According to Di Modica, the budget figures he was all set
to present Monday night were put in circulation among town board members
over the last week after departmental "wish list" budgets
came in the last two weeks of September. Since he has not had an opportunity
to present his budget formally yet, he said this week that he could
not present any final figures yet. But he was willing to talk about
the general parameters of what town taxpayers can expect for the coming
According to state law, tax bills have to go out the first of January.
The state Association of Towns recommends that all budgets be finalized
by November 20th. Sue Tillson, Deputy Director of the Ulster County
Real Property Office, which handles all tax bills, said this week
that they are suggesting a November 5th deadline for getting budgets
in, but jokingly added that they set such a date, "only because
we're selfish and greedy and want to get all our work done before
Tillson added that most towns like to hold their main budget hearings
after Election Day, with a majority of local municipalities holding
such meetings on the Wednesday following voting. "We try to keep
a lot of leeway in the process," she said, explaining the complexities
of modern budgeting. "We just have to make sure everyone realizes
that we lock in local assessors to equalization rates by December
Di Modica said this week that the biggest elements he's been wrestling
with in the Shandaken budget have been major hikes in state retirement
needs and insurance costs. The former, handled by the state Comptroller
through stock market funds, took a major hit last year from Wall Street
fluctuations, compounded by the fact that the state didn't release
any information on what was going on until after it's own tumultuous
budget season drew to an end last summer.
According to Di Modica, retirement fund costs for the town were $17,000
last year, and represented only approximately one percent of the town's
payroll for 2003. But actual figures jumped to approximately $55,000,
or 4 ∏ percent, by the time the state released its budget figures,
with an expected jump to between $135,000 to $150,000 for the town
next year. He said things were now expected to stay up in such a range
for the next three to five years, depending on the current strengths
and weaknesses of the economy.
Di Modica said that Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber alerted him
early in the year to the disastrous hikes in state insurance fund
needs to be met by local municipalities. County state retirement payments
are more than doubling for the coming year, and Woodstock's payments
are expected to rise eight-fold. The supervisor added that he began
telling department heads, and town board members, about the need to
counter such hikes by holding down budgets, and even trimming them,
"We did not grant many wishes for the coming year," Di Modica
The supervisor added that insurance costs are also going up: at about
12 percent for MVP clients, which includes most town employees, and
14 percent for those still with GHI-HMO. Liability insurance has gone
up an unexpected 9 percent this year with similar, if not larger,
hikes expected next year.
As for much-talked about legal fees, Di Modica noted that the town
had budgeted $35,000 for the current year and was currently at about
$20,302, although further vouchers are expected to come in. He said
last year's expenses were $35,368 and he was going to ask for a line
item drop to $30,000 for legal costs in the new budget.
As for how all of this will likely effect taxes, Di Modica noted that
most departments were reporting surpluses of one sort or another for
the current year, helping to offset the rising insurance and retirement
cuts hitting municipalities across the state and nation. Nevertheless,
he felt a hike of between seven and eight percent in the amount to
be raised through taxes would still occur - partly because he felt
the town could no longer afford to chip away at its unappropriated
fund balance, which was allowed to dip below $100,000 in the last
"The only preliminaries we've gotten in so far have been from
the towns of Kingston and Saugerties," noted Tillson of the current
budgeting season. And those are expected to change.
Democrats replied by holding an art auction that raised nearly $4,000
in funds and noting that the anger and partisanship was largely the
result of GOP agitation after losing power in 2001, based around a
series of public hearings on always-contentious planning processes
that actually responded to the public's fears and complaints.
Last week, the Ulster County Townsman ran an editorial questioning
an upcoming candidates' debate being sponsored by the Shandaken Women's
Network and moderated by the League of Women Voters. The piece implied
that a previous format involving press questions, used for years in
the nation's Congressional and Presidential election process, was
fixed, despite presence from all the region's newspapers. The editorial
further questioned the League of Women Voters' involvement in the
"We're definitely on for the 19th," said the League's scheduler,
Karen Goertzel of West Hurley this week, reiterating that it was she
that had requested one instead of two debates, based on scheduling
needs for the entire region. She added that Cindy Bell will be serving
as the League's moderator and timekeeper, ensuring a fair event involving
monitored questions from the public, including the press.
