The ambitious, $20 million water museum project known
now as the Catskill Water Discovery Center received a
local boost for its needed $32,000 economic feasibility
study, said Marty Gailes, the Secretary of the projects
board of Directors, thanks to local support covering that
amount in response to a mailing the Board of Directors
sent out in February. Gailes refused to comment as to
whether Shandaken Developer Dean Gitter, who first came
up with the idea for a watershed museum ten years ago,
was a contributor. She did say the Board has asked for
funding from the Crossroads Foundation, which is the charitable
arm of Gitter’s company, Crossroads Ventures, LLC.,
but they have not heard back yet.
The project is slated for 44 acres of land in Arkville.
Based on Gitter’s idea, it started as a New York
City watershed museum funded by one million dollars of
New York City Money under the 1997 memorandum of agreement,
but most of that money was lost after organizers failed
to build the project within the agreed time frame. In
2004 it was announced that $5 million was needed to really
do the job right and a major fund raising campaign was
launched. But when funding proved elusive. it was decided
by Board president Gary Gailes that funding would flow
more freely if the plans were expanded... and the budget
The Catskill Water Discovery Center is now envisioned
as 20,000 square feet of exhibit and classroom space,
plus a sculpture garden, amphitheater, restaurant, and
a network of nature trails.
The public can view a model of the project and hear more
about projects details on Saturday, April 1st at 4pm in
the Middletown Town Hall on Route 28 between Arkville
and Margaretville, at 4 pm on April 7th at Hurwitz Architecture,
1360 Rt.28 in West Hurley and again on April 8th at 4
pm in Shandaken Town Hall.
Last November 2, Emerson Place and its engineer met with
DEP and the county Health Department to discuss proposed
construction, now one-story or so high, at the company's
Mt. Tremper complex. Based on what was agreed upon, DEP
noted in a Feb 21 follow up letter that a formal proposal
"should be submitted to this office prior to the
start of construction to ensure compliance," along
with "review and approval of sewer revisions and
The letter, signed by DEP engineer Deborah DeGraw, also
notes that "no plans have been submitted to the department
for review. Furthermore, it appears that the disturbance
on-site may be greater than expected. Disturbance of one
or more acres requires that a Notice of Intent be filed
with the NYSDEC and Stormwater Plan prepared."
A March 27 check with the agency indicated no plans had
yet been submitted.
"They're not in violation at this time," said
DEP spokesman Ian Michaels, who explained that wouldn't
happen until a toilet's actually flushed on the new construction
site. "But there is an outstanding request for the
Shandaken code enforcement officer Glenn Miller is getting
heavy with the town wide metal pick up sponsored by a
local chamber of commerce.
The pick up, which is actually a drop off, is sponsored
by the Heart of the Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Working
from Chamber president Frank Nazzaro’s property,
the Chamber has for the past six months maintained a large
dumpster and makes it known that anyone can bring metal
objects to the property, drop it in the dumpster and it
will be carted away.
However, Miller believes this turns Nazzaro’s property
into a junkyard. He said he never spoke directly to Nazzaro
about the problem on his property, but he takes issue
with the program going on for so long. Each time the dumpster
gets filled up it returns empty for more collection. Fed
up, Miller said he called the company supplying the dumpsters
and informed the company that Nazzaro had no permission
for the operation. The dumpsters then stopped coming.
Nazzaro, otherwise known as Farmer Frank, the operator
of Opus 42 on the same property, told reporters he has
now contacted an attorney about the matter.
For several years the Shandaken Highway department offered
a free-of-charge annual metal pick up throughout town
but dropped the program two years ago. The program was
very different than the one the Chamber operates. One
week a year, usually in July, the town’s highway
department dispatched dump trucks and backhoes throughout
town to pick up unwanted refrigerators, stoves, washing
machines and other metal objects. The program was halted
when former highway superintendent Dick Merwin decided
he could no longer spare the manpower for the job. That
same year the chamber of commerce was formed, and the
organizers picked up the responsibility of the metal pick
up. In addition, volunteers with the 18 member Chamber
have collected metal from local seniors who have no other
way to get the junk off their property.
