and far between
“Your town Assessor is your advocate for fairness,” the
tape stated. “No one wants to pay more than their fair share
of taxes. That’s what happens when assessments are not kept
up to date.”
ORPS’ long-standing position is that towns should revalue at
a minimum every three years. Shandaken’s last townwide revaluation
was in 1978.
Many of the video’s key points were reiterated in a Powerpoint
presentation by ORPS regional representative Jim LaPlante, assisted
by Sue Tillson from Ulster County Real Property office.
“Reassessment creates equity and distributes the tax burden
fairly,” said LePlante. It “does not raise taxes for the
municipality…Assessed value doesn’t determine the size
of one’s tax bill. The levy does,” reflecting only what
municipalities, including school districts spend.
The point of reassessment, he explained, is to fairly distribute each
taxpayer’s portion of that levy amongst all. While LePlante
added that, “there’s nothing in the law that mandates
reassessment,” he reiterated several times a point from ORPS’
video that frequent reassessments are the best way to insure that
each property is taxed fairly.
The other key issue with revaluation, LaPlante explained, is to insure
that the tax roll is in compliance with the state’s Assessment
Standard, which mandates that all properties be assessed at a uniform
percentage of market value. This is currently a question central to
ongoing litigation between the town and a group of 20+ acre landowners
who claim they are being assessed at a level reflecting full market
value, whereas the rest of the town’s taxpayers are not, in
violation of the Assessment Standard and their constitutional rights
to equal protection.
LePlante explained that any reevaluation for Shandaken would take
several years to implement, with the earliest practical date for new
property values to be established being July 2008, for the 2009 tax
Stanley, at whose public request the meeting was held, sought clarification
on the process’ probable cost, amongst other issues.
Estimates for the process would likely come in at $40 to $60 per tax
parcel, said LePlante, less $5 per parcel that the State would reimburse.
Other factors such as whether some of the work might be done by town
personnel, or the fact that many of the town’s approximately
3,500 tax parcels are vacant land, could also help mitigate final
costs, which would appear to likely fall somewhere between $122,000
Gary Gailes asked whether the town could consider bonding such costs,
so the payout could take place over an extended period of time.
Shandaken is the last town in Ulster County to have avoided any form
of revaluation in recent years. Neighboring Olive just completed the
process last Spring, after facing school- and county-enacted legislation
(Large Parcel) forcing them to undergo separate tax assessment due,
in part, to the tardiness of their municipal assessments. Woodstock
tries to keep its tax rolls updated every three years to keep up with
changing real estate markets and defray lawsuits by new residents
fearing “Welcome Stranger” taxing histories.
LePlante also stressed, at the September 6 meeting, the importance
of the community being well informed about the revaluation process.
Frasier said she was under no obligation to publicize meetings beyond
notices on her bulletin board and mailings to the town’s “official
For Budget Season?
the sparse audience heard grumblings from Supervisor Bob Cross about
the legal fees piling up over a lawsuit filed by the Shandaken Landowners
Association. Then all had a little breather while the board went into
executive session to discuss bids on the Phoenicia Sewer project.
There was no discussion about next year’s spending plan per
se, just money talk in general, perhaps because the board, and in
particular Supervisor/chief budget officer Cross, have dollars and
cents on their minds more now than they have for a while.
Or, at least one would hope so.
During talk of raising water rates for Phoenicia’s special water
district, Cross and company were blindsided by figures provided by
businessman Mike Ricciardella, who claims the Phoenicia water district
might have a surplus of anywhere between $40 and $60 thousand dollars
at the end of the year.
“With that much left over what are you raising the rates for?”
Town officials were surprised at Ricciardella’s information,
claiming to have not seen the figures, which Ricciardella said were
up to date amounts in the district’s two bank accounts.
Last fall the town board adopted a greatly increased budget for the
district that dramatically raised taxes for the landowners. It went
from $123,000 in 2005 to $169,000 this year. At the time, debt was
used as the reason for the hike.
But Ricciardella, who argued that the board was making major financial
decisions without doing its homework first, produced documents showing
that the district still has $114,000 in its budget this late in the
“Why is it (the budget) so high if we don’t need it?”
asked Councilwoman Jane Todd.
Last January Phoenicians were shocked when they opened their tax bills
to discover a whopping increase to cover the budget. In reaction to
the negative backlash he received from taxpayers, Cross announced
plans to shift the cost burden away from property owners by increasing
the water rates. This plan, he said at the time, would put more responsibility
on those who use most of the water.
But now, according to Ricciardella, the 2006 spending plan appears
to have been grossly overestimated, and he thinks that the town should
back off from any changes to the way Phoenicians pay for water.
Ricciardella, who may seek permission to drill his own well rather
than pay high usage fees, appears to be the only one to have taken
the time to check the bottom line. No one on the town board or the
special committee formed in January to prepare the new rate schedule
had seen the figures until Monday night.
Cross, staring at the printout for several minutes, appeared perplexed
and refused to believe it.
“Something is totally wrong here,” he said, adding that
he expects most of the money will get used up by the end of the year.
After tabling the resolution to increase the rates, Cross said the
town board would meet with water district bookkeeper Florence Stanley
and double check Ricciardella’s figures.
It remains unclear whether the board will restructure the proposed
rates. A list of examples was distributed to show what effect the
increased rates would have if passed in current form. The eight examples
showed the changes would be all over the map. Five showed a savings
between $61 and $338. The other three showed increases ranging from
$61 to $2611.