As for the Townsman‚s accusations against the League, Goertzel
said she "Chose not to read it."
Finally, on Monday, October 6, Patricia Ellison, a member of the town's
Democratic Committee, filed inquiries with both the Ulster County
and New York State Board of Elections concerning the Big Indian-based
group Citizens for Progress. According to Ellison's letter the
group "appears to be a Political Action Committee" whose
ads on behalf of Republican candidates may constitute a violation
of New York State campaign finance laws.
Under state law, groups that raise or spend over $1,000 on behalf
of candidates for elective office are required to register as Political
Action Committees and file financial disclosure statements. The state
defines a PAC as "any political committee that supports candidates
or other political committees by making contributions to them",
and defines a Political Committee as "any combination of one
or more persons that aids or promotes the success or defeat of any
ballot proposal, or any candidate for election or nomination to public
office or party position"
Based on published rates from three newspapers including The Phoenicia
Times in which the group's ads have appears, the filing threshold
appears to have been met. But according to Lee Daghlian, Director
of Public Information for the state Board of Elections he has "no
filings and no PAC registration for Citizens for Progress"
Ulster County's Board of Elections, with whom the group would also
have been required to file, similarly has no records from the group.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 4.
Marketing The Catskills
Among local officials on hand at Belleayre last Friday were Zoning
Board members Kathy Nolan and Glenn Miller. Among private citizens
on hand were candidates Bob Cross and Joe Munster and local developer
Dean Gitter, who spent the afternoon at the crowded "Community
The highlight of the "Tools for the Future" session, which
included updates on the setting up of a "First-Stop Shop"
referral system for businesses seeking help, an update on progress
towards new Workforce Development training programs at SUNY-Delhi,
and a look at the region‚s top infrastructure and technology
needs, was a presentation on "Regional Branding/Marketing"
by former journalist and current public relations specialist Reginald
Oberlag, who presented elements from a new report calling for, among
other things, the creation of a non-political, non-governmental agency
to promote the Catskills on a non-touristic, product and services-oriented
"In order to create prosperity while preserving our quality of
life, we propose the creation of the Catalyst Catskills, not just
a business incubator, but a blast furnace of creative thinking and
program implementation for a successful Catskills region," Oberlag
said in his speech before an attentive audience. „This is what
we want to do: accelerate the rate of prosperity without changing
the things we love about the Catskills: it‚s beautiful landscapes,
its small town charm, the peace and tranquility and neighborly caring.
Further defining the plan he put together with Joan Lawrence-Bauer
of the Business Development Group, Maggie Inge of Avalon Training
and Amy Kenyon of the Watershed Ag Council, Oberlag noted the need
for something not geared just towards tourism, but working with the
second home market that is „probably creating half of the revenue
characterized as tourism, as well as the creation and promotion of
local products and services in ways similar to Vermont.
"We need to create a coherent image for the region∑ in
other words, a Regional Branding effort that will convey a strong,
emotional; and intellectual message that tells the magic of the Catskills",
he continued, outlining the new plan being simultaneously presented
to the larger Business Roundtable for approval in the coming weeks
In that plan, Oberlag and his fellow marketers are asking for the
creation of a Catalyst Catskills organization to "implement the
marketing plan and prioritize projects." This would include paid
staff geared towards brokering relationships between local businesses,
developing marketing programs and the creation of a business seat
on the influential CWC board.
The goals the oft-mentioned plan refer to include: An increase in
the media household income, an increase in the number of businesses
based in the region, an increase in sales tax revenue and an increase
in the number of jobs available in the region.
Furthermore, it suggests that, "Prior to planning or implementing
any promotion of the region, the group will determine with elected
officials and business leaders exactly what businesses and jobs will
be welcomed and fostered in the region, where they will be located
and what the rationale for their success will be."
Furthermore, the new report acknowledges the significant sense of
growth and visibility given the Catskills since the 9/11 tragedy and
sees it as a means to creating sustainable growth and development
for the long term.
"The threats to our success come from within," the report
notes, after positing that a time of opportunity might be passing.
"Though it is traditional to blame outside forces for our lack
of progress and success, the fact is that our inability to cooperate
with each other within the region has done more to stymie economic
development than any outsider would ever consider doing."
