the district’s budget was $51,960. In 2006 the budget will run
upwards of $151,000.
Also, the water district tax is on top of the usage fee that is based
on meter readings of individual properties, a charge that can run
at least $50 for the same type of residence.
Then there’sreports that members of the business community are
paying nearly $1,000 in water district taxes. George Blank, who owns
the Black Bear Campground on Bridge Street, said last week that if
this keeps up he may need to close down.
“My water tax bill was $1,100,” he said.
This news comes just as the Shandaken Town Board is poised to fully
commit to an $11 million wastewater project for the same hamlet. While
the construction of the project is being funded by the City of New
York, homeowners and businesses would also be required to pay annual
fees for the maintenance and operation of the system. Preliminary
figures show homeown-ers would pay $100 a year for the service, and
that’s on top of a hookup fee that’s been averaging $2500
a pop in other communities. And that annual fee will increase after
three years to keep up with inflation. And the town is also considering
charging an annual fee for a wastewater capitol improvement fund.
What this all means is property owners in this hamlet should expect
to pay much more for owning their lands, but just how much remains
uncertain. The town board is considering even more upgrades to the
drinking water system, and may need to borrow the money to accomplish
The reason for the new year’s water tax increase is that in
August the Shandaken Town Board met in special session to float a
$55,000 bond at 3.8 percent interest. Officials say the bond will
be paid off over a five-year period.
The money was needed to pay for work done on the $808,000 water filtration
system installed last year.
At the time project engineer Dennis Larios explained how the project
went over budget and said he knew there was going to be a shortfall.
That bond is only the beginning. Another $100,000 is needed to make
other improvements to the drinking water system, and officials fear
that may need to be bonded too. In August, Phoenicia Water Commissioner
Ric Ricciardella reminded Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. that another
$35,000 is needed for a new generator as well.
Ricciardella said it remains unclear whether the town board would
decide to borrow the $135,000 this year. He also said to expect other
“The cost for water treatment chemicals is going up,”
Officials admit that rising drinking water costs come at a bad time.
The town is trying to sell the plan for a waste treatment system to
same taxpayers. As previously explained, the sewer is an expensive
Last week several members of the Phoenicia business community came
to a meeting of the hamlet’s Wastewater Committee seeking answers
about the cost to build a sewer system.
For the most part the well-informed committee, with the help of its
well-paid attorney, provided the information to shed more light on
the project details. Committee chairman Charles Frasier clearly went
out of his way to deviate from the evening’s long agenda to
accommodate the unexpected crowd, often pausing to ask if anyone needed
further elaboration on any and all issues under discussion.
While the result of the session was a more informed audience, it wasn’t
a happier audience. Several business owners did not like what they
heard about the costs they would bear if they choose to hook up to
the system. As a result, it appears some may not. It also looks as
if some, like Susan Bernstein, are gearing up to push the matter to
a public referendum, which would mean a vote of property owners in
Phoenicia would determine whether to move forward with the project
or not. Such a vote would pertain to the creation of a Phoenicia sewer
district this coming April. The Shandaken Town Board is expected to
pass the law then, but should enough people in the community call
for the referendum within 30 days of that decision. the town would
be obligated to hand the decision off to the voters.
“If there’s no sewer district there’s no project,”
said Attorney Kevin Young.
Bernstein operates a streamside campground in the hamlet which includes
several cottages, and it will cost her thousands to hook those and
the dozens of trailer units into the system. Bernstein spoke for many
in the community when she wondered what the point of it all was.
“What are we going to get by spending all this money that we
don’t get now for free? ” she asked.
Young responded that businesses have the option of not hooking up
to the system, but homeowners would be required by law to do so provided
they were within a certain distance from any sewer main. Hookup fees
in other communities participating in the New York City program are
averaging $2500 per household.
Even if the sewer district is formed, Young said there would still
be an option of pulling the plug on the project should the community
not want it. At present the project engineers are designing the system
and hope to put the construction of it out to bid as soon as possible.
The City of New York has committed $11 million to build the system,
but Phoenicia won’t know if the system as designed can be done
for that amount for months. If bids come back with a higher price
tag it remains unclear what will happen. The committee hopes to have
bids back before the April decision on the sewer district, but admit
they may not have that crucial information in time.
Asked if the City of New York could be pressured into paying more
for the sewer system, Young said no one wants to try. He said that
the City’s filtration avoidance determination, forged in 1997,
is renewed every seven years, and that’s the time when such
matters are negotiated, but no regional entity such as Catskill Watershed
Corporation or the Coalition of Watershed Towns would try to get more
money for Phoenicia. He said they are more interested in getting additional
money from the City to fund similar sewer systems in other watershed
At its January 16 meeting in Margaretville, the written agenda
mentioned that the effects of the state legislature’s 2002 Large
Parcel law would be presented and a previous motion to have the Coalition
request an amendment removing reservoirs from the legislation, put
forward and taken back by board member Bruce LaMonda of Olive in December,
would be entertained a second time.