A mission statement states the Chamber promotes and provides
services essential and beneficial to a healthy and profitable
In related news, Miller added that the town is going back
into the metal removal business, though not in the way
it used to be. Now a large container will be located at
the town’s recycling center directly behind town
hall along Route 28 in Allaben. At no cost, residents
can drop metal objects off there.
“There’s no need for the Chamber’s metal
program anymore,” Miller said.
The container has not been put in place yet. Call the
Town Supervisors office at (845) 688-7165 for details.
In order to install a new high speed, detachable quad
in time for the 2006-’07 winter season and to complete
necessary maintenance and repairs, Belleayre Mountain
has announced that it will be changing its lift service
through the remainder of its current season, which lasts
until April 16. April 2, 2006 marks the final day of operation
for Belleayre Mountain’s Superchief chairlift as
preparation for the installation of a new high speed quad
begins. The new lift will reduce the ride to the summit
from 13 to five minutes. The Tomahawk Lift will be the
only lift servicing the upper mountain for the remainder
of this season as Lift Seven has been closed for maintenance
Belleayre will also be holding a Saturday, April 1 Spring
Fling Party where the deck of the Overlook Lodge will
feature music from the Zydeco Pilots, the final concert
of the WDST 100.1 Apres Ski Concert Series, a continuous
game of snow volleyball, a Frozen T-shirt contest, Brief
Exchange, a sand box for the kids and a Snow Bar for the
It has also been announced that multi-platinum Custard/Atlantic
artist James Blunt, whose single “You’re Beautiful”
has rocketed to the top of the charts in the U.S. as well
as his native England, will perform a May 28 benefit concert
at (and for) the Belleayre Music Festival via the aid
of Phoenicia native Mary Gormley. Other highlights for
the coming summer include concert appearances by Franki
Valli and the Four Seasons, a Beatlemania performance
with orchestra, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marta Topferova,
a New Orleans tribute with Beausoleil and the Dirty Dozen
Brass Band, The Prodigals, Roseanne Cash, Larry Gatlin
and the Gatlin Brothers, opera performances of Puccini’s
Tosca and The Frog Prince, Branford Marsalis, the Kenny
Garrett and Nicholas Payton quartets, Alvin Ailey Dance
Theater, the urban hip hop spectacular, “Break,”
and Isaac “Chef” Hayes.
The Ulster County Legislature exed out three jobs from
two departments recently, giving the county a net savings
of $53,000, with more expected through a new management
program that added a pair of paralegal positions to oversee
future government contracts. It’s all part of the
new Democratic majority’s struggle to deal with
a $300.25 million budget, voted in by their Republican
predecessors, that led the state with a 39 percent increase
in the tax levy and which will, they were recently told,
force a budget deficit of $1.15 million if spending or
revenue adjustments aren’t made.
The legislature has since requested a five percent cut
from all departments and cut funding for 16 nonprofit
agencies by nearly 60 percent and eliminated aid altogether
for another 17 agencies.
The only restoration they made, after considerable lobbying,
was $30,000 in contingent match funds to the Ulster County
School-to-Work Partnership, which had seen its $60,000
Also eliminated by the Legislature was $3,000 for the
Shandaken Theatrical Society; $2,000 for the Trolley Museum
of New York; and $500 each for Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen,
Catskill Ballet Theatre Co., Historical Society of Woodstock,
the Kingston Rep Co., the Truth Project, D&H Canal
Historical Society, Unison Art & Learning Center,
Friends of Historic Kingston, Historical Society of Shawangunk
& Gardiner, Ulster Ballet Guild, and Huguenot Historical
Society of New Paltz. With the School-to-Work program,
the cuts total $70,500.
