Three readers wrote to the Saugerties Times last week expressing opinions on the town’s role in a planned purchase of Opus 40, the sprawling bluestone sculpture in Highwoods. The Town Board is seeking to purchase the property using a combination of grant money and donations, then turn over day-to-day operations to a non-profit. A matching grant of $400,000 from New York State has already been announced.
Two residents wrote in to say the cost of setting up the non-profit and applying for the grants, now over $20,000, would not be recouped if the effort failed, and questioned statements by the town supervisor that the maintenance and upkeep of another park would not add significantly to the town budget.
In an open letter to the Town Board, John Dooley wrote:
I would like to express my opinion on the Opus 40 Project. I am opposed to the plan for a number of reasons. First, we do not need it. Tourism does very well with the various festivals. The only enhancement Saugerties needs to encourage tourism is more hotel/motel rooms and these will be addressed as soon as the economic climate improves.
Secondly, our economic recession. This project presents a poor example of government getting bigger even as taxes rise (projected school tax to be a single digit increase on top of last year’s 12 percent). We are having serious difficulty funding our schools. These figures, coupled with a declining tax base and real estate values at a 10-year low should be a red flag to a responsible government.
I know that the $400,000 grant will be used for the acquisition of property. But that is just a drop in the bucket to the real cost of maintaining a park, staffing, security, and for actual maintenance. Who is qualified to repair a bluestone sculpture park?
The access road is poor. Does anyone believe Glasco Turnpike can handle more traffic? The bottom line…the appeal of the park is negligible.
The governor is planning to lay off 15,000 state employees, imagine the economic impact of that layoff. Saugerties is planning to open a park while New York State is contemplating the closure of a number of state parks.
Please reconsider your position.
Joe Roberti Jr., Saugerties Republican Committee chair, wrote:
I was surprised to read in the Saugerties Times last week that the town of Saugerties has spent $25,000 to facilitate its purchase of Opus 40.
I knew that town spent $5,000 to hire an attorney to assist with the purchase. But the 11/24/10 edition of the Saugerties Times contained the following statements: “No further expenditures of town money are planned. More funds are needed to make the purchase, but that will have to come from donations and grants, Helsmoortel said.”
It appears the supervisor has gone back on his word.
Worse yet, I spoke to a town official who told me no Town Board vote was ever taken to spend $20,000 more on Opus 40 (sound familiar?). This begs the question – who authorized this additional expenditure?
The responsibility falls on Supervisor Helsmoortel – the person responsible for overseeing town finances. This is the latest example of the sloppiness, inattention to detail and disregard for the rules that has been the hallmark of Helmsoortel’s administration.
I understand the town hopes to be reimbursed for Opus 40 expenditures from grant proceeds and private donations. But, this seems like a risky proposition. I echo the sentiments of most Saugerties residents who believe this is not something the town needs to be involved in given these tough economic times.
Artist Beth Humphrey took the opposite position, suggesting even if their was some increase to the parks budget, the new park would more than make up for that with its positive economic impact.
I am concerned that in the dialog about the future of Opus 40 we are forgetting that the arts play an important role in economic development. New York State has 53,085 arts related businesses employing 335,683 people (myself among them). Arts-centric businesses play an important role in building sustainable economic vibrancy. In this time of major economic uncertainty, many people are still going to hear music, are still visiting museums and in general engaging in the creative economy of our state. We need creative solutions to our long term economic problems, some of those solutions just might be found within the beauty of Opus 40.