Shiny New Truck
He may not have gotten the raise he wanted this year,
but at least Shandaken’s highway superintendent
will get a new set of wheels. Keith Johnson, who was elected
as highway superintendent last November, was this month
given permission to use highway department funds to purchase
a brand new Ford pickup truck to use during his duties.
On Monday the town board authorized him to purchase the
vehicle for $23,323.
Johnson, a longtime local excavator/logger who also volunteers
as the Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, asked
taxpayers earlier this year to up his salary to what his
predecessor got upon retiring last year.
When Dick Merwin bowed out last December, he was making
$40,154 a year and was the highest paid public official
in the town. Knowing Merwin was going, the town board
adopted a 2006 budget showing the salary for whomever
Merwin’s replacement was to be only $36,000.
Once elected Johnson had second thoughts about the cut
in pay and wanted the salary upped to Merwin’s 2005
rate. However, getting a raise after the budget had been
adopted is not that simple. The Town Board had to actually
adopt a law to give Johnson a financial boost. But when
they did they gave him an increase only to $38,000.
On May 25, a 10-member committee from St. Francis de Sales
parish met with clergy & lay officials of the Archdiocese
of New York, appealing plans unveiled March 28 to consolidate
the parish and close 3 local Catholic churches. The group
gave a Powerpoint presentation outlining the move’s
local impacts, parishioners also had the opportunity to
speak one-on-one with members of the Archdiocese’s
“We felt very good about the conversations we had,”
said parish committee Chairman Gene Gormley, “but
there’s no way to know what impact our discussions
may or may not have.” Church officials gave no indication
as to when final decisions would be made.
“We’d better say our prayers,” said
Gormley. “It’s in the hands of the Lord now.”
OCS Report Card!
The New York State Education Department has released its’
2004-2005 annual school report card, which shows the academic
progress of school districts throughout New York State.
Overall the Onteora school district is considered to be
in good standing, but the middle school reveals some areas
that are in need of improvement. The three elementary
schools all safely meet State requirements and the high
school has a higher than average graduation rate.
Onteora middle school grade eight mathematics is in year
two of a school requiring academic progress. Test scores
for middle school English language arts (ELA) fell below
the state performance index for the first year.
When the student population is split into two categories
of general education and special education, the separation
reveals only special education does not meet the standards.
Assistant superintendent Deborah noted that the school
has recognized this gap and is working on teaching assistant
training for students who struggle and are using different
strategies for academic intervention services.
“As a district we can look at their population’s
performance and see if it warrants correction and that
is an area in need of improvement that we identified in
our long range educational plan,” said Fox. In 2004
the administration conducted a study titled the Comprehensive
District Education Plan (CDEP). Once the study was complete,
academic areas of weakness in the district were recognized
as a need for improvement. Four areas were targeted: English
Language Arts and Math in grades Kindergarten through
eight, students with disabilities, and technical integration.
Fox added that she believes the current budget cuts in
special education will not have an effect on overall test
scores regarding students with disabilities. “If
the IEP (individual education plan) request mandates that
more services are needed, than we provide those services
weather it is with our own staff or through BOCES services,
the most cost effective way that we can,” she said
Commenting on the State mandated tests and the overall
education for students, Fox said, “this is a snapshot
of how a student is doing in a particular grade, it is
three hours of one whole school year.”
According to Onteora High School principal Barbara Ruben,
82 percent of the Onteora class of 2005 graduated with
a Regents diploma (State education statistics have the
school listed as 86 percent graduating with a Regents
diploma). Including non-regent diploma students, 93.5
percent graduated in total. She believes the success rate
is a combination of several factors. Good quality teachers
and staff with a wide range of instructional programming,
including support services for students with special needs.
She also noted the importance of, “parents who are
involved in their children’s lives.”