Agencies that maintained some funding were: Ulster County
Library Association, $100,000, a 50 percent reduction;
Ulster Performing Arts Center, $2,500, a decrease of $9,500,
or 79.17 percent; Ulster County Community Action, $15,000,
a decrease of $5,000, or 25 percent; Hudson River Maritime
Museum, $1,000, a decrease of $5,000, or 83.33 percent;
Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of Ulster County, $2,500,
a decrease of $4,500, or 64.29 percent; Mohonk Preserve,
$1,000, a decrease of $3,500, or 77.78 percent; Resource
Center for Accessible Living, $2,000, a decrease of $3,000,
or 60 percent; Retired Senior Volunteer Program, $7,500,
a reduction of $2,500, or 25 percent; Court Appointed
Special Advocates, $18,000, a reduction of $2,000, or
10 percent; Shadowland Theatre, $1,500, a decrease of
50 percent; Ulster Literacy Association, $1,000, a decrease
of 50 percent; Ulster County Arts Council and Ulster Arts
Alliance, $500, a 50 percent reduction; Woodstock Film
Festival, $250, a 50 percent reduction; Center for Photography
at Woodstock, Ulster County Historical Society, and Women’s
Studio Workshop, $250 each, a 50 percent reduction. County
officials did not include on the cut list a $3,000 funding
item for the Ulster County Agricultural Society, which
represents a 50 percent cut. Officials said negotiations
are ongoing with the agency, which organizes the Ulster
Ulster County lawmakers have approved funding the county
half of $6.21 million in upgrades at Ulster County Community
College under the first phase of a six-year plan that
will see some non-emergency improvements delayed to 2007.
A longer schedule was set in an effort to keep in step
with budget deficit reduction steps being taken by other
Dean Gitter’s controversial pro-development sign
in Mount Tremper was quietly removed in early March amidst
growing community resentment over its presence. The sign
on a truck trailer touting the benefits of the proposed
Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park was under review by
the town of Shandaken code enforcement officer and the
state Department of Environmental Conservation, which
regulates signs within the Catskill Park, at the time
of its removal. Gitter offered no explanation for the
sign's removal after previously insisting the sign was
legally only a truck trailer and therefore not subject
to sign laws and would remain where it was "for the
That contention was made prior to published reports of
town Code Enforcement Officer Glenn Miller's letter to
Gitter advising the developer that his office views the
sign as a sign, not a vehicle, and that it was too large
to comply with town law. Miller did not issue a notice
of violation on the sign, saying that he was waiting to
see what Gitter was going to do after speaking with an
The Jail (Again)
The primary contractor on the Ulster County Law Enforcement
Center project, David Christa Construction, has submitted
a bill that is nearly $8 million more than county officials
anticipated, potentially pushing the overall cost of the
project above $92 million. Legislators have said they
will fully investigate the claim before paying…
a new practice unlike that seen in the past, when the
project started its slip into two years and $12 million
beyond expectations, before the latest charges.
The county has said the county balance owed to David Christa
Construction is $1.45 million.
Meanwhile, Sheriff J. Richard Bockelmann has said he needs
eight new hires and three months of staff training before
he can show state officials the county’s nearly
completed Law Enforcement Center is ready to operate properly
with his department meeting state Commission of Correction
standards. The Republican official has also come under
fire of late for the lavishness of his new offices.
Bovis Lend Lease, one of the nation’s top contracting
firms, was let go by the legislature earlier this year
after having been paid $3.5 million since being hired
in 2000. Legal actions are currently expected.
State Commission of Correction officials have provided
Ulster County legislators with a list of problems that
need to be addressed before the county’s new jail
is allowed to house inmates, including texture problems
on kitchen flooring, the need for outdoor exercise screens,
various equipment needs, and the employment problems referenced
by the sheriff.
Lawyers for Christa Construction, it later turned out,
have agreed to negotiate their payment request if the
legislature holds off placement of blame for problems
to date… at least for now.
Many lawsuits and investigations involving the project
are currently expected.
At the Tuesday, March 7, Olive town board meeting, Ulster
County Charter Commission member Marianne Collins presented
the commission’s recommendations for renovation
of the county government. Reading from a four-and-a-half-page
summary, Collins offered few embellishments and concluded
by offering to answer questions. When none came, she cited
the most commonly asked question, whether the changes
would cost taxpayers more money, and answered, in summary,
After fifteen months of work, the charter commission has
issued its endorsements and is now presenting them to
town boards and interested members of the public. Among
the recommendations are the reduction in size of the legislature
from 33 to 23 legislators, as already approved by public
referendum. The commission endorsed single-member districting,
plurality winner, and partisan election. Suggestions for
governing redistricting every ten years, following census-taking,
include establishment of an independent, nonpartisan,
seven-member commission on reapportionment.
