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Decide it now?

by Hugh Reynolds
March 10, 2011 12:51 PM | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Prediction: Despite some rumblings in the Ulster County Legislature, selling the county health-care facility on Golden Hill will not go to referendum on November 8.

Legislature chairman Fred Wadnola says the people should decide this most important issue. But while some legislators — maybe even a majority of 18 — would rather pass this cup to the electorate that elected them to make these kinds of decisions, the man with the most votes — county executive Mike Hein — wants it settled pronto and by the legislature.

Looking down the road, Hein doesn’t want any speed bumps, like the infirmary, standing in the way of a victorious march to reelection.

Hein’s position on referendum has been clearly detailed by county attorney Bea Havranek, who in a written opinion declared the county need not go to referendum to sell major assets like the infirmary. Havranek does not operate in a vacuum. Nor does she issue legal opinions without major interaction with her client, the county executive. If the legislature passes a referendum resolution, Hein will be waiting with a veto worth 22 votes. Democrats, who hold 15 of 33 seats, would be loath to override their executive in an election year.

Whether the voters should be given the opportunity to decide this matter is an open question. They weren’t asked to vote on the building’s construction some 35 years ago, some will argue, why should they have a vote now?

There is also the distinct possibility, given the infirmary’s built-in constituency, that voters might decide to keep the facility in county hands. With tens of millions in emergency repairs in the near future and rapidly rising county subsidies, Hein does not want that albatross hanging around his neck should he win a four-year term in the fall.

Wadnola’s call for a referendum strikes some as the beginning of a weaseling-out process by legislators who have discovered all of a sudden that there’s an election in eight months.

Hein, much smarter than your average legislator and with far more firepower, has these folks painted into a corner.

Beans and taxes

Kingston CPA Bill Berardi, thought to be a mayoral candidate by some, recently ran some numbers from the upcoming city tax sale. He wasn’t happy. Nor should city taxpayers be happy.

According to Berardi — and he’s usually right on the numbers — the asking prices of 46 properties listed comes to $7.2 million while their combined assessed value is $8.7 million. The city, which did a reval five years ago, is assessed at 100 percent of market value.

But market value, as any broker knows, is what the market will bear. The amount these property owners are asking for — which they might not necessarily get — is 20.5 percent below assessed value.

Put another way, if this were a bull market, which it isn’t, asking prices at 20.5 percent above assessed value would not be unusual.

The upshot is that Kingston property owners are overassessed. They will thereby pay proportionally higher school and county taxes. Did anyone notice the school district has started this year’s tax dance at double digits? Hold onto your wallets, Kingstonians.

The mob of candidates seeking to become Kingston’s next mayor might well consider assessments a top issue in the fall campaign.

Smoke and fire

There’s all kinds of smoke hanging over Ulster County’s Resource Recovery Agency these days, but according to county comptroller Elliott Auerbach, its chief inquisitor, not much in the way of fire.

To be sure, Auerbach, whose preliminary audit last August set the wheels in motion, finds plenty to complain about, but nothing of what he calls “a criminal nature.”

“We need to remove the undertone of criminal suspicion, do a follow audit, start with a clean slate,” Auerbach told the legislature’s RRA oversight committee last week.

Separately, Auerbach tells me he gets reports just about every day of alleged criminal activity, conflicts of interest and plain old skullduggery. “We check it all out,” he says. “Some of this stuff is pretty bizarre, but there has to be some evidence.”

District attorney Holley Carnright may be suffering similar difficulties as he conducts his separate criminal investigation of the agency.

We are far removed from the days when Maurice Hinchey routinely charged the agency with being “a criminal enterprise.” He didn’t come up with any proof, either.

Of note is that Auerbach recommended bringing in the state attorney general, an agency that investigates criminal activity. “I’m sure they know where Kingston is,” he told the panel, an apparent reference to the AG’s investigation of possible corruption in the Kingston police.

For now, the RRA, which collects two-thirds of the county’s garbage and recyclables, remains in limbo with an interim executive director everybody seems to like but nobody’s appointed to permanent status.

Chairman Wadnola, as former RRA board member, is in the process of naming a special legislative committee to ride herd on the agency. That should do it.

Here and there

Congressman Hinchey thinks it’s a good idea to transfer FBI regional headquarters from reasonably peaceful Goshen to hell-on-wheels Newburgh.

Who could argue, but would a handful of G-Men working on federal cases make a difference in a town with the highest crime rate per capita in the state? Hinchey might better serve his miserable constituents in Newburgh by lobbying to bring in a couple of battalions of Marines…

Chairman Wadnola takes umbrage at continual criticisms of Resource Recovery Agency parties at his restaurant “Fred’s Place” in Lake Katrine. For one thing, he tells me, he hosted only one RRA function, and that took place in 2007 when he was neither legislator nor RRA board member. For another, the legal owner of Fred’s Place is his wife Cynthia, chief cook and bottle washer. Ownership issues go back a few years when Fred learned he couldn’t have liquor license in his name because as Ulster town supervisor he was chairman of the police commission. Enter Cynthia.

I’ll give Fred the benefit of the doubt on some of this stuff, but not on the ownership and conflict issue. Whether its Fred’s or Cynthia’s place is a difference without a distinction.

Counting noses on Rob Parete’s resolution to put the legislature on record as agreeing to accept a reapportionment commission’s redistricting plan as submitted should be most interesting. On meeting night, March 15, we should find out who’s in favor of independent redistricting and who’s for the good old days.++

Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.

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