But when the presentation by Rick Coombe, a councilman from the Sullivan
County Town of Neversink that’s been hit by the legislation,
was questioned repeatedly by Shandaken Town Supervisor Bob Cross,
Jr., a new CWT boardmember, and several Woodstock officials and a
pair of Ulster County legislators, further consideration of LaMonda’s
motion was again tabled until the CWT could decide whether or not
such matters were in its purview.
A special meeting to hear from the Coalition’s attorney, Jeff
Baker, about the matter, and to decide among themselves whether such
matters fit CWT’s original charter mission statement, was set
for Monday, January 30… again in Margaretville. No public input
would be taken at such a time, the CWT board decided.
Coombe, son of former state Assemblyman Richard Coombe, whose hard-fought
battle for Charles Cook’s state senate seat in the early 1990s
led to Cook’s highlighting of changing New York City watershed
regulations as an issue of regional importance, pointed out how his
town’s taxes would rise over 100 percent in many cases because
of implementation of the Large Parcel act, which affected Olive similarly
when put into effect by the Onteora School District and Ulster County
He, like Olive superintendent Bert Leifeld and assistant super Bruce
LaMonda at a number of recent meetings, spoke about how the legislation
differed from the intent of its main sponsor, Senator William Larkin
of Orange County.
Cross and the Woodstock officials, which included town councilmen
Bill McKenna, Liz Simonson and Chris Collins, as well as former councilman
Gordon Wemp, raised questions about the length of time since Neversink
last completed a revaluation of its tax base… similar to the
length of time since Olive had done the same. Furthermore, they and
county legislators Don Gregorius and Brian Shapiro questioned the
fairness of what the towns had been paying, in county and/or school
taxes for decades.
Eventually, as audience members asked how the Coalition decided such
difficult issues that had the impact of pitting town interests against
each other, the question of constituency and representation came up.
How, it was asked, did the Coalition of Watershed Towns publicize
the issues it was considering? Were all decisions made solely by its
nine-member executive committee without input from its 40 plus member
Georgianne Lepke, a former Neversink supervisor and former CWT member
from its halcyon days fighting New York City over watershed regulations
in the mid-1990s, now on the Catskill Watershed Corporation that oversees
regulatory and funding programs shared between upstate communities
and the City, said that she had brought the Large Parcel issue to
the Coalition on the suggestion of Larkin and Senator John Bonacic.
She noted that were the CWT not to take up the issue on behalf of
its member towns, they would need to clarify their role as a regional
entity with impact to state officials.
Gregorius countered by saying that the taking up of divisive issues
would diminish what power the CWT might still have fighting the City
on more important issues it was set up to deal with.
“By entering an opinion on this matter, the Board is starting
down the proverbial slippery slope. First, the Board is taking a position
outside its ‘charge’ that affects its members. How many
other ‘positions’ will you be asked to take, and how do
you determine when to say yes or no,” he read from a prepared
statement. “Any position on this matter will have the unintended
consequence of fueling the fires of discontent between the Towns involved…
You are encouraging the weakening of the Coalition. While I would
not want to speak for any town, it is reasonable to at least consider
what actions a Town, that is negatively affected, might take. Is it
to their advantage to stay in the Coalition? Or not? That is a question
you need to consider. Then, what will happen after the next ‘position’
Coalition President Pat Meehan, Windham Town Supervisor, seemed to
agree with Gregorius’ stand and said the issue was one itsconstituency
should consider. But later, the board voted to consider the matter
itself, with Baker’s assistance.
Baker noted, at one point, that the only time the Coalition had actually
taken any issue out to its constituent members for input was when
the Memorandum of Agreement between it and New York City was proposed,
and then ratified, during the winter of 1997/1998.
Cross put forth a second motion, after it was decided that the January
30 special meeting was set up to look into whether the Coalition would
take on the Large Parcel issue, that only that issue could be discussed
at the coming meeting. He said that if and when further discussion
of the matter was to come up, he and others should be allowed the
chance to make a presentation in favor of the legislation, charting
its effects on establishing greater equity.
After the meeting Leifeld, who has been pushing for having the laws
changed so his town can never get hit with such tax hikes again, said
as far as he was concerned, Meehan and the Coalition, “were
more concerned with what the press would say about them than the issue
After a pause, though, he added that he was pleased with what he’s
seen and heard.
