At a time that New York State and counties are laying off employees and trying to reduce spending and Nassau County is trying to sell a golf course and a park, the Saugerties Town Board is considering purchasing part of the Opus 40 property for a town park. The property with the outdoor stone sculpture is already owned by a separate not-for-profit corporation. Saugerties would only be purchasing the former owner’s house and surrounding property and a small wood lot.†
Saugerties has received a state grant of $400,000 toward purchasing the property. That is the carrot. The stick is that the town and public contributors will have to come up with the balance of the purchase price, whatever that might be. Whether the money will still be available when the property is purchased, may be questionable in view of the state’s financial problems.
Purchasing the property is only the beginning. There will be significant costs for maintenance and supervision. The sculpture site is dangerous and has claimed the life of its founder. For that reason, insurance costs will be high. It certainly is not a place for children to run about. Neither has there been any indication that a realistic business plan has been created which indicates that the project would be self-sustaining.
In the future, when enthusiasm for the project wanes and operating costs escalate, the not-for-profit corporation managing it will inevitably seek financial assistance from the town. Supporters will come to Town Board meetings asking for taxpayer help to keep the museum and sculpture site operating. Inevitably, the Town Board will be tempted to succumb.
The concept of an outdoor sculpture site, park and museum may be attractive. However, it should not be created and supported at taxpayer expense. The Town Board is entrusted with managing the town and providing necessary services. Opus 40 is not one of them.
The time to stop this endeavor is now. Tell our Town Board members that we do not need to create more town parks and museums at a time when taxpayers are having a difficult time paying their taxes. This would be a good time to talk to the Town Board members since three of them might be candidates for election this year.
Michael E. Catalinotto
† The plan is for the new non-profit corporation to merge with Opus 40 Inc., take ownership of the non-profit parcels, and donate them to the town in return for a stewardship agreement giving the non-profit corporation the role of managing the property. See this week’s “From the Desk of the Town Supervisor.”
OPUS 40 SUGGESTION
This letter is in response to your editorial regarding investing in the future of Saugerties. As a member of the Saugerties Library Board of Trustees, I thank you for your kind words about the community’s new library facility. A disclaimer, however. I write this letter in my role as a taxpaying citizen, not as a board member.
I would not necessarily compare the library project to the possible purchase of Opus 40. While it was not compulsory for the board to have the public vote on the library expansion, the public was given a voice, and their voice was clear. This was done after many years of study and meetings with the general public, to decide on its feasibility, the community’s needs, and its location. I have heard no word that the town government plans to hold hearings or a vote on the purchase of Opus 40.
Further, it is well within the responsibility of government to maintain and renovate the buildings in which their activities are conducted. The library is every bit as much a municipal facility as the schools or the Town Hall. The purchase of Opus 40 falls nowhere near that category.
For many years the leaders of town and village government debated combining the two police departments. The concerns were ostensibly that the public was against it. When the public was finally given the opportunity to speak, again their voice was clear.
The proposal to purchase Opus 40 affects every Saugerties citizen in differing ways. It has already shown itself to be quite controversial. I would like to suggest that the committee researching this endeavor should include public meetings, both informational and to solicit feedback. And then if the Town government decides to go ahead with the project, the community should have the opportunity to vote on it. After they are presented with all the options, let them once more add their clear voice.
HELSMOORTEL DESERVES OUR THANKS
I guess it was a pipe dream to hope that the political silly season wouldn’t start until after the ice left my driveway. Partisan verbal rocks are already being thrown at Saugerties Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel who, with the unanimous support of the Town Board, dipped into the fund balance in order to keep our property taxes low during difficult economic times. Of course if that hadn’t happened the naysayers would blame him for raising taxes. With our budget in place, our town’s credit rating remains very high and the sky isn’t falling.
Now Greg is hammered, despite a non-partisan decision by the Town Board, for fronting seed money to help retain the world renown Opus 40 within the public domain. This loan will be reimbursed through grant money and organized fund raising.