The Onteora school district website has easy to read charts
on the latest test scores. Go to http://onteora.schoolwires.com/onteora/site/default.asp
and click on CDEP. The New York State education web site
has test comparison charts to other schools in the area
and breakdown of test scores on all schools in the state,
including student populations, cost per pupil, graduation
and drop out rates. Go to http://www.nysed.gov/ and click
on school report card.
The Ulster County Republican and Democratic party conventions
took place Monday night, June 5 in Kingston, with the
GOP at the Holiday Inn where 20-year state policeman Lt.
Kevin Costello of Tillson was named a candidate for sheriff
against the Democrats’ Paul Van Blarcum, who was
named at the Hillside Manor. Retiring Sheriff Richard
Bockelmann was blasted by Dems, lauded by Republicans.
VanBlarcum, of Shandaken, said he would like to see new,
innovative leadership in the Sheriff’s Office and
fix the inefficiencies that he said “plague the
department,” notably the trouble that the county
is facing with the new county jail, which he described
as a $20 million problem turned by Republicans into a
$100 million disaster.
In other matters, Republicans nominated state senator
incumbents William Larkin and John Bonacic and incumbent
Assemblymen Thomas Kirwan and Clifford Crouch for two-year
terms, along with Schoharie County clerk Peter Lopez for
retiring Assemblyman Daniel Hooker’s five-county
127th Assembly District. They did not nominate candidates
to run against Assemblyman Kevin Cahill or Rep. Maurice
Hinchey, D-Hurley and will not be able to decide a gubernatorial
candidate to face Democrat Eliot Spitzer until Primary
Day in September.
Democrats spoke of themselves being in a strong position
after last year’s legialstive victories, and lauded
Spitzer as well as Van Blarcum and their unopposed incumbents.
They will put up Susan Zimet, an Ulster County legislator
from New Paltz, to oppose Bonacic, Kelly Keck against
Crouch; Scott Trees in the 127th Assembly District; and
Lee Kyriacou to oppose Kirwan in the 100th Assembly District.
They do not have a candidate against Larkin.
On May 27, hundreds of people attended the memorial service
at United Methodist Church in Woodstock for Superintendent
Justine Winters. She passed away of cancer on May 18 at
the age of 59. In attendance were family, friends and
co-workers from Onteora and Webatuk school district. Reverend
Dr. Tom Kim led religious services and spoke about meeting
Winters for the first time about a year ago. He read from
an email she sent him discussing her cancer, faith, and
family and how much she hoped to attend services, if she
was well enough, having been a member of the Methodist
church her entire life. Family, life long friends and
colleagues spoke of her energy, leadership and direction.
Trustee Marino D’Orazio spoke about first meeting
Winters when he was still president of the school board
and how comfortable he felt with her easy manner. Photos
in the front reception area depicted her with friends
and a loving family. Books depicted her career as a dedicated
leader of education. It was noted how Winters passed away
in her home with her family by her side. A burial and
memorial service will be held in Seal Harbor, Maine.
Our Jail Saga…
The 46-page report commissioned by Ulster County in June
2004 to document what went wrong in the planning and construction
of the county Law Enforcement Center grown in cost from
an approved $150,000 to $1.16 million. The $1.16 million
in payments apparently included time spent by Hill International
in developing the 46-page report, which was presented
to Ulster County legislators behind closed doors on April
25. But County Attorney Joshua Koplovitz said a detailed
explanation of the costs has not been provided during
the four months he has been in office.
“I think that’s a waste of taxpayer money,”
he said. “It’s an embarrassment.”
County officials have released about half of a computer
presentation of the 46-page report given by Hill International
during a special county meeting April 25.
Legislative Chairman David Donaldson, D-Kingston, blamed
Republicans - who controlled the county Legislature until
the end of 2005 - for allowing the problems that have
caused the Law Enforcement Center’s cost to balloon
from an original estimate of $53 million to more than
$86 million, with the final cost predicted to top $100
million. The project also is more than two years behind
schedule and still has no target completion date.
“We inherited this mess, and we’re trying
to clean it up,” he said.