The charter commission unanimously voted to endorse election
of a county executive with a four-year term of office
and no limit on the number of terms a person may serve.
Although hiring of a non-elected executive was considered,
Collins said the decision was based on testimony from
citizens and government officials, who stated that “in
every single case, elected executives are more effective
at interacting with other layers of government, and they
have clear accountability.”
Other recommendations include listing of separate powers
and duties for the legislative and executive branches
of county government, as well as definition of roles of
certain boards, department heads, committees, and the
Ulster County Development Corporation.
Regarding the cost of the revised structure, Collins pointed
out that the current county tax increase of 39.1 percent
is twelve times higher than the mean increase statewide
of 3.3 percent. Per capita spending in charter counties
is currently only slightly higher than in non-charter
counties, $124 per capita as opposed to $119 per capita,
while Ulster’s rate exceeds both of these figures.
“We reviewed a great deal of data,” said Collins,
“and there is no empirical evidence to imply that
our costs will increase.”
To view the charter, visit www.ulstercountyny.gov/charter.html.
Plan D Deadline
Seniors need another six months to sign up for the Medicare
prescription drug benefit, Congressional Democrats, including
our own Maurice Hinchey, have started saying in light
of the upcoming May 15 cutoff deadline for the Medicare
Plan D Prescription Drug benefit that President Bushg
has steadfastly refused to consider extenbding. They are
saying that people eligible for the prescription benefit
are confused by the various offerings, and some are even
paying more for medicine now than they were before they
joined the program. A re-think of the entire program is
Those who sign up for the new program after May 15 will
have to pay higher premiums, according to the plan up
and running since January..
Seniors complain they’re confused by the myriad
of private options offered in the prescription drug program.
Many poor people ran into problems when they were switched
over from their drug benefits within Medicaid, the health
insurance program for the poor, to the Medicare drug benefit.
And many pharmacists are struggling because they haven’t
been paid for drugs administered by the program.
Hinchey is introducing a pair of bills to ameliorate some
of the immediate problems faced by senior citizens enrolled
in the Medicare Part D drug plan. The Congressman has
co-sponsored the proposed Medicare Emergency Drug Intervention
Compensation Act that would guarantee that states would
be reimbursed for their outlays for the program.
Hinchey has also co-sponsored The Medicare Informed Choice
Act that would allow seniors to sign up for Medicare Part
D without paying a late fee. The bill would also allow
beneficiaries to make a one-time change in enrollment
if they are dissatisfied with the plan they have selected.
The fundamental problem with the Medicare Part D program,
said Hinchey, is the fact that it was designed as a benefit
for insurance and drug companies. The law was passed without
the usual public hearings, testimony by experts and extensive
debate, he asserted. Rather, said Hinchey, it was essentially
drafted by the pharmaceutical industry, with the better
part of the approximately $1.2 trillion estimated cost
of the program over the next 10 years going mainly to
The plan passed narrowly after an unusual three-hour delay
during voting. During that time, reluctant Republican
representatives “were bribed and threatened to make
them vote for it,” Hinchey asserted.
The long-term solution, said Hinchey, is to scrap this
privatized plan and allow seniors to register for a plan
administered by the federal Medicare program. This should
offer a low annual payment, low co-payments and should
cover all drugs. The congressman has cosponsored the Medicare
Prescription Drug Savings Act, which would allow every
senior citizen to choose a Medicare-sponsored plan with
a monthly premium of $35, low out-of-pocket expenses and
no gap in coverage. The bill also requires CMS to negotiate
with the companies for discounts.
Hinchey is not hopeful that any of these bills would be
passed. Until a different Congress is elected, the law
will remain on the books as is.
The Veterinary Technology Club at Ulster County Community
College will hold a rabies clinic and wellness fair for
dogs and cats on the college’s Stone Ridge campus
on Sunday, April 9, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Rabies
shots will be provided at a cost of $5 per animal. Animals
must be restrained by a leash or carrier. In the event
of rain, the clinic will be held April 23. Advance registration
is not required. For information phone (845) 687-5233.