Saugerties has a history replete with wonderful cooperation between citizen volunteers and government. What would town life be without Seamon’s Park, Cantine field, the Kiwanis Ice Rink, the skate park, Tina Chorvas Park, the restored Saugerties Lighthouse and Kiersted House, a modern state-of -the-art library, an old warehouse transformed into an energy efficient town hall, the Esopus Creek Conservancy, and the Malden and Glasco waterfront parks? Just as with these projects, the plans for Opus 40 were well thought-out with the goal of adding to the quality of life in Saugerties without burdening the taxpayers.
Of course the first responsibility of the supervisor is to lead in providing services at a reasonable cost while keeping our citizenry safe. But a truly great leader is a visionary who sees the potential for creating opportunities for future generations. I believe Greg Helsmoortel combines the virtues of pragmatism with vision and deserves our thanks and support.
Chair, Saugerties Democratic Committee
ON GOLDEN HILL
Approaching 70, I‘m a lot closer to needing geriatric care than most of you who will be reading this letter. That being said, I am vehemently opposed to Ulster County continuing to own and/or operate the Golden Hill Nursing facility for the following reasons.
Increased property taxes. The operating costs for Golden Hill will continue to outpace its revenues, which will leave homeowners to make up the difference. County Executive Hein’s numbers people, Art Smith and Marshal Beckman, are projecting double-digit property tax increases if the county opts to retain ownership.
The water and sewage system within the building are in serious disrepair, which in turn compromises the safety of the residents. Only a government run institution could get away with allowing its facility to deteriorate to this degree.
Either the county will have to do a complete renovation or build a whole new facility. After what happened with the jail, having the county take on another major construction project is alarming. The emphasis for geriatric care is being redirected from nursing homes to home based services. This allows the elderly to remain in their own homes.
Paradoxically, because property taxes are used to make up for budgetary shortfalls, the elderly homeowners on retirement incomes will be called upon to subsidize the operating costs of Golden Hill. If the county decides to keep its nursing home, it is going to be a hell of a lot harder for the elderly, on fixed incomes, to keep theirs.
Thomas P. Kadgen
Who is guiding this country’s regulatory policy for harvesting hard-to-reach natural gas deposits found in ancient shale deep below the Earth’s surface? Regulation of High Volume Hydraulic Horizontal Fracturing (HVHHF or fracking) is currently in the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was funded and mandated by the previous Congress to study the relationship between fracking and water resources. Initial research results are planned for the end of 2012.
Last week Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, was grilled during a hearing of the newly Republican-run Congressional House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power. Currently at stake is scope of the Clean Air Act since many more members of Congress believe regulation of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change would burden businesses with expensive costs and thus reduce their bottom line. Go to http://tinyurl.com/6g6rt8s for Time magazine’s Ecocentric column on Health and Science for more about the hearings.
Joe Martens, the acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said “I intend to make sure that DEC is responsive to business and that we work together to avoid regulatory stalemate.” What does it mean for us that both the Congress (who fund and direct the EPA) and the DEC want to avoid “regulatory stalemates”? In whose interest? The oil and gas industry have an unprecedented number of lobbyists. Who will lobby for the environment?
Who suffers the most from all this deregulation? It’s families in communities across this country who rely on these federal protections for their health, safety and livelihood. Think Gulf oil spill. While natural gas emits less greenhouse gases the process of fracking for it adds measurably to greenhouse gas emissions. Any way you look at it fracking is environmentally questionable.
It’s our water, our air and our soil that we all share. Please call and/ or email our Senators to tell them why we need strong federal regulations enforced by the EPA. Contacts: Senator Charles Schumer, 202-224-6542, schumer.senate.gov/new_website/contact.cfm and Senator Kristin Gillibrand, 202-224-4451, gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/.
Consider yourself a lobbyist for the environment. Stay informed of how our new Congress intends to thank the oil and gas industry for all their campaign contributions. Are you angry yet? Democracy is not a spectator sport and that includes telling everyone you know to also participate. Let’s flood the offices of our Senators with calls and emails.