County officials have intended to use the Hill International
report to settle claims filed with the county by contractors
who are seeking money related to the project’s delays.
Koplovitz said the county is considering suing some of
the contractors based on 25 pages being withheld from
the public from Hill’s 46-page report.
Now Ulster County officials are considering whether a
single agreement can settle the more than $20 million
in contractors’ claims, with Donaldson saying that
he hopes to schedule a meeting among county leaders and
representatives of the 10 contractors who have filed claims
against the county for money above and beyond what they
originally were to be paid for work on the new jail.
Richard Parete, who chairs the county’s Law Enforcement
Center Project Committee, has said that he is concerned
that the legal strategy is being developed without the
input of legislators.
It is called “Bt”( Bacillus Thuringiensis)
and it’s being touted as an environmentally friendly
thuricide that will protect vegetation from being eaten
by all those caterpillars that have invaded the region.
Bt is a naturally occurring bacterial disease of insects.
Bt insecticides are most commonly used against some leaf-
and needle-feeding caterpillars. Bt is considered safe
to people and non-target species, such as wildlife.
The insecticidal activity of Bt was first discovered in
1911. However, it was not commercially available until
the 1950s. In recent years, there has been tremendous
renewed interest in Bt. Several new products have been
developed, largely because of the safety associated with
Bt-based insecticides. Unlike typical nerve-poison insecticides,
Bt acts by producing proteins (delta-endotoxin, the “toxic
crystal”) that reacts with the cells of the gut
lining of susceptible insects. These Bt proteins paralyze
the digestive system, and the infected insect stops feeding
within hours. Bt-affected insects generally die from starvation,
which can take several days.
Shandaken Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. had the foresight
recently to order 10 cases of the stuff, which the town
sells to residents at cost. For $10 residents can get
a 16-ounce bottle of the liquid at the Supervisor’s
So far many have taken advantage off the program.
“We’re down to two cases, but we’re
trying to order more,” Cross said.
Cross said most people are using it to protect their favorite
flowers, bushes, specimen trees and fruit trees.
Four tablespoons of the BT are mixed with a gallon of
water and then sprayed on the leaves of the plant to be
protected. Cross said spraying only needs to be done once.
The Pine Hill Community Center is seeking artists with
working studios in Shandaken to participate in our second
"Artist Next Door" studio tour program. Artists
must be available the full day on Sunday September 10.
Selected artists will be compensated for their participation.
Please call 845-254-5469 or e-mail email@example.com
Feel Safe Now?
In a report that outlines why it cut back New York City’s
share of antiterrorism funds by roughly 40 percent, the
Department of Homeland Security was so critical of some
highly viewed local measures — like Operation Atlas,
in which hundreds of extra police officers carry out counterterrorism
duties around the city each day — that the Police
Department and other city agencies must now seek further
federal approval before drawing on the money they were
given to pay for those programs.
City and state officials have insisted that they made
no mistakes and are being the recipient of election-year
politicizing of security funding.
New York City received $124.5 million from the Department
of Homeland Security, about 40 percent less than the $207.5
million it received the year before. Many smaller cities
around the country, like Charlotte, N.C. and Omaha, NE,
saw their shares increase sharply.
“We tried to do an analysis of some of the moneys
and whether or not they were given out for political reasons,
and in fact in many of the places where they got money
— but arguably there’s no threat — there
are close elections either at the Senate level or the
House level,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
said of the process. “Now, whether that was their
motive I have no idea.”
The White House tried to minimize the effect on New York.
The grants will be reconsidered each year and could change
if “some grand and unforeseen need arises,”
said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. “The
point of homeland security, as I said before, is to provide
security for the entire homeland,” he said. “And
certainly no disrespect meant to New York with $124 million
for this coming year.”