Members have been appointed to a new committee formed
by Shandaken town Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. to administer
a large fund created by Crossroads Ventures.
Shandaken town Councilwoman Jane Todd, M-ARK Executive
Director Joan Lawrence-Bauer, and Phoenicia resident Patricia
Ellison have been appointed to the committee.
Crossroad Ventures, which proposes to build the Belleayre
Resort at Catskill Park, straddling Ulster and Delaware
counties, created a charitable trust called the Crossroads
Foundation shortly after unveiling the project in 1999.
The foundation supports community cultural, health, environmental,
and youth recreation and education programs in the towns
of Middletown and Shandaken. The investors in Crossroads
Ventures have committed one third of their equity in the
Belleayre Resort Project to the foundation.
Cross noted that Todd is also the executive director of
the Shandaken Area Revitalization Project, known as SHARP,
which has a mission similar to that of M-ARK, which is
a non-profit rural preservation company serving Middletown
and other Delaware County communities. Lawrence-Bauer
is currently the chairwoman of the Board of Directors
for the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce. Ellison is
the chairwoman of the Shandaken Democratic Party.
The developers say if the project is actually built, distributions
from the foundation to the people of Shandaken and Middletown
could have a value in excess of $15 million.
Over $220,000 in initial funding was deposited into the
foundation's account. Five local organizations immediately
received major donations including: Margaretville Memorial
Hospital, $25,000; Belleayre Conservatory, $20,000; Catskill
Watershed Museum, $20,000; Skene Memorial Library, $10,000;
and the Neil Grant Foundation, $10,000. Additionally,
commitments of $50,000 each were made to the people of
the town of Middletown and the town of Shandaken.
Last year Crossroads’ managing partner Dean Gitter
announced that he had asked the leaders of local government
to assemble a small committee to handle the task of screening
grant requests and make decisions as to how the foundation's
funds are spent.
New York City Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff announced plans
recently to include flood prevention measures in the reconstruction
of the Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County, adding that he
hoped the measure would send a message to upstate communities
that the city is “trying to do better.”
“New York City is committed to providing that relief
to the residents downstream,” he said. “On
behalf of myself and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I would
like to thank them for their patience and understanding
during this difficult time.”
The reservoir spill control program at Gilboa will be
modeled after measures already in place at two other city-owned
reservoirs in the region, the Pepacton and the Neversink.
During the winter at those two reservoirs, the city maintains
voids in the reservoirs equal to one-half of the melted
snow pack surrounding each reservoir. Absent any significant
snow pack, the Department of Environmental Protection
maintains the voids at a level equal to the amount of
water that would run off into each reservoir from a one-inch
rainfall occurring over a six-hour period.
Since problems were identified at Gilboa, the city has
been reducing water levels in the Schoharie Reservoir
via the Shandaken Tunnel, which empties into the Esopus
Creek in the Shandaken hamlet of Allaben. The release
has raised concerns among residents in the Esopus Creek
corridors above and below the Ashokan Reservoir that there
could be a repeat of last year’s devastating floods
The opening of old flood channels through the Ashokan
Field Campus in Olive have helped alleviate fears from
residents downstream of that reservoir, but more specific
actions regarding Ashokan Reservoir and Esopus Creek flood
control measures have yet to be made.
On an ongoing basis over approximately the last two years,
NRDC (Brad Sewell), Sierra Club (John Stouffer), Riverkeeper
(Leila Goldmark), NY Trout Unlimited (Ron Urban) and other
conservation organizations have compiled and reviewed
wetlands jurisdictional determinations made by the New
York and Buffalo district offices of the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, which are the two Corps district offices
covering New York State. To date, they have reviewed files
for over 330 sites at which the Corps determined it had
“no jurisdiction” to protect the site’s
wetlands. The determinations were made during the period
The purpose of the coalition’s study is to assess
the continuing extent to which wetlands in New York State
that are clearly under a development threat (as indicated
by the owner’s interest in seeking the jurisdictional
determination) are not being provided federal protection
because they are considered “isolated” wetlands.