A full marketing plan is then outlined, albeit in large strokes, pending
approvals and refinement of mission.
Among other key elements cited in the report were the need for increased
eco-tourism opportunities in the region, following the statement that
„much of the necessary tourism infrastructure is already in
Most audience members seemed enthused by the presentation after Oberlag‚s
talk, although some, including Gitter, grumbled that similar efforts
have been talked about throughout the last decade.
remembers growing up in a different Catskills: one that saw most of
his schoolmates coming off working dairy farms, and Friday nights
made special by a shopping trip to town. He says that he long emulated
his father‚s job as a state forest ranger, a yearning that cemented
a still-existent love of nature deep within. But he also says that
his years working with the Margaretville A&P, as well as the larger
A&P Corporation, as well as years running his own electronics
business, gave him a real sense of what fears and hopes rule local
lives. Plus a decent background in bookkeeping and accounting, skills
he‚s found necessary in running the CWC.
According to its website, the CWC "is a not-for-profit corporation
with a dual goal: to protect the water resources of the New York City
Watershed west of the Hudson River, while preserving and strengthening
communities located in the region." Under the 1997 New York City
Watershed Memorandum of Agreement, for which Rosa served as a key
negotiator, it is in charge of running 14 city-funded environmental
protection and economic development programs in the watershed west
of the Hudson River, all implemented during Rosa‚s years with
the organization and including the Catskill Fund for the Future (CFF),
which gives out loans and grants to businesses and organizations;
a half million dollar Economic Development Study completed several
years ago; $32 million in Stormwater Controls for New Construction;
and $8 million Stormwater Retrofit Program; over $14 million in local
Septic System Rehabilitation and Replacement for residences; a $3
million Alternate Design Septic Program; over $10 million for construction
of storage facilities for road de-icing materials for municipalities;
$1 million for grants to schools and organizations; and another $1
million for a Regional Watershed Museum originally skedded for building
in Shandaken and later shifted to Middletown; and $3 million in Tax
Consulting. Assistance to municipalities to review and administer
New York City property assessments and taxes. These programs have
been augmented with nearly $30 million in new funds for further septic
replacements and municipal sewer systems, among other projects.
Rosa says he‚s proud of what the CWC has accomplished, but looks
forward to further work ensuring greater cooperation between local
towns, agencies and people in general.
"I like public service," he says. "I like trying to
He says a lot of what he does involves close listening, and the empathetic
act of trying to understand issues from various sides. This means
he's had to understand slow movement with regional issues because
of the needs of consensus building. He says one of the things that‚s
surprised him as much as anything in his public life of the last 13
years has been the way it‚s allowed him to "grow himself"
in regards to issues.
When talking about future challenges, Rosa addresses questions about
bringing more business to the Catskills. He says that‚s what
he hears most about, although he has found substantial growth despite
complaints, largely a growth built on the region‚s second home
boom, as well as the number of second homers now moving to the region
full time. Yes, he says, tourism can augment that. But things have
to be inched forward carefully, given the delicate nature of the issues,
and concerns, that face both the Catskills and the CWC's protection
of the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement between New York City and regional
towns and counties regarding the maintenance of a careful balance
between environmental safeguards and developmental progress.
Locally, within Shandaken borders, Rosa feels long-term thought is
needed to reach agreement about the need for a sewer plant for Phoenicia.
"You can't let today's pocket book speak for tomorrow‚s
opportunities," he says.
He also sides with "the process" regarding the Crossroads
Ventures development being planned for the Highmount and Big Indian
areas. At least at this early stage in the game.
"Ultimately," Rosa says, "the decisions will lay with
the Town of Shandaken, which will be handled through the electoral
process. People just have to remember not to throw too many stones."
He continued with a comment, and a subtle chuckle, about the old adage
of there being "two stones for every dirt" throughout the
In the end, though, he says from his perspective, the region seems
to be in good shape, and doing better than it ever has.
"I've always loved Phoenicia, where I used to have lots of relatives
growing up," Rosa says. "You know, when I stop to think
about things, that town really hasn't changed much at all over the
years. It never had the farms to lose and was always a lot like it
is now. It‚s nice to see a place like Shandaken stay the same."