The report, obtained yesterday, pointed out opposing views
held by cities and the federal government over how antiterrorism
money should be spent and, as an extension of those views,
how terrorism should be fought. City officials have used
federal money to subsidize continuing costs, like paying
overtime to officers. The federal government, on the other
hand, wants the grants to pay for semi-permanent safeguards
that can increase security over the long term, like improvements
in communications systems, better gas masks and increased
Elected city officials were especially stunned that the
report said New York had no national monuments or icons.
Members of New York’s Congressional delegation presented
a united front in pledging action to change the allocations.
Representative Peter T. King, a Republican and chairman
of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he would
hold hearings to investigate the process, while Senators
Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats,
wrote letters to Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the
Department of Homeland Security, demanding a full explanation.
“We have a counterterrorism center that would deal
with all of the potential scenarios that we have been
studying that we have to be prepared for that could be
dramatically affected by any cut in funding,” said
Fire Commissioner Nicholas A. Scoppetta. “It’s
as though Washington is not going to be convinced of the
need until they have another terrible incident in a place
like New York or Washington.”
Hurricane-ravaged New Orleans will receive half of what
it got last year - $4.6 million, down from $9.3 million
- although Homeland Security said the money was to help
cities grapple with catastrophic disasters from Mother
Nature and terrorists alike. But several cities saw boosted
bottom lines, including three that didn’t get any
money last year. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., won $9.9 million
for 2006 after receiving what Rep. Rep. Clay Shaw Jr.,
R-Fla., called a paltry share last year compared with
The 2006 New York State Senior Citizens of the Year Representing
Ulster County, in conjunction with “Older Americans,”
celebrated during the month of May, were recently announced,
with former IBMer Leona Norton, a dedicated member of
the Ulster County Office for the Aging Advisory Council
for over five years and an active volunteer at the Reformed
Church of the Comforter and member of the City of Kingston
Mayor’s Task Force, was recognized for her years
of community service. Norton has been President of the
Colonial Gardens Senior Citizens Club for almost ten years,
is a member of Retired Volunteer Senior Citizens (RSVP)
program in Ulster County and has been a volunteer at the
City of Kingston Visitor’s Center for many years.
Alleda Ellsworth, a retired elementary education teacher
and President of the Ulster County Alliance, was named
for her years as a senior advocate and a community activist.
The two were honored during a reception at the Governor’s
Mansion in Albany on Wednesday, May 10.
Another reason to worry about global warming: more and
itchier poison ivy.
The noxious vine grows faster and bigger as carbon dioxide
levels in the atmosphere rise, researchers have recently
reported. And a CO2-driven vine also produces more of
its rash-causing chemical, urushiol, conclude experiments
conducted in a forest at Duke University where scientists
increased carbon-dioxide levels to those expected in 2050.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas - a chemical that traps
heat similar to the way a greenhouse does - that’s
considered a major contributor to global warming. Greenhouse
gases have been steadily increasing in the atmosphere
since the Industrial Revolution.
Compared to poison ivy grown in usual atmospheric conditions,
those exposed to the extra-high carbon dioxide grew about
three times larger - and produced more allergenic form
of urushiol, scientists from Duke and Harvard University
“The fertilization effect of rising CO2 on poison
ivy ... and the shift toward a more allergenic form of
urushiol have important implications for the future health
of both humans and forests,” the study concludes.
Local government officials, environmental representatives
and concerned citizens are invited to a one-day Aquifer
and Wellhead Protection workshop Thursday, June 22 at
Belleayre Mountain Ski Center’s Discovery (Lower)
Lodge in Highmount. Registration deadline is June 12.
The fee is $35 which includes workshop materials, continental
breakfast and lunch, but the Catskill Watershed Corporation
(CWC) will cover the registration fee of participants
living and/or working in any town in the Catskill-Delaware
Watershed west of the Hudson River. To register and arrange
for this special benefit, contact Myra Fedyniak at Ulster
County Environmental Management Council/Water Quality
Management Agency (EMC/WQMA) at 845-338-2479, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The workshop runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is designed
for members of town and planning boards and environmental
commissions; building and health inspectors; water supply
operators and others interested in the critical issue
of water protection. Workshop participants will receive
a workbook with BMP information, model zoning ordinances
and case studies. The event is sponsored by EMC/WQMA in
cooperation with the CWC, Lower Esopus River Watch, Greene
County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Delaware
County Planning Department.