Before going into executive session with attorney Kevin Young to look
at bids for Phoenicia’s sewer project, Cross made an announcement
that so far the town has spent $20,035 fighting the lawsuit brought
by the Shandaken landowners Association, which claims the town unfairly
reassessed several properties last year. Peter Vinci, a leader of
the SLA, scoffed at the claim and said he was sure it was much more
In other money matters, Stanley complained that almost $8000 was taken
out of taxpayers’ pockets without their consent when the board
authorized spending to install flowers in the Phoenicia Business District.
This became a murky money matter as well when Cross and Stanley offered
different accounts of where the money came from.
Cross said $10,000 was added to the town’s recreation budget
for the Main Street beautification project, but Stanley recalls that
the money, actually $12,000, was added to pay for mowing the town’s
parks. Stanley also said the town allocated $10,000 specifically to
pay for Eagle Day costs. He wonders why that money was not used for
the flower plantings and maintenance.
“I don’t think the town should be in the decorating business,”
said Pine Hill resident Mary Herrmann.
Complaining that Phoenicia is reaping more tax benefit than the rest
of the town, Stanley tried to get support for a resolution to give
Pine Hill $2500 for winter lighting accents and décor to be
installed this ski season.
The board voted it down. It was suggested the matter be discussed
during the preparation of next year’s budget. Although it remains
unclear exactly when that will be, it appears his opportunity will
be at the October 2nd town board meeting.
According to the Ulster County Office of Real Property, the town of
Shandaken’s 2007 budget, the tentative version anyway, must
be filed with the town clerk’s office no later than September
30th. Then the Town Clerk must submit the tentative budget to the
town board (at a regular or special meeting) no later than October
“At this meeting the town board reviews the tentative budget
and makes any necessary changes revisions or alterations,” the
law reads. “Upon completion of this review the tentative budget
becomes the preliminary budget.”
The prelim must then be filed in the town clerks office who shall
reproduce for public distribution as many copies as the town board
The public hearing on the budget must be on the Thursday following
election, it can be adjourned day after day but not run past Nov.
15th. Final budget must be adopted by Nov. 20th.
The reprieve was reported
by Father Phillip Tran, a Vietnamese priest and former Navy chaplain,
who arrived to conduct a Friday mass with a letter from the archdiocese
announcing that he was to take over as “administrator”
of the parish, distinct from a “pastor”, which entails
a six-year appointment. He replaces Father Christopher Berean, who
was offered a posting at the prestigious St. Mary’s of the Snow
Parish in Saugerties when it looked like the Phoenicia parish was
going to be dissolved.
“I can’t blame him at all for taking it,” said Jane
Wolfrom, local elementary school teacher and a member of the committee
formed to try to convince the archdiocese to let the parish continue.
“It looked like we were going to be closed down. He had been
there previously, and it’s a much bigger parish. He’ll
have a lot of responsibilities there. We’ll miss him. He really
made you think, and he’s a wonderful speaker.”
Gene Gormley, head of the committee to save the parish, said the decision
is “better than we’d hoped for. At this point everything
we know is positive.”
The committee, according to Wolfrom, had proposed the compromise of
closing the parish’s two mission churches, Our Lady of Lourdes
in Allaben and Our Lady of La Sallette in Boiceville, while retaining
a full complement of daily services at the Phoenicia church. Under
the bishop’s plan, part of a general “realignment”
in progress throughout New York State, the Phoenicia church would
have been a mission church under Woodstock’s jurisdiction and
would have held a single weekly mass, conducted by Woodstock’s
Father George. So far, it appears that the Phoenicia parish will keep
its status and its own priest, and nothing has been said about closing
its mission churches.
Wolfrom credits Gormley for providing “the spark that got everyone
really motivated” to fight for the parish. The committee gathered
statistics on church attendance and met with representatives of the
archdiocese in Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County to pitch the importance
of the parish within the community.
“We fought so hard and threw ourselves at the mercy of the bishop,”
said Wolfrom. “It wasn’t well received, but we must have
reached someone. We’re thrilled we got it, but the lack of fanfare
is confusing. Father Tran was told about a month ago that he’d
be with Father George in Woodstock, and then a few days before arriving
here, he was told he would be in the Phoenicia parish.”
She sees the decision and its lukewarm announcement as “a wake-up
call not to take for granted something you think is special. We’d
better make the best of what we’ve got.” Suggestions under
consideration include fundraising to install an oil burner at the
Allaben church so it can stay open in winter, and possible changes
to the religious education program, which is currently oriented toward
entire families, not just children.
St. Francis de Sales Parish, the northern & westernmost outpost
of the New York metropolitan area’s 10-county, 2.5 million member
Catholic community, currently serves more than 260 local families
with between 500 and 600 registered parishioners. It is, geographically,
one of the Archdiocese’s largest parishes, encompassing roughly
500 square miles.
St. Francis de Sales has only been operated directly by the Archdiocese
of New York for three years. First established in 1902 by the LaSalette
Fathers, a modern missionary order now based in Hartford, CT, ownership
of the parish was transferred to the Archdiocese of New York in 2003.
That transfer took place against the backdrop of a private settlement
of a federally filed lawsuit against the order and one of its previous
resident priests for alleged improprieties.
Father Hector LaChapelle is currently serving in North Carolina.
St. Augustine’s Chapel in West Shokan will continue to stay
affiliated with St. John’s in Woodstock, as it has been for
the past three years.
Calls to the archdiocese for comment were not returned by press time.