FrackAction-Catskills held its third meeting last Sunday. Over 25 people came eager protect the water and air of our communities and to stop the practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas from being permitted in New York state! The room was filled with much energy and enthusiasm and ideas ranging from letters to petitions to direct action and education and reaching out to our neighbors. It’s a great start.
On Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m., FrackAction-Catskills will be showing the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland in the new and beautiful community room of our fabulous newly renovated library in Saugerties.
Gasland is an incredible film filled with information and personal stories of those who have been impacted by natural gas drilling. It has sparked concern and action throughout the country and has gained the attention of both press and legislatures. The Gas Industry has attacked the film and has asked the Academy of Arts and Sciences to make it ineligible for an Oscar!
The threat of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas to the air and water of our beautiful Catskill region is real and imminent. Although a moratorium on fracking was passed in the state Legislature and then an executive order was signed by then Gov. Paterson, these are but temporary measures. It is vital that the public be made aware of the dangers and that our voices are heard.
At the screening of Gasland will be Nadia Steinzor, the Marcellus Shale Regional Organizer of Earthworks to answer questions. Also we will have information, announcements of actions being planned, time and place of meetings and other ways for you to get involved. Please come, tell your friends and neighbors.
For more information please call 246-3449.
SAUGERTIES SCHOOLS FORCE CUOMO CUTS ON TO TAXPAYERS
The Saugerties School District is proposing a 10 percent tax increase on top of last year’s 12.6 percent increase.
The state budget cuts, which are intended to force schools into streamlining costs to help taxpayers, are instead being passed directly on to the property taxpayers. The budget process looks to be much of the same as last year, where a 21 percent tax increase was sent to the taxpayers. Last year, the contingency budget that cut sports, music, and other programs, still resulted in a large tax increase.
The 2 percent tax cap is intended to prevent the schools from doing exactly what Saugerties is doing, but it looks like the cap may not be in place in time for this year’s budget. That allows the schools to continue to soak the taxpayers, even with contingency.
The fact that the situation is worse this year is not new news. It was reported last April, when the 21 percent increase was passed by the BOE, that the board expected the fiscal environment to be worse this year.
The administration is pushing for the 10 percent increase based on the fact that the contingency budget is not far behind at 7.9 percent tax increase, but what is really needed is a budget that makes some serious cuts and comes in way below what the contingency allows for.
I urge everyone in Saugerties to contact the school administration and the School Board, and request a low or zero tax increase alternative.
I also urge everyone to attend the School Board meetings.
NEGOTIATE WITH SINCERITY
I read with interest Dick Morris› opinion column in the Kingston Freeman on Jan. 31. In it he writes «There is a third way [to solve states› fiscal woes]: to get to the root of the reasons for their dire
crisis in the first place and abrogate their collective bargaining agreements with the municipal unions that have brought them to this condition.»
He’s talking about school districts, and other governmental organizations, declaring bankruptcy to dissolve existing contracts. Is this what we want our local school system to come to? I hope that everyone does not.
Our new governor is proposing a cut in state aid to our district of over $2 million. Is our model of financing education in New York state built upon an assumption that the state will increase funding at approximately two times the rate of inflation? The proposal from the governor this year is in the opposite direction.
The current contract between the Saugerties Teacher›s Association (STA) and the Saugerties School District expired on July 1, 2010. As I understand it, the district and the school board are asking the STA to «come to the table» to negotiate in good faith. It was good to hear at the Feb. 8th School Board meeting that one contract negotiation meeting was held recently and that three more are scheduled.
I would ask the STA to consider these questions:
Is our system broken?
Will the tactics and strategy that have worked in the past work today?
Are we in a different economic environment that we ever have been in recent history?
Can the rank and file teachers be honestly asked “What are we willing to give up?”
I ask the STA and the district to negotiate with sincerity. I know everyone has the best interests of the children in mind. However, if the game is played the way it was in 2006, the children will be negatively affected, as they were in 2006. Let’s not repeat that scene again. We can all work together without letting the lawyers, the fact-finders and the arbitrators take charge. Please consider this point of view. Thank you.