Taxpayers will soon get a surprise bill that could exceed
$1 trillion for the cost of paying future medical benefits
for state and local workers who retire. Retiree medical
costs are the biggest long-term challenge that state and
local governments face. By comparison, state and local
pensions have an unfunded liability of about $500 billion.
State and local governments have set aside $2.5 trillion
to help pay pension benefits for 19 million civil servants
and 7 million retirees. But they have set aside almost
nothing to pay for retiree medical benefits.
“Taxpayers will revolt when they realize the enormous
cost of this,” Minnesota State Auditor Pat Anderson
says. She says the financial burdens on local governments
will be so great they will put pressure on the federal
government to nationalize health care.
New accounting rules require that governments, starting
next year, put a price tag on the value of medical benefits
promised to civil servants when they retire. The federal
government also has a $2.3 trillion unfunded liability
for medical and disability benefits promised to civil
servants and military personnel who retire. The costs
are not the nation’s biggest financial problem.
Medicare has a $33.4 trillion unfunded liability. Social
Security has a $4.6 trillion shortfall.
The new accounting rules don’t require governments
to do anything about retiree costs. But governments will
come under pressure from lenders and others to act. “If
this problem is ignored, that will be a negative factor
when we determine credit ratings,” says Standard
& Poor’s credit analyst Parry Young.
Corporations implemented a similar accounting rule in
1993. The result was a drastic reduction in the number
of companies offering medical benefits to retirees.
Governments have less freedom to cut retiree health care
because most benefits were negotiated in union contracts.
Public employee unions plan to fight attempts to reduce
retiree medical benefits.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to set $1
billion aside this year for retiree benefits.
The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies
a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans
“humiliating and degrading treatment,” according
to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would
mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from
strict adherence to international human rights standards.
The decision could culminate a lengthy debate within the
Defense Department but will not become final until the
Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has
been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes
the military’s decision to exclude Geneva Convention
protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and
White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials
Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens
of American television stations for broadcasting items
produced by the Bush administration and major corporations,
and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake
news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or
promoted the companies’ products. Investigators
from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking
information about stations across the country after a
report by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy
detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.
The report found that over a 10-month period at least
77 television stations were making use of the faux news
broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one
told viewers who had produced the items.
The FCC has declined to comment on the investigation but
investigators from the commission’s enforcement
unit recently approached CMD for a copy of the group’s
The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the
Bush administration to news stations was one in which
an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying “Thank
you Bush. Thank you USA” in response to the 2003
fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by
the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that
have produced and distributed such items.
Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers
such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the
manufacturer’s product. One example cited by the
report was a Halloween segment produced by the confectionery
giant Mars, which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other
company brands. While the original VNR disclosed that
it was produced by Mars, such information was removed
when it was broadcast by the television channel - in this
case a Fox-owned station in St Louis, Missouri.
Bloomberg news service said that other companies that
sponsored the promotions included General Motors, the
world’s largest car maker, and Intel, the biggest
maker of semi-conductors.
The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised
by Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on
media policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000
people had written to the FCC about the VNRs. “Essentially
it’s corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading
as news,” he said. “The public obviously expects
their news reports are going to be based on real reporting
and real information. If they are watching an advertisement
for a company or a government policy, they need to be
The controversy over the use of VNRs by television stations
first erupted last spring. At the time the FCC issued
a public notice warning broadcasters that they were obliged
to inform viewers if items were sponsored. The maximum
fine for each violation is $32,500.
Teen Taxes Up!
