Hugh Reynolds: All aboard

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

A special committee of the Ulster County Legislature has called on the Catskill Mountain Railroad to drop its suit against the county in exchange for the county abandoning its effort to immediately terminate its lease with the railroad. The 25-year lease expires in May 2016.

Kingston’s Dave Donaldson chairs the five-member legislative committee, which after its second public meeting to hear comments from rail and trail advocates passed a resolution advising both sides to stand down. The resolution has been referred to two legislative committees where it faces an uncertain fate.

At the committee’s first meeting two weeks ago, railroad reps offered to drop their legal action if the county did likewise. Trail enthusiasts, who met this Monday, view the resolution with deep skepticism.

Advertisement

Both sides are incurring extensive legal fees. Rail people claim they’ve spent over $160,000, with a few pro bonos (no relation to Sonny) thrown in. Nobody knows how much the county has spent. No bills requiring legislative passage (in excess of $50,000) have been submitted. This publication has applied for a full accounting under the Freedom of Information Act.

Railroad legal fees come out of ticket sales and contributions. County legal expenses are borne by taxpayers.

As noted, the prognosis for Donaldson’s preemptive strike is not good. As a 19-year legislator and a former chairman, Donaldson knows well that four or five votes in committee won’t necessarily translate into 12 at session or the 16 required for a veto override. The executive and his minions are far too practiced at legislative politics to allow this motion to succeed.

Though it’s water down the culvert now, but how could anyone have expected back when the lease was signed in 1991 that a handful of weekend volunteers would be capable of restoring 38 miles of deteriorating railroad track to accommodate passenger traffic in 25 years?

A state Supreme Court judge is expected to hear the case in November.

Dog days

It may a good thing to have the county executive hail from your hometown.

Last month, at the behest of County Executive Mike Hein, a New Paltz High grad, the county legislature approved a $500,000 bond to repair the county-owned swimming pool in the town. Several legislators noted that Hein, who had favored user fees when it was determined a few years ago that major repairs were in the offing, now supports bonding.

Residents of Rosendale, facing similar circumstances at their town pool, might have wished the exec had been born there. To their credit, Rosendalians, tin cups in hand, are now within $100,000 of their goal. A ribbon-cutting, no doubt with the executive grinning behind the scissors, is anticipated late next June.

Last week, with a good deal more fanfare than I could have imagined but four years in the making, the exec presided at the formal opening of a new dog park across the road from the county fairgrounds in New Paltz. Surrounded by admiring local officials and a really relieved-looking dog, the exec professed his undying devotion to canines and introduced a county “tether law” to deal with malefactors who would abuse animals. Hein also announced a $25,000 county appropriation to erect a chain-link fence around the park and to provide other amenities. (As noted above, the executive is pretty much free to spend anything under $50,000 without legislative approval.)

The proposed legislation would require an animal be untethered for at least 12 hours a day. Fines of up to $100 for a first violation are cited.

Alas, there’s no tether law on the county books, though state statute might cover such incidents. A somewhat mysterious draft citing whereases and wherefores, presumably from the executive branch, was delivered to the legislature the day of the exec’s ribbon cutting, but with no attribution.

Did the exec, so adept at loose ends, get ahead of himself? In any case, the executive would seem to have a leg up on this hot-button issue.

Craig Lopez, chairman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee which will probably pass initial judgment on any such legislation, said he didn’t know the origin of the draft. But he seemed initially unimpressed. “I read it a few times over the weekend,” he wrote me, “and although I believe it’s well-intended I personally feel it’s overreacting.”

Perhaps, but some people rank their pets right up there with mom and apple pie, and the exec is on board. This too shall pass.

IDA reloads

I rang up the IDA’s Mike Horodyski after last week’s legislative brouhaha over reconstituting the economic development agency board of directors. The affable bank president from Highland was bullish both on the IDA and his future as chairman.

Horodyski was at the helm this year when the IDA voted unanimously to approve a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal on a controversial student housing project in New Paltz. After a huge public uproar, developers agreed to half a loaf, about $500,000 in annual property taxes. Community leaders wanted the full loaf. And now everybody’s paying lawyers a couple of hundred dollars an hour in state Supreme Court.

There are 3 comments

  1. CP'

    Re: CMRR, is this an actual ray of light coming from a dark place?

    If the county had put the money they gave to lawyers into the railroad and trusted the volunteers to do what they’ve been doing, the railroad would be even more of a success than it is, despite their best/worst efforts.

  2. hokeystuff

    If the CMRR had actually operated as a viable and legitimate business over the last 30 yrs there would have never been any contention. Unfortunately, they have not lived up to their agreement to have renovated the rail corridor and do not have a viable business plan to do so in the future. Investors for viable businesses aren’t hard to come by, but in 30 yrs none have stepped forward because the cost of renovating the trail and on-going operations far outweighs potential revenue.

    1. CP

      Hokey, you and I have had this discussion before in a slightly different form, and I don’t have the time or inclination to go down that same (rail)road again. Things change, people change, organizations change, and the railroad has been an active and growing – and successful (to a significant agree) against overwhelming odds in the few years I have known it personally. It is about time that the county has recognized the further potential of the gift it has in the place on the ground and is (finally) making moves, however limited, to support it.

      Give the CMRR every opportunity to be more successful without further obstructions and cash drains for both the railroad and the county. If it isn’t, THEN talk about conversion.

Post Your Thoughts