“It’s a start,” he said.
Budget Season Starts
Under the NCLB, schools
are now required to release a yearly report card showing standardized
tests results in grade eight and grade four in English Language Arts,
Math, Science and Social Studies. According to the New York State
Education Department, schools receiving Title 1 funds “that
did not make adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years in
the same subject and grade are designated as School In Need of Improvement.”
Schools are required to offer improvement plans, public school choice
and, if adequate yearly progress is not met, corrective actions or
restructuring by the State could be implemented.
Statewide elementary math jumped from a 67 percent passing grade in
1999, to over 85 percent in 2005. A passing grade is achieved by scoring
level three and four on standardized tests.
Woodstock, Phoeneica and Bennett Elementary schools have a history
of scoring well on fourth grade Math exams, while ELA scores have
a history of meeting State standards except last year when Phoenecia
dropped slightly below standards.
Sella implemented new programs to get help for children in need of
improving and credits such action with this year’s gains, which
she expects will ocntinue for the current year.
Standards have been monitored since 1999 and Onteora Middle School
have met ELA benchmarks with the exception of 2005. Math scores at
the Middle School have a history of falling below the standards.
Assistant District Superintendent in charge of Educatrion Deborah
Fox said recently that a three year plan to improve scores in ELA,
Math, performance of study, and achievement by students with disabilities,
has recently been set in place via recommendations including staff
development on new curriculum, special education, communication with
the community, getting more help for students and updating out of
“We have a team of teachers from grade five to eight through
the year taking specific staff development in Math and ELA,”
said Fox. She also mentioned the importance of “aligning the
curriculum with special education and modifying it.”
Sella has noted that much was gained after the district, and Phoenicia
in particular, started using texts from Mcgraw Hill, the Texas-based
company who also write the tests.
For more information on the Onteora district school report card or
the CDEP go to www/onteora.k12.ny.us and click on Comprehensive District
Meanwhile, the Onteora School Board has begun discussing its 2006-2007
The rising cost of energy was responsible for a large custodial budget
increase of nearly 17 percent, as reported by Business Administrator
Victoria McLaren at the January 10 school board meeting at Bennett
McLaren noted that the budget increase would not be nearly as high
if it were not for rising oil and electricity costs.
Currently the district purchases their fuel by State contract, where
McLaren believes the district receives the best price, but she is
looking into alternative options. The fuel increase discussed to date
is for district buildings only and not a part of the transportation
fuel cost for busses. Fuel for transportation will be included in
the transportation budget report.
McLaren gave a report on the district’s vehicle inventory and
said most vehicles are in fair condition with one in need of replacement.
A 1989 GMC truck used for hauling equipment and plowing is listed
in poor condition and a request was made for $50,000 to purchase a
new truck. Trustee Rita Vanacore asked why there is a need to purchase
a four-ton truck and questioned the old truck’s condition. Facilities
manager Jim O’Neal explained that the district vehicles sit
outside causing their condition to deteriorate quicker than if they
sat in a garage.
The custodial department requested replacements of old and aging equipment
such as buffing machines, vacuums and drain cleaners at a total of
$15,800, but there is no overall increase in the equipment budget.
Maintenance asked for a .85 percent increase compared to the budget
McLaren said, “A combined increase between the two (departments)
is an 11.86 percent increase, but if you removed fuel and electricity,
it is really a 2.81 percent increase, which is really commendable,
if only the economy would work with us.”
School board president Dave Patterson asked McLaren about the unsightly
wall behind the high school stage. He said, “the stage situation
where we have not contracted to block the rigging and as much as I
enjoyed the concert last week, my eyes kept getting pulled away to
that ugly wall behind the kids, is that something in another presentation
or are we going to consider that?” McLaren said part of the
rigging was taken down for safety reasons when repairs were made to
the stage and the wall was left exposed. Blocking what was left was
not considered yet because the cost would be in excess of $100,000
and required a capital project. Patterson requested information on
how to approach this.
Budget information will be posted on the school website after the
presentations are made, at-www.onteora.k12.ny.us.
In other non-budget business January 10, Physical Education teacher
and coach Patrick Burkhardt gave a presentation on the girls and boys
High school cross-country team of 2005. The boys came in fifth place
in the New York State championship of 2005 meet at Queensbury High
School in Lake George, NY. They are also champions of their section
nine league and Mid Hudson Athletic League (MHAL). This is their first
MHAL championship since 1978 and second consecutive State championships
at Lake George.
Competition for the girls MHAL gave them sixth place and they qualified
for section nine league. They were also awarded the New York State
All Academic Team, a State recognition award given for high academic
and athletic achievement combined.