Such wetlands would thus be solely reliant on New York
State’s and/or local regulatory programs for protection.
A New York State Local Government Records Improvement
Fund grant initiative has been awarded to the County Clerk’s
Office to develop a teaching aid package utilizing Immigration
and Naturalization Records. The Ulster County Clerk’s
Office, Mid-Hudson Teacher Center and the New York State
Archives is hosting a workshop entitled “The Builders
of Ulster County” to introduce a new curriculum
developed using these local records to teach immigration
in grades 4 – 8, to be held on Tuesday, May 9 from
4:30 to 8 p.m. in Room 1907 of the Old Main Building on
the SUNY New Paltz campus.
Using local records from repositories in Ulster County,
including the County Clerk’s Office, the Senate
House State Historic Site, the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical
Collection and Library, and the D & H Canal Museum,
Susan Stessin-Cohn has created a curriculum for classroom
teachers through a grant from the New York State Archives.
The curriculum addresses the need to study immigration,
while developing ELA and mathematical skills in real context.
It was developed with the New York State Social Studies
tests in mind. The focus on local immigration and the
stories of people in places with familiar names like Kingston
and Gardiner will get the students’ interest. Experiencing
this curriculum enhances students’ higher-level
reasoning skills with activities that require analysis,
interpretation and evaluation.
To register for “The Builders of Ulster County:
A Workshop Using Local Records to Teach Immigration in
Grades 4-8” (Course #1-0506101), visit the Mid-Hudson
Teacher Center website at www.mhtc.dcboces.org and click
on the link for “On-line Registration”. If
you are in a school district that is a member of My Learning
Plan, please go to your district’s website and click
on Mid-Hudson Teacher Center to access offerings and follow
your district’s approval policy. The registration
deadline is April 28, 2006.
For any additional information, please call (845) 340-3040.
Federal aid to help the poor cope with energy costs will
increase by $1 billion to more than $3 billion this year,
despite the opposition of congressmen and senators from
warm states. The $1 billion, on top of $2.1 billion already
allotted for the current budget year, was obtained by
transferring money originally intended for the budget
year that begins Oct. 1. Under a compromise worked out
in the Senate, half of the new money would be distributed
according to an existing formula that would favor warm
weather states while the other half would be spent at
the discretion of the president.
A federal appeals court has overturned a clean-air regulation
issued by the Bush administration that would have let
many power plants, refineries and factories avoid installing
costly new pollution controls to help offset any increased
emissions caused by repairs and replacements of equipment.
Ruling in favor of a coalition of states and environmental
advocacy groups, including New York, the United States
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
said the “plain language” of the law required
a stricter approach. The court has primary jurisdiction
in challenges to federal regulations.
The ruling by a three-judge panel was the court’s
second decision in less than a year in a pair of closely
related cases involving the administration’s interpretations
of a complex section of the Clean Air Act. Unlike its
ruling last summer, when the court largely upheld the
E.P.A.’s approach against challenges from industry,
state governments and environmental groups, the new ruling
was a defeat for the agency and for industry, and a victory
for the states and their environmentalist allies.
With a wry footnote to Lewis Carroll’s “Through
the Looking Glass,” the court said that “only
in a Humpty-Dumpty world” could the law be read
The provision of the law at issue, the “new source
review” section, governs the permits required at
more than 1,300 coal-fueled power plants around the country
and 17,000 factories, refineries and chemical plants that
spew millions of tons of pollution into the air each year.
Wal Mart Bank
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has been subjected to months
of criticism from community bankers and unions for its
plan to open a specialized bank, is gaining some powerful
allies: some of the nation’s biggest companies.
The Bentonville, Ark., retailer is the target of intense
lobbying to scuttle its application to operate an industrial-loan
company, or ILC. ILCs allow retailers, auto makers and
others to offer consumer loans and other banking services
directly to their customers, as well as perform transactional
business for their own accounts.
Banks, worried about looming competition from a retailer
known for its aggressive pricing, have put Wal-Mart on
the defensive by arguing that mixing banking and commerce
could pose risks to the financial system because industrial
banks are regulated less stringently than commercial banks.