The $69 billion tax cut bill that President Bush signed
recently tripled tax rates for teenagers with college
savings funds, despite Mr. Bush’s 1999 pledge to
veto any tax increase. Under the new law, teenagers age
14 to 17 with investment income will now be taxed at the
same rate as their parents, not at their own rates. Long-term
capital gains and dividends that had been taxed at 5 percent
will now be taxed at 15 percent. Interest that had been
taxed at 10 percent will now be taxed at as much as 35
The increases, which are retroactive to the first day
of the year, are expected to generate nearly $2.2 billion
over 10 years, according to the Congressional Joint Committee
on Taxation, which issues the official estimates.
Bush pledged in 1999 to veto any bill that raised taxes.
In response to a question about the tax increase on teenagers
in the new legislation, the White House issued a statement
that made no reference to the tax increase, but recounted
the tax cuts the administration has sponsored and stated
that President Bush had “reduced taxes on all people
who pay income taxes.” Challenged on that point,
the White House modified its statement 21 minutes later
to say that Mr. Bush had “reduced taxes on virtually
all people who pay income taxes.”
Seat belt use is reaching record levels, so just who are
the holdouts who fail to buckle up? Often they are young
men who live in rural areas and drive pickups, the government
About 48 million people do not regularly put on seat belts
when they are on the road, says the latest report on seat
belt use by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
noting that men account for 65 percent of the more than
31,000 people killed each year in passenger vehicles,
that 58 percent of those killed who were not wearing a
seat belt crashed along rural roads; that about seven
in 10 people who died were unbelted in crashes involving
pickup trucks; and that more than six in 10 people age
8-44 who were killed inside a passenger vehicle were not
The Republican operative who came up with the idea of
jamming Democratic and union get-out-the-vote phone lines
on Election Day 2002 is back in the politics swim. Charles
McGee, vice president of political and corporate communications
at Spectrum Monthly & Printing Inc., sent out an e-mail
recently inviting Republican candidates to a free “GOP
Campaign School” hosted by the company, which publishes
Republican mailers and fliers.. A flier about the class
called it a “nuts and bolts boot camp” to
give participants “all the tools you need to win.”
Hundreds of hang-up calls placed by a telemarketing firm
tied up phone lines set up by the state Democratic Party
and the Manchester firefighters union for more than an
hour the morning of Election Day 2002, when then-U.S.
Rep. John Sununu defeated Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen
in a tight U.S. Senate race. McGee, the former executive
director of the state Republican Party, pleaded guilty
to conspiracy in the phone-jamming scandal and served
seven months in prison. He was released last November.
Two other people have been convicted; a fourth has been
Spectrum head Richard Pease hired McGee about a year after
he stepped down from the Republican State Committee over
the phone-jamming allegations. Pease kept the job open
while McGee was in prison.
“It’s a sad day in Republican politics when
one of the leaders of a criminal conspiracy to disenfranchise
New Hampshire voters is given the opportunity to teach
young Republicans all his tricks,” said the state’s
Democrats’ spokesman, Damien LaVera. “You’d
think that Republicans in New Hampshire would be working
overtime to lift the ethical cloud that hands over their
tainted campaign tactics...
After years of talking about the Goldilocks economy -
not too hot and not too cold - all of a sudden it appears
the little rascal just got mugged by the three bears.
While the economy began the year growing at a strong pace,
activity seems to have hit the skids in the spring.
Factory orders fell in April. The five-year housing boom
is cooling, with home sales falling and price gains slowing.
In the biggest shocker of all, the government reported
Friday that businesses created just 75,000 new jobs in
May - 100,000 fewer than expected.
If the onslaught of weaker economic data was not bad enough,
there also are signs that long-dormant inflation may be
starting to be a problem, and not just in the pain from
$3 per gallon gasoline. The core rate of inflation, excluding
food and energy, is now above the 2 percent upper limit
favored by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his
colleagues who have noted how slowing economic growth
and rising inflation raise the specter of stagflation.