But a number of the most-recognized companies disagree,
swarming Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers to protect
the use of this kind of state-chartered bank. The American
Financial Services Association, a trade group representing
companies such as General Motors Corp., General Electric
Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and others that operate ILCs,
plan to testify in hearings next month on whether Wal-Mart
should get federal deposit insurance if state banking
regulators allow the retailer to proceed with its plans.
Several major Wall Street firms, which own ILCs, also
are lobbying behind the scenes to protect industrial banks,
worried that the anti-Wal-Mart movement will endanger
their business operations.
Jane Thompson, president of Wal-Mart Financial Services,
said critics are relying on misinformation to undermine
its applications for a charter in Utah and FDIC insurance.
She said Wal-Mart’s bank would help cut $5 million
to $10 million a year from its stores’ various processing
costs for credit-card, debit-card and electronic-check
Ms. Thompson said the retailer’s application explicitly
says Wal-Mart won’t open branches. “We’re
committed not to [open branches]. Period,” she said.
Meanwhile, a group of New York state legislators wants
Wal-Mart and other retailers to pay more for employees’
health care so taxpayers won’t have to.For the third
time in two months, a bill was announced that would go
after large employers whose workers wind up on Medicaid
or other state-sponsored health care programs. Sponsors
say retailers are encouraging low-wage employees to seek
out Medicaid. The result: Taxpayers are footing the health
bills of full-time workers because their employers are
not, they said. The bill, if approved, could affect as
many as 450,000 workers in New York, backers said.
The State Assembly for passing legislation that will give
New York towns a powerful new tool to preserve “community
character.” Known as the Community Preservation
Act, the law gives municipalities the power to voluntarily
create a fund dedicated to protecting natural areas and
water resources, working farms, and historic buildings.
The Community Preservation Act benefits New Yorkers by
removing the obstacle of seeking legislative approval
to fund local efforts.
The Community Preservation Act now moves to the Senate
where it is sponsored by Senator Carl Marcellino and has
more than enough votes to pass; thirty-two Senators have
already requested to cosponsor the bill. Introduced in
the Assembly in 2004, the bill enjoys bi-partisan support
and majority sponsorship in both houses. Governor Pataki
has also announced his support for the policy, which is
echoed by a growing coalition of more than 50 conservation,
farm, historic preservation, and municipal organizations,
including the New York Farm Bureau and the New York Association
For more information on the Community Preservation Act,
The furor over efforts by an Arab company to buy U.S.
port operations has focused attention on a little noticed
economic fact of life: America increasingly is foreign-owned.
From the ritzy Essex House hotel in Manhattan, owned by
the Dubai Investment Group, to the nationwide chains of
Caribou Coffee and Church’s Chicken, owned by another
company serving Arab investors, foreigners are buying
bigger and bigger chunks of the country.
The U.S. must borrow more than $2 billion per day from
foreigners to finance its huge trade deficits. In 2005,
for example, there was a record deficit of $805 billion
in the current account, the broadest measure of trade.
Foreigners already own half of the U.S. government’s
publicly traded debt. As of January, some $2.19 trillion
in Treasury securities were in the hands of central banks,
including China and Japan, and private investors abroad.
At the end of 2004, the total foreign direct investment
in this country — actual factories, office buildings
and other tangible assets as opposed to stocks and bonds
— came to $1.53 trillion, 8.2 percent more than
Preliminary results of a study of North Dakota farm children
exposed to pesticides show they performed significantly
lower than their peers on IQ tests, though their scores
still are within a range considered normal. The study
two groups of children in the northern Red River Valley,
one group living on or near an active farm or field, another
living at least a mile away. Children living on or near
farms tested an average of five points lower on standard
IQ tests. The study, funded by a branch of the National
Institutes of Health, will go on to determine whether
there is a correlation between the level of exposure to
pesticides and performance on memory, intelligence and
other mental functions.
The researchers found the average intelligence score for
the farm children was 98 - still within the range of 85
to 115 that is considered normal but was well below the
average IQ score of 103 for the group with lower chronic
exposures to pesticides. Children living on farms also
had lower scores in verbal comprehension, visual perceptual
reasoning, memory and mental processing speed, the study
The study is an offshoot of a large epidemiological study
that UND researchers are conducting on chronic pesticide
exposure and degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s
Tax Info Sales
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is quietly moving to
loosen the once-inviolable privacy of federal income-tax
returns. If it succeeds, accountants and other tax-return
preparers, for the first time, will be able to sell information
from individual returns — or even entire returns
— to marketers and data brokers. The possible change
is raising alarm among consumer and privacy-rights advocates.
It was included in a set of proposed rules that the Treasury
Department and the IRS published in the Dec. 8 Federal
Register, where the official notice labeled them “not
a significant regulatory action.”
IRS officials portray the proposed changes as house-cleaning
measures needed to update outmoded regulations that were
adopted before the IRS began accepting returns electronically.
The proposed rules, which would become effective 30 days
after a final version is published, would require a tax
preparer to obtain written consent before selling tax
Critics call the proposed changes a dangerous new breach
in personal and financial privacy. They say the requirement
for signed consent would prove meaningless for many taxpayers,
especially those hurriedly reviewing stacks of documents
before a filing deadline.
Meanwhile, a variety of companies are trying to get their
hands on your tax refund before you do, and state law-enforcement
officials are cracking down on some of the practices.
As the April tax-filing deadline approaches, businesses
from tax-preparation firms to auto dealerships are offering
consumers the opportunity to put their expected refund
checks to work weeks before the IRS sends them out —
often by loaning them the expected amount for a high fee.
Dozens of retailers, including Olive Garden restaurants
and AMC move theaters, have begun offering gift cards
in exchange for tax refunds to people who file using TurboTax,
the popular tax-preparation software. H&R Block Inc.
recently launched savings accounts for customers to channel
their tax refunds. And hundreds of car dealerships will
prepare your taxes if your refund is applied toward a
down payment on a car.
But state officials are clamping down on some of these
programs, claiming they saddle low and moderate-income
families, recent college graduates and others with high
fees. Last year about three of every four tax filers received
a refund, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Those
refunds totaled nearly $218 billion, or about $2,171 per
Last week, H&R Block, the nation’s biggest tax
preparation firm, was sued by New York’s attorney
general for selling so-called Express IRAs that allegedly
earned less money than what customers paid in fees. That
action followed a lawsuit last month against Block by
California’s attorney general, who accused the firm
of charging fees that equate to annualized interest rates
that can exceed 500% on so-called refund-anticipation
loans, the popular instant refunds, which are loans that
clients repay when their refunds arrive.
Block said at the time that the California suit has “no
legal or factual merit,” and said it clearly discloses
the terms of its loans to consumers. The company also
has denied the charges in the New York lawsuit, saying
its IRA program offers its customers “a powerful
first step toward ensuring a secure financial future.”
Big Army Plans
The U.S. military has developed a ten-year plan for “deep
storage” of munitions and equipment in at least
six countries in the Middle East and Central Asia to prepare
for regional war contingencies. The plans, revealed this
month contracting documents, call for the continued storage
of everything from packaged meals ready to eat (MREs)
to missiles in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, as well
as the establishment of two new storage hubs, one in a
classified Middle Eastern country “west” of
Saudi Arabia (“Site 23”) and the other in
a yet to be decided “central Asian state.”
Though President Bush yhas expressed the view that U.S.
forces would stay in Iraq past 2008, the plans to continue
to “pre-position” war material in the Persian
Gulf region leave ambiguous whether the U.S. military
foresees the ability to establish a permanent present
in Iraq in the long-term. By 2016, the contracting documents
show that the tonnage of air munitions stored at sites
outside Iraq will double from current levels.
The Rotary Club of Phoenicia is accepting applications
for full scholarships to the 2006 Rotary Youth Leadership
Awards conference, (RLYA) which will be conducted at Mount
St. Mary’s College, Newburgh, NY from June 25 through
June 29, 2006. The scholarship will be awarded to qualified
high school students who will complete their sophomore
year this June. In order to be considered , a student
must submit an application to the Phoenicia Rotary Club
by April 2. You may secure applications by contacting
Mark Wilsey, Phoenicia Rotary at 688-2183.